Spotlight

Michigan's child welfare system needs fixing, Prof. Don Duquette says in a Detroit Free Press op-ed -- and there's reason to hope it may happen.

Focus

Michigan Radio personality Jack Lessenberry interviews Prof. Sam Gross on wrongful convictions in capital cases.

Prima Facie

Moonlight in Vermont. Autumn in New York. Frankly, we wonder why Ol’ Blue Eyes never sang a song about Springtime on the Quad, because it’s every bit as beautiful. Granted, at this time of year, those of us in Ann Arbor sometimes have to check our calendars to make sure it’s really spring, but we live in the knowledge that scenes like this will soon be here.

Career Corner

During these difficult economic times, it's important to remember that the resources of the Law School remain available to all alumni, at whatever career stage they may find themselves. Click here for more information about career options.


Drawn to the law

They're in every lawyer's toolbox: Pencils. Paper. A rudimentary ability to doodle, honed to a razor's edge by endless hours in court.

But David E. Mills, '02, deploys those tools in combination with an acerbic yet gentle wit to produce "Courtoons," a blog-based daily series of single-panel cartoons that skewer some of the law’s more egregious – and universal – absurdities.

The Cleveland native had always listed himself as a short-lived "cartoonist" on his resume, ever since he'd done a small number of drawings for his undergraduate newspaper at Colgate. But cartooning on legal topics was actually an idea that came from his parents during a chat one Sunday afternoon in December. Once he had tried a few legal-themed panels, he decided to establish a simple blog and post his work on the Internet.

"I sent it out to my buddies that I had gone to Michigan with," he said. "I thought I’d see if I could keep generating something every day. Some of my friends were scared to death because I was starting a new practice and they thought I didn’t have any work, and was just doodling all day."

Not so, said the former associate from Jones Day’s Cleveland office and law clerk for 6th Circuit Judge R. Guy Cole and legendary Judge Louis F. Oberdorfer in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. Mills, who established his appellate practice about six months ago, was definitely still an active practitioner. But he also had made a commitment to himself and to his burgeoning cadre of readers to come up with a new panel every weekday.

Although some of his barbs originate from what might graciously be called non-curriculum-based lessons he learned in law school, he said coming to Michigan was "a terrific choice."

"I just had a blast at Michigan," he said. "I was so impressed with the caliber of my peers. I knew they’d be smart and hardworking, but the attitude and the camaraderie? In a Top Ten law school, you’d have thought it would be ultra competitive, but not at all."

Mills recalls how, as a 1L, he was on the edge of panic over an upcoming exam when a classmate offered out of the blue to help him study and even offered to share his outline.

"There was no sense of 'I have to get ahead of this person,' " at Michigan, Mills recalled. "I know at some of the places you need to be Number One, and if you’re Number Two you’re going to lose out on something. But not at Michigan."

Some of Mills' panels skewer life in a large law firm, he said, because "big law firm life is full of good ideas for these sorts of things." But that doesn’t reflect his years at Jones Day, where he "actually had a pretty terrific time."

It’s safe to call the cartooning project pro-bono – at least for now. Mills hasn’t ruled out the possibility of someday accepting advertising for his site, which, if it continues growing at its present rate, will generate more than a million visits this year. Since virtually all of those visitors are lawyers or law students, his reader demographic would be a solid one.

But ads, if they appear, are for down the road. For now, Mills is still getting used to the pressure of producing a daily product.

"I don’t know what’s going to be up there tomorrow, but it’s on my to-do list for today," Mills said with a laugh. "I’m just afraid that one day I’ll have to do 'the polar bear in a snowstorm' panel, and put up a blank."

That would disappoint Mills’ legion of visitors, who he said exceeded 100,000 in February – just weeks into Courtoons’ run. His visitor totals swelled after the legal blog Above the Law put up a link to the site a few days after he began posting to it. Now he’s heard from lawyers as far away as Russia, and his comments section has a regular poster who for obscure reasons calls himself "Mr. Cat" and writes in a kind of weird pidgin feline-English dialect.

Despite the occasional brickbat, Mills reads every comment – even Mr. Cat’s – and sometimes posts comments himself. He calls it a vital part of the give-and-take between creator and reader that’s required by the Internet.

Mills still sounds pleasantly surprised by the popularity of his work, and the fact that a growing number of people are relying on him for a smile to start their days.

"The pressure is a good thing," he said. "People have come to expect it in the morning. So I have a new respect for anyone who has to sort of come up with something new every day."

See more on the Web at:
http://millsfederalappeals.com/
http://courtoons.wordpress.com/

A Category 5 Recovery Effort
Students still coming to the aid of the Big Easy

Jake Weixler was hoping to learn a lot when he reported for his new Teach for America job in August 2005.

Careful what you wish for. Weixler’s school was in New Orleans, and when he arrived the city was already in the crosshairs of the burgeoning tropical storm that became Hurricane Katrina.

"I taught for about a week, and then the storm hit and I had to leave," said Weixler, now a second-year student at the Law School. By the time he was able to get back to the swamped city and resume his teaching engagement, he said, "I came back to an unlivable place."

So this spring, more than three years later, Weixler jumped at the chance to help organize a group of about 30 Michigan Law students who spent Spring Break helping the still-struggling city recover.

"I go down a couple of times a year because I’m a big fan of the city," Weixler said. "And I’m a big believer in recovery. I think New Orleans has changed forever, but it is recoverable. The economic and cultural importance of the city make it just too important not to."

This year’s crop of students from Michigan Law added to the more than 4,500 law students from around the country who have traveled to New Orleans over the past two years under the aegis of the Student Hurricane Network. As they rotate through the city, the law students collectively create a resource the area’s overtaxed legal organizations can use to help the recovery.

"People really find the work rewarding," Weixler said. "The key here is to not only draw people who are interested in public service careers, but also those who know they won’t be working in these areas, so they can experience something very, very different."

Michigan’s contingent this spring worked with a mental health advocacy group, a Gulf Coast attorney who’s trying to get federal recognition for an area Indian tribe, a Louisiana affordable energy alliance, and the New Orleans Public Defender’s Office. (Considering the Michigan students were in town during Mardi Gras week, the last group may have had the busiest schedule.)

The relief effort is supported in part by a grant from Michigan Law that covers most accommodation and travel expenses, Weixler said. The students themselves also do some fundraising to help defray expenses.

The long-term nature of the effort is helping students realize how important their contributions can be. Without the volunteer efforts of college students since the storm hit, Weixler said, rebuilding would be years behind where it stands now. And newly-minted lawyers would be less aware of urban problems that also plague cities that haven’t been flattened by a hurricane.

"What the storm did for New Orleans – obviously, it was a horrible, horrible tragedy, but the nation sort of awoke to the reality of the city … poverty, failing schools, a failing criminal justice system. So now we have sort of a social justice cottage industry of people who want to be part of this recovery effort," Weixler said. "Funding and interest are high. Political will, public scrutiny and public outrage – that’s the formula to bring in young people, so that our generation can be the ones that say ‘No. This is not acceptable.’ "

Lives lifted by little loans
New International Transactions Clinic helps break
cycle of poverty in Central Asia

Call it a win-win-win-win-win.

When Michigan Law alum Carl A. Valenstein helps Prof. Deborah Burand teach courses in the Law School’s trailblazing new International Transactions Clinic, everybody gains – students, faculty, micro-financiers, borrowers in Tajikistan, and even Valenstein himself.

"I like working with students, and I like keeping up my ties to Michigan," Valenstein said before venturing into class. "I’ve always had a teaching bent."

And a pro bono bent, as well. The Bingham partner and 1983 grad normally specializes in international corporate and securities law, mergers and acquisitions, and other heavyweight legal responsibilities. But he’s also long volunteered to help microfinance organizations – including a couple of the ones Burand worked for before she came to Michigan Law – to get very small loans into the hands of some of the world’s poorest people. When Valenstein saw that Burand had come to Michigan to establish the country’s first International Transactions Clinic, he gladly accepted her invitation to help teach student lawyers the intricacies of such transactions.

"We’re very lucky to be able to draw upon the skills and talents of an experienced lawyer like Carl," Burand said. "He brings an international deal lawyer’s practical sensibilities to his supervision of our ITC students, and also has been a fabulous mentor of our ITC students."

That’s what he was up to one afternoon this month as he discussed with the ITC’s nine students one of the clinic’s first executed deals, a debt financing that will provide $1 million in capital to HUMO, a microfinance institution that provides microcredits in Tajikistan. The amount of HUMO’s loans averages about $747, and most go to the rural poor in the poorest of the Soviet Union’s former republics.

"It’s a very hot field," Valenstein said of microfinance. "And it’s a double bottom line – it’s good business, and it’s also socially responsible."

HUMO’s website shares stories about some of its more than 8,000 clients: one woman bands together with neighbors to apply for a $292 loan, which the group used to buy rice to be resold at a profit. A man leading a group that borrowed the same amount to buy cattle and improve wheat yields. Another man led a group that borrowed to increase the inventory in its curtain shop.

The Michigan students helped perform due diligence, marked up loan documents, and took care of other transaction details under the supervision of Valenstein and Burand.

"Carl has been nothing but generous with his time in helping us understand the transactions we’re working on," said ITC student Maria Domanskis, a 3L from Illinois. "Other lawyers might have become impatient with my rather basic questions, but Carl took every opportunity to ensure that we fully understood the reasoning behind every contractual clause, the tactics we were pursuing, and the suggestions we were making to our client."

That’s why the skills students hone during microfinance transactions will also prepare them for transactions that are more macro than micro, Domanskis said.

"My understanding of the transaction we were working on – and international transactional work in general – increased immensely," Domanskis said. "And Carl's involvement with students wasn’t restricted to the transaction; he genuinely took an interest in us as people and offered himself as a resource as we graduate and enter the real world."

John Nannes, Susan Liss receive
Judge Learned Hand Award

Two members of the Michigan Law family, John M. Nannes ’73 and Susan M. Liss, received the American Jewish Committee’s Judge Learned Hand Award from the committee’s Washington chapter on March 12.

The chapter presents the award annually to leaders in the legal profession who exemplify the principles of Learned Hand (1872-1961), an influential and much-quoted Federal judge and judicial philosopher.

Nannes is the benefactor of the Nannes Third-Year Challenge, a student-led fundraising initiative that encourages students to learn about supporting Michigan Law before they graduate. He is a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

Dean Evan Caminker spoke in tribute to Nannes at the awards dinner, applauding Nannes’ extensive service to Michigan, where he sits on the Dean’s Advisory Council and was a member of the steering committee for the Law School’s successful fundraising campaign.

Nannes also was cited for his longtime service on the D.C. Bar’s Pro Bono Committee and on the Board of Trustees of the Legal Aid Society. Nannes serves as a trustee of the Supreme Court Historical Society and recently was appointed to the Board of Directors of the D.C. Bar Foundation. He is an active member of Washington Hebrew Congregation and has served the congregation in several capacities, including president and chair of the congregation’s successful 150th anniversary campaign.

Nannes joined Skadden following clerkships for the D.C. Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court. He has been with the firm throughout his career, except for three years at the U.S. Justice Department from 1998-2001, when he worked in the Antitrust Division as Deputy Assistant Attorney General and Acting Assistant Attorney General. He earned his undergraduate degree in business at Michigan.

Liss, a public interest lawyer and advocate since 1977, currently directs the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. She has worked for a number of constitutional, women’s rights, and civil rights organizations. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science, and the Arts and Georgetown University Law Center.

She has held several government posts including service as chief of staff to Tipper Gore and special counsel to the Vice President during the Clinton-Gore administration, and several senior Justice Department positions. An active board member for several non-profit organizations, Liss is vice president for North America of the New Israel Fund, the founding advisory committee chair for the University of Michigan’s Washington residential seminar program, and an advisor to New Perimeter, the international pro bono project of DLA Piper, LLP.

Liss is the widow of Jeffrey F. Liss ’75, who was a 2004 recipient of the Learned Hand Award from the Washington chapter. Among those congratulating her at the awards dinner was David M. Uhlmann, the Jeffrey F. Liss Professor from Practice.


In the News

Why do some corporate scandals get so out-of-hand for foreign companies in Japan? The Japan Times cites Prof. Mark West for part of the answer.

Prof. Bridgette Carr tells Anderson Cooper’s CNN blog that slavery’s greatest advantage is its near invisibility.

The National Law Journal talks to Admissions Dean Sarah Zearfoss about the economy’s potential to cause a spike in applications.

Forbes.com cites Prof. John Pottow in an AP story on possibility of a GM bankruptcy.

Bloomberg.com cites Prof. Adam Pritchard in story on brokerage fraud.

SCOTUSBLOG takes note of Prof. Ellen Katz’s recent essay on the withdrawal of the Roberts court from some election issues.

The Los Angeles Times is among several news outlets noting Prof. David Uhlmann’s contribution to the criminal trial of criminal trial of W.R. Grace & Co., accused of knowingly exposing Montana residents to asbestos.

Prof. Jessica Littman comments in the ABA Journal on the overuse of takedown notices under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Recent court cases are casting doubt on academic freedom, according to a Chronicle of Higher Education story citing Prof. Len Niehoff.

Indian Corporate Law blog notes Prof. Vikramaditya Khanna’s service on panel analyzing corporate governance in India in the post-Satyam era.

Bankruptcy expert Prof. John Pottow teams up with Prof. Peter Ubel, director of U-M’s Center for Behavioral and Decision Sciences, in Psychology Today blog entry on why the Big Three desperately need a rebranding of bankruptcy.

Crain’s Detroit Business cites Prof. Vivek Sankaran on reforming Michigan’s child welfare laws.

Coming Up

March 25: Program in Asylum Law, Student Network for Asylum and Refugee Law present panel discussion "Can Current International Legal Standards Adequately Deal with Displacement Caused by Climate Change."

March 30: Michigan Law hosts Motions Day with Judge George Caram Steeh of U.S. District Court.

April 1: Final arguments in Campbell Moot Court competition.