Investor-funded Litigation, Non-law Law Firm Owners – Business Model Makes Lawyers Employees

The upheaval in the legal sector post-Crash of 2007 might be small potatoes compared to how the imposition of a total business model will upend how law firms operate.

The short version of the coming disruption is this: Lawyers, even the most brilliant equity partners, become employees. Sure, they could be treated as pampered employees. But there will be no ambiguity that they are no longer in full control of decision-making, including about case strategy, or even what or whom to accept as clients.

In a long-form interview in Forbes, Ed Newberry of Squire Patton Boggs sketched out aspects of the disruption which are already in-place globally in areas such as the UK and Australia. They include investor-funded litigation and ownership of law firms by non-lawyers. Here is that Forbes interview.

As Newberry mentions, law schools are already providing the option of a bundled degree: JD and MBA. To even get to the interview phase of a job search, future new lawyers and hopeful laterals will have to demonstrate that they have down cold business fundamentals. Existing partners and associates will have to adjust to business mindsets and best practices. Otherwise, they will be disappeared.

Given fast time in global business, this huge paradigm shift could happen within the next five years. Meanwhile, lawyers and law students should plug into online courses on the basics of business and how to speak the language of business.

Regarding the latter, those of us in professional services know that the first thing to master when parachuting into an industry or company is to talk the talk. Businesspeople talk to businesspeople. Just like medical doctors talk to medical doctors. And engineers talk to engineers.

Takeaway: Lawyers and law students, learn the language of business.


Fla. Gay Marriage Ban Struck Down by Federal Judge

Florida’s same-sex marriage ban was struck down Thursday by a federal judge, who stated that the law violated constitutional rights to equal protection and due process.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert L. Hinkle found Florida’s gay marriage prohibition unconstitutional because it denies gay couples the fundamental right to marry without any legally defensible justification. The Orlando Sentinel reports that Hinkle is the fifth judge to rule against Florida’s gay marriage ban in the past six weeks; however, he’s the first federal judge to do so, and his ruling is the first to have statewide effect.

What can Floridians expect from this latest gay marriage ruling?

Laws Violate Fundamental Right, No Suspect Class

In many ways, this Florida federal ruling is similar to dozens of other federal court rulings striking down marriage bans across the nation. Like Oklahoma’s gay marriage ruling, Judge Hinkle declined to give gays and lesbians suspect classification — the higher standard of review afforded to racial minorities or religious groups — because of binding precedent.

In 2004, the Eleventh Circuit upheld a law preventing gays from adopting children, finding that homosexuality was not a suspect class. Despite this, the Florida federal court still found that the gay marriage ban must be viewed under strict scrutiny, because it infringed on the fundamental right to marry.

Judge Hinkle found the arguments other than moral disapproval for gay marriage were simply “make-weight” and didn’t stand up to constitutional scrutiny. And since moral disapproval can’t be the sole legal justification for such a law, Hinkle struck it down as unconstitutional.

In striking the ban, Judge Hinkle poignantly noted that “[l]iberty, tolerance, and respect are not zero-sum concepts,” affirming that opposite-sex marriages are in no way harmed by expanding rights to same-sex couples.

No Same-Sex Nuptials Yet

Although Judge Hinkle judged that the Florida gay marriage prohibition was unconstitutional, he imposed an immediate stay on his decision while stays in Virginia, Utah, and Oklahoma’s gay marriage decisions are still imposed. The Supreme Court stay in Virginia’s case was issued right before Judge Hinkle’s ruling, making it unlikely that Florida gay marriages will begin until the Supreme Court tackles the issue of gay marriage again.

However, Judge Hinkle’s stay did make one exception: One of the plaintiffs, Arlene Goldberg, is allowed to have her name listed as “spouse” on her wife’s death certificate, allowing her to access Social Security survivor benefits.

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For Burning Man, 5 Legal Facts You May Not Know

Burning Man is almost upon us, and eager Burners may not know a few very important legal facts about partying on the Playa.

For many, Burning Man is a symbol of freedom from authoritarian rule, social restrictions on dress, and inhibitions regarding drug use. But while it may feel like a pocket universe, it’s actually still in Nevada… in the United States. And it’s still subject to many laws.

So don’t be a legal sparkle pony, know these five Burning Man legal facts before you hit the Playa:

1. The Playa Is Federal Land.

Even though the Playa seems otherworldly at times, it’s actually federally protected land. The Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area Act of 2000 designated the Black Rock Desert, including the Playa, as a federal conservation area which is overseen by the Bureau of Land Management. The law specifically includes dispensation for permitting “large-scale events in defined, low impact areas of the Black Rock Desert playa,” but the area is subject to federal laws and regulations.

2. No Pot Allowed, Even With a Medical Card.

This may be an interesting year for illicit drugs at Burning Man, as marijuana is still illegal under federal law, even with a state-issued medical marijuana permit. Even though just two states away in Colorado and Washington, they’re literally selling marijuana to anyone over 21, there are technically no state or federal protections for you to get blazed at Burning Man. Enforcement of these laws, however, may be quite lax.

3. You Can Get a DUI in Your Art Car.

You may be really proud of your Burning Man art car this year, but don’t try driving it unless you’re sober. Nevada DUI laws still technically apply to driving around the Playa after drinking or consuming any other intoxicating substance. Federal regulations also require your art car to have head and tail lights when driven at night.

4. Community Mediators Are Available.

When you have a conflict to resolve at Burning Man, it isn’t total anarchy. The Black Rock Rangers provide many police-type community functions (finding lost children, providing information, and responding to emergencies) while also facilitating mediation and conflict resolution on the Playa.

5. No Peeing in Public, Not Even on the Playa.

Yes there is a “p” in Playa, but public urination and defecation on this federally protected land (like most places) is illegal. There are porta-potties provided for all Burners, and supposedly they’re serviced regularly.

Have a safe, legal time at Burning Man this year!

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Do Convicted Felons Have Voting Rights?

Not being able to vote as a convicted felon may seem harsh, but the practice of disenfranchisement varies widely, depending on where you live.

Each state has the power to regulate the ability of convicted felons to vote, and they don’t all agree on whether (or even how long) a felon should lose the right to vote.

So when and where do convicted felons have voting rights?

No Federal Standard; States Decide

Strange as it may sound, the ability to vote in both state and federal elections is determined by each state, not the federal government. According to the Sentencing Project, there have been bills introduced in Congress that would “standardize rules in federal elections and ensure voting fairness.” But for now, felony disenfranchisement is regulated by each state.

The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed this in a 1974 case, Richardson v. Ramirez, determining that it did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment to keep felons from voting even after they’ve completed their sentences.

No Disenfranchisement: Maine and Vt.

Although they’re the minority, Maine and Vermont do not strip felons of any right to vote, even while incarcerated. In Maine, those incarcerated may apply to register to vote “in any municipality” where that person has previously resided. Unfortunately, that means out-of-staters who are incarcerated in Maine may not be able to register to vote in Maine.

Permanent Loss of Right to Vote: Fla., Iowa, Ky., and Va.

In four states, a felon may permanently lose the right to vote, regardless of whether a sentence is served or parole is finished. In Florida, for example, the only way to restore the right to vote is by petitioning the governor for clemency. This harsh policy was originally the status quo in many states, giving many the impression that felons in general can never vote after a conviction.

Partly, Potentially, or Fully Restored After Completion of Sentence: 44 States and D.C.

The majority of states have chosen to restore the right to vote to convicted felons after the successful completion of their sentences — which may also include probation or parole.

For example, in Arizona, a felon can petition to have his or her civil rights
(including the right to vote) restored two years after the completion of
his or her sentence. However, this restoration may be at the discretion of the sentencing judge.

In some states, the restoration of voting rights is automatic upon the completion of a sentence, while in others, felons must re-register in order to vote. Re-registration may require a proof of discharge or letter from parole or probation officer.

If you’re facing a felony offense and are concerned about your right to vote, you may want to bring this up with your criminal defense attorney.

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LegalEyes for August 22, 2014

by interviews Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, discussing racial problems in the U.S., major rulings, and law schools.

Bob Herbert writes for Jacobin on the likelihood of another Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown: “The deepest concerns of blacks are seldom acted upon in any sustained, effective way. Most of the time, they are not even taken seriously.”

In The New York Times, Claire Cain Miller explains how part-time pay hurts working mothers.

Sarah Jaffe, Mariame Kaba, Randy Albelda and Kathleen Geier write in The Nation on the need to end the demonization of poor mothers.

Carson Whitelemons of the Brennan Center for Justice explains how voting rights laws in Ferguson block citizens from having a fair say.


Can Fantasy Football at Work Score Points for Your Business?

With the NFL’s regular season starting soon, it’s not just players and coaches who are getting ready. The millions of Americans who play Fantasy Football are also prepping, researching players for upcoming drafts and joining leagues made up of friends, or in many cases, co-workers. According to Forbes, these office fantasy football leagues may offer a golden opportunity for business owners to connect with their employees on a more personal level.

How can fantasy football pay off your office, and what potential downsides should you look out for?

Employees Like a Boss Who Cares

Once upon a time, it may have seemed improper for ownership or management to socialize with employees. But these days, finding ways to get to know your employees on a more personal level might be the best way to retain talent. A recent study cited by Forbes found that the most important factor in whether an employee reported feeling “engaged” in his or her job was whether the employee’s immediate supervisor seemed to genuinely care.

Why do engaged employees matter? That same study found that disengaged employees are 250 percent more like to leave their jobs for another job that pays better.

Fantasy football may offer you the chance to get to know your employees better by providing a platform to discuss something other than work. It also offers the opportunity to interact with employees on a more level playing field.

However, be careful not to get too carried away. Although the standards have changed, there is still a level of professional separation required between bosses and employees. Be sure to make it clear that participation in fantasy football will not translate into preferential treatment professionally.

Is Fantasy Football Even Legal?

If played strictly for fun, fantasy football is most certainly legal. However, if there is money on any fantasy game, you very well may be encouraging your employees to violate the law.

Under federal law, fantasy sports competitions are legal as long as:

  • They are not dependent solely on the score of any real games;
  • The outcomes reflect the knowledge and skill of the participants and are determined predominantly by statistics; and
  • The prizes are established before the competition begins and the value of the prize is not contingent on how many people participate or the amount of fees paid.

In addition to federal law, however, many states have their own laws regarding so-called “games of chance.” Be sure to check the laws in your state before allowing your office fantasy football league to play for real money.

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Boston attack on Padma Lakshmi and crew

If done by anyone other than unionists, this would by now be a trending national story:

The Teamsters picketers were already mad. By the time Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi’s car pulled up to the Steel & Rye restaurant in the picturesque New England town of Milton just outside Boston, one of them ran up to her car and screamed, “We’re gonna bash that pretty face in, you fucking whore!”

“She was scared,” said a Top Chef crewmember who witnessed the incident.

Bravo had incurred the wrath of Charlestown-based Teamsters Local 25 by using its own production assistants as drivers, reports the Boston Herald:

The picketers lobbed sexist, racist and homophobic slurs at the rest of the cast and crew for most of the day, the website reported, and when production wrapped, the “Top Chef” crew found that tires were slashed on 14 of their cars. Milton police confirmed that the union members were “threatening, heckling and harassing” but said no arrests were made.

The Herald quotes a spokeswoman for Local 25, Melissa Hurley, sounding completely unapologetic: “As far as we’re concerned, nothing happened.” Or to put it differently: Teamsters Will Be Teamsters.

More, including the violent history that makes this incident anything but “isolated,” from the Boston Globe. I’ve posted on the curious exemption of unions from the law of harassment, stalking, hostile environment, etc. here, here (more on Philadelphia Quaker meetinghouse arson), and in various other posts, as well as in my book The Excuse Factory.

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Boston attack on Padma Lakshmi and crew is a post from Overlawyered – Chronicling the high cost of our legal system