80 Wyoming Free Breakfast

Wildflowers-MooseCreek-6.28.15

Two wrinkled strangers

We trade motel pleasantries

They are old soulmates.


I drove, in summer of 2015, from Jackson, Wyoming to the Hill Country west of Austin, Texas.  I left Jackson one late afternoon.  I had three companions that day: a badly written spy-novel audiobook, a beautifully desolate high-desert landscape, and a warm sunset on my right shoulder.  I progressed as far south as Evanston, WY, near the Utah border.  There I spent the night in a Super 8.  Free HBO, complimentary breakfast.  It doesn’t matter how warm the milk, cold the coffee, stale the Frosted Flakes, dubious the waffle batter: free motel breakfast is winning the lottery.

Next morning I sipped concentrate orange juice near the buffet.  The day began clear and cool and bright.  I studied a map, hunting for a hiking trailhead in the nearby Wasatch Mountains.  The sun quickly warmed the Super 8 lobby.  An elderly couple entered, sat down to their free breakfast.  I like to think that they were retirees from Nebraska, westward bound to visit their newborn granddaughter in Boise.

Their wore warm, sincere good-morning smiles.  The husband poured two cups of steaming coffee.  I wondered if he’d find it as watered-down as I did, then I wondered if he wondered if I was a snob, sulking over my styrofoam cup while longing for a latte.  He sat down to the newspaper.  The man’s wife arranged breakfast for two at the buffet.  He served the coffee, and she the food.  This was the morning ritual, and it did not change just because the place had.

I split the next five minutes focusing on my map and their meal.  As couples do in quiet moments, they conversed but barely spoke.  A nod, a grateful smile, pointing to a newspaper article, raised eyebrows in recognition.

I was moved.  I wanted so much to celebrate their casual grace, their collective dignity.  But the moment’s beauty was of course its quiet.  I rose from my table and left a moment later.  We exchanged glances and farewell nods.  He looked sad, the young man alone with his map.

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Support for Civil Legal Aid Is Nonpartisan Because Legal Aid Works.

The Trump Administration sent its Fiscal Year 2018 budget proposal to Congress on May The Big 40!23rd.  The proposal calls for the defunding of the Legal Services Corporation (the current appropriation of which amounts to one ten-thousandth of total federal spending).  Granted, presidential budget proposals are opening gambits in the budget negotiation process, and as such reach toward the extremes.  From there, as the actual business of producing a budget gets done the numbers, in normal times and circumstances, tend to settle more reasonably.

But at this time and in these unique political circumstances I remain alarmed that the president proposes destroying a program that works so well, and so efficiently, in making sure Americans can access their own justice system.

The president’s LSC-defunding proposal is completely at odds with well-informed views from just about every corner of the legal community.  Here’s a sampling – including elected Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals and moderates – of those standing up for LSC.  In their own words, they explain how important LSC’s work is to:

  1. serving our country’s veterans, elders and families by giving them a fair shake in the courts
  2. making sure the court systems are unclogged and running smoothly
  3. partnering with the private sector to ensure that non-government support and attorney volunteerism are part of the solution.

LSC Transcends Partisanship Because It Works.

Is LSC worth the 1/10,000th of federal spending that is devoted to it today?  Is there a return on this investment of our tax dollars?  Good questions, both.  The answer, coming from those best positioned to know, is an emphatic “yes.”

Where Do Skadden Fellows Come From?

By “classic legal academy” measurements, the Skadden Fellowship is the most prestigious postgraduate conduit into legal public-interest work.  Skadden Fellows marry academic excellence with remarkable track records of gaining practical public-interest work experience during law school.  I don’t think the “classic legal academy” metric (GPA, law review, elite school, etc.) is the best way to identify and cultivate the next generation of public interest lawyers – it certainly isn’t the only way.  (And thank goodness because I went to the Harvard of North Broad Street.  Temple.  I’m a proud Owl.)  Nonetheless Skadden Fellows are extraordinary achievers with extraordinary commitment and ambition to make change for people who are marginalized and vulnerable.  Skadden Fellows are kick-arse in this way.

A few years ago when I worked with NALP, I loosely kept tabs on the incoming classes of Skadden Fellows.  It’s helpful for law school administrators to see which schools consistently succeed in producing Skadden Fellows – yes/yes, it’s a lot of Harvard/Yale, but many more schools too – and also to learn more about the kinds of projects the Fellows propose and where in the U.S. they work.  The other day I revisited the Skadden Fellowship numbers – props to the Skadden Foundation for making the information available and for running such a clean website – to see what’s been going on.  So here’s 5 fellowship classes worth of numbers and one thought that occurred to me.

This is the “where the Fellows come from” post – i.e. which law schools.  I’ll follow up at some point soon with a “where the Fellows go to” post – i.e. their placements, by location and type of placement organization.  But again, the fellowship website is informative and worth a look…

Where they come from (the basics and the details and a quick analysis)…

The Basics

  • Class of 2012: 28 Fellows from 16 law schools
  • Class of 2013: 29 Fellows from 16 law schools
  • Class of 2014: 28 Fellows from 16 law schools
  • Class of 2015: 28 Fellows from 16 law schools
  • Class of 2016: 27 Fellows from 14 law schools

Hello, consistency.  But the picture fragments a little bit upon a closer look…

The Details

Skadden-Fellow-School-Breakdown-2012-2016 (PDF link).

Skadden Fellows by Law School – 2012-2016
2016 2015 2014 2013 2012
Harvard 5 6 6 6 6
Yale 4 4 7 3 2
U. Michigan 4 1
U. Pennsylvania 1 3 1 1 2
Stanford 3 2 2 3
Georgetown 1 1 1 2 1
Columbia 2 1 1 2 2
NYU 1 2 1 4 2
UCLA 1 2 1 1
U. Chicago 1 1 1 1
Michigan State 1 1
U. Washington 1
Boston College 1
UC Irvine 1 1
Washington & Lee 1
Vanderbilt 1 1 1
U. Illinois 1
Berkeley 1 2
CUNY 1
Rutgers- Camden 1
DePaul 1 1
U. Maryland 1
U. Miami 1
Duke 1
U. Virginia 1
Tulane 1
U. Denver 1
John Marshall (IL) 1
Northeastern 1 1
Chicago-Kent 1
Villanova 1
Loyola Los Angeles 1
American 1 1
Suffolk 1
U. Connecticut
Washington U. (St. Louis) 1

The Analysis

My analysis in seven words:  Whither the bottom half of Tier One?  “Tier One” is language connected to the infamous US News & World Report law school rankings.  The Tier One schools are those ranked 1-50.  Tier One’s bottom half – ranked 25-50 – is highly competitive but far from Ivy.  In the Skadden Fellowship Class of 2015 exactly one school ranked between 25-50 (by current USNWR rankings) graduated a Skadden Fellow: UC Irvine.  In the Class of 2016 no schools in the bottom half of Tier One are graduating a Skadden Fellow.

I wonder if a “diamond in the rough” phenomenon exists.  Obviously the super-elite law schools are going to produce Skadden Fellows.  But what ab0ut the Fellows who don’t come from, say, Top-25 schools?

The lower Tier One schools (25-50) are academically rigorous and draw high achievers.  I bet they have bunches of students who could be viable Skadden Fellowship candidates.  Lower-ranked schools, by contrast, may have that one Skadden candidate who immediately stands out from her peers.  An all-star.  A diamond.  So I wonder, with what I grant is some conjecture, but based on numbers and experience and instinct: how many Skadden Fellows could be found at schools living in that 25-50 echelon?

Big Law Gets Bigger: “Record Year” in Law Firm Mergers

From the Philly Inquirer’s always-worth-reading legal industry reporter, Chris Mondics, “A record year for law firms’ M&A activity”:

Law firm mergers and acquisitions reached a record number last year as firms sought to overcome static growth in corporate legal spending by grabbing market share.

Nationwide, there were 91 such mergers, three more than in 2014, according to Newtown Square-based legal consultant firm Altman Weil.

“Law firm mergers and acquisitions are a primary strategy to acquire new business in a market where demand is flat or constrained,” said Altman Weil principal Ward Bower. “The record number of deals in 2015 is a reflection of the intense competition among law firms for new work, and we expect the market to remain hot in 2016.”

EDIT: oh, for the geeks, here’s Altman Weil’s “Merger Line” webpage which tracks and reports on law firm mergers.

Involuntarily Committing New York’s Homeless to Shelter in Cold Weather?

500px-I_Love_New_York.svgWorth reading this well-reported NYT article, “[Gov.] Cuomo Orders that Homeless be Taken to Shelter in Freezing Weather”  in full b/c the governor’s office is still refining its position on what it’s doing and how it will do it.  Short version: an executive order signed yesterday and to take effect tomorrow will, according to the  NYT:

require…local governments to remove homeless people [and place them in shelter] by force, if necessary, once the temperature drops to 32 degrees Fahrenheit or below. The governor’s order says that to protect public safety, “the state can take appropriate steps, including involuntary placement.”

As for politics, this raises questions of friction between Gov. Cuomo and NYC Mayor de Blasio, who has made reducing homelessness a priority but has nevertheless confronted stubbornly high homelessness rates during his administration.

The more interesting question concerns policy: what power does government have to involuntarily detain homeless people when the former is ostensibly acting the latter’s and the general public’s best interest?  New York’s Mental Hygiene Law offers some guidance.  More from the NYT:

Zachary W. Carter, Mr. de Blasio’s corporation counsel, said in an internal city document that there were three ways to remove people from the street: voluntary entrance into shelter; arrest if a crime was being committed; and involuntary transfer for psychiatric evaluation or treatment if they posed a danger to themselves or others.

“Factors that do not support involuntary treatment include homelessness or mental illness alone; idiosyncratic behavior; conclusory assertions that person poses danger; mere fact that person would benefit from treatment,” the document said.

Obviously different jurisdictions (state and local) throughout the country maintain divergent policies on homelessness generally.  Letting alone the well-being of homeless people, some municipalities have taken steps that, advocates for the homeless say, effectively criminalize the condition of being homeless.  I’m specifically interested, however, in the question of governments taking action that is grounded, at least nominally, in caring for the homeless in such instances as cold weather emergencies.  Initially I don’t see much online about this but will look a little more.

Incidentally, the Coalition for the Homeless maintains stats on the number of homeless who are in NYC’s shelter system (roughly 60,000).  Governor Cuomo’s chief counsel said there are more than 4000 people living out of shelter and on the streets.

Fee-for-service Online Education for Self-Represented Litigants (in Canada)

Canada_flag_map.svgI’m surprised more of this hasn’t emerged already in both the US and Canada: pay a fee, get an online tutorial on how to represent yourself in a particular legal case/forum/process.  From Canadian Lawyer:

“Human rights lawyer Amer Mushtaq is trying to streamline access to justice for self-representing litigants going through the Ontario small claims court system with an online course he has developed.

Individuals hoping to represent themselves in a dispute — whether they are filing or responding to a claim — can take the $199 online course prior to filing or attending trial in order to understand the complex process. The video guide is broken up into steps with PowerPoint slideshow presentation addressing key issues self-representing litigants tend to face.

After looking deeper into the issue last year, Mushtaq was surprised to learn that very little help was available online for the average individual.

‘I found really nothing. There is some information from the Ministry of Attorney General, which gives you some guidance about what to do in small claims court, but nothing concrete,’ he says.”

***

There is, in fact, support already in place for…Ontario-ites? Ontarians?…people from Ontario, and Canadians elsewhere.  The National Self-Represented Litigants Project focuses squarely on easing access-to-justice for SRLs, and maintains a fairly robust resource library.  Nonetheless, I’d figured it was a matter of time before this large market for SRL support got more commoditized, especially if the offerings are very particular in terms of court, case type, and jurisdiction.