f/k/a . . . the archives

November 30, 2008

lawyer entitlement and the price of legal services

Filed under: lawyer news or ethics — David Giacalone @ 3:43 pm

? ? ? ? ? ? ?

It’s rare for the f/k/a Gang in our roles as Agent of Reality and Consumer Advocate within the legal profession (and broader legal services marketplace) to find a kindred spirit in the blawgisphere.  So, we were pleased when Scott Greenfield pointed his readers yesterday to Law21, the weblog of Canadian lawyer and journalist Jordan Furlong.  He sees Law21 as “an information hub for the extraordinary changes underway within the legal profession.”

What makes Jordan’s spirit akin to my own is not that we are likely to agree on every topic.  It’s that he is not afraid of the changes brought about by information technology and the dawning of a globalized marketplace, which allow and demand more choices for consumers.  He is not trying to prevent or delay those forces in order to preserve the ego, image, social status and (last but certainly not least) the income expectations of the legal profession.  His perspective is a happy contrast to many in the blawgisphere who purport to be future-oriented and the leading edge of law practice, but who spend their time trying to figure out ways to preserve, and even increase, lawyer income in the face of technological innovations and market forces that allow services to be provided more quickly and efficiently, by fewer lawyers and by more and more non-lawyers.

Jordan appears to realize — as does Richard Susskind, in books such as “The Future of Law: Facing the Challenges of Information Technology” and “The End of Lawyers? Rethinking the nature of legal services” — that the profession will have to adjust significantly to the realities of the digital era.  More important, he realizes that consumers are showing us by their choice of alternative sources and formats what is and is not valued about the way the “traditional” law firm provides solutions to client problems. The f/k/a Gang believes as a matter of principle that the legal consumer is king (and lawyers are merely the skilled-but-humble esquires holding the client’s shield).  I don’t know whether Jordan, who does after all work as the editor-in-chief of the Canadian Bar Association’s magazine National, agrees with that principle.  But, he seems to believe that a free marketplace supports the power of the consumer over the prerogatives of the provider — and, that a technological revolution is breaking down barriers that have too long protected the lawyer cartel from the forces of competition.

Two posts at Law21 got my attention yesterday, and are clearly connected: “the market doesn’t care” (Nov. 28, 2008) and  “De-coupling price from cost in legal sevices” (Nov. 26, 2008).   The primary points of “the market doesn’t care” are

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November 29, 2008

SnowmanCity, NY

Filed under: Procrastination Punditry,Schenectady Synecdoche — David Giacalone @ 8:02 pm

It was serendipity (not synecdoche) that brought me this afternoon to the counter of my favorite book and gift shop, The Open Door Bookstore, on the Jay Street pedestrian mall in downtown Schenectady.  I had just left our Central Public Library, two blocks away, and thought I’d stop in quickly at the Open Door for my only shopping of this post-Thanksgiving weekend.   While waiting for the woman ahead of me to wrangle a discount on a couple of children’s books, I was pleasantly surprised to see — prominently displayed on the main counter — a book written by freelance illustrator and cartoonist Bob Eckstein, which we had fondly discussed last February here at f/k/a (and which would make a great Holiday-Christmas gift for anybody with a sense of playfulness, love of history, or attraction to conversation-starting coffee-table books with lots of interesting pictures):

The History of the Snowman: From the Ice Age to the Flea Market” (2007)

Immediately thereafter, I was even more surprised by a flier in a display behind the book, showing a smiling Bob and announcing a related book signing event:

The Open Door Bookstore, Sunday, Dec. 7, 2008 1 pm

Book Presentation and Signing

Bob Eckstein signs, The History of the Snowman: From the Ice Age to the Flea Market. This fascinating holiday book includes a section on the Stockade. Mr Eckstein will give an illustrated  talk at the Schenectady County Public Library. From 1:45-3:15, there will be a book signing at the store.

Then, however, as I gazed at that slight smirk on Bob’s face, a little voice in my head whined: “Hey, I’ve plugged the book; I got the Schenectady Public Library to purchase a couple copies of it; and I’ve linked several times to Bob’s Today’s Snowman weblog.  So, why hasn’t he given me a heads-up (viz., a personal private invitation) for the library presentation and book signing?”

My next thought: “Well, I’ll show him.  I’ll write all about the events at my weblog, and show up next Sunday at both the Library and the store.”  Thus, was this posting inspired — at a time when I was really intending to write a much more serious piece about lawyers (proving that the holiday season has not dulled my procrastination skills).

Naturally, I shot over to Today’s Snowman to see what was happening in the world of flakey frozen aqueous sculpture. Now that we’re back to cold weather, Bob has started his monthly Snowman Contest up again (with “possible prizes” relating to his book and its marketing).  He continues to have Snowperson Personal Ads, while also answering Questions For the Snowman Expert.  And, of course, you’ll find regular posting about interesting snow-creature-related news and endless promotion of The Book (including links to a sneek peek and a chapter-by-chapter pictorial YouTube Preview).

Although Bob promised back in October to put his book tour schedule and itinerary up at his weblog, I couldn’t find it.  Maybe he doesn’t know he’s supposed to be in Schenectady on December 7th.

Could I have been unfair to Bob by fretting over the Snowman Snubbing of his biggest fan in Schenectady? (Even bigger, we’re sure, than the Older Family, who live in a nearby suburb and constructed The Great Rotterdam Snowman, which won the February 2008 Snowman Contest at Today’s Snowman; see our report and analysis.)

Since my Invitation might just be delayed in the mail, I’m going to throw in another marketing plug for Bob and the book:

..  .. History of the Snowman Mugs are now available from the website, and can be purchased at his book tour events for $10.

If you live near Schenectady, come and join my combination peaceful protest and fan club outing, next Sunday, December 7, 2008, at 11 PM, at 99 Clinton Street, in downtown Schenectady. [Our friends at the Rotterdam Internet Community are especially invited.] If you need another local tie-in, check our prior post, where we discuss at length the role purportedly played by snowmen in a pivotal piece of local history — the 1690 Schenectady Massacre. Until I read about it at Today’s Snowman, I had not known about those brave (if feckless) snowmen, who some say stood guard just a couple blocks from my home here in the historic Schenectady Stockade. [Learn more at Wikipedia.]

larger . . Eckstein displays a fine sketch from the book of the Stockade Snow Guards in a posting at his site, and retells the tale in Chapter 12 of The History of the Snowman, titled Early American Snowmen, 17th Century New World, Fresh Snow (at pp. 110 – 112, which can be read in full by scrolling down this preview of the book).  In The History of the Snowman, Bob asks: “Was the first snowman in America made in Schenectady, New York, on the eve of one of the bloodiest days in early American history?” He concludes: “We may never know whether this was the first American snowman, but the Schenectady Snowman is definitely the earliest reference to one

Well, I’ve procrastinated long enough to make it virtually impossible to finish my originally-intended posting this evening without a lot of sturm und drang.  What more could I ask of Bob Eckstein on a chilly, lonely Saturday night?  Thanks, Bob, and see you next Sunday!

p.s. I just this minute learned at Bob’s website that: “Bob is going to be on the radio talking about snowmen on 810AM Sunday at 9:15am (News Talk Radio WGY) in the upstate New York area (I kid you not).”  That’s The Joe Gallagher Show, which I usually wake up to on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

update (Nov. 30, 2008): We might have to adjust our motto that Whining Doesn’t Work, because Bob Eckstein put a post up late last night at his Freelancer’s Lament weblog, that could melt even a crusty old snowmudgeon’s heart:

“I hope to see many friends I’ve made online through the book, many who helped me on the book. I want to thank David Giacalone and Laura Lee Linder in particular for making me feel welcome to return to Schenectady in a few days. (Laura was helpful in the actual research of my book, The History of the Snowman and is very involved with The Schenectady County Historical Society and First Reformed Church of Schenectady. She is finishing a DVD on historical Schenectady. Further info on David just posted a generous write-up of my upcoming event and has a very cool website which is a unusual combination of haiku, law stuff and snowman interests. Right, you have to see it to believe it. I was just enjoying a piece about a sexy lawyers calendar!)”

In the Sidebar of Freelancer’s Lament, you will find the impressive (and growing) itinerary for Bob’s History of the Snowman tour, including radio interviews (such as one on Martha Stewart Radio, Dec. 5th at 7:15 AM).

update (Dec. 7, 2008): See “snowman historian blows into Schenectady.”

in the howling wind
under the full moon
the snowman, headless

…….. by George Swede from Almost Unseen

(photo by Mama G., 1953)

alongside
the smirking snowman
a hatless scarecrow

…………… by dagosan

naughty child–
instead of his chores
a snow Buddha

….. by Kobayashi Issa – translated by David G. Lanoue

November 28, 2008

let recession rekindle real holiday spirit

Filed under: viewpoint — David Giacalone @ 11:58 pm

.. Go, St. Nick! St. Nicholas v. Santa Claus ..  

Black Friday is almost at an end, and the f/k/a Gang is once again kicking off the holiday season with our annual lament over the over-commercialization of Christmas and the Holiday Season.  While many are bemoaning the signals of a reduction in consumer confidence/buying, we see a great silver lining in those black economic clouds:

Necessity does often gives birth to invention.  Our hope is that recession will be the midwife that helps America (and the rest of the Over-Commercialized Christmas World) create a re-birth in Christmas/Holiday spirit.  With a little effort and creativity, we can let financial necessity help re-invent a spirit that represents — even for the non-religious like myself — the selfless love of Jesus, and the compassion of the original St. Nicholas, rather than the consumption symbolized by Santa Claus.

Even before I read Scott’s piece this morning, “The Blackest of Fridays” at Simple Justice (Nov. 29, 2008), where he asserted:

“Consumerism, especially the crass king that makes it’s home on Long Island, is an evil.  No, not to enjoy material possessions per se, but to need them so desperately to enhance one’s self worth that one would risk the kids’ college or the house to get it.”

. . . and even before the news arrived that “Worker trampled to death at Long Island Wal-Mart during Black Friday stampede” (New York Daily News, by Joe Gould, Nov. 28, 2008), the Gang was searching our archives to recall what we said in other years about consumerism ruining Christmas.  (We’re often pleasantly surprised by our prior insight, idealism and eloquence!)

In the midst of that search, we stopped to check out a few recent articles that seemed  relevant and hopeful.  For example, the Washington Post brought good tidings that America’s economic crisis has already brought us one consumer blessing — a reduction in the amount of junk-mail from direct-mail marketeers, including fewer offers for new credit cards.  (See WaPo article, Nov.  7, 2008)  Even more encouraging, we ran across a couple of commentators who also saw the potential advantages of American belt-tightening:

  • According to Stephen S. Roach, the dive in disposable income and the bursting asset bubbles (leading to a reduction in “net asset extraction” through equity loans) may be bringing a beneficial “Dying of Consumption”  (New York Times, Nov. 28, 2008):

“[T]here is a deeper, potentially positive, meaning to all this: Consumers are now abandoning the asset-dependent spending and saving strategies they embraced during the bubbles of the past dozen years and moving back to more prudent income-based lifestyles.

“This is a painful but necessary adjustment.

“. . . The United States needs a very different set of policies to cope with its post-bubble economy. It would be a serious mistake to enact tax cuts aimed at increasing already excessive consumption. Americans need to save. They don’t need another flat-screen TV made in China.”

  • Meanwhile, the NYT‘s Ron Lieber envisions a “Leaner Holiday Gift Giving, Bountiful in Spirit” (Nov. 21, 2008).  Similar to our thoughts the past few days, Lieber hoped that “Of all years, this may be the one to stop the holiday gift madness — out of necessity for some of us or simply out of reason.”  His vision:

“[A]t a time when so many people have so much less than they did just a few months ago, there ought to be a way to ease the pressure on them and relieve the crushing social obligation that others feel to dole out to an ever-lengthening list of people

He calls for “an effort to make gift giving more meaningful than mandatory.”  For many that may mean spending less, but Lieber hopes that some of us will be able to spend more, by adding more philanthropy to our holiday giving.

Like Ron Lieber, I’m not at all sure exactly how to go about this transition-from-necessity to a saner, more “spiritual” holiday spirit.  We realize that some family members (can you say “Nana”?) may be very reluctant to spend and give less, while others are even more reluctant to receive less.  But, I am sure we should all be thinking of ways to use our worsened national financial situation to justify new buying and giving habits this holiday season — hopefully leading to new attitudes that will continue even if and when our ecomony and fortunes greatly improve.

We bet a leaner Christmas/Holiday Season for 2008 will teach all of us the lesson that fewer gifts — less giving and receiving –  doesn’t reduce holiday joy for parents or children, spouses or lovers, kith or kin, but somehow increases our satisfaction and sense of connection and well-being.

Finding new ways to express our love and affection, and making new commitment to help the less fortunate, may help us find our way back to the “true” holiday joy, cheer and peace we have tried so long to buy and consume into being.  Those of us who don’t have to cut back should do it in solidarity with those for whom it is a necessity — to take the pressure off of them.

Is this anti-consumerist scheme just the stingy ploy of an old curmudgeon — or of a Scrooge or Grinch who never liked Holiday Cheer in the first place?   Give it a try and see for yourself whether less isn’t indeed really more when it come to inspiring the true spirit of this Holiday Season.  Please share your suggestions on how to pull it off and the results of your efforts in our Comment section.

Below the fold (click “more”), we’ve excerpted some of our prior preaching on the subject of commercialization of Christmas (which we proudly call the Holiday Season, to embrace all the holidays and shades of belief that Americans celebrate every winter).

Christmas Eve –
bits of a price sticker
stuck on my finger

… by Michael Dylan Welch The Heron’s Nest (Sept. 2005)

wrapping and packing –  
she pastes on
a holiday smile

… by dagosan

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our haiga calendars for December 2008

Filed under: Haiga or Haibun — David Giacalone @ 11:48 am

November is almost gone, so we better tell you about our haiga calendars for December 2008.

As we’ve mentioned many times before, haiga are pictures (paintings, sketches, or photos) that include a subtly-linked haiku or similar poem (such as a senryu, which is like haiku but focuses on human nature). Last year, we created two free “haiga calendars” for 2008: the “artsy” Giacalone Bros. Haiga Calendar 2008 (with photos taken by my brother Arthur) and the nostalgic fka Haiga Memories Calendar 2008 (with most shots snapped in the 1950’s by Mama Giacalone).  The poetry is written by your Editor “dagosan”.

Here are thumbnails of the calendar pages for December, and the related poems:

round and round with you
dancing
on thin ice

..

happy birthday!
you cut and
I’ll choose

Click on “more” to go below the fold, where you will find larger images and links to the original haiga used for the December calendars.

.. check out our exploration of the saying ‘dancin’ on thin ice’ . .

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November 27, 2008

the charitable curmudgeon

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,q.s. quickies — David Giacalone @ 9:20 am

We’ve long asserted around here, along with 60 Minutes commentator Andy Rooney and grump-expert Jon Winokur, that:

Curmudgeons are idealists at heart.

Scott Greenfield is one of my favorite fellow curmdugeons.  He makes a good case this Thanksgiving morning at his Simple Justice weblog that it is more important than ever in this season of economic distress that those able to do so give generously to charities, but “Give Wisely.”  A little curmudgeonly skepticism is needed when we choose our charities this year.  That means:

  • “Given that charities may well die this year from lack of donations, it is critical that you know that your contributions are being put to the use that you intend, to help the cause the charity purports to represent.  This may require a little digging, perhaps spending a few minutes to check out CharityWatch.org, the website of the American Institute of Philanthropy, to see what percentage of donations actually make it to the cause.  However, many smaller or local charities are not included, so you may have to do the legwork yourself.”  And,
  • “The mission of a charity may well be important and worthwhile, but it has to be viewed in relation to the irreparable harm that will result should the charity fail to fulfill its mission.  This year, it means that people will die for lack of food, shelter, medical care, warm clothing and other necessities of survival.  Not to denigrate many other worthy purposes, but imminent death trumps a lot of good causes.”  Therefore,
  • No matter how important other causes may be, and they are important, this is a year for charitable triage.”

Please open your hearts and your checkbooks, but please do it with your eyes wide open — do it with the idealistic cunning of a skeptical curmudgeon.

We already said sentimental stuff wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving yesterday.  All there is to do today, then, is offer a few haiku appetizers as a prelude to your feast of gratitude with your loved ones.

Thanksgiving
without him
three-quarter moon

… w.f. owen – Haiku Notebook (Lulu Press, 2007)

laid off
she asks the mall santa to
bring dad a job

snow
the beggar’s
bare hands

.. by Ed Markowski

in the glow
of the red maple
autumn’s end

…… by Roberta Beary (1st Place tie [Kigo], Shiki Kukai, Nov. 2008)

wet snow
another year weighs
on the century oak

….. by tom painting  (3rd place [Kigo], Shiki Kukai, Nov. 2008)

home for Thanksgiving —
my old bed
in the guest room

mom makes
grandma’s holiday soup -
steam and tears

… by dagosan

First snow
the white mounds of coal
beside the closed station

.. by Rebecca Lilly -  from A New Resonance 2 (2001); Brussels Sprout 9:3

cutting the moon cake
just like my mother
Mid Autumn Festival

……………………. Yu Chang from Upstate Dim Sum

p.s. Looking for a little inspiration and nudge toward Thanksgiving gratitude?  See our post about Morrie Schwartz (of Tuesdays with Morrie fame), “self-pity: the opposite of Thanksgiving“.  I

On the other hand, if you need a curmudgeonly smile, check out and maybe even print out the amusing “Thanksgiving Guest Liability and Indemnification Agreement,” prepared by The Center for Consumer Freedom, who say “Don’t Let Lawyers Sue The Stuffing Out Of You This Thanksgiving” (Nov. 16, 2007; via Stephanie at Idealawg).

November 26, 2008

a little Thanksgiving conversation

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,q.s. quickies — David Giacalone @ 12:01 am

The f/k/a Gang wishes a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday to all of our readers (regular, occasional, or inadvertent).   May your travels — across country or across town — be APAP (as pleasant as possible) and your feasting divine. Don’t forget to nurture an attitude of gratitude for all the good things in your life — and even for the trials that help make us better people.  And, guys, don’t forget to offer early and often to help with preparations and clean up.

men washing dishes - 
an early alarm ends
her Thanksgiving dream

Just in case conversation grinds to a halt around your dining table — and the Baby Boomer Raconteur in your family can’t remember the name of that movie he liked so much — here are a few topics that should liven things up and unloose a few tongues:

  • Should obese people who take up two airplane seats have to pay double the fare? This is a great question for Uncle Vito, between mouthfuls, while he’s reaching for that third helping of pumpkin pie.  As CBC reported last week, the Canadian “Top court backs free seat ruling for some disabled, obese travellers” (Nov. 20, 2008).  By rejecting an appeal by two airlines from a Canadian Transportation Agency ruling,

“The court’s decision means airlines must offer a “one person, one fare” policy . . . for people who are clinically obese and take up more than one seat.

Walter and Ted have been covering this topic for years at Overlawyered.com, and they can give you lots of tips for baiting the soft-hearted liberals in the family.  Meanwhile, you’ll find lots of tart, tasty zingers over at Simple Justice, where Scott Greenfield says “Obesity is Not a Crime, But Is It a Disability?” (Nov. 22, 2008).  Scott believes “this is a problem, both for the airline and the rest of us.” And he argues:

“No one suggests that obese people be prosecuted for being so fat, or spilling over into the next person’s airline seat.  

On the other hand, there is no rational basis to place the burden on society to make accommodations for the obese.  Are you prepared to be bumped from your flight because an obese person showed up at the airport with a ticket?”

In a similar vein, Prof. Ann Althouse offers more food for thought:

“If you get a free extra seat now, won’t people be clamoring to be considered one of the truly obese? Does some government agency certify that you are fat to the point of disability and thus entitled to accommodation?”

  • What the heck’s a Sex Offender? This one should wake up a few in-laws.  In an illuminating piece at his Once Fallen website, Derek Logue presents his stand-up routine called, “You Might Be a Sex-Offender, If. . . “, a compilation of real cases that have branded defendants as sex offenders for crimes that simply do not rise to that level.  Such as:
    • You might be a sex offender if… you ever paid for a prostitute in New York
    • You might be a sex offender if… you use a stolen credit card to hire a stripper in New York
    • You might be a sex offender if… You had sex with a teenager while you were a teen yourself

There are many more on Derek’s list.  The P.S.A.P. weblog aptly adds: “As a result of [a] deep and legitimate concern, however, our collection of sex offender laws have become draconian and self-defeating. They’ve become Draconian because they have been extended to cover “crimes”  that either should not be crimes in the first place or, even if they merit prohibition, the perps are by no means “sex offenders” (in any way outside of the ridiculously broad statutory definition).”

Before we brand them with a scarlet letter that restricts where they can live, hurts their job prospects and embarrasses them, P.S.A.P. rightly notes we need to stop and consider that:

“If we truly want the designation to have any shaming power, we must restrict its use to those offenses that are actually offensive.”

  • We’re Clueless on Civics (present company excluded, of course): G.W. U. law professor Jonathan Turley reported earlier this week that “Elected Officials Score Lower on Civics Tests Than Average Citizens (Who Score Lower than Basic Condiments)” (Nov. 23, 2008; and see the full report from AFP) via Simple Justice, which opines that we’re “Getting the Government We Deserve” ).  It’s a little dispiriting, but it presents all kinds of opportunities for one-ups-manship at the Thanksgiving table.  You can find the Civics Quiz here (from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute), and cherry pick the questions that stumped the most people, college graduates, and elected officials. How will your extended family do compared to:
    • the average American, who scored 49%
    • college-educated, who averaged 55%
    • elected officials, who averaged 44%

Prof. Turley notes that “Some 20 percent of elected officials believe that the electoral college as established to ‘supervise the first televised presidential debates’.”  But, offers a little solace: “our English cousins appear equally ill-informed on history.”

update (Dec. 1, 2008): Conversationalist Carl Strock of the Schenectady Gazette made “Flunking civics” his Thanksgiving column, and we’re grateful Carl snuck it into the free part of the Gazette‘s website.  Carl muses, “Today being Thanksgiving, let us give thanks that we live in a country as open as ours, where anyone can aspire to be president, whether he knows which branch of government the president belongs to or not.”

Below you will find a bunch of Thanksgiving senryu and haiku, which (along with the one near the top of this post) I wrote a year ago and would have forgotten about, if not for Mr. Google refreshing my recollection.

afterwords (Nov. 29, 2008):  Yes, these are a little late for Thanksgiving, but they should come handy throughout the Holiday Season left.

Thanksgiving rush –
not as late
as that flock of geese

wintry mix - 
a seatbelt protects each
Thanksgiving pie

bowed over
turkey and stuffing –
fewer, grayer heads

a third helping
of Thanksgiving politics
I bite my tongue

thanksgiving snow
gone too soon to make
that snow Buddha

… by dagosan -   from Magnapoets Japanese Form (November 20, 2007)

Finally, as we always say around here:  

November 25, 2008

smart clients care about bonuses and marketplace “value”

Filed under: lawyer news or ethics,viewpoint — David Giacalone @ 2:59 pm

. . . . from the desk of Prof. Yabut .

A few days ago, the kids who hang out at the “legal tabloid” Above the Law discovered that the major NYC law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore was going to reduce the bonuses it pays its associates (newer, non-partner lawyers) by 50% this year — with the basic bonus for 1st-year associates (who are making a salary of $160,000 straight out of law school) set at $17,500 and seventh-year associates getting $30,000.  The America Lawyer confirmed it yesterday (Nov. 24), and the gnashing of young lawyer teeth has been heard around the world of BigLaw and the internet.

As of this morning, over 1400 Comments have been left at the original ATL post.  And, those numbers will surely swell, since Above the Law and then The American Lawyer brought news yesterday evening (Nov. 24, 2008) that Simpson Thacher, another top firm, was going to follow Cravath’s lead, with the white-shoed herd likely to join in the bonus-reduction stampede.

Nonetheless, the f/k/a Gang isn’t going to harp on either associate avarice or partner parsimony.  Instead, we want to discuss the debate that has arisen over the statement by Cravath’s representatives, as reported in American Lawyer, that many clients are applauding the reduction in bonuses.  Carolyn Elefant summarizes the controversy at Legal Blog Watch with a post that asks “Should firms cut bonuses in response to clients?” (Nov. 24, 2008):

“Though some might compliment law firms for taking clients’ views into account, others in the blogosphere suggest that clients have no business telling law firms how to run their business.”

The clients-bonuses debate (described and discussed below) highlights one of my primary concerns with the concept of “value billing” or “value pricing” by lawyers as espoused by the leading proponents of value billing ["VBPs"].

With value billing, fees are set in advance of the provision of legal services, based on the perceived “value” of those future services to the client, rather than on the lawyer’s efforts (especially, time expended), costs or risks [see A. Shields].  Separating “value” from a seller’s cost might be a nice tactic for extracting “premium” fees, but it is not what smart buyers (much less buyers owed fiduciary duties) expect in the marketplace.  Let me explain.

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November 24, 2008

more Wing Beats, less beating the blawg bushes

Filed under: Uncategorized — David Giacalone @ 7:46 am

rubbernecking
the sunset geese –
a tailgater honks

-poem (& photo) by dagosan – orig. tinywords – December 12, 2006

The f/k/a Gang started complaining about the trend in lawyer marketing years ago — the constant stress on brand creation, selling strategies and self-promotion. (see, e.g., “Brand Lex” and “lawyers as tin men“)  In “Is legal marketing spoofable?,” we noted that almost all lawyer marketing was turning into a parody of marketing.   Meanwhile, our distate over the advent of advertising on lawyer weblogs now seems hopeless outdated and naive.  And, our praise for weblogs with a strong personal voice and content that is “interesting and well-said” seems downright old-fashioned.

What brought all this to mind is Scott Greenfield’s confession a few days ago at Simple Justice that “constant, obsessive, flagrant effort at marketing” that he sees at most lawyer weblogs “has me in a twist.” See “Networking, Thought Sharing and Enough Already” (Nov. 18, 2008). Scott says:

What I’m seeing is that the “how to” of marketing, the advice on self-promotion and, worst of all, the language that pervades blawgospheric discourse has become increasingly directed to open, notorious marketing.  Many of the most popular blawgs around are solely directed toward marketing.  Many of the best writers in the blawgosphere post only about marketing.   How to snag the last client on earth will be the final post in the blawgosphere.

Is this all we lawyers are?  Is this all we want to be?

Scott also pokes fun at the fog of marketing lingo that has spread across the blawgisphere.  He worries: “One of my gravest fears for the blawgosphere is that it will turn into one giant infomercial, all about self-promotion and marketing, both to other lawyers . . and clients.”

The response (similar to when this weblog passes judgment on lawyer activity that seems a bit too acquisitive) was defensive and angry, and poor Scott ended up spending far too much of his week replying to the carping.  He probably doesn’t really want any more attention, but — if you tend to agree with his analysis and perspective — Prof. Yabut and I urge you nonetheless to head over there a show your support.

Naturally, we think a great antidote to all those lawyers beating the bushes for clients, is a few more idyllic haiku by Matt Morden from “Wing Beats: British Birds in Haiku” (Snapshot Press, 2008):

bent back
by april wind
cormorant wings

december dawn
oystercatchers deep in
the cockle truck tracks

strategy planning
crows disappear
into the slates

stadium tour
a pigeon struts
in the manager’s box

… by Matt Morden – Wing Beats: British Birds in Haiku (Snapshot Press, 2008);
orig pub.- Stumbles in Clover (Snapshot Press, 2007)
except: “stadium tour” – A Dark Afternoon (2000)

. . find more Wing Beats and avian haiku here and there.

November 23, 2008

more Frenchie, Duci, Morden and Rapp

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,q.s. quickies,Schenectady Synecdoche — David Giacalone @ 7:29 pm

. . . spending a chilly Sunday with some old acquaintances . . .

Frenchie’s Family Sketches His Life:  A lot of people were touched and angered by the story of Wilford “Frenchie” Hamilton, the affable homeless artist who was beaten to death at age 61 by two or three juveniles on the streets of Pontiac, Michigan, back in August. See our prior post and links.  An interview with his sister-in-law Laura Hamilton provides more details to the story of Frenchie, in the article “Family: Man’s death ends haunting past” (The Oakland Press, November 10, 2008; click to see his self-portrait with an inset photo).  I’m glad to know more about the man — his closeness to two siblings, six-figure job in NYC, cancelled marriage, battle with alcoholism, love for painting and for a niece and nephew, and several family tragedies before his dreadful death.  (hat tip to Ed Markowski)

  • We shouldn’t need a reminder, but we sometimes do, that street-people are full-dimensional human beings.  Here’s another reminder: To start doing something about the increasing assault against the homeless, see the web page “Stop Hate-Motivated Violence Against Homeless People” from the Coalition.

christmas eve
homeless men crouch
at the back of the manger

………… by Ed Markowski

Frank Duci On His Feet Again: A lot of people have seen our post from October about the spoofing of Frank Duci’s will.  At the time, the 87-year-old former mayor of Schenectady was bed-ridden, suffering from lung cancer. His old journalistic antagonist, columnist Carl Strock visited Mayor Duci, and mischievously got him to sign a will on a shopping list that was very much like a real one Duci had witnessed on the deathbed of a friend, with Duci as the sole beneficiary. (see Strock’s account in “Duci’s will”)

.. Well, I was pleasantly surprised to see a feature story in the Albany Times Union, describing Frank Duci’s return this week to a regular little coffee-klatsch at Burger King with a few of his old pals from the neighborhood.  In “An Electric City original still burns brightly: Frank J. Duci may lack official standing, but he’ll always be a mayor” (Nov. 20, 2008), we’re reminded:

“It’s going to take more than a diagnosis of lung cancer and three months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments to silence the four-term populist mayor and 87-year-old gadfly, who refuses to let his passion for politics and the Electric City dim.”

. . click for a 1-minute VIDEO: Frank Duci reminisces ..

And, Frank Duci doesn’t just talk and walk, he’s still writing his legislators and newspaper editors on behalf of “hard-pressed taxpayers.”  In this morning’s Schenectady Sunday Gazette, you’ll find his Letter to the Editor, “Use Metroplex to offset local property taxes” (Nov. 23, 2008, scroll to 5th letter).  Frank writes:

“Please, local legislators, your bosses are local taxpayers; voters must not be put into a serious financial debt payback. Legislative action must be taken to prevent [our economic development agency] Metroplex from borrowing up to $75 million at the expense of local, hard-pressed taxpayers.”

We can only repeat what we said five weeks: “we can all only hope to ‘keep our faculties’ and our zest for the political fight as long as Frank Duci has.” Let’s hope — and bet — it will be a very long time before we get to run this senryu regarding Frank J. Duci:

his quiet funeral—
a man who did
most of the talking

……….. by barry george – frogpond XXVIII: 1

update (October 17, 2009): Yesterday was declared Frank Duci Day in Schenectady, and Frank Duci Plaza was dedicated around the Avenue A home of the now 88-year-old former mayor.  See “After a long road, ex-mayor gets a street” (Albany Times Union, October 16, 2009).

Rapp Raps Political Pundit Campaign Cliches: The f/k/a Gang is often on the same wave length as Albany entertainment and copyright lawyer (and adjunct professor) Paul C. Rapp. (E.g., his position against policing lawyer ads to preserve the dignity of the profession, and his attack on big-media’s Broadcast Flag ploy.)  We found ourselves nodding vigorously in agreement with another of his Metroland columns again this week, titled “Reclaim the Language” (Rapp On This, Nov. 20, 2008). Even though he forgot our favorite campaign bug-a-boo word (battleground), we agree with Paul’s hopeful demand that “a number of grammatical terms disappear from the lexicon of the pundit class,“because they lead to “unimaginative discourse, a swarmy and almost childish sameness to what is supposed to be enlightened, independent insight. Which it never is.”

The phrases Paul wants “to see banished henceforth and forever from our political commentary” are:

  • flip-flop, close the deal, thrown under the bus, blame game, maverick, and comeback kid

Check out his reasoning to see whether you agree, and whether he missed some cliches you’d like added to the list.

.. Matt Morden (and many more) in Wing Beats:  When I told you about the book “Wing Beats: British Birds in Haiku” last August, I’d only seen a selection of the poems and the cover photo.  Thanks to its co-editor/publisher John Barlow, I now have a copy and have browsed through the wonderful illustrations by Sean Gary, while skimming the poems. too.  I must say I am impressed with the beauty and gravitas of the publication.  It feels good in the hand and it is a treat for the eye.  The 320-page volume features 323 experiential haiku (most written by Barlow and his co-editor Matthew Paul, but joined by 30 other poets) and 131 species of British birds.

If you know a haiku lover, or a bird lover, consider making them a holiday gift of Wing Beats from Snapshot Press, 2008 (ISBN 978-1-903543-24-5; to order); the USA price is $40 (including P&P).

Seven of the poems are by haiku friend and Honored Guest Matt Morden.  Here are a few for your enjoyment:

mountain wind
the stillness of a lamb
gathering crows

winter solstice
the flock of starlings
takes a new shape

osprey talons
a twist of silver
catches the sun

… by Matt Morden – “Wing Beats: British Birds in Haiku” (Snapshot Press, 2008); from Stumbles in Clover (Snapshot Press, 2007)

November 21, 2008

spotlight on greedy lawyers

Filed under: lawyer news or ethics,q.s. quickies — David Giacalone @ 11:07 am

“As recently as 1963, Everett Hughes wrote that the central feature of professionalism was a doctrine of credat emptor—”let the buyer trust”—rather than the commercial maxim of caveat emptor—”let the buyer beware.” Society counts on the law, and on lawyers as its servants, to spread such feelings of trust through the community. Instead, too often, we help weaken them.”

- from Living the Law, Chapt 1. of Sol Linowitz’s The Betrayed Profession (1994), reprinted here (DCBA Brief, June 1999)

Thank goodness for especially greedy lawyers in high-profile lawsuits.  Judges reviewing their bloated bills occasionally make it into the industry press and give us the opportunity to remind lawyers that we really do have a ban on unreasonable fees and expense charges — we can’t agree on them, charge then, or collect them.   We also get to remind clients that “buyer be wary” is still a good idea in the 21st Century, no matter how saintly their lawyers may claim to be.  Here are a few recent matters that deserve the spotlight:

Coughlin Stoia follows Coke’s Lead: You’d think a law firm whose most famous partner had recently been imprisoned for shady practices that obstructed justice, would keep a modest posture when asking for fees in a major class action suit — especially in a case that accused the defendant of artificially inflating numbers to increase share prices.  Instead, as class counsel in Carpenters Health & Welfare Fund v. The Coca-Cola Co., No. 1:00-cv-2838 (N.D. Ga.), the Coughlin Stoia law firm sought fees valued at 26.04 percent of the $137.5 million settlement with Coca-Cola over stockholder fraud  — about $35,805,000 — as well as more than $7 million in expenses and interest.   Their request led U.S. District Court Judge Willis B. Hunt to worry that the requested fees amount to “a windfall rather than just compensation for class counsel’s hard work and risk.” See “Class Lawyers Against Coke Get More Than $31.5 Million: Judge cuts request from nearly $43 million” (Law.com/Fulton County Daily Report, November 21, 2008); and see Law and More (Nov. 21, 2008)

Judge Hunt, as reported at Law.com, “ultimately reduced percentage fees requested by counsel for the shareholders from 26.04 percent to 21 percent. He also trimmed more than $4 million from the lawyers’ submitted expenses.”  Here are some of the cuts Judge Hunt decided he needed to make:

  • Class counsel claimed to have billed over 47,000 hours in the 8-year case, and their average hourly fee amounted to over $750 per hour.  Judge Hunt decided that such fees were “at the very high end of typical Atlanta rates” and needed to be reduced
  • Moreover, the law firm claimed that only 1,411.74 hours were billed by the 11 associates assigned to the case whose hourly rates were $350 or less. Like the rest of us, Judge Hunt found it surprising that “only six percent of the work performed in this matter was of the type that could be performed by lower-level associates.”
  • In disallowing more than $4 million in expenses claimed by Coughlin Stoia, Judge Hunt said that “Coughlin has not established that the amount claimed represent out-of-pocket expenses rather than what they would bill a client as an additional source of profit.”  For example, the judge disallowed about $94,000 claimed as an online legal research expens, saying, “the research service is a tool, much like a computer or a pen, and this Court considers the use of such a service part of a firm’s overhead.”
  • Judge Hunt also slashed claimed travel expenses.  In addition to outlandish requests for travel abroad, Couglin Stoia wanted to be paid an average of $1,365.95 per person per night for domestic travel. Although he did not begrudge the lawyers’ high-end accommodations, Judge Hunt concluded that the members of the class should not have to finance such a lifestyle.  He found that “a client could reasonably expect to pay $300 per night for his attorney’s food and lodging on domestic trips, and that is the level at which this Court will reimburse Coughlin for its travel.”

How About Working for Those Millions? A month ago, at oral argument on the appeal of in Lawrence v. Miller (see our prior post), the judges of the New York Court of Appeals signalled that they might not be quite as nonchalant as the appellate-level judges and the contingency fee bar over the $43 million dollars sought by the Graubard Miller law firm from an 80-year-old widow for about 4 months’ work.  According to a lengthy article in New York Law Journal, “N.Y. High Court Skeptical of $40 Million Payoff From Contingency Fee Deal” (Oct. 24, 2008; via Overlawyered.com):

“Members of the court appeared skeptical during an hour of oral arguments about the size of the fee and several questioned the propriety of Graubard Miller seeking to collect the entire amount.”

NYLJ notes, for example, that “Judge Robert S. Smith echoed several of his colleagues when he wondered whether a legitimate contingency agreement, ‘where it works out so favorably to the lawyer, where it is so much money for so little work,’ could be considered unconscionable.”

“You never anticipated anything like this,” he told [Graubard Miller's lawyer Mark] Zauderer. “You anticipated a much smaller amount, much more work, much higher risk of recovery. This was a complete surprise. Are you still entitled to take 40 percent of a $100 million surprise?”

Similarly, an exasperated Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye repeatedly asked the firm’s lawyers to defend the fee — wondering what precisely the firm’s attorneys had done from January to May 2005 to justify the $40 million fee.  When Graubard’s counsel replied, “It had to do with skill and negotiating strategy and bluffing . . .  It had to do with a whole lot of factors,” and gave no further details, Chief Judge Kaye said:

“You’re not even giving us a clue. All you’re saying is ‘skill’ and ‘risk.’ “

Prof. Yabut says: “Oh my, do you really mean there’s supposed to be a relationship between the risk taken and/or the amount of work you actually perform and the fee you collect?  A lawyer can’t just say, “a contract’s a contract?”  Who knew?

the mountain moon
gives the blossom thief
light

.. by Kobayashi Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue

Travel MultiTasking-MultiBilling: Finally, the refusal of a bankruptcy judge to pay a lawyer more than half the firm’s hourly fee for travel time (see In re Babcock & Wilson) inspired a discussion over at Legal Ethics Forum this past week on “Travel TIme and Billing.”  The comment section at the LEF post is not lunchtime reading for the sqeamish consumer advocate.  You’ll find lawyers justifying charging not just full hourly fees when traveling (which is commonplace), but double-dipping by charging the original client for travel time even if work is done for a different client, who is fully-billed for that time.  One lawyer doggedly wants to be paid both by the hour and by some “value” calculus, arguing that his work for the second client in no way diminished the value of his work for the first client (assuming, we suppose, that he was neither less prepared nor more-tired due to working for Client #2).  It caused me to chime in with this comment:

“The only reason we allow a lawyer to charge fees for travel time is because the client has caused us to be unavailable for other work. If you do work for another client during the travel, there is no justification for charging the first client for that lost opportunity time. Time spent for another client does not make your services more valuable for the first client.

“I hope the public doesn’t come here to see just how greedy lawyers are and how willing some ethics experts are to make excuses for them.”

On second thought, I do want the public to see this kind of lawyer over-reaching, so they will remember to be vigilant — and shop around for a better deal.

lunar eclipse
i fall for
the hidden ball trick

dusk
the cat spits up
a red feather

by ………… ed markowski

p.s. On a totally different topic (I think), check out the Belly Dance Superstars, who are appearing tomorrow night, Saturday November 22, 2008, in Albany, NY, at The Egg, Empire State Plaza, at 8 PM.  An article in today’s Schenectady Gazette tells us that they are touring to help gain respect for Arab culture (although all the dancers are Americans).  According to dancer Jamilla, “It’s a family show . . . It shows the body as naturally sensual, not sexual. It’s very entertaining.”  Seniors can save $4 off the $24 adult ticket.  Kids are only $12 each.

in winter wind
a churning, churning
in my belly

lying belly-up
yet still singing…
autumn cicada

……… by Kobayashi Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue

November 19, 2008

tricky jury question

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,lawyer news or ethics — David Giacalone @ 10:06 pm

.. ..ladies & gentlemen

..  of the jury? ..

– photos by Mama G. (1955) –

Looking for a quick treat to share here this evening, we knocked on Robert Ambrogi’s Legal Blog Watch door and he dropped the delicious “Costumed Jurors No Reason for Reversal” (Nov. 19, 2008) into our Beggar’s Bag.  It’s about the case of Zabin v. Picciotto, which was handed down yesterday by the Massachusetts Court of Appeals, and was also discussed at The Docket.  Bob explains:

“As the complicated civil trial in Massachusetts Superior Court dragged on into late October, the jurors asked the judge if he would allow them to wear costumes on Halloween. After consulting with counsel for all parties and hearing no objection, the judge allowed their request. On appeal, the defendants argued that the presence of jurors in costumes turned the trial into a circus and denied them due process.”

Reviewing the trial decision by Judge Mitchell J. Sikora., who now sits on the Appeals Court, his colleagues agreed with the defendants that “With or without the consent of counsel to the parties, it is regrettable that the trial judge agreed to the jurors’ request. The introduction of Halloween costumes cannot but have detracted from the seriousness and gravity of formal court proceedings.” However,

“However, as to the defendants’ claim of a due process violation, the judge did not merely accommodate the jurors’ request; he consulted with counsel for all parties before doing so, and all counsel agreed. The issue is waived.”

There was even more wackiness at that trial.  Per Ambrogi:

“At one point, plaintiffs’ counsel handed out candy to the costumed jurors. Later, a proposed ‘cast list’ was circulated for a Hollywood movie version of the trial. Neither of these provided grounds for reversal, the Appeals Court said. ‘The record reveals no objection to counsel to any party handing out candy to the jurors or any indication that the ‘cast list’ was circulated to the jury’.”

The appeals court also decided that the failure to have the American flag hanging in the courtroom was not grounds for a mistrial.

A big lesson, counselors: Don’t forget to object, and don’t agree too readily just to get along better with His Honor.

Clearly, Judge Sikora — who probably never liked being the only guy in the courtroom in a costume — presided over a rather odd trial.  In his defense, he might have felt a bit nauseous as the proceedings dragged on (the trial itself lasted 63 days), and he realized he’d still have a pile of motions to contend with once the verdict was rendered.

The case has been around for almost a decade, and the resulting opinion by the Massachusetts high court is an indigestible trick.  Just skimming it gave me heartburn.  If you have a strong stomach, or just want to be dissuaded from ever going to law school, the f/k/a Gang suggest you try to read the entire opinion in Zabin v. Picciotto (Mass. Ct. of Appeals, Dkt. 07-P-842, decided Nov. 18, 2008).

. . . Naturally, we’re all waiting to see what jury expert Anne Reed has to say about all this at her Deliberations weblog. . . .

follow-up (Nov. 23, 2008): Anne Reed came through with links to a couple of prior jury dress-up cases, including a post on the Scooter Libby trial, where 11 of the 12 jurors showed up with special t-shirts on Valentine’s Day, and another that includes a short history of juror dress-alike juries.

No more tricks; just a few new haiku treats from John Stevenson:

a couple
of May snowflakes
everybody’s talking

traffic careens
left and right
around an empty box

wheelchairs & butterflies
I close
my sketch pad

pillow on the floor
I wake up sticky
and worn out

…… by John StevensonUpstate Dim Sum (2008/II)

mistaken for a judge -
the vampire bites
his tongue

.. by dagosan (orig. at MagnaPoetsJF, Oct.26, 2007)
Photo by Cynthia Miner (1992)

November 18, 2008

lots more Wendy Savage, Esq. (and a Susan Friery correction)

Filed under: lawyer news or ethics,q.s. quickies — David Giacalone @ 10:44 am

.. …… from the Beautiful Lawyers Calendar’s Wendy Gallery ..

..

The folks at the Boston Beautiful Lawyers Calendar know a good thing when they see one: their featured lawyer, Wendy Savage, of the corporation counsel office of Liberty Mutual.  So, they now offer a Wendy Gallery at their website, with 10 large photos from her photo shoot — five in a pinstriped suitcoat and five in that famous black dress. We hope all this good will from the promoters of the Beautiful Lawyers Calendar will bring you to purchase a calendar to help a number of good causes.

Prof. Yabut and the f/k/a Gang thought you might want to know that for us the best part of this whole Calendar-Wendy Phenomenon has been getting to correspond with Wendy.  Having been around quite a few beautiful and smart female lawyers over the past 30 years, I was not the least bit surprised to discover the thoughtful, multi-faceted woman behind the instant-celebrity persona.  None of the other beautiful lawyers in my life ever got so much public attention, but I’m pretty sure they also would have responded in the same level-headed, modest way as Wendy.

.. That’s all for now.  Who needs punditry or poetry, when you have Wendy, Esq.? . .

 . .  p.s. Our resident poet, dagosan, thinks that Susan A. Friery, M.D., Esq., is another very good reason to buy this calendar.

Dr. Susan Friery [a/k/a Susan Mowbray] Update (Feb. 8, 2013): Prof. Yabut, dagosan and I were impressed that Susan Friery had both a medical and law degree.   So, “we” were quite disappointed to find out rather belatedly today that she had been falsely claiming to have a medical degree from Columbia University (and saying she graduated in the top 1% of her class).  Clearly, missing this bit of gossip shows how much we’ve been out of the blawg loop these past four years.

 A notice that I saw today in the February 2013 edition of Washington Lawyer announced the reciprocal 2-year suspension of Friery’s license due to her false representations in Massachusetts. (D.C. decision) The Massachusetts decision to suspend her for two years is dated Jan. 3, 2012.  The extent and long duration (a quarter of a century) of her deception at the firm of Kreindler & Kreindler can be seen in the K&K press release announcing that “Dr. Friery” had been elected a partner.  The Massachusetts court found that K&K did not know of the misrepresentation until the time of her resignation from the firm and that clients were not harmed. (I was surprised that the court never used the name of the law firm in its decision.)  The Legal Profession Blog broke the news on Feb. 2, 2012, but followed its policy of not naming the disciplined attorney; Above the Law reported the suspension on Feb. 6, 2012, naming Ms. Friery and noting she had been chosen for the 2009 Beautiful Lawyers calendar. Staci at ATL credited Thomson Reuters News & Insight for the story.  That Feb. 3, 2012 article has a good summary of this sad tale.   Also, see The Leslie Brodie Report, which has the K&K bio of Dr. Susan Friery.

 As the Legal Profession Blog noted, rather than earning a medical degree, “She had four semesters toward a Ph.D. in pathology and had worked as a morgue technician.”   The former f/k/a gang hopes Ms. Friery is still flexible and that good-doggie Silo has remained loyal.

By the way, I was not impressed that avvo.com’s profile of Ms. Friery still says “We have not found any instances of professional misconduct for this lawyer.” In addition, neither Law.com, Lawdragon.com, Mediation.com, or Quick Click Attorney mentions the 13-month-old Massachusetts suspension.  The D.C. Bar already has her suspension noted in its D.C. lawyer index.

freezing rain
two Baby Boomers
steam-up the Volvo

……… by dagosan

Year-end Update (Dec. 30, 2008): See our post “a sparkingly Savage year,” which discusses the Boston Magazine article “Counsel Requests the Right to Appeal: Smokin’-hot lawyer Wendy Savage defends her buzzy turn as a pinup” (by Alyssa Giacobbe, January 2009), and the issue of professional women posing in sexy pictures.

November 16, 2008

albany police pass out parking protection (with updates)

Filed under: q.s. quickies,Schenectady Synecdoche — David Giacalone @ 10:30 am

.. “Better get me that scraper, Honey.” . .

[update: Reaction of Albany pols, plus editorials, at the end of this post.]

.. It’s not as helpful as a Monopoly Get Out of Jail Free Card.  And it might not be as powerful as Captain America’s Shield.  But, a little red and blue bull’s-eye sticker has been protecting Albany, NY, police officers and their friends and lovers from parking fines for at least 15 years. See “Free ride from tickets: ‘Bull’s-eye’ stickers from Albany police union give ‘pass’ on fines to hundreds” (Albany Times Union, by Brendan J. Lyons, Nov. 15, 2008); plus 810 WGY News.

As TU reporter Brendan J. Lyons explained in an article yesterday: 

“An untold number of ‘ghost’ parking tickets that carry no fines have been issued to the private vehicles of Albany police officers, their spouses, friends and civilians employed by the city under an informal practice that dates back years and involves a secret system of coded windshield stickers, the Times Union has learned.

“Several police officers and other people familiar with the matter said the system was developed more than 15 years ago as a way to provide free on-street parking to police officers attending court hearings in their personal vehicles. But over the years, they said, the practice has expanded and arguably been abused as many people who are not police officers, including bar owners and friends of officers, have been provided the secret, red and blue ‘bull’s-eye’ stickers that are affixed to a vehicle’s windshield just above the registration.”

Public servants giving themselves the equivalent of Park-Here-Free Cards may seem like a tiny little abuse, but it’s the kind of special treatment that helps turn citizens into cynics.  (You may recall that we wrote about parking abuse by officials around Schenectady’s City Hall back in March of this year.)  I’m especially bemused by the fact that the courageous heroes in the Albany police union were not available for comment, while Chief James W. Tuffey says he was unaware of the bull’s-eye stickers, despite the fact that they are (according to the TU) “visible on the windshields of dozens — if not hundreds — of cars around the city, including many vehicles parked at police headquarters.”  I’m reassured, naturally, that Tuffey says:

”If there’s something out there that’s been abused I’m going to deal with it.”

Of course, it ain’t just the cops taking advantage of Captain America’s Shield.  The Times Union tells us:

“Spot checks of vehicles parked on city streets near the Albany County courthouse, Family Court and City Hall showed that ”courtesy” parking tickets are routinely issued to private vehicles of people who work for the district attorney’s office and the sheriff’s department.”

You get the point.  But, do they? 

Wanna bet that quite a few friends of the Albany FOP were out scraping a little bull’s-eye sticker from their windshields yesterday?

Noon Update: With a little nudge from Scott Greenfield I searched a bit more and found a picture of the Albany police bulls-eye sticker at the TU Read & React weblog, where you’ll find over a hundred reader comments.  I’ve added part of the TU image, with the sticker above a Registration Tag, near the top of this post.

update (November 17, 2008): The Mayor of Albany, Jerry Jennings, and a number of political leaders have reacted very negatively to the story of the sticker and ghost tickets.  See “Mayor halts ‘ghost’ tickets” (Albany Times Union, Nov. 18, 2008); and “Jennings halts ‘no fine’ parking tickets in Albany” (Daily Gazette, Nov. 18, 2008).  An Albany Times Union editorial, “A fine mess, Albany” hits the important points with the right tone:

The chief has some explaining to do about a cozy arrangement that apparently dates back more than 15 years. So does Christian Mesley, president of the police officers union. So, in fact, does Mayor Jerry Jennings. . . .

The Issue:  Some Albany parking tickets are for real, and some aren’t.

The Stakes: Such discrepancies and inconsistencies undermine confidence in government itself.

update (Nov. 19, 2008): Today’s Schenectady Gazette editorial is suitably righteous and makes a very good point. See “Pretense of justice courtesy of Albany” (Nov. 19, 2008).  After asking why this “comes as so little shock,” it notes every city needs a system to allow certain of its employees to be able to park near public buildings efficiently, but:

“Typically, the system calls for the judicious use of special placards that bearers place in their car windows. They signal ‘hands off’ to the meter maid — and explain to any civilian who might wonder, why a blatant violation was overlooked.

“In Albany, however, cops were apparently given free rein to devise and manage their own system. . . .  Meter maids would still write tickets for illegally parked cars displaying these stickers, but they were dummies — no fine payment necessary. In other words, just a time-consuming exercise to fool the public into thinking justice was being done.”

afterwords (Nov. 21, 1008): This week’s Opinion column in the Capital Region’s alternative newspaper, Metroland, is “Demand Your Free Parking Sticker!” (Vol. 31 No. 47, Nov. 20-26, 2008).  It provides a form that says “I want a Bull’s-Eye Too!,” with space for your name and address, plus addresses for Christian P. Mesley, President, Albany’s Police Officer’s Union/Council 82, as well as Albany’s police chief and mayor.

(Nov. 23, 2008): A bit tardy, Fred LeBraun adds his few cents in a column today in the Sunday Times Union, titled “Scam hurts Albany police.”  With the reaction, “how dumb can you get?”, Fred says: “Eventually, this sort of elaborate conspiracy to defraud was bound to be exposed, and the result could only be a public relations nightmare for the cops and another knock on their credibility.”  And he adds:

“Most emphatically, what stinks has nothing to do with offering cops a few perks.. . . [W]hat galls, what irritates to the quick, is the covert nature of the system, the secrecy. The cops were trying to put one over on us, the public.”

just arrived —
their dog sniffs
our tires

steady rain
a pickle
in the parking lot

…… by Tom ClausenUpstate Dim Sum (2003/II)

November 15, 2008

they’re all atwitter (we’re not)

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,lawyer news or ethics,viewpoint — David Giacalone @ 10:41 am

.. .. .. ..  [Note: You are entering a Curmudgeon Zone]

Everywhere you look, well-known members of the blawgisphere (lawyers who have weblogs) are all atwitter, chirping excitedly about Twitter — the free web-based application that let’s you answer, in 140 characters or less, the ultimate question of the new millennium “What are you doing?“, and to monitor the answers of lots of “followers” or “followees” with common interests. [E.g., Monica Bay, Bob Ambrogi, Nicole Black, Kevin O'Keefe, Walter Olson; and see "Lawyers Flocking to Twitter for Marketing," Lawyers USA (Nov. 7, 2008, where the distracted Justin Rebello says you get "140 words."]

At risk of being called a twit (or a thwowback), the f/k/a Gang is pre-emptively opting out.  This shouldn’t be a surprise coming from a Proud Podcaste Pariah. We can’t help but think that the traditional definition of twitter nails it (American Heritage Dictionary):

twitter: n. The light chirping sound made by certain birds. b. A similar sound, especially light, tremulous speech or laughter. 2. Agitation or excitement; flutter.

Things might have improved a bit (or at least gotten a patina of adult and professional participation) since Time Magazine told us last year that “more often than not” Twitter’s members “are simply killing time.”  But, we’ve seen how often fellow blawgers jump on new technologies and crazes that end up creating an unmanageable and unjustifiable torrent of information and distraction.  So, I’m going to keep in mind Time‘s admonition:

“We cyberjunkies need a new thrill, and what better than a service that combines social networking, blogging and texting?

“. . . I know, it’s totally silly and shallow, but that’s precisely why Twitter is on its way to becoming the next killer app.”

If you think that constant marketing or attracting blawg visitors is at the core of your law practice (or your cyber-business), joining the Twitter revolution might make sense, as you follow dozens, scores, or maybe hundreds of other Tweeters throughout the day or hope they follow you.  But, I sure hope you’re not my lawyer (or my employee), adding yet another wave of cyber-distractions to your workday, instead of focusing on efficiently providing quality services.  For us, maintaining multiple levels of unessential multitasking is not a virtue.

Granted, the f/k/a Gang is not part of the gotta-be-constantly-in-touch generation, nor among the first-wavers clamoring to jump on every new techno- or cybercraze. That might be because the Editor is only 13 months from his 60th birthday.  That needn’t be a bad thing.  When it comes to prioritizing one’s time or activities, getting older might actually mean getting wiser. It has hopefully meant acquiring enough self-awareness to know a time-sink when I see one.

Of course, it also means that I can only speak for myself.  Please don’t let this grumpy apologia stop you from Twittering to your heart’s content.  Just don’t expect Prof. Yabut or myself to be waiting for your next Tweet.

update (Nov. 16, 2008): In our comment section, you will find some rather defensive reactions to this little piece of fluff, especially by Kevin O’Keefe of LexBlog.  Click to see his similar weblog response to this post. If you don’t want Kevin to hurl his poison pixels at you, don’t gore his pet oxen or cash cows — not even with rubber spears. [Kevin says he's "sorry" in a new Comment left Monday morning, Nov. 17, thanks in great part to Scott Greenfield's efforts to keep the issues in perspective; see the next paragraph. However, Kevin has refused to amend his post, telling me in a comment at Simple Justice to "grow up" and stop worrying about "ruffled feathers."]   For a more balanced response from a Twitter fan, see blawger Susan Cartier Liebel’s comment below.

As often happens, Scott Greenfield sees through all the Twitter glitter, with wry, balanced insights about his experience using the Killer App. as a lawyer.  See “The Great Twitter Wars Begin,” Simple Justice, Nov. 16, 2008).  Go read every word of the post (including many Comments from lawyers telling their experiences with Twitter), which concludes, “But I don’t begrudge those who are clearly enjoying it, finding it useful and beneficial and chose to spend their day tweeting away.  Tweet on, Garth.” As for himself, Scott says:

“I expect to tweet again, but only when I have absolutely nothing better to do and too much time on my hands.  No matter how sweet the marketing pitch is made, whether by Kevin or any of the other fans of twitter, it’s just not that useful, and to establish one’s twitter bones requires that one spend an awful lot of time tweeting, even if you have nothing to tweet about or no one cares to tweet you back.”

afterwords (Jan. 4, 2008): Well, now I know why Kevin O’Keefe was so upset with me for failing to bow at the Twitter Altar.  I sure hope lawyers don’t discount their hourly billing for time spent on LexTweet.

Bob Ambrogi [who writes a summary of the controversy started by this posting, here] says “The difference between Twitter and a blog is akin to the difference between a haiku and a ballad.”  That’s a good enough excuse to get off our Twitter Tirade and move to the haiku portion of this posting.  For us, of course, haiku is an extracurricular activity, meant to be taken in small quantities of high quality, at our own pace and on our own schedule.

Here, for example, are a few haiku moments from a haijin we love to follow, Hilary Tann:

spring afternoon
two chickadees . . .
sol-fa, mi-re

playing hooky –
twice around
the village square

dessert menu –
falling for
illustrations

late afternoon
watching the carp school
before rehearsal

spring jacket —
a haiku fragment
inside

between flights
I summarize my life
for a stranger

waiting for you
the restaurant noren
parts in the breeze

her garden blooms
with flowers whose names
she no longer recalls

…. by Hilary TannUpstate Dim Sum (2008/II)

… photo haiga: by dagosan

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