Author: Dave Hoffman

15

The Humble Justice Scalia

Justice Scalia isn’t often justly lauded for his humility.  Today’s opinion in Molecular Pathology v. Myriad (the gene patenting case) provides an opportunity. His concurrence reads, in its entirety:

“I join the judgment of the Court, and all of its opinion except Part I–A and some portions of the rest of the opinion going into fine details of molecular biology. I am un-able to affirm those details on my own knowledge or even my own belief. It suffices for me to affirm, having studied the opinions below and the expert briefs presented here, that the portion of DNA isolated from its natural state sought to be patented is identical to that portion of the DNA in its natural state; and that complementary DNA (cDNA) is a synthetic creation not normally present in nature.”

There’s something heart-warming about this short opinion — a bit like Justice Steven’s ode to jalopies and country roads in Scott.  It’s also a useful model of rhetorical humility in the face of pretty complex science. Justice Scalia is ordinarily celebrated for his caustic wit & slashing attacks: we should be happy when he takes a different approach.

10

Sherlock and the Law

sherlockLike many, I’ve been watching the BBC’s Sherlock, a modern re-telling of Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective series. I’m only mostly finished the first series, but thus far it has been striking how little role law (and its constraints) play in the narrative.  Basically, although Sherlock is a “consulting detective” (and under US rules, certainly an agent of the State), he routinely behaves in unlawful ways.  He often breaks into dwellings (and cellphones, and cars) to get information; he is resistant to writing up his methods (and consequently, a defense attorney would not be able to effectively examine them); he browbeats suspects and witnesses; etc.  In the States, quite obviously, all of the confessions produced by his methods would be thrown out as poisoned fruit.

There’s nothing earth-shaking here – and it’s not the only time that law is devalued by storytellers – but I wondered whether and to what extent a series based primarily in the UK can avoid barnacled procedural discussions in a way that a series based in the US obviously can not.  That would then suggest that Elementary, a CBS show that apparently apes Sherlock in many ways, would spend more time talking about law (and the rules of criminal procedure) than Sherlock does. I haven’t seen the former show, so I’d love to be disabused of my fear that Elementary’s Sherlock spends most of his time filling out paperwork and discoursing on the complicated rules of electronic surveillance.

0

Introducing Guest Blogger Stephen Galoob

I’m pleased to introduce Stephen Galoob as a guest for the month of June.

Stephen is (as of June 1) an assistant professor at the University of Tulsa College of Law. He is a graduate of UVA law school and is finishing his Ph.D. at U.C. Berkeley’s Jurisprudence and Social Policy program.

Stephen’s scholarly work examines fundamental questions in criminal law, torts, contracts, and professional responsibility. (Although let’s be honest- does anyone ever claim that his work examines peripheral questions?)

Stephen’s dissertation, A Liberal Theory of Reparation, examines the significance of wrongs and injustices, as well as proposing an account of the justification for reparation based on the contractualist liberalism of John Rawls and T.M. Scanlon.

Stephen also writes in the field of legal ethics. His work in this area examines how professional roles in general (and the lawyer’s role in particular) have normative significance—that is, how they change what their occupants are permitted, forbidden, or required to do. Stephen examines these questions using tools from both philosophy and empirical social science. For example, his article Are Legal Ethics Ethical? (co-authored with Su Li, and forthcoming in the Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics) uses a survey-experiment to examine the connection between legal ethics rules and lay moral judgments.

0

Introducing Guest Blogger Katie Eyer

We’re delighted to welcome Katie Eyer, of Rutgers-Camden Law School, as a guest for the month.

Katie joined the Rutgers Camden law faculty as an Assistant Professor in June 2012.  Her work, which takes multidisciplinary approaches to questions of contemporary anti-discrimination law, has appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, the Minnesota Law Review and the Yale Law & Policy Review.  Her most recent work-in-progress, titled “Constitutional Colorblindness and the Family,” was recently awarded Honorable Mention in the 2013 AALS Scholarly Papers Competition, where it was described by the selection committee as “saying something new and compelling about constitutional colorblindness.”

Prior to coming to Rutgers, Katie was a Research Scholar and Lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania, where she conducted research in conjunction with the Alice Paul Center for Research on Women, Gender and Sexuality and taught Disability Law.  Katie also litigated civil rights cases prior to entering academia full time, and secured a number of precedents in the Third Circuit expanding the legal rights of LGBT and disabled employees, including Prowel v. Wise Business Forms, 579 F.3d 285 (3d Cir. 2009) and Miller v. American Airlines, 632 F.3d 837 (3d Cir. 2011).

Katie clerked for the Hon. Guido Calabresi in 2004-2005, and was a Skadden Fellow at Equality Advocates Pennsylvania from 2005-2007.  She was a litigator with the private firm of Salmanson Goldshaw, PC until April 2012.

Her recent work includes:

Constitutional Colorbindness and the Family, 162 U. Pa. L. Rev. __ (2013) (forthcoming, selected as Honorable Mention in the 2013 AALS Scholarly Papers Competition).

Essay, Marriage This Term: On Liberty and the “New Equal Protection”, 60 UCLA L. Rev. Disc. 2 (2012) 

That’s Not Discrimination: American Beliefs and the Limits of Anti-Discrimination Law, 96 Minn. L. Rev. 1275 (2012) (reviewed here by Charles Sullivan on JOTWELL).

 

 

2

Contract Evolution

There’s a fantastic symposium issue out of NYU this month, devoted to evolution and innovation in contract terms.  There are articles by the ridiculously productive trinity of Choi/Gulati/Posner, a wild piece by Kevin Davis on Contracts as Technology, and a very cool empirical paper by Marotta-Wurgler and Taylor on evolving terms in standard form contracting online.  I’m obviously biased toward empirical work on this exact topic, so I’m a sucker for this stuff.  But I do think that this kind of empirical and theoretical work is where contract scholarship should be heading in the next 10-20 years.  Check it out.

 

13

Is it better for one student to get a job than n students to fail the bar?

A student’s final law school GPA predicts bar passage better than other independent variables. But the relationship isn’t causal: raising the mean GPA of all students does not promote bar passage.  Indeed, some investigators have suggested that the inverse is more likely to be true. When GPA rises for all students, individuals at the bottom of the class aren’t sufficiently signaled that their grades are really and truly bad, and consequently such badly-warned students don’t approach bar study with the requisite degree of seriousness. That is, if a school has a mean of a 3.3 at graduation, the bottom 20% of the class probably has GPA of around a B-.  B- students may well say to themselves “sure, I’m at the bottom of the class, but I’m not a C student!  I’m not in danger of failing the bar!”  But they are.  In this perverse way, raising the mean increases the rate at which weaker students fail the bar, even as overall, grades are positively correlated with passing!

The puzzle deepens. Students often argue that employers focus on mean GPA to the exclusion of class rank.  Given that students are competing with other schools (nationally and regionally), there are race-to-the-bottom pressures on each law school’s curve generated by employment markets.  A school that produces students at the 50th percentile with a 3.5 mean will obtain better employment outcomes than one that produces students at the 50th percentile with a 3.0 mean. All else equal, schools should reduce barriers to employment.  (Of course this result depends on employers indeed acting in the irrational manner described – ignoring or downplaying class rank and focusing on absolute GPA.  This would be very, very difficult to test empirically, though I imagine someone could give it a shot using nifty studies.)

You see the tension, right?  A higher mean simultaneously could boost employment in the middle and higher end of the class while also depressing bar passage at the lower end of the class. These contrasting outcome effects turn on psychological biases resulting from overemphasizing raw grades over percentile rank, but simply providing class rank instead of grades would cause employers to balk. The tension may lead administrators and faculty to an uncomfortable question: when the two conflict, should we privilege bar passage over employment? What is the appropriate calculus? Could we live with one additional student failing the bar if two got a job?

My own view is that the price for bar failure is so high that the number of jobs won in this calculus would have to be unrealistically high.  Consequently lower means are to be preferred to higher ones at some schools.  What do you think?

13

Ranking: Law v. Undergrad

Inspired by this 2007 Taxprof post, I decided to compare the 2013 US News undergrad ranking to the 2013 overall law school rank. This project was a bit more complicated than it was six years ago,  due both to scandal & to the proliferation of regionally rankings.  But, ignoring schools that aren’t present on both lists, the results are illuminating.  For figures, follow me after the jump.

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0

Free Advice to Incoming Law Review Boards

While academics angst, law journal editors toil to manage the fire hose of submissions, real and fake expedites, and the uncertainty that comes with a new job.  Many journal editors now seem to have the goal of “improving their ranking“.  Seven years ago (!) I wrote some advice on that topic.  It seems mostly right as far as it goes, but I want to revise and extend those comments below, in letter form.

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0

The Pacific Legal Foundation May Challenge Law Review Affirmative Action

Via Josh Blackman comes this news:

“The Pacific Legal Foundation has sent requests under the California Public Records Act (the equivalent of FOIA) to the University of California Berkeley and University of California Davis, seeking information about how they use race and gender in making decisions about what articles to publish. You can download the requests here: [UC Davis PRA requestUC Berkeley PRA request.] The letters were sent to the Dean of the law schools, and carbon copied to the Editor in Chief and the Faculty Adviser.”

The PLF demands a response by March 2.

1

What is the Point of Symposia?

Over at the Faculty Lounge, the estimable Michelle Meyer argues that it’s possibly inconsistent to take account of race, gender, and sexual orientation in symposia invitations but not to do so when selecting articles in law reviews.  Her post is thoughtful and well-written, though I believe it rests on a false premise.  Go over there and read it and then come back to find out which one.

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