Monthly Archives: May 2017

But the Feds Do It That Way!

Stephen N. Subrin & Thomas O. Main, Braking the Rules: Why State Courts Should Not Replicate Amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 67 Case W. Res. L. Rev. 501 (2016).

Although state courts handle roughly ninety-five percent of all civil cases, federal procedural law dominates reform initiatives, academic discussions, and legislative attention. In line with this federal focus, there continues to be a push for state court systems to conform their civil procedural rules to the most recent amended version of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In their new article, Stephen Subrin and Thomas Main reject this unreflective state emulation of federal procedure.

Subrin and Main begin by demonstrating that the original promise that the Federal Rules would lead to universal uniformity has not been met. They track this lack of uniformity across four dimensions. Continue reading "But the Feds Do It That Way!"

America’s Next Top Probate Model

Katherine M. Arango, Trial and Heirs: Antemortem Probate for the Changing American Family, 81 Brook. L. Rev. 779 (2016).

The idea of the “traditional family unit” is changing at a rapid pace that requires the law to adapt to effectuate a testator’s intent when administering a will. With 16.3 million unmarried Americans cohabiting and one in five children born into such households, the need for a valid will to avoid intestacy is at an all-time high. Specifically, more families are living with stepchildren or same-sex partners. This makes traditional intestacy statutes, which are designed to protect a more traditional family unit, potentially dangerous for a testator with a nontraditional family. Some states, however, permit ante-mortem probate which allows a testator to probate his or her own will prior to death thus ensuring that the testator’s at-death property distribution plans are upheld. States with ante-mortem probate statutes allow interested parties, such as will beneficiaries and heirs, to contest the will like they would in a post-mortem probate for issues such as undue influence, mental incapacity, or fraud. Unlike post-mortem probate, where the testator is deceased and the court must determine the testator’s capacity and intent without the testator’s input, ante-mortem probate allows the testator to avoid an unwarranted will contest, and the risk of intestacy if the contest is successful, by testifying at the probate hearing. Major concerns with ante-mortem probate statutes, however, are that will contents become public knowledge and that the litigation may strain familial relationships.

Katherine Arango’s article details the shift in American families and how an ante-mortem probate statute would protect nontraditional families. The article explains how adverse attitudes of courts and juries toward nontraditional families could lead to an intestacy distribution, which would be contrary to the testator’s intent. Ms. Arango highlights how ante-mortem probate provides nontraditional families security whereas traditional post-mortem probate cannot. By recounting the history of ante-mortem probate, the article delineates the slow awareness and affirmation of the importance of the doctrine in modern society. The article analyzes the different models of ante-mortem probate statutes and how those models protect the intent of the testator while also explaining possible complications. Then, the article evaluates currently enacted ante-mortem probate statutes. Finally, the article offers a new, comprehensive statute that could be inserted into the Uniform Probate Code as well as adopted by any state looking to implement this probate method. Continue reading "America’s Next Top Probate Model"

Are Tax-Time Financial Products Good for the Poor?

Andrew T. Hayashi, The Effects of Refund Anticipation Loans On the Use of Paid Preparers and EITC Take-up,Virginia Law and Economics Research Paper No. 2016-9 (2016), available at SSRN.

The conventional wisdom about refund anticipation loans, at least among many academics, is that they are predatory lending products that benefit big businesses at the expense of the poor. Andrew Hayashi turns this notion on its head in his insightful paper, The Effects of Refund Anticipation Loans on the Use of Paid Preparers and EITC Take-up. 

Hayashi’s piece makes two important contributions to our understanding of tax-time financial products. First, he undertakes an empirical study that shows that curtailing refund anticipation loans (RALs) resulted in a decline in the use of tax return preparers, which in turn may have led to a drop in tax return filing and earned income tax credit (EITC) claims. Second, Hayashi discusses the welfare implications of RALs — an analysis that has been largely absent from the literature — and highlights the possibility that, on balance, they benefit taxpayers. Both of these insights have important implications for future policy, particularly for how we might regulate current and future tax-time products like refund anticipation checks. Continue reading "Are Tax-Time Financial Products Good for the Poor?"

Same Base, Different Taste: The Cultural Ingredient in Property Law

Taisu Zhang, Cultural Paradigms in Property Institutions, 41 Yale J. Int’l L. 347 (2016), available at SSRN.

Can we bring preferred legal norms to culture, asking culture to adapt, or do we bring culture to the formation of legal norms, asking law to adapt? This is not just a normative question causing consideration of moral or consequentialist choices. It is also an empirical one. Regardless of what we think we ought to do or might want to do, the real world may very well be constructed to preordain the sequence. Indeed, the embeddedness of culture in societal architecture may limit the bandwidth of available opportunities for law to act as an influence exogenous to culture.

To understand the interplay between culture and the law, it is useful to evaluate historical developments of legal doctrines from a comparative perspective. That is the eminently valuable project undertaken by Professor Taisu Zhang in his article, Cultural Paradigms in Property Institutions. Continue reading "Same Base, Different Taste: The Cultural Ingredient in Property Law"

A Call, and Roadmap, to Create Legal Research Classes that Meet the Experiential Standard

Alyson M. Drake, The Need for Experiential Legal Research Education, 108 Law Libr. J. 511 (2016).

Experiential learning is currently one of the buzz words of legal education. Recent changes to the ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools have focused greater attention on learning outcomes and assessment and increasing opportunities for learning and practicing skills that students will use as attorneys. In fact, ABA Standard 303(a)(3) requires a minimum of 6 credit hours of experiential course work.

Traditionally, experiential learning was widely thought to be the domain of law school clinics and externships, or field placements. However, the increased credit hour requirement for experiential learning has caused law schools to review their curriculum and determine whether sufficient experiential learning opportunities exist to meet the minimum requirement. Accordingly, there is a push to design new courses, or redesign existing courses, to meet a third type of experiential learning termed simulation courses, as described in ABA Standard 304. In order to qualify as a simulation course under the standard, a course should provide an experience “reasonably similar” to client representation although the student is not working with a real client.

Professor Alyson M. Drake’s article calls for the creation or retooling of stand-alone research classes that will meet the requirements to be designated as experiential classes. An increase in the number of research classes categorized as experiential will provide two benefits. First, and most importantly, it can serve to provide additional legal research instruction beyond the first year of law school. It will also support the mission of law schools to expand course offerings that meet the experiential standard. Continue reading "A Call, and Roadmap, to Create Legal Research Classes that Meet the Experiential Standard"

“Coke-Upon-Littleton of the Fist”: Law, Custom, and Complications

Robert Deal is a historian at Marshall University. His book is a nuanced account of the nineteenth-century British and American whaling industry and how it was misunderstood by contemporary lawyers and judges and continues to be misunderstood by present-day legal scholars.

Herman Melville famously wrote in Moby-Dick that whalemen settled their disputes using “hard words and harder knocks – the Coke-Upon-Littleton of the fist” (Moby-Dick, Chapter 89). As Deal shows, however, little violence actually sprung up when the crews of two (or more) ships pursued a whale but only one took it. Continue reading "“Coke-Upon-Littleton of the Fist”: Law, Custom, and Complications"