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Friday Roundup

Let's go to the video... oops.  Remember all those assemblies in high school, where just before festivities got under way some pimply guy from the AV crew -- who everybody laughed at then, but who's now doing computer graphics for Pixar movies and making more money than you'll ever dream of -- walked out on stage and mumbled "testing, testing, testing" into the mike?  Well, they should have had some pimply guy do that in Jefferson County, Kentucky, where, as this story reports, they just discovered that the new audio-visual system they put in several months ago to record their trials was only 50% effective.  And the wrong 50%:  it had video, but no sound.  So a lot of the hearings and trials conducted in the last few months have had to be tossed out or redone, including a high-profile murder case involving the killing of a 4-year-old.

As is always the case, this led to the usual bout of fingerpointing, with the Administrative Office's chief information officer displaying a flair for pyromaniacal metaphors:  

"If someone had told me they had lost a month's worth of recording, my hair would have caught on fire," he said, adding that while JAVS [the company which installed the system] had no explanation for the lost audio in the [murder] case, "we're holding their feet to the fire to find out what happened."

In fact, one judge has gone back to using a -- gasp! -- court reporter.  Talk about old school.

You did too promise me a rose garden.  Speaking of school, let's say you've just graduated from one of the big law schools, and you're now calculating how long it will take you to pay off that 150 large in student loan debt you've got hanging over your head once you land a job.  Oh, sure, as this article relates, the recession has done a number on starting associate salaries; while lawyers fresh out of school are starting at $160,000 at the big firms in LA and New York, median salary for lawyers at all large firms dropped from $130,000 in 2008 to $115,000 last year, and starting associates in places like Detroit or St. Louis will have to make do on a hundred grand a year.  Still, that's a lot more than the guy who always gave you wedgies in high school is making at the car wash.  So, what area do you want to specialize in?  Corporate law?  Taxation?  Environmental law?

Well, how about toilet law?   That's the name given to the type of law many graduates wind up practicing nowadays, doing "document review" for insurance defense firms, which means sitting in a basement office and sifting through medical records for about a third of what a good plumber makes.  Although if you're really good at it, there's a bigger upside, as this ad from one New York City firm makes clear:

"We have an immediate need for admitted document review attorneys - we have a document review project in our offices (25 West 31st Street, NY, NY 10001) starting on MONDAY, September 13th @ 900am.

Rate: The pay rate is based on an incentivized pay structure. You will receive a base pay rate of $25/hr, and at the end of the project you will receive a bonus check based on group performance and productivity."

Now, back in my day, when we had to walk seven miles uphill each way through five-foot snowdrifts just to get to law school, we didn't raise a fuss about not getting the big bucks as soon as we had sheepskin in hand.  But this is now, and people are fighting back, with blogs like Jobless Juris Doctor and UnemployedJD.com.  In fact, much of it seems driven not by anger at law firms, but at law schools themselves.  Lawyers Against the Law School Scam has taken as their mission

exposing the dramatic oversupply of lawyers, and how that oversupply has been caused by bogus employment and income/salary statistics used by most law schools to induce applicants to apply to law school.  Also, we are concerned with how the legal establishment is complicit in this "law school scam."

Morality Tale - Update.  Back in 2007, I wrote about a Columbus attorney who was filing lawsuits based upon Ohio's "credit card truncation" statute, which prohibits printing the card's expiration date on the receipt.  Shortly after the law went into effect, the lawyer apparently scouted out which stores weren't yet in compliance, sent someone in to purchase items on several occasions, and then sued the store.  The first few times the plaintiff was a guy named Burdge, and the attorney's litigation strategy came a cropper:  the statute required actual damages, his client had none, and the net result was that, after a while, not only were courts throwing the cases out, but they were hitting up the lawyer and the client with sanctions.  In the case I wrote of at that time, it was a $3,000 bite, and I suggested the lawyer get a new client.

He did, but it was the same routine.  A year later, in this post, I detailed another adventure along the same lines.  This time, a tavern had agreed to pay $5,500 to settle the claim, but when the check was a week late, the lawyer said the settlement was off, and continued the litigation, even after the court held that the settlement was valid and could be enforced.  That earned the lawyer an award of over $10,000 in sanctions.

So the attorney finally took my advice and got a new client:  himself.  And a new routine.  This time, he bought a software video under a "negative option" plan -- you buy one, they'll keep sending you another each month until you opt out.  He did, but the video maker kept sending him one for several more months, and billing his debit card.  He got hold of them again, told them to stop, they did, and refunded all of his money. 

So, 18 months later, he sued.  The problem was that because he had rescinded the transaction, he wasn't entitled to monetary damages, which he didn't have anyway.  He persisted in the litigation up until the judge was on the verge of granting the defendant's motion for summary judgment, and then dismissed the case.  And when I say "on the verge," I mean on the verge:  the judge said that the dismissal came in as he was walking to the clerk's office to give them the order granting summary judgment.

And a month ago, in Ferron v. Video Professor, Inc., the 5th District affirmed an award of $119,414.87 against the attorney and his law firm.

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