Res Ipsa Blog

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Posted in News by Benson Varghese on July 11, 2008

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Thanks!

Poetic Justice: a Federal Judge Makes His Point in Verse

Posted in News by Benson Varghese on July 8, 2008

In reponse to a 465-page lawsuit filed in his court, U.S. District Judge Roland Leighton in Tacoma, Washington had this to say regarding the lack of a “short and plain statement showing the plaintiff [wa]s entitled to relief:”

Plaintiff has a great deal to say,
But it seems he skipped Rule 8(a).
His Complaint is too long,
Which renders it wrong,
Please re-write and re-file today.

The Seattle Times reports that the title alone covered eight pages, and it took another 18 pages just to identify the parties. The lawsuit includes 37 pages of quoted emails and a 224-page “odyssey” listing the claims for relief.

Sources: Seattle Times and ABA Journal

Part II: A Review of PreCYdent.com: A "Google-Styled" Search Engine for Lawyers and Laymen

Posted in Tech Tips for Lawyers by Benson Varghese on July 3, 2008

precy In Part I of my review of PreCYdent, I described how PreCYdent outperformed both WestLaw and Lexis in “natural language” searches. In Part II of my review, I’ll cover the limitations of this new service, as well as some user-driven features that are unique to PreCYdent.

PreCYdent seeks to provide lawyers, law students, and the general public with free and easy access to legal authority. While WestLaw and Lexis are used primarily by paid subscribers, PreCYdent seeks to provide anyone who has access to the internet a single interface to find all the cases and statutes that are available online and are already in the public domain. However, because PreCYdent is a free service, it does not have the financial resources to license materials that are not already available in the public domain. Herein lies the key drawback to PreCYdent: it does not provide comprehensive coverage of the law. Currently, the coverage of cases on PreCYdent is limited to federal Court of Appeals cases going back to 1950, federal district court cases going back ten to fifteen years, and coverage for state courts varies based on what each court makes available online.

What PreCYdent does do, though, is provide excellent search results for the content and areas it covers. By default, the cases are ranked according to “authority” which basically means by number of times the cases were cited. Search results can also be organized in chronological order or based on the hierarchy of the court that wrote the opinion.

While users do not have to register to use PreCYdent, there are a number of unique features that are available only to registered users. For instance, registered users can rate cases on a five-star system, mark cases as relevant, add keyword “tags” to cases, as well as upload opinions, and statutes. There are also discussion pages where registered users can post comments or questions about cases or statutes. Additionally, PreCYdent has a professional networking feature that allows registered users to connect with other attorneys.

The ability to locate key cases on a given subject makes PreCYdent an excellent place to start a search. However, PreCYdent’s limited coverage means it is not a replacement for services like WestLaw and Lexis. With many new features though, PreCYdent.com will definitely be a site worth keeping an eye on.

My thanks to Professor Thomas A. Smith, cofounder of PreCYdent.com and a professor at the University of San Diego School of Law, for taking the time to answer my questions about PreCYdent.

University of North Texas Law School Settles on a Location

Posted in Future Attorneys, Law School, News, Texas by Benson Varghese on June 27, 2008

CityHall1930 The University of North Texas and the City of Dallas have selected a location for the proposed University of North Texas College of Law. On Wednesday, the Dallas City Council agreed to spend over $16 million renovating the old Dallas City Hall to make it the home of the “first pubic law school in North Texas.” Built in 1914, the building served as the Dallas City Hall until 1978. It is in the parking lot of this building that Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald in 1963.

While the City of Dallas and the University of North Texas prepare to open the doors of the new law school in 2010, the proposal for the new law school has yet to receive legislative approval. In April 2007, the Texas Senate approved Senate Bill 105 authorizing the creation of the school, but the measure has yet to be approved by the House. A similar measure died in the House in 2005.

The announcement comes just days after the Associated Press reported on the growth of new law schools outpacing the number of jobs available to law students. A debate hosted by Robert Ambrogi and J. Craig Williams between Dean Chemerinsky (of Duke, who heading to the new UC Irvine) and Dean Guernsey (of Albany) on the issue of whether the nation has too many law schools can be found here.

Supreme Court Upholds Second Amendment Right to Bear Arms in District of Columbia v. Heller

Posted in News, Supreme Court by Benson Varghese on June 26, 2008

Today in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court struck down the ban on handguns in the District of Columbia. At issue in District of Columbia v. Heller was whether the Second Amendment protected the right of individuals to bear arms, or whether it applied only to the collective rights of states to maintain militias.

In the majority opinion written by Justice Scalia, the Court held that the individual right to possess a firearm is unrelated to service in a militia, and instead, was a right to bear arms for “traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.” In reaching its decision, the Court examined the language used in the Second Amendment, which provides: “[a] well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The majority noted that the operative clause used in the Second Amendment was the “right of the people to keep and bear [a]rms.” The Court determined the phrase “right of the people” referred to an individual right rather than a collective right. In dissecting the phrase “keep and bear arms,” the Court found “arms” traditionally referred to “weapons that were not specifically designed for military use and were not employed in a military capacity.” The majority also determined that the most natural meaning of the phrase “keep arms” was “have weapons.” The Court went on to note that every time the phrase “keep arms” was used in the founding era, the phrase referred to an individual right unconnected with militia service. Having addressed the operative clause, the Court went on to address the prefatory clause “[a] well regulated [m]ilitia being necessary to the security of a free [s]tate…” The majority found that the phrase “well-regulated militia” referred to every man who was physically capable of bearing arms. The majority also pointed out that “a militia” was distinguishable from the phrase “organized militia,” and that the phrase “well-regulated” meant only “the imposition of proper discipline and training.” The majority went on to note that the “security of a free state” referred to the “security of the polity” rather than the security of each of the several states. Having addressed each phrase in the pertinent portion of the Second Amendment, the majority concluded that the Second Amendment created an individual right to keep and bear arms.

Majority: Scalia, Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito

Dissent: Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer

Update: What You Need to Know about CCRAA Loan Forgiveness

Posted in Uncategorized by Benson Varghese on June 24, 2008

Early last week, I wrote a post about the CCRAA loan forgiveness program in which I noted that it was still unclear whether loan forgiveness under the CCRAA would trigger tax liability. Paul Caron of the TaxProf Blog reported on Friday that the IRS handed down Rev. Rul. 2008-34 “which clarifies that law school public interest loan forgiveness programs qualify for the § 108(f) exception (and, as a result, students need not report the forgiven interest as discharge of indebtedness income). ” The ruling applies to loans made through the Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) under which loans, administered directly by law schools, are offered to students pursuing careers in public service. LRAP loans have provisions similar to loans consolidated under the CCRAA including a loan forgiveness provision. While Rev. Rul. 2008-34 does not specifically address loans made under the CCRAA, it is an indication that the IRS is likely to find that CCRAA loan forgiveness provision will also fall under the 108(f) exception and the forgiveness will not trigger tax liability.

Ten Free Mac OS X Programs that Make the PC to Mac Switch a Breeze

Posted in Tech Tips for Lawyers by Benson Varghese on June 22, 2008

With more and more attorneys adopting Macs throughout their offices every day and the business world raving about the cost effectiveness of Mac OS X, today Macs are an accepted and feasible alternative to Windows in the legal community. Having recently made the switch to a Mac myself, I’ve put together a list of the top ten free Max OS X programs that made switching from a PC to a Mac a breeze.

1. Quicksilver
Quicksilver is a program launcher that uses simple commands to rapidly bring up any program, file, folder, or website. Quicksilver learns what files and programs are most often accessed and adapts so that those items are pulled up almost instantaneously when the user starts typing the name of the item in the Quicksilver interface.

(more…)

Paying off Law School Loans: What You Need to Know about the CCRAA

Posted in Future Attorneys, Law School by Benson Varghese on June 16, 2008

In re Gerhardt cartoons image illustration pictureAccording to the ABA, 87% of law students borrow money for their law school education. The average law student at a private school graduates with over $83,000 in student debt, while those who graduate from public schools have, on average, over $54,000 in debt.

In 2007, the College Cost Reduction and Access Act (CCRAA) was signed into law by President Bush. (Public Law 110-084). The CCRAA provides for the forgiveness of federal student loans after i) 10 years of public service work, or ii) 25 years. One of the notable aspects of the CCRAA is that the ten years of public service work does not have to be continuous. Students clerking for a judge for a year or two before entering private practice can apply those years of service towards the ten-year requirement if they later chose to accept another government position or work for a 501(c)3 organization.

Qualifying for Public Service Debt Forgiveness:
To qualify for Public Service Debt Forgiveness, the borrower must:
A) make 120 payments after October 1, 2007, based on one of the following programs:
i) IBR – Income Based Repayment (available after July 2009)
ii) ICR – Income Contingent Repayment (borrowers must have Federal Direct Loans or consolidate under a Federal Direct Consolidation). The one noteworthy difference IBR and ICR, for the extent of this discussion, is that the IBR program allows students to pay a smaller percentage of their discretionary income as a qualified monthly student loan payment.
iii) 10 Year Standard Repayment
B) be employed in “public service”
C) consolidate any federally-backed private student loans with a Direct Consolidation Loan directly from the Department of Education. (http://www.loanconsolidation.ed.gov/)

In the above example, a student graduating with $100,000 in eligible debt, entering a public service position for 10 years, will pay $430 per month instead of $1,150.80, and have $86,496.00 in outstanding interest and principal forgiven. I’ve made the spreadsheet available here, so that users can calculate their own IBR repayment terms by changing the variables highlighted in yellow.

Public Service Defined:
The CCRAA defines a “public service job” broadly. The definition includes full-time jobs in any government position, public interest law services (including prosecution or public defense or legal advocacy in low-income communities at a nonprofit organization), military, public education, and positions with 501(c)3 non-profit organizations. The Department of Education is expected to provide more guidance on what jobs qualify as public service jobs.

Loans Eligible for Federal Direct Consolidation:
Stafford Loans
Grad PLUS
Certain Perkins Loans.
Ineligible Loans:
Parent PLUS Loans
Private loans that are not backed by the government.

Potential Tax Liability Arising from the CCRAA:
One of the initial problems identified with the CCRAA was the potential “marriage penalty” since qualification for loan forgiveness and the repayment terms are based on the adjusted gross income from the taxpayer’s income tax return. Commendably, the House and Senate both recognized marriage penalty and passed an amendment to prevent this from becoming an issue. On December 21, 2007, S. 2371 was signed into law allowing married borrowers to file separate tax returns and calculate each spouse’s AGI and income-based repayment separately for purposes of the CCRAA.

However, there still remains the issue of whether the CCRAA loan forgiveness will trigger tax liability. Traditionally, forgiven loans are treated as taxable income. Despite this, section 108(f) of the Internal Revenue Code provides that the forgiveness of certain loans made by the federal government to facilitate higher education does not constitute income “if the individual worked for a certain period of time in certain professions for any of a broad class of employers.” However, it is unclear whether the Direct Consolidation Loan will qualify under 108(f) because the consolidation loan is made after the borrower graduates, rather than beforehand to “facilitate” the education. Given the Congressional amendment addressing the marriage penalty, an amendment favorable to borrower’s pursuing public interest work can be expected.

Students who are interested in working for the government or pursuing other public interest work on graduation should utilize Federal Stafford and Grad Plus loans while avoiding private loans that are not backed by the federal government. Upon graduation, students interested in taking advantage of the CCRAA provisions should consolidate their loans through a Direct Consolidation Loan. Students who do not remain in public service work for a period of ten years, but have consolidated under a Direct Consolidation Loan, will have their loan balance forgiven after twenty-five years from the date of consolidation.

Sources and additional reading:
http://www.abanet.org/lsd/legislation/
http://www.nasfaa.org/publications/2008/negloans011608.html
Schrag, Philip G., “Federal Student Loan Repayment Assistance for Public Interest Lawyers and Other Employees of Governments and Nonprofit Organizations” 36 Hofstra L. Rev. 27 (2007), available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1014622.

Thanks to Stuart Rees at http://stus.com for use of his cartoon.

Supreme Court Rules in Guantanamo Bay Detainee Case

Posted in News, Supreme Court by Benson Varghese on June 12, 2008

Holding: Terrorist suspects held in Guantanamo Bay have the right to file habeas petitions in federal courts.

Majority: Kennedy, Stevens, Breyer, Ginsburg, and Souter

Dissent: Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, Alito

To quote from Scalia’s dissent: “The Nation will live to regret what the Court has done today. I dissent.”

Full-length opinion.

Source: Reuters, SCOTUSblog

Debt to Earnings Ratios at Texas Law Schools

Posted in Law School by Benson Varghese on June 11, 2008

A low average cost of education doesn’t always translate to less debt on graduation. For example, although SMU has the highest average cost of education of all law schools in Texas, graduates from SMU carry less debt on average than graduates at Baylor and St. Mary’s. Similarly, Texas Wesleyan has the third highest cost of education, yet Wesleyan graduates have the second lowest average debt. Meanwhile St. Mary’s, which has the fourth lowest average cost of education, has the highest average debt on graduation of all Texas law schools.

Some schools have lower average debt because of generous scholarship programs. Driving down the average debt on graduation at SMU are over $5 million in scholarships given out each year. Other schools have lower average debt because many of their students are employed while in law school. For example, at Texas Wesleyan, over half of the law students attend part-time, allowing students to pay a greater portion of their law school expenses as they go. This explains why Texas Wesleyan students have one of the lowest average debt burdens on graduation despite being one of the most expensive law schools in Texas.

Debt to Earnings

While most law students are not able to maintain full-time jobs and attend school at the same time, students can maximize their chances of getting a scholarship by applying to schools where their LSAT and GPA scores are well above the school’s median.

The Debt to Earnings ratio is a measure of how much debt the average law student acquires for every dollar they earn their first year out of law school. Since the D/E ratio reflects the amount of debt acquired, the lower the D/E ratio is, the better.

The D/E ratio overcomes one of the limitations of the C/E ratios: artificially inflated costs of education. Since students can only qualify for loans up to the school’s published cost of education, many schools inflate the COE so that students who need extra money are able to qualify for loans. Since D/E ratios reflect loans that were actually awarded, the ratios closely track the expenses that exceed the average student’s ability to pay out of pocket. While neither the D/E or C/E ratio alone can answer the question of what law school is best for a student, both metrics provide an interesting look at factors that law students should consider as they decide which school to attend.

DE CE

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