Monthly Archives: May 2014

Internalizing The Costs Of Employment Law Violations

David Weil, The Fissured Workplace (Harvard University Press, 2014).

David Weil’s new book on the fragmenting of internal labor markets in many American industries, The Fissured Workplace, should be read by all who wish to understand how the challenges to enforcing laws designed to protect American workers have become greater as the institutional structures and processes through which American businesses produce and deliver goods and services have continued to evolve. This book should be read not primarily because President Obama last year nominated Weil, a Boston University School of Management Professor, to head the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor or because the book includes several chapters stressing the importance of strategic public enforcement and the role of unions and other non-governmental worker advocacy groups in changing workplace culture. Rather, the primary value of the book is its rich description of the variant ways by which successful American businesses that sell branded goods and services have externalized the costs of employment law violations by delegating to other businesses the responsibility for providing and supervising the labor input for their branded products. This description supports the book’s most important recommendation, a recommendation that would require—beyond stronger enforcement of current laws—a re-internalization of the costs of employment law violations to those businesses that monitor and control the production of goods and services sold under their brands.

Weil describes three kinds of externalization: subcontracted workplaces, outsourced supply chains, and franchised retail operations. For each, he provides examples of lead businesses that use externalization to concentrate on their core competencies of branded product design, development, and marketing, as well as to escape certain costs, including labor costs, that would have to be incurred without externalization. Weil explains how externalization has been facilitated by technological developments that enable lead businesses to protect differentiated brands, and associated high profit margins, through close monitoring and coordination of the quality and timely production of branded goods and services. Modern computer-based technology provides this brand protection without some of the higher labor costs of non-union, as well as unionized, large internal labor markets. Furthermore, as long as the lead company delegates actual control over a subcontractor’s or franchisee’s workforce to the subcontractor or franchisee, it can escape at least some of the costs of compliance with employment laws like FLSA and OSHA, in addition to potential workers’ compensation liability. There is good reason to think that subcontractors and franchisors often cannot pass on employment law compliance costs to the dominant branding companies with which they are in business. While subcontractors’ and franchisors’ reduced concern with reputational costs and their tight profit margins encourage their non-compliance, their relatively small size and less permanent work forces make enforcement less likely. Further, lead companies with differentiated brands generally can transfer their business to competing contractors or other potential franchisees. Continue reading "Internalizing The Costs Of Employment Law Violations"

Patching Things Up

Linda Radzik, Tort Processes and Relational Repair in Philosophical Foundations of the Law of Torts (John Oberdiek ed., 2014).

Imagine you are trying to write a mission statement for tort law. What aspiration would you put on paper? Tort theorists will find Linda Radzik’s answer at once familiar and foreign. In Tort Processes and Relational Repair, Radzik suggests that tort should pursue corrective justice. But she rejects the familiar Aristotelian conception of corrective justice, on which wrongdoing calls for compensation that offsets the harm caused. Instead, she suggests that corrective justice requires reconciliation. According to Radzik, tort should aim to repair the relationships ruptured by wrongdoing, rather than the harms that result from it.

The problem with the Aristotelian picture of corrective justice, Radzik says, is that it mistakes what’s wrong with wrongdoing. If you think that corrective justice consists in compensation for harm done, Radzik explains, then you are apt to think that what is wrong with wrongdoing is that it damages something that belongs to the victim, or deprives her of something she is entitled to have. But, as Radzik points out, there are wrongs that do not result in harms, and harms that did not result from wrongs, so it hardly seems like harm could be the essence of wrongdoing. Continue reading "Patching Things Up"

“Take your stinking paws off [my property], you damned dirty [judges and legislators]!”*

Daniel B. Kelly, Restricting Testamentary Freedom: Ex Ante Versus Ex Post Justifications, 82 Fordham L. Rev. 1125 (2013).

Professor Daniel B. Kelly’s well-researched and carefully reasoned article discusses the traditional justifications for restricting testamentary freedom, not only from a legal perspective, but also an economic or functional one. The article first discusses the structure and goal of American succession law and the relevance of distinguishing between the ex ante perspective versus the ex post perspective. Next, the article explains the economic justifications for restricting testamentary freedom. Finally, the article critically analyzes the legal limitations on testamentary freedom.

Professor Kelly begins by noting the fundamental principle of American succession law—testamentary freedom. One justification for the law generally deferring to owners of property in deciding how to utilize or transfer their property is that it promotes social welfare. An advantage of testamentary freedom is that it aligns an individual’s “incentive to work, save, and invest with what is socially optimal,” which would facilitate long-term capital accumulation and productivity. Another advantage of testamentary freedom is that, in many situations, the testator is likely to be better informed than legislators or judges on how best to distribute the testator’s property. Finally, Professor Kelly notes that testamentary freedom may benefit familial relationships. However, even with all these advantages, a system based on testamentary freedom does not always coincide with the overall goal of advancing social welfare, at least in part because the law sometimes fails to incorporate the ex ante perspective. Consequently, the issue arises of when should the courts facilitate testamentary freedom, even though doing so permits a testator to assert “dead hand” control, and when should the courts restrict testamentary freedom, even though doing so means intervening in the testator’s disposition of property. Continue reading "“Take your stinking paws off [my property], you damned dirty [judges and legislators]!”*"

Civilizing Civil Detention

César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, Immigration Detention as Punishment, 61 UCLA L. Rev. (forthcoming 2014), available at SSRN.

When the news came out that nearly half a million noncitizens now find themselves in immigration detention, it struck me that this may be the most invisible civil-rights issue of our era. Immigration Detention as Punishment, by César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, offers a compass through this tricky and contested terrain.

Formally, immigration detention is a civil status, an administrative adjunct to deportation. Detained noncitizens have lesser procedural protections against unnecessary or excessive detention than the criminal justice system provides to pre-trial detainees. Yet, immigration detention functions to deprive noncitizens of social and physical liberty in the same way as criminal incarceration. The government detains noncitizens in the same jails and prisons as criminal defendants and the convicted.  The lives of noncitizens in detention are regulated in the same way as the lives of those whose confinement results from the criminal justice system. Continue reading "Civilizing Civil Detention"

The Importance of Context

Lawyers in Practice: Ethical Decision Making In Context (Leslie C. Levin & Lynn Mather eds., 2013).

Context matters to lawyers. The representation of clients, advice-giving, advocating, drafting, and negotiating—indeed, the very exercise of professional judgment—all take place in a context that shapes and informs lawyers’ decision-making. Context, however, plays only a minimal role in the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct (“Rules”). While some comments to the Rules often provide contextual examples, an underlying theme of the Rules is their universal appeal: the Rules are explicitly meant to be a one-size-fits-all model for all lawyers, irrespective of context. Some argue that the universal nature of the Rules renders them conceptually anachronistic and practically useless, and have called for the promulgation of rules of conduct more in tune with the increasingly diverse realities practicing lawyers face. Such a contextual critique consists of two steps. The first is empirical. Promulgating rules that meaningfully address the realities that lawyers face in practice requires an empirical understanding of these very realities. The second step is normative. Once empirical evidence is gathered, one has to decide what to make of it and whether and how to incorporate it into the Rules.

Lawyers in Practice: Ethical Decision Making in Context, a new volume of empirical work edited by Leslie Levin and Lynn Mather, significantly contributes to this universal-contextual discourse. It consists of sixteen excellent chapters examining in detail lawyers’ decision-making processes across thirteen different legal contexts including family, immigration, and personal injury, as well as corporate, securities, and IP law. “[T]he organized bar and many law schools,” write the editors, “continue to focus their discussion of legal ethics primarily on bar rules of professional conduct. That approach, this book suggests, is a serious mistake.” (P. 4.) Such a focus on the Rules is a mistake, assert Levin and Mather, because it ignores the importance of context: “[t]he chapters in this book look at lawyers’ decisions from the bottom up—that is, from the perspective of lawyers in practice—and not from top-down rules that often reveal more about the aspirations of the profession than the reality.” (P. 11.) “We hope,” conclude the editors, that “this book will help narrow the gap between what sociological scholars are learning about lawyers’ ethical decision making in context and the legal profession’s approach to the teaching and regulation of lawyers.” (P. 21.) Continue reading "The Importance of Context"

Guestworkers In Postwar America: A New History

In the past decade, there has been an explosion of wonderful work on the history of immigration and citizenship law. Cindy Hahamovitch’s No Man’s Land ranks with work of Mae Ngai, Daniel Kanstroom, Kelly Lytle Hernández, and others.  The book is essential reading for historians of twentieth century immigration.  It offers a brilliant account of the forces that have shaped modern immigration law and of the way immigration law categories have acquired meaning “on the ground.”

No Man’s Land is a meticulous and detailed study of the post-World War II agricultural guest-worker program as it applied to Jamaican workers.  Immigration historians have long been aware that immigration is a complex story of both “push” and “pull” factors, developments in the home country and those in the receiving country.  However, most historians focus on just one part of this dyad and make formulaic or empty gestures in the direction of the other.  Not Hahamovitch.  No Man’s Land pays serious attention to changing conditions in both Jamaica and the United States.  The book operates on multiple scales.  It situates the Jamaican guest-worker program in the larger geopolitical context of World War II and the Cold War; pays attention to horse-trading between the United States and Jamaica over the terms on which Jamaican workers would work in the United States; examines in considerable detail the conditions under which Jamaicans worked in different parts of the United States; discusses the efforts of American lawyers who sought to prevent exploitation of Jamaican guest-workers; and even focuses on the correspondence between Jamaican workers and their families back in Jamaica. Continue reading "Guestworkers In Postwar America: A New History"

A Truly Different Understanding of Law and Morality

Mark Greenberg, The Moral Impact Theory of Law, 123 Yale L.J. 1288 (2014).

In legal philosophy, as in many scholarly areas, there is a “good and original” problem: the work that is very good tends not to be particularly original (usually being rather a careful modification of existing ideas), and the work is truly original tends not be very good at all.  There are occasional exceptions, and one of these in the area of legal philosophy is the work of Mark Greenberg, who in recent years has developed, through a series of articles, a significant, and significantly novel approach to the nature of law.  As will be described, Greenberg’s theory is distinctive and refreshingly heretical.

Greenberg’s approach is in sharp contrast with what he calls “the Standard Picture,” a view he believes to be assumed or accepted, but rarely argued for, in connection with most of the currently popular theories of the nature of law.  Under the Standard Picture, when legislators enact a statute, they directly and straightforwardly add to our law(s).  At the same time, as Greenberg points out, lawyers, legal theorists, and law students – and everyone else who has looked seriously at the process of statutory interpretation in actual cases – know that the way statutes add to the law(s) is not that direct or that clear.  This is shown indirectly in the way that competent judges and practitioners, acting in good faith, often disagree about the legal effects of a statute (in application to actual or hypothetical sets of facts), with disagreements often occurring at a basic level (e.g., should we focus on the plain meaning of the statute’s text, or should we focus on what the lawmakers intended to do).  As the article points out, judges who disagree about statutory interpretation rarely come equipped with arguments about why some factors are relevant and others are not, or why some factors should be given greater weight than other (relevant) factors.  As Greenberg indicates, any such argument would likely be in terms of why – and when — the actions of legal officials affect our moral rights and duties. Continue reading "A Truly Different Understanding of Law and Morality"

Open and Close Innovation Regimes: An Experiment on Institutional and Organizational Design

Kevin J. Boudreau & Karim R. Lakhani, How Disclosure Policies Impact Search in Open Innovation, Harv. Bus. Sch. Tech. & Operations Mgmt. Working Paper (2013).

One of the central tensions in the institutional design of innovation regimes is the trade-off between incentives and disclosure. Innovation systems, including intellectual property systems, are created to optimize creative output by balancing ex ante incentives for initial creators with ex post disclosure of the innovation to follow-on creators and the public. According to accepted theory, the more rigorous the disclosure—in terms of when and how it occurs—the weaker the incentives. But a fascinating new experiment by Kevin Boudreau and Karim Lakhani suggests that differences in disclosure regimes can affect not just the amount of innovation but also the kind of innovation that takes place.

Boudreau and Lakhani set up a tournament on the TopCoder programming platform that involved solving a complicated algorithmic task over the course of two weeks. All members of the community were invited to participate in the tournament, and contest winners would receive cash prizes (up to $500) and reputational enhancement within the TopCoder community. The coding problem was provided by Harvard Medical School, and solutions were scored according to accuracy and speed. Importantly, the top solutions in the tournament significantly outperformed those produced within the medical school, but that’s a different paper. Continue reading "Open and Close Innovation Regimes: An Experiment on Institutional and Organizational Design"