Welcome to the fortieth (40th) weekly edition of Blawg Review.
What is Blawg Review?
Regular readers of this site and those of you arriving from search engines likely have no idea what Blawg Review is. Even readers of Blawg Review may wonder why a business site is hosting it. So allow me to explain.
Blawg Review is a weekly roundup of excellent blog writings on legal topics. Most of the postings are by blawg writers. A blawg is a blog written on law topics (law + blog = blawg). And most of the people writing them are lawyers.
By education I am a lawyer, although I no longer practice law. For anyone who is interested, in honor of Blawg Review I have put together my story about my legal career and how I left law to become a businesswoman (go here to read My Story).
Businesspeople can be better at business by learning more about the law. And lawyers can benefit from knowing more about business. Armed with knowledge, we are all better off.
That is why a business site is hosting Blawg Review today — to bring about a merger of law and business insights. In this merger, businesspeople will acquire some legal insights and lawyers will acquire business knowledge.
That said, let’s proceed with due diligence so we can get to the closing of this merger.
Samuel Alito Hearings. The Senate hearings to confirm the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court were the biggest legal news this past week.
- They Made Mrs. Alito Cry! – Lisa Stone, blog diva who writes at Legal Blog Watch, has an interesting, often humorous recap of various blogs discussing Day 3 the Alito hearings, replete with comparisons to Alfred E. Neuman of Mad Magazine fame. And here all this time you thought those hearings were boring. As an aside, I don’t think I realized until this past week that Lisa is not an attorney, even though she writes about the law and launched a blog network for American Lawyer.
- Recap of the Samuel Alito Confirmation Hearings - The Kierkegaard Lives blog offers recaps of each day’s hearings, along with I.M. Kierkegaard’s commentary here: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4 and Day 5. Even if you watched the hearings or read news reports, you will find some interesting commentary and humor.
- Judge Alito Does Not Favor Big Business Over the Little Guy- Larry Ribstein, a Law Professor at the University of Illinois College of Law, in his Ideoblog points to a Forbes article he wrote and a Wall Street Journal article written by Law Professor Jonathan Adler, on Samuel Alito’s position on business issues. As both point out, Alito’s past positions are not easy to categorize along special interest lines. Why? Because he does what judges are supposed to do: decide based on the law and precedent, and not based on political or policy goals. Therefore, you can’t characterize him as being for big business and against the little guy, as has been suggested by some.
Business Ideas. Here is a roundup of business ideas mentioned on the law blogs.
- Gift Cards That Accrue Interest – Professor Christine Hurt writes at Conglomerate about a restaurant that sells gift cards. And while most retailers think of sneaky ways to chip away at the value of the gift cards through tacking on fees, the restaurant is selling gift cards that actually pay interest at 8% when they are redeemed in 2013 — and the restaurant is not setting aside a reserve for the obligation. Dumb business idea, she says!
- Guy Kawasaki Has a Blog – Stephen Nipper at The Invent Blog says inventors, startups and patent attorneys should be reading the new blog by venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki. I’ve reviewed Kawasaki’s book “Art of the Start” and I would definitely agree — lots of wisdom there served up in memorable, catchy language.
- Top Ten Lies of Entrepreneurs - Speaking of Guy Kawasaki, the Houston attorney Tom Kirkendall points out Kawasaki’s “Top ten lies of entreprenuers.” The lies include classics such as “Boeing is going to sign our purchase order next week” and “No one can do what we’re doing.” Um huh. And don’t miss the link to the companion piece on top ten lies of venture capitalists. There’s a whole lotta lyin goin on.
- Competition Comes From All Sides – Peter Lattman at the new WSJ Law Blog profiles a new trend: cost-conscious corporate counsel hiring specialty research firms, instead of law firms. Honeywell’s corporate counsel is on record as having saved 25%. One lawyer is quoted as saying law professors can’t do the job. And so the assault on the practice of law by non-lawyers continues ….
Corporate Legal Issues – From outlandish executive compensation packages, to corporate blogging policies, to porn surfing employees — all the dirty little secrets are covered.
- The Case for Insider Board Representation – Professor Bainbridge (who needs no further introduction) offers a really interesting point of view suggesting that independent outside Board of Director representation is not all it’s cracked up to be, despite stock exchange rules and Federal regulations requiring independent Directors. I couldn’t agree more. Outside Board members spend so little time with a company, there’s no way they can meaningfully know what’s going on. The more outside Board members, the more likely the CEO’s primary job becomes that of “managing” the outside Board instead of running the company. And then shareholders wonder how executives end up getting paid shockingly high compensation rates like $30 Million a year.
- Escalating Executive and Law Partner Compensation - Bruce MacEwen of the Adam Smith Esq blog argues that a new SEC rule requiring executive compensation to be disclosed in the proxy statement will have the unintended consequence of actually jacking up executive compensation. Once an executive sees what others are receiving, the “me-too’s” will follow. He predicts something similar will happen with law firm benchmark compensation figures. Sadly, I have to agree with Bruce. As one executive once said to me: “Once I reach a certain pay level, I really don’t care how much more I get, as long as it is one dollar more than everyone else I know.”
- Companies May Have Second Thoughts About Blogging – The Wired GC (short for General Counsel for all you non-lawyers) contains an article wondering what will happen with all the companies encouraged to allow employees to blog, once an employee disagrees with them on a key issue. A recent situation involving Microsoft blogger Robert Scoble is a credit to Microsoft, but how many other companies would be as open?
- Employers May Be Required To Stop Employee Porn Surfing - J. Craig Williams at May It Please The Court analyzes a recent New Jersey court opinion that requires employers to stop an employee’s Internet porn surfing (in this case child pornography).
Better Writing. We can all improve our writing, especially for clarity. Words are the stock in trade of lawyers and so we are lucky to have a number of quality posts on the topic of writing clearly. Some of these posts are a little old, but the topic is timeless so I am including them.
- Give Your Writing Greater Impact – Wayne Schiess, Director of legal writing at the University of Texas School of Law, who writes a blog called Legalwriting.net , has a series of great little lessons about how to write using clear and powerful language. And you know what? Many of the lessons apply equally to bloggers, marketers and businesspeople, as they do to lawyers. Check out Sentence Problems 3 – Passive Voice, as just one example. If you are like me, you are bound to find some tips you can use to improve your writing.
- Avoid Jargon in Law and in Marketing – Monica Bay, who writes at The Common Scold, repeats a common theme on her blog about not using jargon, that everyone — lawyers and businesspeople alike — should take to heart. In one post where she suggests forever banning the use of the word “solution,” she notes: “Hands down, the biggest cliche and most overused and worthless word on the planet. Good only in math class, chemistry, or when you give up and call Nanny 911 because you can’t stop your two-year-old’s temper tantrum. It is NOT a marketing, legal, or technology word. It says absolutely nothing.”
- Use Plain Language for Your Contracts – Michel-Adrien Sheppard, who is librarian at the Supreme Court of Canada and writes at Library Boy, has a great roundup of resources for writing contracts and other legal documents in plain language. “[P]lain language refers to jargon-free, understandable language…. Plain language does NOT mean dumbed down or simplistic vocabulary.” Most businesspeople would like to see more plain language contracts from lawyers.
- You Know What You Mean, But Do Your Readers? - Raymond Ward, an appellate attorney who moonlights as a legal-writing instructor for the University of New Orleans’ English Department, writes a blog called Minor Wisdom with many helpful writing tips. In Fresh Eyes and Coffee Stains he writes about the value of having someone look over an important document with a fresh set of eyes. Anyone who has ever written a legal brief or an important business presentation — not to mention a resume — will appreciate this post.
Patents. Business publications and legal publications alike are profiling abuses of the patent system, including overly broad patents that are being approved by the U.S. Patent Office, and more recently the new phrase, “patent trolls.” But let’s not forget that patents protect, too.
- What is a Patent Worth? – Doug Miller who writes at the Small Business IP Protection and Management blog, notes that one of the questions he gets asked frequently is “What is my patent worth?” He offers a very useful roundup of resources to help patent holders and business owners understand how patents are valued.
- Patent Trolls: a Trendy Phrase Describing An Ugly Practice - Peter Zura, a patent attorney from Chicago, Illinois of the 271 Patent Blog writes that 2005 was the year of the troll. The phrase “patent troll” came into being and describes holding companies that are being used to snap up patents and then sue for infringement. He discusses some actions that are or could be taken so that trolls don’t bring technical innovation to a standstill.
- Patent Trolls Here to Stay Due to The Knowledge Economy – Stephen Albainy-Jenei from Cincinnati, Ohio who writes at Patent Baristas, says let’s not be too quick to blame the U.S. Patent office for the proliferation of patent trolls. Rather, trolls are a natural outgrowth of the knowledge economy. “In a land where ideas are king, great battles will be fought to take the crown.”
- Eddie Bauer and the Down Jacket Patent – Robert Shaver from the Patent Pending blog reminds us that some well-known businesses started with simple patents. Eddie Bauer — yes that Eddie Bauer — applied for patents on the design of down jackets and badminton shuttlecocks over a half century ago.
- Growing Companies And Patent Insurance – Todd Mayover of the IP Counsel blog suggests that growing companies may need patent insurance. Pursuing a patent infringement case or defending against one, can be prohibitively expensive for a young and growing company.
Life. Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans. — John Lennon.
- Insensitive Employer Award Goes To… - Paul Secunda, Assistant Law Professor at the University of Mississippi, who writes at The Workplace Prof Blog points to an article about how a Houston firefighter was forced to take a promotion test 12 hours after giving birth, because the employer refused to postpone it. Well. It’s a good thing Mommy Blawger doesn’t work for the Houston Fire Department.
- Mommy Blawger Had a Baby Boy - Your favorite mommy-blogging lawyer gave birth to Andrew Josiah. There is now a Baby Blawg, with all the details and photos. Congratulations, Mommy Blawger.
- Don’t Let Your iPod Harm Your Ears – Brandy Karl, a lawyer in Boston who writes at BK!, has a great tip for all you iPod lovers — and you don’t need to be an attorney to appreciate this: go pick up a pair of super.fi 5 pro earphones. They reduce background noise and let you listen to your iPod at lower volumes — and that’s good for your hearing.
- Peri-dementia and the Aging Knowledge Worker – David Giacalone at the f/k/a blog (means “formerly known as” for all my non-lawyer friends) notes in a highly entertaining post the growing problem of peri-dementia among knowledge workers. He says, “If my otherwise-healthy, middle class and professional, over-50 friends are any indication, there’s a lot of peri-dementia going around.” He also mentions that he had been meaning to talk about this topic but kept forgetting. We’re glad you finally remembered, David.
- Taxing Virtual Winnings in Online Games – This week three different blogs’ posts look at whether virtual goods won in online games are taxable by the IRS. I think this warning on one of the blogs says it all: “WARNING: This post contains a long and abstruse discussion of two of the geekiest subjects on the planet: taxation law and massively multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMORPGs). It’s quite possible that this much pure geekdom in one place may cause aberrations in the laws of physics or adverse health consequences.” Here are the posts. From Three Years of Hell comes Fantasy Taxes, or How Much is that Pixie in the Window? From the Tax Prof Blog comes Can the IRS Tax Virtual Profits in On-Line Gaming? And from Legal Affairs comes Dragon Slayers or Tax Evaders?
Justice System – Check out the interesting commentary this week about our justice system. Of course, as much as we might examine it and question it and critique it, I’d still rather go before the U.S. justice system than any other I can think of.
- Class Actions Gone Wrong – Ted Frank at Overlawyered (great name!) foretells the story of the inevitable class action lawsuit that will be filed over the Oprah/James Frey brouhaha. His description of the how the class action will end is a sad commentary on the state of class action lawsuits these days: “… settling for 50-cent coupons, a donation of remaindered books to a “Books for Addicts” program, and a multi-million-dollar attorney fee.”
- Keep State Attorneys General Out of Antitrust Oversight – Will Wilson at AG Watch compares anti-trust laws to haiku rules, to demonstrate that it is a bad idea — a very bad idea indeed — for there to be anti-trust law oversight on a state by state basis. I’ve long maintained that legal blogs are among the most creative and intellectually humorous of all the blog genre out there. Read this and you will see what I mean.
- Terror Suspect Jose Padilla Appears in Civilian Court – David Oscar Markus over at the Southern District of Florida blog, gives a detailed rundown of what happened when terrorist suspect Jose Padilla appeared in court. This is an interesting site, using a blog to chronicle events in a particular court.
All About Clients - Last but certainly not least, we conclude with two posts about lawyers’ relationships with their clients.
- Six Rules for Customer Service – Dan Hull on his blog What About Clients assembles 6 rules for good customer service for law clients. I especially was taken with his rule number 6, in which he notes that when lawyers are working and doing a good job, they are marketing themselves for repeat business. Sounds like good advice to me.
- Top Ten Marketing Tips for Lawyers – Patrick Lamb of the In Search of Perfect Client Service blog, assembles a Top Ten Marketing list for lawyers, from posts appearing on Tom Kane’s Legal Marketing blog. My favorite: Take a reporter to lunch.
Well, folks, that’s it! Thank you for joining us, and I hope you enjoyed the merger of business and legal issues.
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Blawg Review has information about next week’s host, and instructions on how to get your blawg posts reviewed in upcoming issues.