Monthly Archives: November 2021
Omer Pelled & Ohad Somech, The Value of Accuracy in Contract Interpretation
(Aug. 5, 2021), available at SSRN
In the past twenty years or so, the new formalism, led mostly by legal economists, has been quite influential in contract theory. Focusing on commercial transactions between sophisticated firms, leading scholars have questioned the courts’ competence to accurately determine the parties’ intentions and called for a textualist approach to contract interpretation (see, e.g., Schwartz & Scott 2000; 2003).
Two common responses to the new formalism are to deny that economic efficiency is the only value underlying contract interpretation, even in commercial contracts, and to shift attention from negotiated, commercial transactions to standard-form and consumer contracts. In The Value of Accuracy in Contract Interpretation, Omer Pelled and Ohad Somech take a different route. They convincingly criticize one of Schwartz & Scott’s key arguments on the latters’ own terms, thereby casting doubt on the accuracy of mainstream economic analysis of contract interpretation even in bespoke commercial transactions between sophisticated parties. Continue reading "The Accuracy of Economic Analysis of Contract Interpretation"
Shalini Bhargava Ray, Immigration Law’s Arbitrariness Problem
, 121 Colum. L. Rev.
2049 (2021), available at SSRN
The “law in books” is often not the same thing as the “law in action.” And in administrative law, the reason for that disjoint is often because some agency has decided to interpret, apply, or enforce the written law in a way that changes its on-the-ground meaning. In immigration law, the “law in books”—the Immigration and Nationality Act—takes a hard line on violators: it “specifies deportation as the sanction for nearly all transgressions of immigration law, no matter how minor, and regardless of the personal circumstances of the immigrant” (P. 3.) But when we look at how that law is applied, a different picture comes into view—“a system of shadow sanctions” (P. 4) that takes the place of deportation for vast numbers of noncitizens.
Shalini Bhargava Ray maps and critiques this “shadow” world of immigration law in an absorbing recent article, Immigration Law’s Arbitrariness Problem. In the article, Professor Ray sets out how the immigration bureaucracy stops, or indefinitely postpones, the issuance and execution of huge numbers of removal orders through the use of various administrative devices, including deferred action, administrative closure, and orders of supervision (P. 4.) She then explains the problematic feature of these discretionary tools as a rule-of-law matter: though these shadow sanctions mitigate the harshness of deportation, they are still doled out in an entirely opaque and often arbitrary way. Continue reading "Immigration Law’s “Shadow Dockets”"
Gali Racabi, Abolish the Employer Prerogative, Unleash Work Law
, 43 Berkley J. Emp. & Lab. L.
__ (forthcoming), available at SSRN
What is an “employer,” and what can it do? And what role does law play in answering those questions? In this understated yet radical new piece—Abolish the Employer Prerogative, Unleash Work Law—Gali Racabi analyzes the law’s basic concepts for governing the workplace. Digging deep into the substratum of the law’s framework, he excavates the idea of the “employer prerogative”: namely, that the employer’s designated representatives have “the legal authority to make unilateral decisions in the workplace.” (P. 4.) Racabi’s simple proposal is to end this prerogative and consider alternative ways of allocating workplace power. His concept is both simple and staggering: a complete reorganization of the governance of firms within our economy.
Abolishing the Employer’s Prerogative is centered on a notion that is so much a part of our common cultural and economic understandings that it may even take a moment to realize what it is. Our economy delegates control over economic activity and decision-making to individual firms. Firms are a little hard to define, as they are economic (and not scientific) phenomena, but essentially they are the businesses that we work for, buy from, and contract with when engaging in our economic lives. We rely on firms to organize our behavior such that we can carry on extensive, long-lasting economic engagements within the rubric of a firm, rather than simply a market. The theory of the firm has proven a useful yet frustrating subfield of economics, as economic methodologies have not always proven suitable for the subtle, complex intricacies of interpersonal cooperation and competition that are contained within the firm. Continue reading "What If I Told You That Employer Power Is a Legal Construct"
In the Estates textbook I use, most of the will execution cases involve testators whose clear intent is unrealized because they bungled strict execution requirements. The Uniform Probate Code and the Restatement (Third) of Property: Wills and Other Donative Transfers—mainstays in any Estates class—are drafted to minimize the possibility of formal requirements interfering with testator intent. Reis Kress Weisbord and David Horton’s Inheritance Forgery is a counter-narrative that demonstrates how forgery remains a real and substantial risk of which the law must take account.
Weisbord and Horton argue that “counterfeit donative instruments are a serious problem.” (P. 855.) They focus on three donative transfers: wills, deeds, and life insurance beneficiary designations. To explore the prevalence of forged wills, the authors conduct empirical research in Alameda County, California. In a dataset consisting of every matter on the probate court’s docket in a one-year period, ten percent of will contests involved a forgery claim. (P. 876.) To document the forgery risk with deeds, the authors examine reported opinions since 2000, grand jury reports, and journalistic accounts of cases that were never litigated. As Weisbord and Horton explain, “these cases and stories share a common thread: deed forgers tend to prey on property that is owned by a decedent’s estate.” (P. 883.) To demonstrate that courts “routinely preside over claims that a life insurance form was falsified or fabricated,” the authors study reported opinions since 2000. (P. 889.) This empirical works reveals the extent to which forgery threatens the integrity of donative transfers. Continue reading "Don’t Forget About the Fakes"
Nicolas Cornell, Looking and Seeing
, in New Conversations in Philosophy, Law & Politics
(Ruth Chang & Amia Srinivasan eds., forthcoming), available at SSRN
1Ls are often taught that the tort of negligence differs from its counterpart in morality by not requiring blameworthy or culpable misconduct. As Holmes famously put it, whereas “the courts of Heaven” will make allowances for the defects of a “hasty and awkward” person, no such generosity is extended to defendants facing a negligence suit in a common law court. But is it correct to suppose that the moral wrong of negligence necessarily involves culpability or blame? In his marvelous essay Looking and Seeing, Professor Nico Cornell engages an array of recent work in the moral philosophy of negligence to argue, in effect, that Heaven’s courts are as demanding as their earthly counterparts.
Cornell begins with a discussion of Moore v. Dashiell, a run-of-the-mill, mid-twentieth century negligence suit. On a clear, dry day, Dashiell, driving his car, stopped to pick up two hitchhikers: Moore and a friend. Shortly thereafter, with Dashiell driving at a lawful speed on a straight and level road, the car struck a large mule. Moore was seriously injured and sued. At trial, Dashiell testified that, just before the collision, he was turning the dial on his car radio to find a station, but was looking at the road as he did. (There was no point in looking at the radio, he explained, because its markings did not accurately identify the wavelengths at which stations’ signals would be picked up.) He further testified that he saw two cars approaching from the other direction, but never saw the mule. Dashiell’s testimony notwithstanding, verdict was entered for Moore and the Maryland Supreme Court affirmed. Continue reading "Seeing Negligence for What It Is"
The tension between the forces of nationalism and globalism has reached its peak with the United Kingdom’s decision to break with the European Union. This dramatic move continues to impact countless economic sectors and, more importantly, the lives of many citizens. Yet all is calm on the data protection front. The U.K. has decided to continue applying the E.U.’s strict GDPR. In this timely and intriguing article, Paul Schwartz strives to explain why this happened, as well predict what’s next for data protection and the British Isles.
GDPR is a four-letter word. Its strict rules and heavy fines have changed the world of data protection forever. Ninety-nine articles, one hundred and seventy-three recitals, thousands of pages of commentary, and the many millions of dollars spent preparing for it only tell us part of the story. Now that the U.K. can escape the grasp of this vast and overarching regulatory framework, why hasn’t it “checked out”? Rather, just a few days prior to Brexit, the U.K. adopted a local law which is almost identical to the GDPR. This outcome is especially surprising to me personally, as I have argued that the GDPR substantially encumbers innovation in the age of big data (although it is quite possible I was wrong). Continue reading "The Hotel California Effect: The Future of E.U. Data Protection Influence in the U.K."
Michael Heller and James Salzman’s new book, Mine! How the Hidden Rules of Ownership Control Our Lives, is a dream come true for property professors.
I suspect that many of us have moments when we think to ourselves, “wow, this stuff is really interesting,” imagining that property law could somehow be of general interest. Too often that dream is killed when the eyes of non-lawyers, including family members, start to glaze over when they hear words like rule against perpetuities or trademark. Heller and Salzman have succeeded in making the stories property professors tell the stuff of a bestseller. They retell many of the standard classroom or analytical stories in a way that is both interesting to the general public and somehow worthy of broad discussion. Continue reading "The Dream of Property Professors"
Professor Tonya Brito’s in-depth examination of the pursuit of child support from poor fathers continues to pay significant dividends that extend well beyond family law. Producing Justice in Poor People’s Courts: Four Models of State Legal Actors highlights the that differing personalities and approaches can have on impoverished parents involved in child-support-enforcement disputes before the courts. Based on an impressive ethnographic study, Brito’s article shows how the actors involved craft stories about impoverished family dynamics as a way to make sense of their own role and complicity in an often unjust system of regulating poor families.
For professors who have written extensively about a particular issue over many years, part of the challenge is situating each new contribution without succumbing to the temptation and comfort of repetition. Producing Justice in Poor People’s Courts handles this challenge beautifully. Part I briefly introduces the problem of courts seeking enforcement of child support orders against poor noncustodial fathers. Low-income fathers are often subject to child support orders that fail to take into account their ability to pay, with the amount owed based on an assumption of the availability of minimum wage employment for individuals who may face significant employment barriers or even incarceration. The result is that many poor fathers become child support debtors, failing to make payments because of their poverty—not because of an unwillingness to provide such support. As Brito notes, these fathers are “deadbroke parents . . . rather than deadbeat parents.” (P. 153.) Continue reading "Court Personalities and Impoverished Parents"
Elizabeth Chamblee Burch & Margaret Williams, Perceptions of Justice in Multidistrict Litigation: Voices from the Crowd
, __ Cornell L. Rev.
__ (forthcoming 2022), available at SSRN
How should we measure the value of an article? Easy metrics come to mind: citation counts, the h-index, SSRN downloads, likes and retweets, etc. All reflect the pathogenic logic of YouTube and Instagram celebrityhood transposed to legal scholarship. We all know that. Yet many of us pour over top-10 lists of most-cited scholars in different fields, compare downloads, and fret when a forthcoming article in our area does not cite us. When the masters behind the tyranny of the U.S. News metrics flirted with including citation counts, more than a few corners of legal academy prepared to fall in line. Some perhaps a bit too eagerly.
How about other (anti-)metrics: humanity and compassion? A bit quaint, perhaps, too cute in a hardnosed data-driven world. But why not focus on meaningful markers of human flourishing?
Elizabeth Chamblee Burch and Margaret Williams’s new article would score high on both counts. Continue reading "In a Different Voice"
For many—perhaps most—law students, law school is hard and stressful; legal practice is similarly experienced by many lawyers. The stress of these environments can act as an incubator for mental health problems, which often are buried by lawyers and law students, occasionally surfacing in stories of anxiety, substance abuse, addiction, depression and suicide, among other things. At the same time, however, law students report high levels of satisfaction with law school and their career decision, as do lawyers, which complicates understanding the mental health trend. This paradox calls for new thinking about mental illness in law school and the profession, which Kathryne Young’s article, Understanding the Social and Cognitive Processes in Law School That Create Unhealthy Lawyers (Understanding Unhealthy Lawyers), pursues. It offers a different lens for understanding these issues by directing attention to how the organizational policies and structure of legal education negatively impact law students’ well-being and, ultimately, their mental health.
Young is particularly well qualified to address this topic, having written a popular book on law student happiness (How to be Sort of Happy in Law School (2018)). But while the book is a how-to for students, Understanding Unhealthy Lawyers frames the wellness and mental health problem in relation to the organizational structure of law school, and invites law schools and faculty members to reconsider certain longstanding and widespread policies and practices in legal education. Continue reading "Rethinking Fundamentals? Law School and Mental Health"