chain of causation

a series of events in the life of a lawyer

Archive for January 2009

Do Not Eat Motorcycle, May Contain Lead

Okay guys, seriously – I don’t think any child under the age of 12 is going to get lead poisoning from eating motorcycles, ATVs, or their parts that are made with lead alloys. [via Overlawyered]

Written by Vincent Kan

January 30, 2009 at 4:16 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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The need to be precise with language, or how the CPSIA could make my job search expensive

It seems somehow today has been declared CPSIA Blog-in Day, and with all the hubbub about this legislation coming into effect on Feburary 10 it seems appropriate to mention it here.

For those who have managed to stay away from the Internet, a quick recap: The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008(govtrack.us) was passed in response to a lead paint scare from Chinese-manufactured toys. It bans lead and phthalates above certain concentrations, imposes criminal penalties including felony prison time and fines, and requires testing of products intended for children under the age of 12. The requirement is retroactive and prohibits even giving away items produced prior to enactment for free.

Sounds laudible, after all protecting children is Job #1 for lawmakers. However, there would not be quite as much of a ruckus about the CPSIA if there weren’t problems with the way it achieves its goals. According to the Act, nearly anything intended for children under the age of 12 is subject to the Act which includes items such as clothes, toys, office supplies, computers, medical devices, car seats, books – you can see where this is going. Children consume a ton of items in the American economy that many people may not immediately perceive as being intended for children under the age of 12. All of those paper clips, reams of paper, ink cartridges, and even my computer that I use to pump out resumes and type this post on could potentially be subject to the Act.

So, perhaps the items subject to the Act seem a little broad but testing them for safety shouldn’t be hard right? Apparently the rest of us have been caught off guard again as the Act requires testing of product lots, even if the individual components themselves could be tested. A recent article on Forbes.com states that testing for a telescope was estimated to be around $24,000 for a product that grosses only $32,000 in sales a year. Also in the same article, articles of clothing must be retested in each size and if so much as a single snap is added. Others have chimed in exactly how far this Act can possibly apply including second hand shops and custom manufacturing operations.

It’s unclear whether there’s much that can be done before the Feburary enforcement date although many are trying desparately to pursuade Congress to act.

Normally I am not a fan of Lou Dobbs – his abrasive style does chafe against my more conciliatory and consensus-building tendencies. However, he has been pushing home a point during the last several weeks: does anyone actually read entire bills and think about the larger consequences anymore in Congress?

[for more, see Overlawyered’s treatment]

Written by Vincent Kan

January 28, 2009 at 8:14 pm

Posted in Legislation

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Carefully Written Notes = Trash Fodder

Having spent the better part of 19 years in various types of educational systems, I have found that class notes of one variety or another are almost required if one intends to learn material. Especially law students, they’ll defend their case notes with force if necessary. Thus it seems rather odd that a teacher would require the surrender of class notes for destruction as an anti-cheating measure.

Since the alleged incident occurred in a high school, I think I can safely presume that there was no agreement beforehand that provided for this. But, as if to invite further ridicule from the Internet, this teacher allegedly took it upon herself to relive the student of his notes by removing them from his backpack. Irregardless of any copyright or broader claim to the contents of those notes, this would appear to be a textbook example of larceny – a taking and carrying away of personal property of another (the notes), without consent (the implication from the original poster was that at the very least was under threat of failing), and with intent to deprive the owner permanently of the property (the subsequent burning of the notes).

The whole reason why lawyers and the judicial system exist is because Humanity still cannot be trusted to get along peacefully and not do bad stuff™. In some circles, lawyers are considered to be the civilized method of dispute resolution as opposed to everyone fending for themselves with shotguns.

In any event, someone who upon information and belief is a lawyer (based on the conspicuous disclaimer), responded to the original poster and summed up the larceny and copyright angles much more eloquently on the original forum.

Legal issues aside, this is probably a sign that the teacher in question intended to recycle material from year to year in an effort to reduce her own work. While some material is designed to be reused from year to year (July 4, 1776 as the date for the US Declaration of Independence is unlikely to change next year) it is always preferable to ensure that this year’s students undergo examinations that reflect material covered this year. For example, the mandatory skills course for newly admitted attorneys in New Jersey, although most likely covering much of the same material as the year before, changes the assignments from year to year in order to ensure that the attorneys actually learn the material and apply it to this year’s new questions. I am quite thankful that my teachers did not take the lazy way out and have made me a better person because of it.

[Link to original post on Slashdot.]

Written by Vincent Kan

January 26, 2009 at 4:02 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Short Quips: January 25, 2009

  • As a general principle, I believe that there is often a bit too much antagonism in the practice of law. I suppose part of this stems from the observation that some of the most successful advocates tend to be outright jerks to deal with (whether this comes from the advocate’s own personality or that of his client is another matter altogether). However, I think that I would derive great enjoyment out of referring opposing counsel to the reply in Arkell v. Pressdram.
  • After learning a specialized area of knowledge one never looks at the mundane in the same way again. For example, typographers go utterly crazy with Arial v. Helvetica whereas most of the rest of us go “oh, it’s that font that isn’t Times New Roman.” I think I’m off the deep end for those of us who went to law school when after reading this short from Not Always Right my first thought is, “is there any kind of products liability for broken water?”

Written by Vincent Kan

January 25, 2009 at 1:23 pm

Posted in Random

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A Sincere and Understandable Disclaimer

I do have to admit, this firm definitely has a better disclaimer than mine. (Seen via Overlawyered.)

Written by Vincent Kan

January 21, 2009 at 10:29 am

Posted in Random

Change Has Come

It’s official now, Barack Obama is now the 44th President of the United States of America. Now the world will see whether he can make good on his promises. At the very least, he is a powerful public speaker – I think I am not alone in saying that the inaugural address has energized people to push for change despite the dark cloud currently hanging over our heads.

Written by Vincent Kan

January 20, 2009 at 10:36 pm

Posted in Random

Goals: January 2009 Edition

Short-term goals:

  • Find employment (easier said than done in “the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression”). Hitting the job boards and using what connections I have but yeah, no luck so far since I’ve been admitted for about 2 months in IL and 1 month in NJ.
  • Write! The entire law profession is predicated on the concept of successful communication and persuasion of decision makers be they judges or juries. The sharper I can keep the skills by practice, the better.
  • Finally upload a batch of photos that have been sitting in my queue for almost 6 weeks now.

Longer-term goals:

  • Find my unique expertise in a field of law: this one might be a bit more difficult. By training, I am a generalist at least in terms of practice areas. My first summer, I worked in a general practice firm doing the gruntwork of running a law office (answering phones, pulling case files, drafting, etc). At Chicago-Kent, my focus there was to finish my Intellectual Property Certificate and I also took more tax courses than average. First internship at the State’s Attorney, Illinois worker’s compensation was what I worked on. Second internship at the Illinois AG’s office was at the General Law Bureau. One discussion I had at the time with my coworkers noted that I had done some assignment for every unit inside General Law except civil rights, prisoner’s rights, and the employment side of labor and employment. Personally, being of a generation that has grown up with the Internet, I would like to base a practice around how the Internet is changing some of the fundamental assumptions we hold in our legal system. How to get there though is another story.
  • Learn how to do all of my legal writing using the LaTeX document preparation system. I know, most of the profession tends to stick to either WordPerfect or Word, even my favored word processor OpenOffice.org Writer (which is compatible with more formats than I care to remember) is a distant third. Why LaTeX? Because it allows me to think more about document structure and my actual writing instead of wrangling to get formats right.
  • Get myself a bit more organized than I am. I generally tend to keep on top of things (as I should given the importance of being timely in the practice of law) but I do wish that I were a bit more structured about it than the ad hoc usage of yellow stickies.
  • Further my photographic skills. Yes, I do have interests outside of the law. I’ve been working on taking better photos (which is rather ironic considering my personal lack of photogenicity) using a Nikon D40 DSLR. I’ve come a long way from just a normal point-and-shoot but I do feel that my technique can always use improvement, especially in the areas of composition.

That’s it for now, as Zen Habits says – sometimes you need to just get started in order to form a new habit.

Written by Vincent Kan

January 18, 2009 at 10:59 pm

Posted in Random

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