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February 01, 2005

Death In Connecticut: Paused

Following up on yesterday's post about Michael Ross: he was not executed last night. His attorney asked for a stay to investigate Ross's competency and whether he is exhibiting “death row syndrome”—whether “years of harsh conditions on death row have coerced Ross to drop his appeals.” More about that in this article:
Haney, professor of psychology at the University of California at Santa Cruz, added, “I have seen it in other death-row inmates who just give up and relinquish appeals and, in some cases, appeals that legal experts believe have a very high chance of being successful.” Someone with death-row syndrome, he and Grassian say, can appear quite rational and in touch with reality. But because the inmate's day-to-day existence has become so intolerable, that person wants life to end. “There's a debate in the courts about whether that constitutes incompetence,” Haney said.
Whatever the merits of “death row syndrome,” this means the first execution in New England in 45 years has been postponed for at least a month (probably much longer), and I'm certainly not sad about that.

Posted 07:23 AM | Comments (8) | law general

Blawg Tsunami Charity Drive

Jeremy Richey is encouraging law students to donate their Lexis “Ultimate Rewards” points to tsunami relief. He's hoping people will donate 4000 points by Friday. I have 2990 points at the moment, and I'd be happy to donate them all; they're relatively worthless to me and I've always thought the whole points thing was a stupid gimmick to get law students to like Lexis and forget how evil it is. Still, I hesitate because
  1. I don't know how much money Lexis will give to the Red Cross if I give my points. Are 100 points worth $1 for the Red Cross, or what?
  2. I don't want to help give Lexis any credit for doing anything positive b/c I think Lexis, West, and their competitors are parasites on society. (They take public information (legal decisions, statutes, constitutions, etc.) that is and should be free to the public, package it in complex ways designed to maximize their profit, then sell it back to the people it belongs to in the first place—you and me!) Lexis is probably going to take the points that law students donate and cut a check to the Red Cross, then release a statement congratulating itself for being such a good global citizen. “Lexis generously donated $5000 to the Red Cross today....” Lexis should be making a donation to this effort, sure, but law students shouldn't have to give points for that to happen.
  3. I get the impression the tsunami relief effort has been pretty well funded already. I could be wrong.
  4. There are many other worthy causes that need our attention and aid as much or more as the tsunami relief. For example, as I noted here (quoting this editorial), “ Each month more than 150,000 African children die of malaria; that's about the death toll of the Asian disaster. Yet those deaths do not sear the public's mind.” Yet Lexis, the good and generous corporation that it is, does not offer us any options for charitable point donations except tsunami relief. Why not? When this donation opportunity expires on Feb. 4th, will Lexis replace it by giving us another worthy cause to which we can give our points?
  5. I'm a cynical, mean, cold-hearted person. I don't think so, but I bet a lot of you will when you read this. ;-)
All that said, I may throw my points in, anyway. Like I said, they're largely worthless to me, and since I think the whole idea of the points is evil to begin with, this would at least be some way to squeeze something good out of them. Anyway, if you're less cynical than me, please join Jeremy's campaign. He's trying to collect a total of how many points have been donated, so if you give, drop him a comment so he can add it to the tally.

Posted 06:52 AM | Comments (4) | 2L law school

Legal Advice and ULP laws

What's the difference between providing information and giving legal advice? If you ask my clinic manual, this is what it will tell you:
In essence, giving information is not dependent on particular facts or circumstances. Your answer would be the same no matter who the caller is or what his/her particular factual situation is. For instance, if someone calls and asks the maximum dollar amount you can request in D.C. Small Claims Court, the answer is $5,000.00. You may tell the caller that the jurisdictional limit is $5,000 because you don't have to analyze all the facts and particulars of the situation. On the other hand giving legal advice involves applying the law to a particular set of facts and imposing your professional judgment on your answer. If the same caller asks you, “I bought a lemon. Can I sue the dealer in D.C. Small Claims Court?”, you would have to delve into the facts, know the D.C. lemon law, and impose your judgment in order to provide an answer.
At first I thought this was a nice thumbnail definition of legal advice—if your answer would change if you knew the facts of the case, then you're giving legal advice. Fine. But the purpose of the rule against law students giving legal advice in the first place is to prevent them from practicing law without a license. Law students (and everyone else who has not passed the bar exam and been admitted to the bar) must be careful not to ever “practice law” because it's illegal to practice law without a license. Why? Ask Anthony Rickey (after he's gotten this note monkey off his back)—he's probably thought and read more about laws against the “unauthorized practice of law” (ULP) than I have. I would say these laws exist to protect the monopoly lawyers have over providing legal services. Anthony might say the same, but he might note other reasons, as well. I don't have time to go into a full-blown rant about why ULP laws are ridiculous, except to say that generally they're vague and broad and allow lawyers to bully non-lawyers w/charges of practicing w/out a license. This often happens when non-attorneys start doing simple things for very low cost that lawyers once did for a very high cost. For example, in the 1970s, lawyers viciously harassed a man named Norman F. Dacey for popularizing the idea that people could avoid probate court (and its attendant fees) by establishing living trusts. Lawyers didn't like this because it threatened a nice little source of profit for them. See also the more recent attempt by Texas lawyers to shut down certain publications by Nolo Press, the largest self-help legal publisher in the U.S. And see also here and here for the story of Della Tarpinian, who was harassed by Kentucky lawyers for helping consumers complete basic legal forms. All of these are good examples of lawyers trying to protect their monopoly over “legal services”—at the expense of the social good. In that light, this little line between “legal advice” and providing mere “information” becomes much more dubious. Of course, I'll respect this line until I'm admitted to the bar, but I'll continue to disagree with it long after that.

Posted 06:11 AM | 2L law general

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