Friday, November 16, 2012

Jean Sternlight Digs into the Psychology of Lawyering

Being able to understand the mindset of clients, witnesses, and fellow lawyers can have a profound impact on legal proceedings.

Jean Sternlight, Director of the Saltman Center for Conflict Resolution and Michael and Sonja Saltman Professor of Law, has spent a sizable portion of her career helping drive that point home.

This semester, Sternlight is teaching a class on Psychology and Lawyering, which she said is based on her recently published book, Psychology for Lawyers:  Understanding the Human Factors in Negotiation, Litigation and Decision Making. She co-wrote the book with Jennifer Robbennolt, Professor of Law and Psychology at the University of Illinois College of Law.

Sternlight said this book was a long time in the making.

“I had the idea for this book as soon as I moved from practice to academia, but it took me a while to get around to it. For one thing, I had to find a good co-author,” she said. “So a couple of years ago, I hooked up with my co-author who teaches at the University of Illinois. She’s a Ph.D. psychologist; so I think between the two of us, we have a good skill set to try and address these issues.”

Sternlight added that this book should be beneficial to students and professionals alike.

“What the book is designed to do is teach both law students and lawyers a lot of cognitive and social psychology that we think would be useful to them as attorneys,” Sternlight said. “The first eight chapters of the book go into various types of psychology… and then the latter chapters take all those basic aspects of psychology and apply them to things like interviewing clients, counseling clients, negotiation, mediation, discovery, writing and ethics. Then the last chapter discusses lawyers’ productivity and success.”

Sternlight noted that while many applications of psychology in law are covered, the book avoids trial advocacy because that is what psychology is normally applied to in law.

“There’s been lots written about how you can use psychology in the courtroom, how you can use psychology with juries; and although that’s fairly important, it turns out that these days, hardly any cases even go to trial anyway, so lawyers spend a lot more time on the areas we chose to talk about,” she said.

One example she pointed to was a story of when she practiced law and realized that people’s memories were not as good as she thought, and that it was more suspicious if two people remembered the same traumatic event in the exact same way. She said that she gets this point across in her class by doing a social experiment.

“I did an exercise on the first day of class where my assistant came in to hand me an object, which was actually a rubber chicken, and she wore weird clothes like a backward baseball hat and an unusual purse,” she said, “and then I handed out a survey to see what [the students] remembered of the encounter. It turned out that they had very different memories of what had transpired.”

Besides teaching, Sternlight works as Director of the Saltman Center for Conflict Resolution. She will teach a course in Alternative Dispute Resolution in the spring semester.

For more information on the Saltman Center, click here. Click here for the latest issue of the Saltman Newsletter.

Terrill Pollman Helps Build Students’ Legal Writing Skills

UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law Professor Terrill Pollman is a nationally recognized expert with a great deal of experience helping law students improve their writing.

Pollman is spending the academic year instructing in the Lawyering Process Program. The LP Program is a three-semester-long curriculum where students complete nine credits in legal analysis, research, writing and skills training.

“In the first-year courses, the students learn the basics of legal analysis, research, and lawyering skills,” she said. “The legal writing classes are active learning classes, where the students are engaged during the class in exercises and learning opportunities.”

Pollman added that she enjoys teaching legal writing because of the opportunity to work with students on a more individual level.

“My first teaching experience in law was teaching legal writing and I loved it,” she said. “You get a lot of time to work with students and it’s really a chance to get to know them in a different way. It’s the only first-year class where they get sustained individual attention on legal analysis, so that’s a great opportunity.”

She also teaches an editing course for an advanced legal writers group.

“The advanced writers group gives students the chance to develop the vocabulary to talk about writing,” she said. “Every firm has a few lawyers who are in demand because they are good writers, care about writing, and can help other lawyers with their writing by being able to articulate the way to turn a mediocre draft into something really good.

“So we give students a chance to sharpen those skills and go beyond the fundamentals and into a more reflective posture about writing,” she said.

Pollman has also written a textbook on legal writing, Examples and Explanations: Legal Writing, which she references while teaching first-year students.

“My book is mostly for first years. It gives students the chance to practice the skills they’re learning without taking the time to create entire new documents,” she said.

She added that she wrote the piece when the publishers asked her to write a book for their “Examples and Explanations” series. She wanted to give the students a textbook that would allow them to apply the skills they learn.

“There are many textbooks for first-year students, but there’s not a lot of help outside of textbooks on subjects like legal writing,” she said.

One thing she noted was that legal writing is unique from other types of writing, like prose or technical pieces.

“The conventions of legal writing are different. It’s more like business or technical writing, but it really is its own animal,” she said. “The principles of good writing are consistent no matter what the genre, but the legal genre is different from other academic or professional writing.”

She added that most students tend to use more elevated language, when in reality it’s better to get to the point and make the piece as accessible as possible.

“Legal readers are busy people, so they need very straightforward analysis that is both concise and precise,” she said.

International Refugee Law Expert Michael Kagan Brings Middle East Experience Back Home

After more than a decade building legal aid programs for refugees in the Middle East, UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law Professor Michael Kagan is channeling what he learned abroad into the American immigration system.

Kagan first developed an interest in immigration and refugee law as a law student, taking a semester off in the Middle East.

“I was working for an Egyptian human rights organization in 1998. An Algerian refugee came in and said he needed protection and wanted to go to the U.S. or Canada,” he said, adding that he was reluctant at first. “I thought it would be really tedious and technical, but there was no one else so I took the case. I learned how difficult it is and how rewarding it is to see people at this turning point in their lives, when they could either be sent to the lions’ den or rebuild.”

He said that some of his most difficult experiences have been hearing stories from torture victims. He said the torture victim who really stuck out in his mind was a veterinarian from South Sudan.

“This man had been beaten, had all kinds of awful things done to his body. He could talk about these things with no problem, but when his torturers found out that he was a veterinarian, they made him get on his knees and make animal sounds,” Kagan said. “When he talked about that, that’s when he started to cry, and that taught me a lesson about what really hurts.”

Kagan, who has also worked in Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, has published multiple works about Middle Eastern refugee policy. He published several recent papers on the politics of refugee policy in the Arab world, including proposals for how stronger asylum systems might be built after the Arab Spring.

"Refugee policy in the Middle East is close to my heart because I spent most of my career working there," he said. "No country in the Middle East has a genuinely working asylum system. So what I was trying to do is point the way toward a more functional refugee protection system that might be able to work within the politics of migration in countries like Egypt."

Kagan says that he received his first serious practical training in law from an Egyptian activist who had taken up law after being tortured as a political prisoner. “He told me that even though the law is never perfect, lawyers should always try to take it seriously,” he said. “I think it was in Egypt where I really learned what it meant to be a lawyer.”

One of the first challenges Kagan had to confront concerned the difficulty that asylum systems have separating genuine refugees from people who might be inventing their claims. His experience in Egypt produced one of the most widely cited studies of refugee credibility assessment, which was published in 2003 and has since been relied on by the 9th and 7th Circuit courts of appeal in precedent-setting decisions.

“Very few of the cases I saw in Cairo raised any controversial legal issues,” Kagan said. “But they turned on credibility assessment, and there were no clear standards about what should be considered believable. Every decision-maker was different, and the decisions were basically arbitrary.”

Kagan’s interest in credibility assessment has led him to focus on how American courts handle immigration appeals. He is currently working with Boyd Professor Fatma Marouf on a large-scale study of how the circuit courts decide whether to block a deportation while an appeal is pending, known as granting a stay of removal.

At UNLV, Kagan is teaching in the Immigration Clinic, Professional Responsibility, and Administrative Law.

The Clinic takes some asylum and torture cases, raising issues similar to those Kagan dealt with abroad.

“This is great for students because not only do they get experience and get to make real arguments, they get to see the complexity of how these rules apply to real people,” Kagan said.

Bryn Esplin Honored with Neuroethics Award

UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law second-year student Bryn Esplin is the latest student to be recognized for her academic contributions.

Her work, titled “Identical Prescriptions, Disparate Treatment: Anticonvulsant Usage in Frontal Lobe Epilepsy and Bipolar I Disorder,” received the Early Career Scholar in Neuroethics Award. She presented her work at the International Neuroethics Conference at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, on Oct. 24-25, 2012.

Esplin said it was an unexpected delight to be recognized for her work at the international level.

“It's an honor and very encouraging, but it's also a larger recognition of the caliber and commitment of Boyd's professors,” she said. “I simply wouldn't have received the award without Professor [Stacey] Tovino's support and guidance.”

Her paper discusses the advances in neuroscience and legislation that can affect the diagnosis and treatment of the conditions she studied.

“I conclude that, working in tandem, breakthroughs in neuroscience and legislative interventions can enhance understanding and access to care, helping to dismantle the philosophical heritage of persistent stigma,” she said. “This work is an outgrowth of a directed research project supervised by Professor Tovino.”

Esplin said that she became interested in researching this topic for the same reason she got into law school: being able to direct change to systems that need it.

“Part of the impetus for pursuing a J.D. is my belief that legal training affords the ability to effectuate meaningful, necessary change. Of particular concern to me is the marginalization of individuals with mental illness, which has been and continues to be reiterated and reified,” she said. “It's irrefutable that the categorization of physical versus mental illness as evidenced by Epilepsy and Bipolar Disorder is both problematic and conspicuously arbitrary.”

She added that she feels her work articulates why unequal treatment in health care and legislation is such a problem and how it impacts not just those afflicted, but the public at-large.

“More importantly, it proposes solutions to disparity and offers new modes of thinking and reconciling difference,” Esplin said.

As for post-graduation plans, Esplin hopes to continue working on things she finds to be fulfilling.

“I've been lucky to do the things I find enjoyable irrespective of whether they're lucrative or sustainable. More and more I realize there are so many paths to take post-law school, so I can't say which I'll follow,” she said.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Professor Bret Birdsong Explores the Legal Mechanics of the Modern Food System

The legal academy has paid relatively little attention to issues of broad popular concern about the modern food system, but UNLV Boyd School of Law Professor Bret Birdsong is working to change that. 

He is one of a group of legal scholars who are rethinking and redefining food law. 

In a forthcoming article, Birdsong argues that the field of Food Law must expand beyond the values of “safe” and “cheap.” He exhorts legal scholars to address the legal determinants of the food system from a broader array of perspectives and values. 

“There is an increasing understanding that food is not just some nicely wrapped bundle found on the supermarket shelf. It is a product of a long supply chain and of processes – from the farm to the factory – that have implications not just for eaters, but for workers, for wildlife, for the environment, even for foreign relations,” Birdsong said. 

The law, he added, should incorporate those broader values, and legal scholars should work to explore how the modern food system either serves or does not serve those values.

“My broader project,” he said, “is to look under the hood of the modern food system to see what legal machinery is there and to evaluate how that machinery makes the food system run. Once we know that, we can think about how to tinker with that machinery in order to steer the food system where we want it to go based on society’s modern values.” 

Food and farming have always been important industries, he explains, and a set of laws has long addressed the core issues that those industries face. As a result, statutes like the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act are pillars of progressive-era regulation and are aimed at ensuring a “safe” food supply. 

Similarly, New Deal programs aim to provide support and stability for the farm sector, largely to ensure that affordable food will be produced in plentiful amounts in the long run. Legal scholars to date have tended to think narrowly of “Food and Drug Law,” or “Food Safety Law,” or “Agricultural Law.”

In recent years, there has been a cornucopia of popular books and documentary films about food and food policy. 

Books like Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation as well as films like Food, Inc. and Super Size Me have spawned new perspectives on how and what we eat and the consequences of our modern food system.  It is now commonly understood that what people eat affects not just their own health, but also the workers that produced the food, the environment and many other important values.

Birdsong presented his thoughts at the annual conference of the Association of American Law Schools and organized a group of papers for the Association for the Study of Law, Culture and the Humanities conference held at the Boyd School of Law in March 2011.  He also will be participating in a workshop of food law scholars at the University of Colorado in June 2012.

“It is exciting to be part of an emerging group of legal scholars looking at food from different perspectives,” Birdsong said. 

He noted that he comes to food law as a scholar of environmental and natural resources law.  Other legal scholars approach food law with other areas of expertise, ranging from labor to intellectual property. 

Ordinarily, he said, legal scholars with such disparate interests might have little reason to exchange ideas. 

“But food is bringing us together.”

Professor Rachel Anderson Studies Law, Lawmaking and the Legal Profession in Nevada

In the past few years, UNLV Boyd School of Law Professor Rachel Anderson has been researching Nevada law, lawmaking and the legal community.

Her most recent publication, “Timeline of African-American Legal History in Nevada (1861-2011)” in the February issue of the Nevada Lawyer weaves together cases, statutes, events, community activism and the lives of individuals.

The “Timeline” illustrates developments in civil rights and the African-American legal community in Nevada.

“The numbers of African-American attorneys and judges in the state are small. So far, I have documented approximately 150 lawyers and 11 judges over the last 48 years,” Anderson said. “In 2010, African Americans made up 8 percent of Nevada’s population. Currently, African-American attorneys make up approximately 1 percent of the practicing attorneys and 2 percent of the judges in Nevada.”

Anderson applies theories developed by sociologist W.E.B. DuBois to frame her analysis of the relationship between Nevada law and social and economic development.

She is currently writing a law review article on the African-American legal community in Nevada, using the narratives of individuals to explore how laws affect communities, and individuals can contribute to lawmaking and social change.

As part of her work as the Secretary of the Las Vegas Chapter of the National Bar Association (LVNBA), Anderson was instrumental in creating the LVNBA Archive at the Wiener-Rogers Law Library in 2011.

The archive collects materials about the LVNBA and African-American attorneys in Nevada and is a resource for scholars, students and the general public. The archive houses a unique and growing collection of historically significant oral histories, documents and photographs relating to Nevada legal history.

In addition to her research on Nevada legal history, Anderson also writes in the areas of business and international law. She is currently writing a book review of Bishop and Zucker on Nevada Corporations and Limited Liability Companies and conducting research for an article examining the extent to which lawmaking can influence decision-making in corporate boardrooms.

Anderson’s research is integrated into her activities beyond the walls of the law school. In February 2012, she gave presentations at the law school and at Snell & Wilmer based on her research on the history of the African-American legal community in Nevada. She also moderated a Vegas PBS roundtable on the Early African-American Legal Community in Nevada.

Anderson is a member of the State Bar Law Related Education Consortium and serves as a person-at-large on the Executive Committee of the Business Section of the State Bar of Nevada.

In 2011, she was elected to the office of Vice President of the Las Vegas Chapter of the National Bar Association.

Anderson will be speaking at the 2012 Nevada Judicial Leadership Summit.

A graduate of Reed High School in Sparks, Anderson returned to Nevada in 2007 after practicing in the London office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

“I’m excited to apply the knowledge and experience I’ve gained to the challenges and opportunities here at home,” she said of returning to Nevada.

Professor Marketa Trimble Publishes on Cross-Border Legal Problems Affecting Intellectual Property Rights

UNLV Boyd School of Law Professor Marketa Trimble is publishing two major works in the first half of 2012 (one published, one forthcoming) that have arisen out of her research on transnational litigation and the functioning of national laws on the Internet.

The debate on a major reform of U.S. patent law, which resulted in the adoption of the America Invents Act in 2011, evidenced the desire for greater compatibility of the U.S. patent system with other national patent systems to facilitate access to patenting in multiple countries.

“Inventors are disappointed to learn that there is no global patent available to protect their inventions worldwide,” Trimble said. “Notwithstanding the globalized economy and the territorially unlimited business aspirations of inventors and businesses, patents are still granted country by country, making global protection for an invention very difficult and impossible for small businesses.”

In her book, “Global Patents: Limits of Transnational Enforcement,” published by Oxford University Press in January 2012, Trimble discusses the limitations of protecting inventions globally and explores the possibilities for extending the protection of a single country patent beyond the territory of the country in which the patent is granted. In addition to reviewing international patent law, Trimble discusses and analyzes patent laws in the U.S and Germany—countries among those with the highest volume of patent litigation in the world.

In her second work, to be published later in the first half of 2012, Trimble contributes to the debate about the enforcement of national laws on the Internet.

Discussions about recent legislative proposals on the enforcement of U.S. copyright law on the Internet, such as the proposal for the Stop Online Piracy Act (“SOPA”) and similar initiatives in European countries, have shown that the topic is highly controversial.

Trimble understands the importance of a free media, having grown up during the Soviet era in Central Europe.

“Having grown up behind the Iron Curtain, I am very sensitive to the need for access to uncensored information,” Trimble said. “Listening to foreign radio stations was my family’s everyday routine in Czechoslovakia before 1989 because foreign stations offered the only easily accessible alternative to the local government-censored news. When the government began to interfere with foreign broadcasts in the Czech language, we would tune to the same broadcasts for Poland. I learned quite a bit of Polish that way.”

Trimble’s background and interests in the legal issues of the Internet led her to write about Internet geolocation tools, which are used to limit access to content on the Internet from certain jurisdictions, and explore the legality of the evasion of these tools. Her article, “The Future of Cybertravel: Legal Implications of the Evasion of Geolocation,” will be published by the Fordham Intellectual Property, Media and Entertainment Law Journal and looks not only at the current status of tools for the evasion of geolocation, but also suggests how the law may treat these tools in the future.

Boyd Alumnus’ Work Experience and Education Help Him to ‘Engineer’ Law Career

Alumni of the UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law have a variety of backgrounds, each of which helps them when they begin their post-law school careers.

Seaton Curran ’08 currently works at Howard & Howard, a business law firm where his focus is on intellectual property and patent law. However, before going to law school, Curran was a professional engineer.

He gained his degree in engineering from Loyola Marymount in 1996 and began his career as an engineer before going back to school part-time to earn a master’s in business administration from the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business in 2000.

Curran moved to Las Vegas in 2003 and worked for Black & Veatch engineering firm. He worked as an engineer throughout his time going to school at Boyd.

“It’s not uncommon for me to be dealing with Ph.D. level scientists and engineers at my job,” Curran said. “It’s been a nice culmination of all my previous experience.”

Curran’s job requires him to deal with foreign clients and foreign patent attorneys on many occasions. He said that it’s not unusual for him to deal with foreign jurisdictions, whether their laws are similar to the United States or not.

“The interesting thing about intellectual property is that since companies are now going global, it’s not surprising that local companies are looking to manufacture in other countries,” he said. “When looking at patent protections, we have to deal with other countries’ laws and how a client’s product could expand into other countries. It’s a little short-sighted to only be dealing with U.S. laws.”

Curran’s time as an engineer also provides him the opportunity to give back to UNLV. He has offered his services to students at the School of Engineering, providing guidance and assistance regarding patent protection.

He said that patent protection is important for the students to have for multiple reasons.

“If they obtain patent protection, it not only helps them to protect their project, but if investors ask about it they have it to weigh risk,” Curran said. “So it gives them a leg up on other people.”

Curran also serves as a member of the Nevada Local Government Employee-Management Relations Board. The board consists of members appointed to 4-year terms, and it deals with collective bargaining and labor relations between local government employers, employees, unions and associations.

“I was made aware of the position three years ago. I filled out the application, and Jim Gibbons, who was governor at the time, made the appointment,” he said

Curran said that the position takes up about 200-220 hours of his time per year. Though his work focus is patents, Curran said he is still able to contribute a great deal.