Mike Kueber's Blog

February 1, 2012

Mama, don’t let your babies grow up to be lawyers

Filed under: Law/justice — Mike Kueber @ 10:13 pm

A common question posed to lawyers at cocktail parties is whether an individual can be sued for some particular act.  The stock answer provided by lawyers is that you can be sued for virtually anything; the more important question is whether a plaintiff can prevail.

The reason that you can be sued for virtually anything is that lawyers are quite inventive when it come developing legal arguments for or against some particular act.  Today’s San Antonio Express-News provided two examples of typical legal ingenuity:

  1. Streetcars for San Antonio.  A front-page article was titled, “Foes threaten legal action to derail transit project.”  According to the article, some angry citizens were threatening to sue the county because it was planning to use some specialized tax money to fund some streetcars in downtown San Antonio even though the tax was approved by the voters in 2004 following assurances in a campaign brochure that the tax money would not be used for “light rail” projects.  According to a retired lawyer working for the streetcar opponents, the campaign brochure amounts to a binding contract with the voters.  Based on that theory, Bush-41 could have been sued for breaking his “Read my lips – no new taxes” pledge.
  2. Where is the capital of the state.  A Metro article was titled, “Candidate defends residency in Senate race.”    The article describes the efforts of State Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones to satisfy a state constitutional requirement that certain state officers live in “the Capital of the State.”  Everyone until now has understood the requirement to mean that the officers have to live in Austin.  But that causes a problem for Jones, who has decided to run for a state senate seat based in San Antonio, because candidates for the state senate must live in the district in which they are running.  Her senate opponent, Jeff Wentworth, is arguing persuasively that Jones needs to resign from her job as Railroad Commission if she wants to run for a San Antonio senate seat.  Jones’ lawyers, however, have come up with several creative legal arguments, with the most imaginative being that the requirement is unenforceable because neither the Texas Constitution nor any state statute specifically says that the capital of Texas is Austin.  Can you imagine going through life when you are continually challenged for not spelling out everything to everyone?

Mama, don’t let your babies grow up to be lawyers.

December 26, 2011

ABA-approved law schools

Filed under: Law/justice — Mike Kueber @ 12:15 pm
Tags: , ,

It always seemed to me that professional schools, like law schools and medical schools, were a racket because they enabled certain lucrative, prestigious occupations to limit the number of individuals who would be allowed to enter the field.  This practice seemed un-American, but I suspected corrupted government official were ultimately responsible for sanctioning it.

A recent article in the NY Times goes a long way toward explaining how the lawyers enforce their monopoly.  Principally, states require that all lawyers graduate from law schools approved by the ABA (American Bar Association), and then the ABA requires that law schools have expensive libraries and full-time tenured (i.e., expensive) faculty, while discouraging night schools for part-time students.  All of this results in high costs, which severely limit the creation of new law schools or the ability of a existing law school to economically provide an individual with a legal education. 

The article suggests that legal education in America is afflicted with a one-size-fits-all problem – i.e., all J.D.s are essentially Cadillac degrees.  By contrast:

  • “Britain, on the other hand, has a long menu of options, including a tier of professionals called legal executives, who are licensed after getting the equivalent of a community college degree. Counsel is also available from nonlawyers at a variety of nonprofits. And you can buy a simple divorce over the Internet for a set fee, or pay for customized legal advice, online or by phone.”

That sounds like a good idea for our state legislatures to consider.  Not all legal problems need a lawyer with a Cadillac degree.  The problem is that most legislatures are stuffed with lawyers with J.D.s, and they have no interest in opening up their profession to more competition.  Perhaps those lawyer-legislators should speak their piece and then recuse themselves from the voting.



June 30, 2011

Kill All The Lawyers?

“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,” is a line from Shakespeare’s “Henry VI,” and it is often quoted to suggest that lawyers have been a bane to civilization for hundreds of years.  But the NY Times has pointed out that the quote has been taken out of context:

  • Dick the Butcher was a follower of the rebel Jack Cade, who thought that if he disturbed law and order, he could become king. Shakespeare meant it as a compliment to attorneys and judges who instill justice in society.”

Regardless of what Shakespeare intended, there is no question that the prestige of the legal profession is not what it should be.  Proof – while surfing the net, I came across a fascinating 2006 article that ranked 23 professions in America:

  1. Firefighters
  2. Doctors
  3. Nurses
  4. Scientists
  5. Teachers
  6. Military officers
  7. Police officers
  8. Clergyman
  9. Farmers
  10. Engineers
  11. Congressmen
  12. Architects
  13. Athletes
  14. Lawyers
  15. Entertainers
  16. Accountants
  17. Bankers
  18. Journalists
  19. Union leaders
  20. Actors
  21. Business executives
  22. Stock brokers
  23. Real estate agents

During the annual meeting of the State Bar of Texas, we were told by the new bar president that the major focus of his one-year tenure will be improving the stature of lawyers.  One of his tools for accomplishing that objective is a new video, which he demoed to us.  Unfortunately, the well-produced video is not yet available to the public.  Suffice it to say that the video describes great things done by a long list of great Americans and then closes each bio with the phrase, “and he/she was a lawyer.”  The video shows that the legal profession does more than chase ambulances or look for loopholes to crawl through, but rather it is the means for civilized people to pursue justice.

In one of the final sessions during the annual meeting, author H.W. Brands built on the theme of lawyer relevance.  According to Brands, lawyers in 19th century America made two invaluable contributions:

  1. The legal profession afforded talented people a means to rise socially and economically.  In other countries,
    mobility was severely limited because of aristocracy to those in the military and clergy.
  2. The legal system, particularly the Northwest Ordinance, allowed territory to be added to the country as equals, not as subservient parts of an empire, and this policy was critical to the expansion of America.

I wish the president of the bar well in his efforts to increase the prestige with the legal profession.  But this is something that has to be marketed to the membership as much as to the public.  Historically, the profession has done much to make this country what it is today, but too many lawyers act unprofessionally.

December 7, 2010

Class-action lawsuits in America

Filed under: Law/justice — Mike Kueber @ 3:27 am
Tags: , , , , ,

The United States Supreme Court agreed today to hear Wal-Mart’s appeal of a humongous class-action lawsuit.  The suit claims that Wal-Mart systematically discriminated against all female employees in pay and opportunity for promotion.  Wal-Mart is arguing that, because the potential class involves 1.5 million past and present female employees in almost 200 different jobs at 3,400 different stores, the differences in their situations are too great to be considered as a part of a single, uniform class.  

I have mixed feelings toward placing more limits on class-action suits, and two checks that I received in the past month reveal why.

A month ago, I received an $80 check for a class-action settlement against Verizon.  The basis for the suit was Verizon’s practice of assessing a full early-termination fee instead of pro-rating it.  My case was especially egregious because, due to a miscalculation on my part, I terminated with only a few days left on my contract.  When I complained to Verizon, they told me to go pound sand.  In situations like this, there is no way that a single litigant could afford to fight Verizon, but a class-action plaintiff’s lawyer can.  And the result is better justice.

Today, I received a $100 check for a class-action settlement against United SA Credit Union.  The basis for the suit, as I recall, was that the credit union obtained a credit score on a large number of customers for an inappropriate reason.  My recollection was that the action was technical violation, relatively harmless, but when asked if I wanted to share in the recovery, I consented.  This is the kind of class-action suit that I question.  Although I received a significant payment, I have heard of other settlements where the only party that receives anything significant is the lawyer.  Sometimes the lawyers will receive hundreds of thousands of dollars while the claimants receive only coupons or vouchers.  There is a cottage industry of lawyers who go around looking for technical, non-substantive violations of laws that result in minor remedies and major awards for attorney’s fees.

Some plaintiffs’ lawyers are like the malfeasants on Wall Street in that they slice off so much of America’s productivity while doing little to improve it.  We should do what we can to put those guys out of business.     

To read more about the Wal-Mart class action, see http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/07/business/07bizcourt.html?ref=us.