A friend forwarded me an email this morning called the “Stella Awards”, purporting to document the most frivolous lawsuits in America (named after Stella Liebeck, the woman who sued McDonald’s after being burned by coffee in the drive-thru).
A cursory Google search revealed it as a long-running urban legend email, entirely fabricated. However, I did discover a web site called the True Stella Awards which goes to the trouble of finding actual stupid cases. See if you can spot which ones are real (answers under the link at the bottom)
“Jerry Williams of Little Rock, Arkansas was awarded $14,500 and medical expenses after being bitten on the buttocks by his next-door neighbor’s beagle dog. The beagle was on a chain in its owner’s fenced yard. The award was less than sought because the jury felt the dog might have been a little provoked at the time, as Mr. Williams, who had climbed over the fence into the yard, was shooting it repeatedly with a pellet gun.”
- “Kara Walton of Claymont, Delaware sued the owner of a Night Club in a neighboring city when she fell from the bathroom window to the floor and knocked out two of her front teeth. This occurred while Ms. Walton was trying to sneak in the window of the Ladies Room to avoid paying the $3.50 cover charge. She was awarded $12,000 and dental expenses.”
- “Michelle Knepper of Vancouver, Wash. picked a doctor out of the phone book to do her liposuction, and went ahead with the procedure even though the doctor was only a dermatologist, not a plastic surgeon. After having complications, she complained she never would have chosen that doctor had she known he wasn’t Board Certified in the procedure. (She relied on the phonebook listing over asking the doctor, or looking for a certificate on his wall?!) So she sued ...the phone company! She won $1.2 million plus $375,000 for her husband for “loss of spousal services and companionship”.”
- “19-year-old Carl Truman of Los Angeles won $74,000 and medical expenses when his neighbor ran over his hand with a Honda Accord. Mr. Truman apparently did not notice there was someone at the wheel of the car when he was trying to steal the hubcaps.”
- “Bob Dougherty of Louisville, Colo. A prankster smeared glue on the toilet seat at the Home Depot store in Louisville, causing Dougherty to stick to it when he sat down. “This is not Home Depot’s fault,” he proclaimed, yet the store graciously offered him $2,000 anyway. Dougherty complained the offer is “insulting” and filed suit demanding $3 million.”
- “Christopher Roller of Burnsville, Minn. is mystified by professional magicians, so he sued David Blaine and David Copperfield to demand they reveal their secrets to him—or else pay him 10 percent of their lifelong earnings, which he figures amounts to $50 million for Copperfield and $2 million for Blaine. The basis for his suit: Roller claims that the magicians defy the laws of physics, and thus must be using “godly powers”—and since Roller is god (according to him), they’re “somehow” stealing that power from him.”
3, 5, and 6 are true. Allegedly. See the 2005 True Stella Awards.
04 Feb 06
The New York Law Journal reports that Sullivan & Cromwell has increased associate base salaries by $20,000 across the board. Under the new pay regime at S&C, first-year associates at S&C will get $145,000 a year, before bonus.
Recently, a spate of Los Angeles-based firms raised first-year salaries from $125,000 to $135,000. According to the NYLJ article, Sullivan & Cromwell’s move will likely be followed by other top New York firms...
I’m not one of the people who thinks first-year associates are overpaid.
If you believe there is a free market in legal talent, the “overpaid” myth must, as a matter of economic necessity, be false. Firms are paying exactly what they must to attract a certain quality & quantity of talent–no more, no less. The question folks ought to ask is: what market forces have conspired to create such extraordinary wage rates?
First, members of the UCLA graduating class might view these salary levels as normal, but for those graduating from Loyola, Southwestern, Glendale School of Law, et al., they’re the exception. Major firms employ a lot of lawyers, but they still only soak up a small proportion of each year’s graduating class. Grads of lower-prestige law schools aren’t going to have access to the absolute top-paying jobs. (For that matter, I wonder what the mean salary across the entire class of 2006 is–a much less impressive number than $135K, that much I can guarantee)
Plus, first-year associates are often deeply in debt. So much of these huge salaries are going to pay off school loans. In other words, first-year associates have to get paid well because law professors have to get paid well.
And by most accounts, big-firm work is tedious and bulky (if not especially difficult) and consequently there is huge turnover within a few years of hire. So of all the associates who get these starting salaries, many (most?) of them only earn at that level for a few years.
Let me suggest those of you taking these jobs might even be underpaid. One flaw in my free-market theory is that these top-tier firms are matching each other’s salaries. (I won’t explore the anti-trust ramifications of that practice.) Bonuses restore some of the differential.
But the flat-pricing practice conceals differences in base salaries that might otherwise exist: some firms would pay less, others would pay more. The ones who would pay more are getting a bargain; the ones who would pay less are paying a premium to participate in the top tier of the labor market. I wonder if the best ‘deal’ for a law grad in terms of exploiting market inefficiency would be to go to work the firm who bills the least yet is still paying the top-tier salary.
But those of you going to the mega-huge firms, I guarantee you will be doing more than $135K worth of work. (No, I don’t believe the urban legend that law firms lose money on first-year associates. That’s a crafty bit of marketing to make you think they’re doing you a favor.)
Furthermore, law firms can benefit across the board from the negotiation imbalance. You as a law grad have no idea what your skills are worth. You probably haven’t ever negotiated a substantial pay package. And the flat-pricing structure gives your firm an easy way of saying “sorry, that’s the best we can do”. That’s another reason there’s such large attrition at these firms: once an associate travels beyond the veil of ignorance, you can’t keep ‘em down on the farm.
Anyways, enjoy your money. You earned it fair & square.
07 Feb 06
My wheedling and whining paid off: I’d like to acknowledge the three matthewb.com fans who sent me Chinese New Year candygrams this week.
You may not know: I was born in a prior Year of the Dog so it has special emotional resonance with me. Gettin’ a little misty here ...
08 Feb 06
UPDATE 2/14: the new Lexis rep for UCLA told me that [name redacted] is now working USC & Southwestern instead of USC & UCLA. So she has not been fired, but rather reassigned.
The nude photo search continues, though it has now taken on a more urban-legend aroma.
This site’s readers have helped out before researching issues of major moral significance. Today, I ask for your help again:
There is a rumor that our campus Lexis rep, [name redacted], was dismissed from her position after posing
in a bikini buck naked for postyourgirls.com. In our ongoing quest for the truth, we need a) the photos and b) confirmation that she was sacked for this indiscretion.
If it’s true, I want to register a complaint with Lexis.
Bikinis are nudity is pretty much the best thing they could do for their service. And [name redacted], I think you need to see an attorney.
08 Feb 06
How can you make the most of your summer associate position? Get everyone in the firm to worship you as a god among humans. How? That’s the easy part: Device Mastery.
More than any profession I’ve encountered, lawyers have the biggest gap between the level of technology they insist on surrounding themselves with and their personal competence at operating said technology.
Why is this? Because they’re, you know, too busy and important to learn how to use it. Of course, an item of technology that you can’t use effectively will on balance waste more time than it saves.
The one I don’t get is paragraph auto-numbering in Word and Wordperfect. I have not met anyone who knows how to use it. Yet it is so useful, and doing paragraph numbering by hand is beyond idiotic. So while there are many ways you can exhibit Device Mastery at your job, to keep it simple I suggest:
1. Learn to use the paragraph auto-numbering feature.
2. When you see a complaint drifting around with incorrect numbering, say “you know, if you email me that document, I can make your paragraphs auto-number themselves.”
3. Perform the change, which will take about 4 minutes. But then wait another 71 minutes before you send it back, with a note that says “It was tricky but I got it done!”
4. This is the most important: make sure no one observes you during the auto-numbering process. If they ask you to show them how to do it themselves, you respond: “well, it’s just so technical and complex, I don’t mind showing you but we should set aside an afternoon to do it.” That will be the last you hear of it.
12 Feb 06
I know some of you are on the fence about the Barrister’s Ball. On the one hand, it’s the law school prom. On the other hand, it’s the law school prom.
So for what it’s worth: I am going to the Barrister’s Ball. I am making this public commitment so that I won’t lose the will to party hearty and back out. I am ready to rock it.
Here’s the thing. Many of us don’t think about going to the Barrister’s Ball because “I won’t know anyone there”. Completely agree. But if a critical mass of your friends were going, you’d go too, right?
Not that you all were making your plans around me. But by coming out of the closet early, I hope to pave the way for others who might be on the fence. Yes, it’s the prom. But you earned it. And you might get lucky.
13 Feb 06
A happening on the UCLA campus today:
As part of Black History Month, the Black Graduate Students Association will be putting on a dramatic lynching re-enactment today in Bruin Plaza, followed by an art display and panel discussion.
The lynching re-enactment will start outside Powell Library, where a “death march” will also be re-enacted. A student playing the role of the victim will act as if they are being dragged by a mob to their “lynching,” which will take place in Bruin Plaza...
[O]rganizers wanted to illustrate the suffering of blacks throughout American history ... “People tend to overlook how much of an oppression African Americans faced in our country.”
I wonder what kind of “dramatic re-enactment” we can look forward to in honor of Women’s Health Month, which shares February.
15 Feb 06
This morning, on my way to a meeting with a professor, I was nearly in a serious auto accident. An old guy in a 1987 Oldsmobile tried to turn left in front of me as I drove through Glendale. Weaned on years of Pole Position and Spy Hunter, I had enough mad drivin’ skillz to swerve out of his way, though he still clipped my fender pretty good.
What was most awesome: I was trying to veer left to get out of his way, and instead of noticing the situation and stopping, he continued to drive towards me. He was hell-bent on T-boning me. But I would not give him the satisfaction today.
We got out to exchange insurance information, and he started a tirade about how I was driving too fast. Not true. But even so, this gentleman must never have taken torts class, or he’d know that since my putative negligence was not the cause of the accident, it was irrelevant to the determination of liability.
Anyways. My nerves now substantially frayed, I get back into my car and do a U-turn so I can return home. Unfortuantely this U-turn occurred just after a Glendale policeman passed me. They went through the trouble of turning around and chasing me down. They were unmoved by my tale of having recently been hit by one of their citizens and cited me for an illegal U-turn.
My professor advised me not to fight it in court, but suck it up & do traffic school online. I now hate Glendale. A pox on you all and your shitty drivers.
18 Feb 06
I just got one of these. I recommend it to all law students who want to really add sexiness and glamour to their Lexis sessions.
It’s a ginormous LCD monitor that plugs into my laptop video port and adds onto my existing screen space. Also, it turns 90 degrees so it can be used in portrait orientation. I can’t adequately express how exciting it is to be able to see the full text of ERISA on one screen and both my research papers simultaneously on the other. I still have enough space left over to keep an eye on any vital developments over at postyourgirls.com.
21 Feb 06
I’ve never really understood why law professors’ offices are so shoddy and nasty. One prof of mine has these two rickety old ripped-up fabric chairs for guests. What is the story dude? You dress well. Your house is nice. What’s with the dorm-room aesthetic at work?
And it’s not just him. Law professors seem to like to stuff their shelves with as many books as possible, so that all their files & such can get stacked on the floor, combined with furniture that was apparently left over from when they last redecorated the school in 1964.
I can understand why an associate professor might not want to get committed to an office space. But once you get tenure, isn’t that the moment you might want to put together some funds to redecorate? I mean, I’d negotiate for that as part of my signing package. First, new paint and carpeting. Then an Aeron chair, a couple flat-panel monitors, new guest chairs, stereo speakers. Fresh flowers weekly?
But, that’s just me. Call me crazy, but I wouldn’t want to spend the rest of my career in something that looked like a storeroom at the DMV.
22 Feb 06
I admit I got a chuckle from Richard Posner’s recommendations to Harvard in the wake of the Larry Summers resignation:
5. The anachronistic institution of tenure should be reexamined and perhaps jettisoned. The market for university professors is highly competitive; a good person whose contract is not renewed can get a comparable job elsewhere...
6. A generous buy-out program should be instituted in order to encourage early retirement and thus provide greater career opportunities for young academics.
If the suggested measures precipitated some, even many, resignations of faculty, the quitters could easily be replaced with individuals of equal or higher quality.
I happen to think life tenure is one of the worst features of academia, an egregiously counter-market policy that has any number of negative side effects. (No surprise that Posner, ever the advocate of policy-setting through market action, would think this way.)
Of course, Posner doesn’t pause to consider whether maybe his arguments would also apply to Article III judges...?
Posner’s full critique of the tenure model includes his prediction that it will die off:
I do not think tenure makes a great deal of sense any longer in the academic setting, and I expect to see it gradually abandoned (It has already been abandoned in England, for example.) If a university wishes to offer its faculty protection against political retaliation for unpopular views, it can do that by writing into the employment contract that politics is an impermissible ground for termination...
Tenure removes the stick but not necessarily the carrot...
The greater cost of tenure is simply in forcing retention of inferior employees.
27 Feb 06
You will recall that UC grad students are being asked to pony up a surcharge of $1750 to cover a $22.5 million revenue shortfall caused by the preliminary injunction in the Kashmiri contract dispute.
But today comes news that the Regents have settled a patent dispute with Monsanto that includes an immediate upfront payment of $100 million, plus an ongoing licensing fee.
I know there’s no connection between the cases. But you might hope that the Regents, having leaned on the grad students in their time of a litigation-induced revenue shortfall, might choose to suspend the surcharge–even refund the portion collected this semester!–in light of this ligitation-induced revenue windfall. In the spirit of good sportsmanship, fair play, and all that. Plus, they’d still by up by $77.5 million, by my count.
I won’t hold my breath.
28 Feb 06
Epilogue 8: Buy my book
Epilogue 7: Recessionaires cont'd
Epilogue 6: Schill quits UCLA
Epilogue 5: recessionaires
Okay, I lied. Epilogue 4
Epilogue 3: The End (really)
Epilogue 2: Nov 2007
The eagle has landed
Seduced by the dark side
You've been in law school too long when...
I have only five more class days
The lone gunman
The last spring break is over
Someone saved your life tonight
Dean Schill & the Pussymobile
Help me yet again