One of the things I try to do every morning (before venturing out into the world with my bow and arrow) is running through the mini-feed of the NC SPICE Twitter account and looking for any useful or interesting stories that might be helpful to the solo and small practitioners we serve. It helps them out, and has the side benefit of keeping me informed about what’s going on in the world.1
And every now and then I come across stories that just kinda make me scratch my head…
Seemed like an innocuous-enough tweet so I clicked the link, and was taken to this press release from the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law. It outlines the planned testimony earlier today of “Legal Trailblazer Gillian Hadfield,” a professor at the law school, who insists “the legal system’s regulatory approach needs to dramatically shift with less-expensive alternatives to attorneys[.]”
As part of her prepared remarks, the release claims:
“My main message for the Court is one rarely heard from the legal profession,” Hadfield said. “There is no way to generate the kind of legal help ordinary Americans need without fundamental change in the way the judiciary regulates the practice of law… We cannot possibly solve the access to justice problem without changes in our regulatory approach.”
Now I don’t know who Gillian Hadfield is; I’m sure she’s a great lady and a sage scholar of the law. And I’ll even go a step further and accept at face value the claim that her “message” of needed regulatory reform “is one rarely heard from the legal profession.”2
But she teaches at USC Law.
A school with annual tuition and fee rates of $51,490.00 in 2012-2013.
Take a minute to juxtapose Hadfield’s view promoting non-lawyer lawyers with the long-standinglamentationlaw schoolsfloodedthe market with too many graduates. I think those complaints are wrong — the problem isn’t too many lawyers, it’s too many lawyers trying to bill out $250+ an hour so they can repay student loan debts in excess of a quarter-million dollars apiece — but the contrast highlights how completely backwards the discussion over the legal market has gotten.
If you want to promote deregulation of the legal industry, say on the notion that more competition would induce more innovation and produce a better product, then go for it. At least that’s a plausible argument and frankly one I’d support.4
But to promote deregulation on the mind-numbing theory there’s an undersupply of legal help available, all while enriching yourself via (and thus contributing to) one of the top drivers behind inflated legal rates, is beyond farcical.
The press release closes by noting Professor Hadfield’s valiant efforts to tame her employer:
She is part of a growing movement to reform legal education. Her mission is to teach law students to be problem solvers.
“Many law professors come to law school thinking that our job is to be the expert at the front of the class imparting information,” she said. “But one of the most important things we can do for our students is to get them actively engaged in problem-solving together to generate workable solutions to client problems. As I see it, my job as a professor is to design the materials and opportunities for them to do that and then to take myself out of center stage as much as possible.”
With due respect to the esteemed Professor Hadfield, if you really want to “take [yourself] out of center stage as much as possible” I’d suggest you encourage USC Law to lead by example and slash its tuition and fee rates.
Approach that objective with even a fraction of the zeal you’ve devoted to deregulating the entire legal profession, and I suspect you’d discover there is a “way to generate the kind of legal help ordinary Americans need”: producing lawyers ordinary Americans can actually afford to hire.
There’s a LOT of cool new material every. single.day! [↩]
A point I’m not sure is supported by the evidence, what with New York moving to mandatory pro bono hours and states promoting other regulatory changes. While the particular reforms might differ, the entire “access to justice” debate’s focus has been on the tweaking of regulations. [↩]
I’ve learned in the months since the bar exam that there are quite a few things that are so simple they could be accomplished by a well-trained monkey, yet require a lawyer’s signature instead. I don’t fear deregulation. [↩]
Let me start by apologizing for the profane title. We try to keep things family-friendly here but I truly couldn’t think of a sufficiently cathartic alternative title this time without dropping at least one F-bomb.
Long-time readers of law:/dev/null know that Big Guv’mint and I aren’t exactly BFFs. My love and support for education notwithstanding, I seem to be a magnet for every other buffoon making a living off the taxpayers’ dimes.
In each of those cases, though, an apologist for Big Guv’mint could at least make a non-frivolous argument that I bore at least some responsibility for other’s failures. I could have paid my taxes as they were due instead of trying to get back into college, could have called the NC DMV instead of assuming they updated my address when they sent my new license to it, and could have remembered to take off my suicide bomber bling in the airport.
This isn’t one of those times.
Let’s begin at the beginning: today did not start off well. My car wouldn’t start despite a fresh battery installed just last week (driving car maintenance costs during 3L year to the $2K mark) so I once again headed to the repair shop. The repair guys still didn’t know for sure what was wrong, but ~$515 worth of repairs later they assured me everything would work this time.
So now being flat broke and not knowing how April’s rent is going to get paid, I decided to bite the bullet and call Sallie Mae to apply for one of their bar prep study loans. I give the agent my information, have him submit the preliminary app… and get told I can’t be approved for a loan. Which was mighty odd when I’ve been busting my butt to get my credit into the “as good as you can get without having a mortgage” zone, on top of me just disclosing my entire financial life to the North Carolina Board of Law Examiners at the beginning of January. If something was wrong, I should have known it.
A new addition to my credit report, courtesy of Big Guv'mint's incompetence
Panicked now that I have absolutely no clue how I’m going to cover rent for April — or May or June or July or August — I log onto the Equifax website to check my credit report.
And see this.
That reads “150 days past due”.
As of February 2012.
On a student loan issued in August 2011.
Now those of you who are good at math might notice there’s a 6-month gap between August to February. Roughly 180 days give or take. As few as 155 if you’re going from August 31st to February 1st. Meaning whatever the hell happened with this thing, I’ve supposedly been “delinquent” since the day it was issued. No in-school deferment. Not even a grace period. Nothing.
At this point I briefly stop being concerned about the Sallie Mae app and start being terrified about my bar application itself. The NCBLE likes getting everything about your life and I had just told them in January I was current on everything. Now I’m listed as 5 months late. A pretty big omission that can’t be good for the whole “character and fitness” thing.
Luckily I’m ever-so-slightly OCD when it comes to legal and financial documents, so I’ve got a copy of every single thing I sent to the State Bar. I pull it out, flip to one of the appendices — and sure enough, even the Federal Direct Loan website had me listed as being current on everything
Big Guv'mint says nothing is due... but I'm apparently 150 days late on it anyway
It’s a bit hard to see because this is a copy-of-a-copy, but you can clearly make out “Next Due Date: 07/14/2013″, ”Pay This Amount: $0.00″, and the timestamp when it was printed out — 01/03/2012, when I would have been 120 days late according to the Department of Education’s report to the credit bureau.
Staring at physical evidence that something was/is amiss, I transition from being worried to being furious. I call the DOE’s 800-number and get to spend the next 30 minutes of my life talking with one of their agents.
He first tells me I owe ~$300ish dollars on March 14th (next week). He then tells me I’m on the verge of defaulting because I’m 150 days late and they report things to the credit bureaus at 90 days. Trying to contain my rage I politely reiterate that I’m still in school, don’t graduate until May, and am entitled by law to an in-school deferment.
Then I get put on hold
About 5 minutes later he gets back on the line, tells me he’s going to flag my account as being in forbearance so it doesn’t become even further past due, and will “submit some paperwork” to correct the deferment issue.
And then adds “There might be a little smudge on your credit report. If that becomes an issue, call back and we’ll try to fix it.”
(1) “If”? (2) ”Call back”?? (3) “Try“???
I got off the phone before I said something I’d regret. Then filed a credit report dispute with Equifax and took the dog out so I could decompress a bit.
Since Big Guv’mint’s got sovereign immunity — and I don’t have a property interest in a prospective loan, or other damages to bring me under the Tort Claims Act — there’s not much I can do in terms of legal recourse. And at this point, thanks to the DOE, I now have an oncoming financial train wreck bearing down on me that has to take priority.
But damn this is ridiculous. Completely, totally, inexplicably ridiculous.
This wasn’t some loan issued before they nationalized the student loan industry, converting something from my private lender to my public one and something getting lost en route. It wasn’t the first public loan issued to me, where maybe someone somewhere at some point might have been unsure of how the process worked. No: it’s the last loan of at least 13 of them issued under the Direct Loan program.
And the best they can tell me is “If us screwing up becomes an issue for you and you can’t pay your bills as a result, call back to wait 30 minutes and then we’ll try to correct our failures.”
I pray I can stay healthy for awhile, because with my track record God only knows what’s going to happen when these clowns take over my healthcare system…
The full-body scanner showed I had nothing else on me except for the chain around my neck — why do you need to follow up with groping my genitals? [↩]
I surfaced briefly from under the pile of end-of-semester homework to catch up on the news, and just now stumbled upon this whole UC Davis pepper spraying incident via a friend posting this YouTube video on Facebook:
Now I’m no fan of the Occupy movement and Occupiers’ tendency to willfully violate the private property rights of others to try and make a point.1 Even so, this is downright insane
The university’s claim that the pepper spraying was prompted by a “hostile” situation is thoroughly debunked by the video. There’s nothing here but a bunch of wannabe hippies sitting there linking arms thinking it’ll make a difference in tuition increases.2
They weren’t preventing the ingress or egress of vehicular traffic, presenting a safety hazard, or causing any other public disturbance to a level that demanded the use of force. Totally, shamelessly, incontrovertibly outrageous — what seems to be a recurring theme among California law enforcement agencies.
Remind me not to visit California again any time soon…
I’ll concede I wholeheartedly agree with the Occupy folks with respect to crony capitalism bearing some responsibility for the economic mess we’re in — but they don’t seem to grasp that the reason crony capitalism persists is because it’s incredibly lucrative when the federal government has its tentacles in every cookie jar available. A regulation costing you or I a nickel apiece might cost a given industry millions of dollars, which prompts companies to buy legions of lobbyists to push for special favors from the government. That’s why things turn into a mess. End crony capitalism, but also end the government overreach that promotes crony capitalism. [↩]
Posting on law:/dev/null will be hit-or-miss until around December 9th or so — I’ve currently got 6 papers, 2.5 oral arguments, and an in-class final exam in the next 2 weeks alone, leaving me with almost no time to blog.1
Without the luxury of coming up with something new and pithy, I’ve taken the luxury of linking to a “Behind the Mic” webstream of an online radio show I hosted with my classmate Hahvahd2 on Wednesday for our ConLaw II class
Each week during the academic year, we host something call iSpeak Blog Radio talking about a variety of First Amendment-related topics. You can access the main website, including the archived shows, online at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/ispeak.
My topic was California’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) shutting off all cell phone service within their subway stations, as a way of squelching an alleged protest that they claim was going to take place.3 We also brought in ECU’s Peter Romary4 to help give a lawyer’s perspective on the issues. Personally I think BART’s decision was shamelessly illegal and I’m a bit disappointed no one’s filed suit over it yet, but until someone does I decided to comment from my perch in the law school
Before we get to the video, if you’re interested in the factual background and links for more info, here’s what I included in the Facebook event listing I cobbled together for the radio show:
The operators of California’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) public transportation subway system pay mobile phone providers to offer mobile phone service throughout the Transbay Tube. Mobile transmitters/towers exist throughout the BART system providing cellular coverage. BART maintains physical control over the towers, including providing electrical power.
On July 3rd, 2011, BART police shot and killed Charles Hill at its Civic Center Station in San Francisco. Hill was a homeless man who was allegedly inebriated, and was reportedly armed with a bottle, two knives, and was “acting aggressively” toward police when he was killed. The official security camera video released by BART is inconclusive (the YouTube video can be seen at the link below).
This was the third fatal shooting by BART police in three years. The first, occurring in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day 2009, resulted after police arrested and handcuffed Oscar Grant for disorderly conduct at the Fruitvale Station in Oakland. While Grant was handcuffed and prostrate [face-down] on the ground, Officer Johannes Mehserle pulled out his revolver and shot Grant in the back. Grant later died for his injuries and Mehserle served 11 months in prison for involuntary manslaughter: Mehserle claimed in court he intended to pull his Taser instead.
Following Hill’s July 2011 death, the group “No Justice, No BART” organized a protest at several metro stations beginning at 4:30pm calling for BART to be disbanded and the officers who killed Hill to be criminally charged for yet another killing. As the crowd grew in size, some protestors attempted to prevent trains from departing and service was eventually disrupted. Several stations were closed entirely as a result of the protest.
A month later, BART claimed “[o]rganizers plann[ed] to disrupt BART service on August 11, 2011… us[ing] mobile devices to coordinate their disruptive activities and communicate about the location and number of BART Police.” BART officials cut off electricity to all mobile phone towers from 4:00pm to 7:00pm at four stations in an attempt to thwart the alleged protest. In the process, everybody (including non-protestors) lost mobile phone service in BART stations.
[LEGAL ISSUES PRESENTED]
==> Did the alleged “credible information” obtained by Bay Area Rapid Transit, claiming an impending August 11th protest, satisfy the 3-pronged test articulated by the Supreme Court in Brandenburg v. Ohio (intent / imminence / likelihood) for infringing upon speech rights?
==> Assuming arguendo the Brandenburg test was satisfied, was the BART decision to end mobile phone service nonetheless an unconstitutional prior restraint on speech, particularly when BART acknowledges portions of its stations are “free speech zones” for lawful protest?
==> Assuming arguendo the Brandenburg test was satisfied, was ending mobile phone service for everybody (including innocent commuters) an overbroad — and therefore unconstitutional — restriction on protected First Amendment activities?
After more than 2 years of writing here at law:/dev/null, I’ve done a reasonably decent job of keeping the “real world” politics to a minimum1 — not because I’m averse to talking about those sorts of issues, but because law school is enough of a headache without me going into AN ALL-CAPS RAGE2 about the latest controversy du jour.
Even so, every now and then I feel a slight urge to rant
Earlier tonight I took a break from drowning in homework to visit Chapel Hill for “An Evening with Five Presidents”, an event put together by the UNC Board of Governors featuring a panel discussion with the 5 folks who have led the consolidated University of North Carolina since it was established in 1972. Former BOG members were asked to attend as “special friends” of the University — and since I’m more likely to find a job lead from one of these folks than anything my GPA will get me, I figured making the academic sacrifice was a rational choice
Anyhow, the wide-ranging discussion included more-than-a-few remarks about the proper way to fund the University and the totally absurd tuition increases being discussed behind closed doors (e.g. $4K+ increase at UNCCH for in-state undergrads over the next couple years ). Unfortunately those are the kinds of conversations that happen when newly-Republican-led state legislatures gore the higher education system and nuke $1 of every $7 overnight.3
It’s obvious from the General Assembly’s actions that legislators have a dim view of the university system, I’m just thoroughly flummoxed as to why. It’s always made intuitive sense to me that the education sector is one of the few options that are a sensible and eminently capitalist choice for investing taxpayers’ money.
Yes, I just said “eminently capitalist.” Maybe I’m biased because of the modest upbringing and former dropout status, but consider two brief reasons:4
The Social Network Effect:
Folks who’ve spent time in a computer science class have probably already heard of the “Metcalfe Effect”, named after Ethernet founder Robert Metcalfe. He argued that a critical mass of users was necessary to create any value in any particular network; for example, one person having a telephone is worthless, but as more people get telephones all current telephone users benefit.5 Economists refer to this as a positive network externality.
The Metcalfe Effect in computer science: for a network of (n) nodes, the total number of possible connections is (n * (n - 1)) / 2
You can see a visual depiction in the photo on the right. The Metcalfe Effect can actually be expressed as a mathematical formula — (n * (n-1)) / 2 — indicating the total number of possible connections between n nodes in a network. 2 nodes: 1 connection. 5 nodes: 10 connections. 12 nodes: 66 connections. And so on.
Universities are essentially big incubators for a human-centric Metcalfe Effect, creating what I’d describe as a Social Network Effect. Thousands of people voluntarily choose to come into a given geographic area, sharing a common institutional affiliation for 4 years at a stretch, and in the process inevitably form connections (their social network) with those around them.
Now is every one of N.C. State‘s 33,000+ students going to connect with the other 32,299+? Of course not. But in the aggregate, more connections are formed than would be otherwise.
I’ve seen this Social Network Effect get routinely derided by conservative pundits for years — “We’re supposed to be teaching kids to get jobs! Not to have fun!” blah blah blah rabble rabble rabble.
But the criticisms overlook basic realities of how economics works: information asymmetry is an impediment to maximum economic efficiency, and our personal networks help to distribute information and reduce that asymmetry as a result. This is the reason why the extent and quality of your personal network influences the resources you can obtain.
To make a long story short (these kinds of debates can get über-long), basically with the Social Network Effect at universities you get more people forging more numerous and economically higher-quality connections with more other people, producing a greater quantity and quality of economic interaction — better matches between employers and employees, producers and consumers, new business ventures, and so on.
The Foundational Knowledge Effect:
I couldn’t come up with a cool-sounding name for this one
One of my minors at N.C. State was in economics, and to get there we had to read a lot of different books / essays / writings / etc. Out of everything economics-related that I’ve read, economist William Easterly’s The Elusive Quest for Growth ranks among my Top 2 favorites.6
A former economist with the World Bank, Easterly’s book discusses the various “panaceas” touted by the developed world for trying to improve third-world countries (things like debt forgiveness, building schools, and the like) and why most of them simply don’t work. While the book overall is excellent, what particularly jumped out to me in reading it was Easterly’s thorough exploration of the role of knowledge in the economy.
In a nutshell: knowledge is cumulative and builds off of itself.
This is why, if you look at the economic growth rates of various countries over the last century, countries tend to hit a certain point where their per capita GDP accelerates exponentially rather than just linearly — the “core” level of knowledge among the populace hits a threshold point where it can then take greater advantage of new advances and discoveries, accelerating growth further and leading to even more such discoveries.
As an example, you couldn’t simply teleport back to California in 1900, give someone the laptop you brought with you, and expect Silicon Valley to spring up decades ahead of time when the country hasn’t seen a radio or TV yet. Easterly discusses this reality in the context of African tribes cut off from the outside world, suddenly immersed in modern tech innovations when approached by missionaries: they pick up on it eventually, it just takes a long time when that foundational knowledge doesn’t exist.
Just like universities are great voluntary creches for nurturing social networks, so too are they among the most-effective means for building “core” knowledge in the populace. The widespread ubiquity of technology, access to the latest research, the exposure to knowledge that comes from building a social network in itself — all of this contributes to everyone’s foundation of knowledge, enabling a higher degree of economic growth at a faster pace than we’d have otherwise simply from mere exposure to it (and even more if it’s retained).
I have to cut this entry here because WordPress says I’ve already hit 1,300 words, but my main point is this: the Social Network Effect and the Foundational Knowledge Effect, taken together, lead to a situation where the economic loss that comes from taxing away private money and diverting it to a public purpose is recouped and then outweighed by the economic gain from reducing information asymmetry and increasing the scope and speed of innovation in the marketplace.
In other words, just looking at the economics alone and ignoring any other incidental benefits, funding the University of North Carolina is a net benefit for the State and its taxpayers.
The conservatives in the North Carolina General Assembly should take notice and give embodiment to the words written in Article IX, Section 9 of the State’s Constitution: “The General Assembly shall provide that the benefits of The University of North Carolina and other public institutions of higher education, as far as practicable, be extended to the people of the State free of expense.”
And I might be going out on a limb here, but I’d guess cutting 15% of the University’s budget and prompting 4-figure tuition increases don’t really mesh with that.7
Have a good night y’all!
From the law:/dev/null Unsolicited Commentary archives:
A hair’s breadth under $2,000,000.00 at NCCU Law completely gone. [↩]
I concede at the outset I haven’t gone searching for empirical studies to back up my arguments here; I’m sure they exist and I could found them if I felt like spending the time to do so, but I don’t need empirical confirmation to know when something basic makes sense [↩]
Or, for the younger generation of folks reading this entry: the more people who join Facebook, the more each individual Facebook user benefits [↩]
The other, read during the time I had dropped out of school, is Henry H. Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson — hands down the greatest economics tome I’ve ever read, and one I strongly encourage everyone to read from cover-to-cover regardless of your political philosophy [↩]
That’s not to say I think all tuition increases are per se bad. I firmly believe students should be expected to fund a portion of their education (and even take out loans ) so they have some “skin in the game” as it were, and universities should have flexibility to deal with inflation and other cost issues. But I’ve also advocated for years that any tuition increases need to be predictable and capped. Better to have a 6.5% increase every year like clockwork than no increase one year and a 40%+ increase out of the blue the year after. [↩]
…to everyone with whom I’ve ever shared a meeting, meal, or car ride where I incessantly looked down at my BlackBerry and *tappity tap tap*‘d away at my phone rather than enjoying the presence of your company
I was recently reminded of how profoundly discourteous the practice is and how annoying I must have been — and while I’ve surely racked up enough bad karma that I’ll likely be getting repaid for years,1 I want you to know I truly am sorry and hope you’ll forgive me
Law school-related content to resume tomorrow Have a great night y’all!
Though, in fairness to me, since switching to an iPhone I’ve finally gotten into the habit of turning the ringer off whenever I’m with other people [↩]
By now I’m guessing all of you have heard about the horrific massacre that happened yesterday in Tuscon, Arizona. I was oblivious to what was going on until the NCSU-WFU basketball game I was watching got interrupted for a news alert.
The rush to be wrong first was nothing short of disgusting. Within minutes of me updating my Facebook status to express my bewilderment, wondering aloud if Mexican drug cartels were involved — what I thought was a rational question given Arizona’s immigration debates and Tuscon only being 60 miles from the border — a colleague felt the urge to explain that it was “a teabagger hit,” a refrain repeated across Twitter, Facebook and the media as shameless liberals seized on the tragedy moments after it happened to score political points and attack people they don’t like (while apparently forgetting they were often the exact same folks urging people not to jump to conclusions about the Ft. Hood terrorist attack last year).
Then someone somewhere stumbled across the psycho’s YouTube page and discovered he was a flag-burning atheist who listed among his favorite books Mein Kampf and The Communist Manifesto, not exactly common character traits and reading materials among the tea party set or the broader conservative/Republican bloc. Turns out that the guy is an utter fruitcake (as most rational people assumed) who defies political pigeonholing.
As one person commented on Twitter, “[b]oth sides miss the hypocrisy of their political gamesmanship in tying a mentally ill person to the other aisle’s politics.”
But the disgraceful hypocrisy of the political discourse created by the very people whining about the political discourse isn’t the reason I bring up that tragedy, so that’s all I’m gonna say on that particular aspect of it.
Later that same day, I found out that the Pennsylvania police discovered Sister of TDot wandering along the side of a highway. When they asked what in God’s name she was doing, she explained that everything in the house (that she shares with my parents) was radioactive and making her sick. She was committed to a psychiatric institution — but not before having thrown away everything in the house while my parents were out of town, from family photos and kitchen utensils all the way down to the food in the refrigerator.
Things can always be replaced and I’m thankful no one was physically hurt. I come from a family of limited means (hence why I had to drop out of college back in 2000) so I’m not sure what my parents are going to do, but they and my sister are all alive.
The bigger issue is that things shouldn’t have been allowed to get that far. My sister’s mental condition has been steadily deteriorating over at least the last 10 years. She’s intentionally broken things around the house. She’s threatened to kill my mother. She’s rummaged through my mom’s purse when mom was in surgery, reading her text messages in search of conspiracies while taking money to buy drugs. But while other family members (myself included) pointed out that things weren’t right, my parents and my brother have either been in denial or just unwilling to take serious action — Sister of TDot was involuntarily committed once before (after the death threat if memory serves me correctly), but because she’s over 18 she successfully petitioned to be released and within the week was off her meds and back living with my parents.
Now it’s déjà vu all over again, and I really don’t know what to think or feel about the situation.
We live in an overly-medicated society focused on avoiding personal responsibility at all costs, one where psychiatrists and doctors have developed a syndrome for almost every vice. Do poorly on a test? You must have ADHD. Drowning in credit card debt? You’re a compulsive shopaholic. Can’t keep your marriage vows and f*cking anything with two breasts and a vagina? Gotta be a sex addiction.
But when it comes to serious mental illness, the stuff that can get someone killed — schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and so on — it seems folks are content ignoring it or making excuses for it or doing the bare minimum possible to avoid legal liability without actually fixing the problem. Just scroll back to that AZ shooter story for an example: the would-be assassin’s community college had him thrown out because he was mentally ill and the armed services rejected him for the same reason, yet no one reported him to any mental health authority to get help… and now at least a half-dozen people (including a 9-year-old girl) are dead because of it.
I’m sorry for the downbeat and dour entry tonight y’all, I’m just in a really despondent and “ugh” mood right now. If you think you or a loved one might have a mental illness, please talk to someone about it and try to get help before something happens and it’s too late.
And I’ll have something more chipper tomorrow, I promise
But December 2010 was our 2nd-best-trafficked month since we started — despite two 5-day absences — so I figure that calls for celebration!
Quite a bit has changed on the server backend of the blog since July, including an increasingly aggressive (and thus far successful) effort at stomping out spammers.
Take a look at one of the new graphs I created below, which shows the number of spammy visitor sources I’ve added to the .htaccess file for banning. I recently started throwing in some keyword bans just to reduce the number of directives the server is processing; for example, instead of banning every spammer coming here from a buythisrandomdrugplz.com address, I’ve just decided to ban all the referers with “buy” in the URL.1
The net result? While July featured an almost comically-absurd abundance of spam comments and we had a couple recurrence spikes in August and October, we’ve “purified” the traffic enough that December had the lowest number of spam visitors in the entire history of law:/dev/null
The downside is that the bans kill our pageviews-per-day and Alexa traffic stats, the latter of which are used for determining things like avvo.com’s Top Legal Blogs.
Over 1,000+ spammy domains banned!
Our ranking has steadily dropped like a stone over the past two months while sites like Bitter Lawyer — which has become spam-blasted and hasn’t had fresh content in 3+ months — actually find their stats going up over that same timespan
But, just between you, me, and the interwebz: I’d prefer having 6,000+ flesh-and-blood visitors a month actually reading this stuff instead of tens-of-thousands of spammers just crawling for comment forms
We’ll see if we can keep our current anti-spam success going in the new year. Honestly I’m just pretty amazed / impressed / blown away that we had as many visitors as we did in December, especially given my infrequent posting. So thanks to all of you
On the search query front, we’ve had over 1,000 new queries since the last time I did one of these lists
Here are 20 of the 240+ unique search terms that brought folks here in December 2010:
time magazine decade from hell picture: the picture was more thoughtful than the story itself
1l grade wait: will be at least a month for most law schools, sorry
On the ever-so-slim chance you happen to get here from a legit source with “buy” (or any other banned keyword) in the URL and you get one of our lovely error pages, just reload law:/dev/null manually and you should be able to see everything [↩]
I’m trying to make my way through the 2nd book for my internship (Six Thinking Hats) so I don’t have time to write much, but I did have a few bullet points to toss your way:1
Had to go pick up registration materials for the MPRE today. For some reason, knowing I’ve got this exam looming in the near-term future kinda makes the whole “omg I’m gonna be an attorney. Who let that happen?!” thing ever-so-slightly more tangible… and prompting me to freak out accordingly
Speaking of exams, I discovered that I’m a compulsive snacker when I study for finals. I’ve somehow managed to pack on +15lbs in between Thanksgiving and now despite -0- change in my activity level
Lots of stuff going on in the blawgosphere here recently. A quartet of tidbits for you to check out:
One of those newcomers is Jose, a 1L at Ave Maria Law who has been actively engaging us blawgers on Twitter for awhile now. His new blog is online over at Law of Jose — definitely swing by when you get a spare minute or two
And another brand new blawg, but from a lawyer this time, is Peter Romary’s foray into the blawgosphere over at The True Verdict. Peter’s done a lot of work on behalf of students here in North Carolina and I consider him a friend, but (just in case that’s not enough reason to go read his blawg) he’s good at strongly wording his strongly-held opinions. Plus he’s from the UK, that’s gotta be worth something right?
Peter’s most recent entry is on Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks who’s been all over the news for awhile now. The issue of Assange being a sexual predator notwithstanding…2 am I the only one disappointed with WikiLeaks in general? The libertarian in me loves the concept, because I’m fairly certain all governments are doing things they have no business doing — and if someone happens to leak that fact, it’s more-than-slightly dishonorable on the part of the government to complain when its own hands aren’t clean. But for the all the value of the concept, and the “cool factor” of the various technologies used in its implementation, the near-exclusive/obsessive focus on the United States really robs the website of its moral virtue (at least in my feeble mind). Despite histrionics to the contrary, the U.S. is still a mostly-open society with a mostly-open government. If our government’s documents get leaked, sure feel free to post them. But where are the documents on Iran, which has a tendency to execute dissenters? Or China, which prefers jailing them instead? Or any of dozens of other countries that people flee by the thousands every year… to come to the United States? The whole enterprise is a disappointment, and it saddens me as a tech guy to see hacktivisits across the globe rally to Assange’s defense. </rant>
Now that I’ve gotten that particular rant out of my system, I’ve made some more blog tweaks here at law:/dev/null too:
On the anti-spam front I’ve started closing old entries to comments if they kept getting spammed. This isn’t a site-wide policy yet (and hopefully it won’t become one) but I figure the odds of an uncommented entry from [#] months ago suddenly getting legitimate interest is pretty slim In any event, if for some reason you happen to venture to an old entry that you want to comment on but don’t see the comment box, shoot me an email and I’ll re-open the entry to comments. Trackbacks and pingbacks should still work, so you’re also free to blast me from your own blawg too
You should also see the <title> of each page now reversed, listing the post title and then the blog title. They used to be the other way around, but it got really @#$%ing annoying having to constantly expand the textbox in Google Analytics to see which posts were getting traffic since all I kept seeing was “law:/dev/null – Blog Archive – …”. So I flipped them
I just found out yesterday that I’m using a different book in CrimPro next semester than what I used in CrimLaw… which means, since I’m taking one class and tutoring the other, I’ll have to bring both to school every day
And I’m still waiting on grades
But other than that life is going pretty well I’ve got a lot of friends with birthdays coming up, 雅雅 is coming to visit, I’m heading out west this weekend for firearms training, and the internship is pretty cool. I’m definitely blessed — and actually looking forward to the upcoming semester!
That’s it for tonight y’all! Hope all of you have a great rest-of-the-week!
And yes, I realize it’s not the weekend and putting this entry in the Weekend Roundup category is technically inappropriate. But since I usually post things late — and I can pretty much rename the categories willy-nilly whenever I want anyhow — I’m just gonna put it here and let y’all pretend it was posted 2 days ago [↩]
ASG actions may be illegal Lobbying may violate state law
By ISABELLA COCHRANE | The Daily Tar Heel
The body that voices the students’ views to administrators and elected officials could be carrying out its top priority — lobbying legislators — illegally.
The UNC Association of Student Governments, which includes delegates from 17 UNC system institutions, has been meeting with legislators and presenting them with petitions to keep tuition low for students.
But association President Atul Bhula was unaware of a N.C. law requiring organizations that fulfill certain criteria to register with the N.C. Secretary of State’s Office before lobbying.
Bhula received a notice from the office Wednesday reminding him of the law. The department has not yet determined whether the association fits the definition of a lobbyist group.
If the organization fits the definition of a lobbyist group and does not register, it could be banned from lobbying for up to two years as well as face a $5,000 fine, spokeswoman for the office Liz Proctor said.
State statutes define a lobbyist as someone who is paid to engage in lobbying for a governmental purpose.According to the statutes, a lobbyist must spend more than 5 percent of his or her time per month actively trying to influence legislative or executive decisions.
If lobbying is the association’s top priority, they could fall under that category.
Bhula’s stipend as ASG president is $7,000 per year, which is paid for by student fees — a $1 fee from every student in the UNC system. Other officers in the organization are paid $1,000 to $5,500.
Christy Tillery, a paralegal with the N.C. Ethics Commission, said true unregistered lobbyists violate state law.
“If you’re a true lobbyist in regards to the definition you should be registered,” Tillery said. The state law requiring organizations to register went into effect in 2007.
Continued lobbying without being registered in North Carolina is a misdemeanor offense.
“I never registered, and I’d be skeptical of anyone saying they have to do so,” said former ASG President Greg Doucette.
Doucette said he doubts that ASG members fit the definition of a lobbyist because they don’t spend that much time persuading legislators.
“Right now the legislation isn’t even in session until January,” Doucette said. “Basically we’ll only have a couple of months to lobby.”
Doucette said an argument could be made that because ASG officers receive compensation, they need to be registered.
“Everyone who does not receive a stipend doesn’t even meet the definition of a lobbyist because no money is changing hands,” Doucette said.
Bhula said he had not looked into registering with the state earlier because he was unaware that the organization fit the criteria of a lobbyist.
“Regardless, we’re going to lobby this year. We’re going to get that taken care of as soon as possible,” Bhula said.
The organization plans to have someone lobbying in Washington, D.C., but focus for this year will be state legislators, he said.
“At the federal level we’d be looking at Pell Grants to ensure we have more money,” Bhula said. “The federal stimulus money is going to run out so it’s a hard battle to fight there.”
Bhula said he plans to discuss the registration process at the organization’s next meeting Saturday so ASG can lobby legislators in the future.
“We hope to more effectively use our dollar for internal investments,” Bhula said.
“Lobbying in North Carolina is our main concern.”
Proctor said that despite the group’s past lobbying actions, the state department was unaware of the association’s actions with legislators.
“This is the first time that we have heard anything about it,” she said.
Contact the State & National Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published September 23, 2010 in Association of Student Governments, News, State
Now I know the news reporters don’t usually write their own headlines so I can’t be too upset about that part, but weasel words are generally bad form for something purporting to be news. Just about anything “may” be illegal.
The main reason is that we’re a unit of government under the UNC umbrella. We don’t get to manage our own budget; a $1/student fee is paid to UNCGA who handles all the accounting and places numerous (onerous) restrictions on what UNCASG can do as a result. The group’s President is an ex-officio member of the University system’s policy-making Board of Governors. The group’s office manager, employed by UNCASG, is a state employee.1 I could happily list other criteria explaining why we’re a government entity — and thus exempt from the lobbyist registration law — but you get the idea.
Let’s assume though, for the sake of argument, UNCASG isn’t a government agency and is in fact a private non-profit: the lobbying law still wouldn’t apply because none of the UNCASG personnel meet the criteria of a “lobbyist.”
Under the relevant subsection that would apply to UNCASG, the statute’s two elements required to be a “lobbyist” include being an employee who “a significant part of [his/her] duties include lobbying” and “in no 30‑day period less than five percent (5%) of that employee’s actual duties include engaging in lobbying”. None of the UNCASG personnel meet both elements.
First, contrary to the article’s claim, lobbying the N.C. General Assembly isn’t UNCASG’s “top priority” and lobbying simply doesn’t constitute a “significant part” of anyone’s duties — something the DTH already knew.
How did they know? Because their substandard Editorial Board attacked me in one of their hit pieces last year2 for my “piggybacking” strategy with the Legislature, where UNCASG relied on the professional (and registered) lobbyists of UNCGA to do the bulk of the lobbying work, then have student leaders dropping in when it would be politically effective for us to do so.
UNCASG’s top priority is keeping in touch with the 215,000+ students it represents. It’s second priority is representing those voices on the UNC Board of Governors. Lobbying state legislators is quite a bit further down the totem pole, if it’s even on there at all.
Assuming arguendo that lobbying was a “significant part” of anyone’s duties in UNCASG, they still wouldn’t meet the second element required to be “lobbyists.”
Even at the height of my lobbying activity during my two terms in office — when we were successfully saving students over $25+ million dollars — I doubt I spent more than a few hours in an entire month at the N.C. General Assembly. That’s just how the political game gets played. You don’t talk to everyone in the Legislature; you talk to the key leaders who can pull votes, and since everyone else is doing the same thing you’re usually only going to get 10-15 minutes of their time.
If you assume the UNCASG Presidency is a 40-hour-a-week job,3 the President has up to 8 hours a month to lobby without becoming a “lobbyist” under this statute.
And if any President is spending more time than that on lobbying, they’re doing it wrong.
One final point before I wrap up: I was working for a lobbyist when the lobbying laws were drafted. I know who they were intended to affect, and I know who they did affect. Student-run student advocacy groups weren’t in either of those categories.
So if the N.C. Secretary of State’s Office or the Ethics Commission or anyone else is seriously concerned about UNCASG’s past lobbying efforts, I encourage them to file a claim against me. They’re going to be exceptionally hard-pressed to find anything even vaguely resembling the slightest scintilla of evidence that I or anyone on my staff was ever a “lobbyist” within the letter, the meaning, or the spirit of this statute.
And given the DTH Editorial Board’s lingering bitterness over my “aggressive character attacks” and their almost-comical efforts to rebuke me after-the-fact for them, I give them a week or so at most before they write an op/ed saying I was wrong and UNCASG should waste spend $100/person of student fee money to register their people as lobbyists…
I’m unaware of any non-government entity whose full-time staff are considered state employees protected under the State Personnel Act. [↩]
Conspicuously absent from their online archives… [↩]
A number that is far too low if the job is being done properly. [↩]