Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter
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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Ross Douthat has questions; Outside Counsel has answers:
  1. Yes
  2. Yes
  3. Yes
  4. (a) Sure; (b)Yes; (c) Yes; (d) join the 21st Century; (e) no; (f) no
  5. (a) Yes; (b) no
  6. No
  7.  (a) No; (b) No *
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* Subject, of course, to exceptions relating to the health and safety of the child, as embodied in current American jurisprudence.

These are not particularly difficult questions. If you want to be a bigot in your house, or in your church there isn't much anyone can do to stop you. Sooner or later society will change around you, or you will die, and then the arc of history will continue its curve. In the meanwhile, your "sincerely held religious beliefs" , founded as they are in interpretations of stuff that's been translated to suit cultural norms centuries old, and based on social norms prevalent in a culture that was largely agrarian, polygamous, and theocratic thousands of years ago have no place in our culture today except to the extent that those beliefs encourage you to be a decent person. Seriously, what part of 'render unto Caesar" is so hard to understand? It is embarrassing that the Christian religions are leading the pack on this issue.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

At UB Research & Writing is a three semester course taught by non-tenure track faculty who almost
certainly work harder and are better grounded than most  law school faculty, so I have a little bit of a problem with the program. That said, I'm pretty committed to the law school, and to the idea that there is a professional obligation to participate in training young lawyers, so I happily participate as a judge in the second semester moot court. As a rule I am very favorably impressed with the students' preparation and poise, and this year's group was exceptionally good. Each R&W section has a different case to brief and argue, and the one I landed on this year was First Amendment case about a high school student who unfurled a banner depicting a joint smoking President Obama (captioned "Yes We Can-abis") at an event. During argument, thinking myself clever, I asked one of the students if her analysis of the student's right to free speech would be different if, instead of the President the banner had depicted "Mr. Zig Zag", and utterly baffled her.

One of the big issues that I confront in the teaching piece of what I do is that my students' cultural references are different from mine. Although I have daughters who are the ages of many of the students I work with, they are a poor sample for this sort of thing, because they grew up with my meshugenas. Even so, it was unreasonable of me to expect that either my students or my daughters* would have much, if any familiarity with the stoner icons of the Nixon-Ford-Carter years, and I shouldn't have assumed it.  (It is possible that I was trying to demonstrate how groovy I am, what with being down with the latest slang and whatnot.) In any event, the student handled the question with aplomb, ("I'm sorry your Honor, I don't know who that is,") and we moved on. Comes now the news that Willie Nelson is planning on launching his own brand of reefer, and although Toby Keith says to be careful I reckon that as an example, at least, I could do worse than to use Willie the next time I need to frame a hypothetical. Hey, at least I didn't use Cab Callaway

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* In fact, a post hoc poll of my daughters reveled that they are, apparently, innocent of any awareness of Mr. Zig Zag.

Friday, March 27, 2015

A few months ago four partners from the Commercial Litigation Department of an old-line Buffalo firm walked out and opened the Buffalo office of what had been up to that time a medium sized Rochester firm. This was big news for several reasons. One of the partners is a larger than life sort of character, for one thing, the kind of lawyer who becomes a kind of alter-ego for the firm in question. It was likewise notable because in the minds of most observers the departure placed the ongoing existence of the firm in question in serious question. When a shop has over a hundred people working for it a lot of people get jittery.

It emerged a week or so a go that the managment of the firm-- it's Damon & Morey if you can't be bothered to click the link-- are in merger discussions with another Rochester firm, one with an already substantial Buffalo presence. That merger, if it happens, would work a substantial change on the law firm landscape in these parts, probably displacing the two current largest shops in town in terms of size, client base and the rest. The fallout would probably also be pretty significant. I would expect to see a fair-sized handful of smaller shops opening around here, for example.

All of this has me thinking about the shoemaker's children. Just about the worst run businesses I can think of are law firms, and since so many of us are in the business of telling other people how to run their businesses this qualifies as a legitimate irony. It would make a lot of sense for law schools to offer courses in law firm management, and it appears that there are some schools out there which do-- but some of the classes my quick Google search turned up are more focused on the acquisition of general practice skills than they are on understanding the dynamics and structure of a complex business model which is a fraught as what we do. Every day the chief assets of a law firm put on their hats and go home, leaving behind file cabinets full of other peoples' problems, fancy leased offices, and some computer equipment that is worth pennies on the dollar. Have you ever been in the space occupied by a law firm in dissolution? I have, and it is a horrifying sight.

Nearly as horrifying is the effect on the practice of law in a region when a shake-up like this occurs. As lawyers we pretend that a lot of things are true that really aren't. We pretend, for example, that when someone is placed under oath that they will tell the truth-- or that if they don't our wizard lawyer skills will ferret the truth out. We also pretend that there is a stability to what we do. I suppose if we actually acknowledged the realities the existential doubt which would be created would form a vortex of depression and anxiety which would blanket the economy like a a dark, wet cloud. Here's a larger reality: the ongoing concentration of legal talent in larger and larger practices mirrors the concentration of wealth in US society generally, and is bad for everyone who requires legal services-- which is to say, everyone.

It would be really interesting to teach a course about law firms. I think it is a neglected field, and I think that there are a lot of people who will suffer because we really only have anecdotal information about how the majority of lawyers practice. I know from my own observation that when law school graduates hit it the realities come as a serious shock-- and I think that shock is one reason a lot of legal academics decide that that they'd rather be anything but a practicing lawyer. Sadly for them the realities of being law school faculty are also rarely taught.

Monday, March 23, 2015

My sister-in-law's wedding conflicted with the Utica Boilermaker last year, so I missed it for only the second time in, I think, 14 years. The wedding was fun, but this year the race went to a registration system that gave a preference to participants from the previous year-- and last year registration closed in two hours. With CLA back on this side of the Northern Hemisphere we both wanted to run it-- ideally it  is the center of my summer. I arranged my Saturday to be near a computer at noon when the registration went live, and we are both in. So now I have that to look forward to, and I'm really happy about that.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

It was kinda cool to have the University at Buffalo in the NCAA Tournament-- the first time a school I have a relationship with has been. Now, about those uniforms.... Look, UB is the flagship university of the State University of New York, but our brand isn't New York, it's Buffalo. This is something that needs to be fixed.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Although it is tempting to get all Groucho Marx about learning my Martindale-Hubbell rating instead I will thank the colleagues who took the time to fill out the survey.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The story of the making of Blood on the Tracks is pretty well chewed at this point: Dylan recorded most of the material that eventually made it on to the album in New York with the same session guys who did the music for Deliverance, then went home to Minnesota for Christmas. He played the demo for his brother, who thought it lacked spark, so Bob re-did all or most of it using local musicians. Over the years songs from the New York sessions have emerged on various compilations, and for the most part I'd have to say that Bob Dylan's brother made the right call. The Blood on the Tracks that we ultimately got is the best Blood on the Tracks. The New York session versions are interesting-- Dylan made some interesting changes in lyrics, and "Tangled Up In Blue", a song that plays a lot with point of view, is particularly fun to compare and contrast. One song that I had not heard the New York version of until just now has been "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts", a long shaggy dog story that I have always loved. Here it is. The most notable change is  the tempo-- in the St Paul version it rollicks along, but in New York, for what ever reason, it kinda drags. It does, however, feature the 'lost' verse that Joan Baez sings: "Lilly had her arms around the man she dearly loved to touch/She forgot all about the man she hated, who hounded her so much." For me it adds little: the official version seems to have more dramatic tension at that point in the song.

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