Monthly Archives: March 2018

A Portrait of Uninsured Lawyers: Using Empirical Data to Enhance Public Protection

Leslie C. Levin, Lawyers Going Bare and Clients Going Blind, 68 Fla. L. Rev. 1281 (2016).

Many professors reading this review teach professional responsibility courses. These courses cover the law of lawyering, commonly focusing on the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct. As revealed in a small survey that I conducted in 2011, many professors do not devote much attention to studying legal malpractice law. The survey revealed that an even smaller percentage cover legal malpractice insurance. As a result, the majority of law students likely graduate without the basic understanding of legal malpractice insurance and without considering the crucial role that insurance plays in a professional’s practice. Professors’ failure to discuss the role insurance plays in helping lawyers function as accountable professionals may contribute to the large number of lawyers who fail to carry legal malpractice insurance.1 From the standpoint of access to justice, uninsured lawyers may leave injured persons without a remedy because experienced malpractice counsel often decline to sue lawyers who do not carry insurance or have significant assets to cover a malpractice judgment or settlement.2

Among practice settings, solo practitioners constitute the largest group of uninsured lawyers. Although some scholars have studied the role that insurance plays in affecting the conduct of lawyers in large firms,3 no one has studied the issues related to malpractice insurance and solo practice. That is why I especially liked Lawyers Going Bare and Clients Going Blind by Leslie C. Levin. The article provides a fascinating window into the world of uninsured solo lawyers. Continue reading "A Portrait of Uninsured Lawyers: Using Empirical Data to Enhance Public Protection"

A Dream Deferred?

Mariana Pargendler, How Universal is the Corporate Form? Reflections on the Dwindling of Corporate Attributes in Brazil (2017), available at SSRN.

The proliferation of what might generally be called the convergence literature over the past several decades has brought new insights into the study of corporate governance. In particular, it has allowed scholars to identify and seek to understand diversities in corporate practices, despite what appears to be more or less unity of form.

Mariana Pargendler’s excellent new paper brings exciting insight to the conversation. Acknowledging the apparent universality of the core features of corporate law, she engages in a study of Brazilian law and its evolution over the past several decades to demonstrate that Brazilian courts and legislators have significantly diluted these elements. Significant diminution of the protection of limited liability, legal personality and capital lock-in, share transferability, delegated management, and ownership by investors are leading to a well-functioning but distinctly different concept of business enterprise, while continuing to appear to maintain most of the structural features of the corporate form.1 Whether this transformation eventually will result in new legislation creating a new form of business enterprise is anybody’s guess, and Pargendler sensibly notes the recency of these developments and the inability to predict where they go. Nevertheless, as she notes: “In some respects, Brazilian law is dream come true for progressive corporate law scholars … .” (P. 53.) Her facilitation of that dream is a welcome addition to the literature. Continue reading "A Dream Deferred?"

The Transformation in Kelsen’s Last Works

Stanley L. Paulson, Metamorphosis in Hans Kelsen’s Legal Philosophy, 80 Modern L. Rev. 860 (2017), available at SSRN.

Though Hans Kelsen is arguably the best-known and most influential legal philosopher of the 20th century world-wide, he is not especially well known among American scholars, and when his work is discussed in this country, it is often misunderstood.1 One scholar who has worked tirelessly for decades to make Kelsen better known and better understood on these shores is Stanley L. Paulson. He has (with the help of Bonnie Litschewski Paulson) translated Kelsen’s works,2 written numerous articles summarizing and evaluating Kelsen’s work, and translated and compiled other significant commentaries on Kelsen.3 Paulson’s most recent article, “Metamorphosis in Hans Kelsen’s Legal Philosophy,” (a) explains the neo-Kantian approach of most of Kelsen’s works (Pp. 876-880), (b) discerns certain weaknesses in the argument (Pp. 880-881, 893), and (c) investigates when and why Kelsen ultimately abandoned a neo-Kantian approach, and also changed his views about the application of logic to (legal) norms (Pp. 861-865, 882-892).

Anglo-American legal scholars are accustomed to a more empirical and pragmatic approach to philosophy in general, and to the study of law in particular, which is why H. L. A. Hart’s approach has been well received.4 What has made Kelsen’s works so difficult for us is that his best-known writings are grounded in a very different approach, one based on Kant’s transcendental argument. As Paulson explains, Kelsen’s neo-Kantian argument goes along the following lines: We need to ask what follows from the fact that we (or “legal science”) view the acts of officials as valid legal norms. The mystery is grounded in the fact that the actions of officials are in the empirical realm (facts about what legislators, judges, administrators, and other officials have done or said), while legal rules are in the normative (non-empirical) realm. A standard philosophical view is that normative conclusions cannot be derived from strictly empirical premises. Continue reading "The Transformation in Kelsen’s Last Works"

Decolonizing Comparative Law

Sherally Munshi, Comparative Law and Decolonizing Critique, 65 Am. J. Comp. L. 207 (2017), available at SSRN.

In her magisterial essay, Comparative Law and Decolonizing Critique, Sherally Munshi invites us to undertake a “decolonizing critique” of comparative law, which entails reflecting about “our responsibility towards and recognition of difference” and “the relevance of comparative study to the societal exigencies of our particular moment.” The occasion for the essay is a special issue of the American Journal of Comparative Law dedicated to Pierre Legrand’s book-length article Jameses at Play in which he identifies two irreconcilable strands of comparative legal studies—positivism and culturalism—advocating for the latter.

Munshi’s reading of Legrand is but a stepping stone for a momentous contribution to the debate over the raison d’être of comparative law. She proposes an “alternative approach” that “might play an important role in decolonizing and democratizing legal thought.” Her vision is one of a “broadly expanded comparative law, one that assumes a leading role in addressing an entrenched Eurocentrism in legal discourse while providing hospitable ground for a variety of critical and interdisciplinary projects, especially those that might join in the effort to decolonize higher education and to project alternative, more equitable forms of coexistence.” Continue reading "Decolonizing Comparative Law"

Regional Administration and the American Experiment

Jessica Bulman-Pozen, Our Regionalism, 166 U. Pa. L. Rev. 377 (2018).

Regionalism in America is having a renaissance—in conceptualizing the shared and competing interests of red, blue, and purple states; in developing new possibilities for governance across the country; and in administrative law scholarship. Into this mix comes Jessica Bulman-Pozen’s timely and thoughtful article, Our Regionalism1 While we usually talk about “Our Federalism,” regionalism has in fact “shaped American government over the past century,” helping to define “how power flows to and within the federal government.” (Pp. 381-382.) In making this case and exploring how regionalism’s different governance forms have, over time, both expanded the federal bureaucracy and increased state power within federal programs, Bulman-Pozen’s work also helps frame the contemporary stakes for the American polity of “regionalism’s ‘bad twin,’ sectionalism.” (P. 380.)

After first offering a “stripped-down understanding” of the term “region”— “a subnational area encompassing all or part of multiple states” (P. 383) —the article begins with a helpful taxonomy that justifies Bulman-Pozen’s claim that “regional organization pervades state and federal administration.” (P. 388.) In her conception, regional governance has developed over time to encompass three main varieties. First is interstate collaboration, in which states band together to solve a common problem. The interstate compact, provided for by Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution, is the oldest and most common of this form of regional governance, but other types exist as well, including interstate agreements (less formal than compacts because they allow for unilateral withdrawal), and “the synchronized adoption of substantially similar laws” in neighboring states. (P. 387.) Continue reading "Regional Administration and the American Experiment"

Statutory Interpretation for Courts and Lawyers

Victoria Nourse, Misreading Law, Misreading Democracy (2016).

Since the New Deal, when more information became available about the hearings and reports that accompanied the passage of bills through Congress, lawyers and judges have been fighting over how to read legislation. Law professors have joined the fray, debating questions such as how far courts can stray from the plain meaning of the text and how reliably courts can look to legislative history in attempting to make sense of the words of the statute. Every interpretive method promises fidelity to Congress as the first branch of government, but the methods deliver very different forms of fidelity. Some prize the words themselves, using dictionaries and canons to give them meaning; others look for meaning in the purposes and debates that animated the legislation.

Enter Victoria Nourse. In a series of articles drawing on her experience as a key staffer in Congress, Nourse argues that we should all take a class in Congress 101. That is, both textualists and purposivists approach the words of a statute with a shared misunderstanding of the way members of Congress do their work. The words of the statute count in Nourse’s telling, but they must be read with an appreciation of the nature of the legislative process. That insight, shared with positive political theorists, sets the stage for Nourse’s critique of modern methods of interpretation and her attempt to construct an alternative approach, one she calls a “legislative decision” mode of interpretation. Continue reading "Statutory Interpretation for Courts and Lawyers"

Quiet Justice

One of the key contributions Melissa Milewski makes in her important new book, Litigating Across the Color Line, is a novel and rather surprising answer to a central question for historians of race and the law: why, in the period between Reconstruction and the modern civil rights era, did African Americans maintain such faith in the courts?

The standard answer, in one version or another, has been: what else did they have? During decades when the controlling institutions of American society systematically oppressed blacks, the courts, and particularly the federal courts, were the least bad choice available for oppressed racial minorities. This helps explain why the NAACP invested time and resources in litigation campaigns in its early years; it also helps explain why African American attorneys such as Charles Houston and Thurgood Marshall committed themselves to a path that placed lawyers and judges at the vanguard of the battle against Jim Crow. Continue reading "Quiet Justice"

Designing Design Patent Subject Matter

Sarah Burstein, The Article of Manufacture in 1877, 32 Berkeley Tech. L.J. 1 (2017).

Designs for articles of manufacture are eligible for design patent protection under section 171 of the Patent Act if they are “new, original and ornamental.” As is clear on the face of this provision, design patent subject matter is limited to designs for “articles of manufacture”—other types of design, including architectural design, would seem to be excluded. But what exactly is included? What is a “design for an article of manufacture”? In an important new article, The Article of Manufacture in 1877, Sarah Burstein provides critical historical context on that question.

Courts and the Patent Office have in recent years given “article of manufacture” a very broad interpretation. They have, for instance, accepted as design patent subject matter the design of a spray pattern for a water fountain, the design of the shank portion of a drill bit, and graphical user interface (GUI) designs (so long as they are depicted in a little rectangle to indicate—nominally—that they show up on a screen). As a subject matter threshold, then, the article of manufacture requirement has in recent years excluded very little from design patent protection. Continue reading "Designing Design Patent Subject Matter"

Preliminary Agreements as Signposts Instead of Mini-Contracts

Cathy Hwang, Deal Momentum, 65 UCLA L. Rev. (forthcoming, 2018), available at SSRN.

Cathy Hwang’s article Deal Momentum offers empirical evidence to support a new view of preliminary agreements that could reshape the way we think about these hybrids between contract and non-contract. Her data – interviews with deal lawyers and a review of practitioner literature – challenge the conventional wisdom that businesspeople in large mergers and acquisitions hire counsel to draft memoranda of understanding (“MOU”), letters of intent (“LOI”), or term sheets to resolve either deal uncertainty or deal complexity. That view coheres with the standard statement in a LOI – often on every page – that the parties do not intend it legally bind them on substantive provisions such as price. Yet Hwang’s interviews with corporate counsel, her review of practitioner literature and case law suggest that most business people resolve uncertainties and complexities before entering a LOI, not afterwards.

Hwang solves this puzzle of why parties pay counsel to draft term sheets that make substantive terms non-binding when in fact the parties usually intend to – and do — go ahead with the deal once they create a LOI. She concludes that preliminary agreements instead serve as “signposts” that “lend form and formality to an otherwise unstructured phase of the negotiation process.” (P. 37.) She dubs this tipping point “stickiness,” meaning the point when the parties come to believe that the deal will stick. Continue reading "Preliminary Agreements as Signposts Instead of Mini-Contracts"

Employer Catering to Discriminatory Harassment and Preferences by Influential Outsiders

Dallan F. Flake, Employer Liability for Non-Employee Discrimination, 58 B.C. L. Rev. 1169 (2017).

In a recent Boston College Law Review article, Employer Liability for Non-Employee Discrimination, Professor Dallan Flake (Ohio Northern) addresses a subject that has generally perplexed me as well as many employees and employers—how courts can develop a cohesive framework under Title VII to address employer liability for employment discrimination actions due to the behavior of company outsiders. In particular, I have always wondered about the usual trope that customer preference cannot be a defense in discrimination claims while recognizing that there is nothing more important to employers than the preferences of their customers. This article catalogues a host of very interesting cases describing the acts of customers and other non-employee harassers or their biased preferences that raised liability concerns for employers in discrimination claims brought by their employees. Flake’s thought-provoking discussion of these cases offers a noteworthy guide for employers developing policies with respect to discriminatory influences from outsiders.

The article argues that increasing employer involvement in the service industry has led to a number of integrated business models, including outsourcing, that pose new legal challenges when considering non-employee actions. To a large extent, the article illustrates initially how the workplace has evolved from a binary employer-employee relationship by triangulating into an employer-employee-customer relationship. As a result, employees are more likely to interact with non-employee customers or clients, vendors, suppliers, temporary employees, and independent contractors all potentially located at the same worksite. Although the analysis discussed could apply to any of these influential non-employee relationships arising within many of the newer business structures, most of the article emphasizes the challenging dynamics posed by discriminatory actions of customers. Continue reading "Employer Catering to Discriminatory Harassment and Preferences by Influential Outsiders"