BookTalk

  • May 19, 2015
    BookTalk
    The Trouble with Lawyers
    By: 
    Deborah L. Rhode

    by Deborah L. Rhode, the Ernest W. McFarland Professor of Law, the director of the Center on the Legal Profession, and the director of the Program in Law and Social Entrepreneurship at Stanford University. Her upcoming book, The Trouble with Lawyers, will be published by Oxford University Press in June 2015.

    These are not the best of times for American lawyers. Less than a fifth of Americans rate the honesty and ethical standards of lawyers as very high or high, ranking them just above insurance salespeople. Competition and commercialization in the profession are on the rise, while civility and collegiality appear headed in the opposite direction. Paradoxically, the nation suffers from an oversupply of lawyers and an undersupply of legal services for people with low and moderate incomes.

    This is a timely moment for a comprehensive account of challenges facing the American bar. The Trouble with Lawyers explores trends in the legal market that have posed increasing problems for the profession and the public that relies on their services. The book's central argument is that recent changes in legal education and legal practice have highlighted longstanding problems in the structure of bar regulatory processes and the priorities of lawyers and law firms.

    Part of the problem is the relentless preoccupation with short-term profits that drives law firm decision making. The priority of profit is responsible for the escalation in billable hours over the last several decades, and the price is paid in quality of life. Most lawyers report that they do not have sufficient time for themselves and their families, and most are unable to devote even an hour a week to pro bono service. These trends have taken a toll in lawyers' workplace satisfaction. Law does not rank among the top twelve professions for satisfaction and a majority of lawyers would choose a different career if they had to make the decision again. Lawyers also have disproportionately high rates of depression, substance abuse, and related disorders. There is, in short, some room for improvement and the solution lies in making lawyers more informed about the sources of professional fulfillment and more proactive in shaping workplaces to meet their needs. 

  • May 18, 2015
    BookTalk
    Guns Across America
    Reconciling Gun Rules and Rights
    By: 
    Robert J. Spitzer

    by Robert J. Spitzer. He is the Distinguished Service Professor and Chair of the Political Science Department at SUNY Cortland. Spitzer is the author most recently of Guns Across America: Reconciling Gun Rules and Rights, published by Oxford University Press.

    The contemporary American gun debate has been cast as a battle between two opposing, mutually exclusive principles: gun laws and gun rights. The struggle between these two is invariably portrayed as a zero-sum game—that the gain of one is a loss for the other. Yet our own history tells a different story, one that contains at least two important lessons. The first is that, throughout most of American history, gun rights and gun laws existed hand in hand. The second is that, in many respects, guns were more heavily regulated in our country’s first 300 years than in the last thirty years.

    While gun ownership is as old as America, so are gun laws. Early gun laws covered every imaginable type of regulation, even including registration and outright gun bans. In fact, the first “gun grabbers” were not 1960’s Chablis-drinking liberals, but rum-guzzling pioneers of the 1600s. Early gun laws restricted gun ownership and possession to Native Americans, slaves, indentured servants, vagrants, non-Protestants, those who refused to swear an oath of loyalty to the government, felons, foreigners and numerous recreational restrictions. Early laws also regulated the manufacture, inspection, and sale of firearms, as well as gun storage and discharge restrictions. Others prohibited not only the firing of firearms in or near towns, but firing after dark, on Sundays, in public places, near roads and bridges or while under the influence of alcohol.

    Among the earliest and most prolific laws were those restricting or barring the carrying of concealed weapons (these restrictions typically applied to pistols as well as certain types of knives). As early as 1686, New Jersey barred the wearing of concealable weapons in public because, according to the law, “it induced great Fear and Quarrels.” In 1837, Georgia made it illegal “to sell. . .or to keep or have about their persons” pistols or other listed weapons. The restriction applied both to merchants and private citizens, and its stated purpose was “to guard and protect the citizens of this State against the unwarrantable and too prevalent use of deadly weapons.” By the end of the 18th century, four states had enacted gun carry restrictions. In the 19th century, 37 states did so and another four states followed suit in the early 20th century.

  • May 11, 2015
    BookTalk
    One Mississippi, Two Mississippi
    Methodists, Murder, and the Struggle for Racial Justice in Neshoba County
    By: 
    Carol V.R. George

    Carol V.R. George is research professor of history at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Her new book, One Mississippi, Two Mississippi: Methodists, Murder, and the Struggle for Racial Justice in Neshoba County, will be released from Oxford University Press in May 2015.

    On June 21, 1964, civil rights activist Andrew Goodman sent a postcard to his parents announcing his safe arrival in Meridian, Mississippi: “This is a wonderful town… The people in this city are wonderful and our reception was very good.”  Little more than twenty-four hours later Goodman was dead. Along with his two colleagues, James Chaney and Mickey Schwerner, Goodman was shot on a dark wilderness road by a group of local Ku Klux Klan members.

    Forty-one years later, in June 2005, Edgar Ray Killen was named the architect of the conspiracy that killed these civil rights workers. This delay of over four decades to bring a measure of justice to this case—to the families of the victims as well as to those who had supported the plan to enfranchise black voters. It was powerful testimony about the nature of historical amnesia.

    Once the Voting Rights Act of 1965 provided blacks the ballot, Americans generally—not just Mississippians—readjusted their moral compass to focus on issues other than those that once motivated movement activists. All those years, Edgar Ray Killen walked the streets of Neshoba County, Mississippi, confident that the surrounding white community would never bring charges against him, because the case had gone cold, because he was growing old, because it would resurrect bad memories, but also because at some level many believed his crime was not that horrific. Goodman and Schwerner were outsiders; Chaney, too, though he was a black resident of Meridian; and they had come into Neshoba County uninvited, with plans to disrupt the way of life most white Southerners held dear. Some whispered that “it was good they were gone,” and for Killen and his supporters, that sounded like an endorsement of what he had done.

  • May 7, 2015
    BookTalk
    Allegiance
    A Novel
    By: 
    Kermit Roosevelt

    by Kermit Roosevelt, Professor of Law, University of Pennsylvania Law School

    In 1896, in Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court upheld a Louisiana law that segregated railroad cars by race.  The Equal Protection Clause, the majority explained, prohibited discrimination that aimed to stigmatize or oppress a group, but racial segregation did not.  It was, instead, a reasonable, good faith response to the way things were.  In 1954, in Brown v. Board of Education, the Court changed its mind.  Segregation was inherently stigmatizing, it said, and anything to the contrary in Plessy was overruled.

    This pattern ‒ initial acceptance of a certain kind of discrimination followed, years later, by its rejection ‒ has repeated itself with each major civil rights movement in our constitutional history.  Plessy yields to Brown; Bowers to Lawrence; Bradwell v. Illinois (which upheld Illinois’ exclusion of women from the practice of law) to modern sex equality cases like United States v. Virginia.

    But how does this constitutional progress occur?  It is not, I’ve suggested, the work of heroic philosopher judges, discerning the true meaning of the concept of equality.  Nor does it rely on diligent historians, uncovering the understandings of the people who ratified the Fourteenth Amendment.  It happens because social movements change the minds of the American people about what is or is not oppressive, stigmatizing, or invidious.  It is the judicial recognition of a change that occurs, first and primarily, outside the courts.

    That change is the expansion of what Attorney General Francis Biddle called “the compass of sympathy” ‒ the scope of our ability to look at others and see our shared humanity.  Social movements changed the outcome of constitutional cases by convincing Americans that those who had seemed different were not so unlike them after all; that the aspirations and desires of blacks, or women, or gays, were fundamentally the same as those of the rest of society, and that what these groups sought was not special rights or unique privilege but equality and inclusion.

  • April 20, 2015
    BookTalk
    Democracy in the Dark
    The Seduction of Government Secrecy
    By: 
    Frederick A. O. Schwarz, Jr.
    by Frederick A.O. Schwarz Jr., Chief Counsel of the Brennan Center
     
    Some secrecy is necessary, but too often secrecy is used to hide illegality, embarrassment or conduct departing from American values. Contrary to conventional wisdom, however, these reasons do not explain by themselves why America’s mountains of classified documents grow ever higher. Human nature and bureaucratic incentives favor secrecy over openness.  Secrecy is seductive. Beyond the timeless link between secrecy and power, secrecy limits challenges and risky questions.  It fosters illusions of grandeur.  Fear, awe, jealousy and lethargy all help cement a culture of secrecy.
     
    Secrecy spawns more secrecy.  The more information increases and secrets proliferate, the more professionals are tempted to use secrecy to get noticed.  If you want your individual snowflake report to be read and not buried by avalanches of paper or blizzards of bytes, you better be sure it is classified and, indeed, escalate its classification to top secret or beyond. Secrecy’s seduction often blinds those with access to secrets to other valuable sources. Even though information from open sources (newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and the Internet) is often unique and valuable, many recipients of intelligence have no interest in such information, only wanting super-secret material from spies and intercepts.  Moreover, secret is often conflated with true.
     
    Escalating secrecy also adds to institutional prestige, explaining, for example, why CIA leaders fight fiercely to keep the President’s Daily Brief (PDB) super-secret. Prior to 9/11, the Bush Administration reduced PDB circulation to just six people, excluding the Attorney General, FBI Director, and White House counterterrorism chief.  During the summer of 2001, these super-secret submissions to the White House contained many dire al Qaeda predictions that something “very, very, very big” was about to happen; “spectacular”; resulting in “numerous casualties.” Had the White House publically disclosed the gist of the top-secret threat warnings, it is likely lower-level government officials would have acted on information like the disturbing number of individuals of investigative interest attending aviation schools.  Disclosure could also have led to more imaginative thinking about possible terrorist actions.  White House disclosure of the warnings might well have averted 9/11.