Cuneiform “receipts” predate writing, still a scientific mystery.

One of the earliest known forms of writing is what scientist (or according to Wikipedia) call cuneiform. From my memory of studying linguistic Anthropology, the emergence of language is often associated with early commercial transactions. Merchants would trade over long distances through an intermediary (or several messengers) who finalized the transaction by delivering the goods together with a “receipt.” The “receipt” has been described as a sealed container that could not be tampered with inconspicuously. For example, if a purchaser was buying twelve cows he would expect to receive a tamper-proof vessel with twelve objects representing the twelve cows purchased.

Naturally, it piqued my interest when I stumbled upon this article about researchers in Mesopotamia studying “clay balls” used for record-keeping, 200 years before writing was invented. The article describes the balls as the “very first data storage system” and as sealed “envelopes” containing a variety of geometrical shapes. It goes on to mention these clay balls are believed to have been used to record economic transaction, yet the utility of the clay balls is still a mystery given the fact they predate the existence of writing. Read more about why scientist are having trouble deciphering the “code” found inside these “receipts” on the Live Science website.

When an unstoppable force meets an immovable object: the intersection of law and technology.

In May the ABA posted an article about the various advantages legal practitioners hope to gain by leveraging technology. No doubt, standing by the trendy new mantra “access to information is access to power.” Lawyers, law firms, and search engine titans are increasingly mining information resources, crunching numbers, and analyzing data for the purpose of strategically implementing it in the legal field. The result is interesting to say the least, and if proven to be pragmatic, will likely spearhead the trend of perusing data troves for lawyering. From reading the article it appears the lion’s share of practical application of all this information is in the form of predictions. One such example is using data mining to help predict whether prospective hires will be a “good fit” for a company (One hopes this will improve the arena of law office management beyond the mere Google, Facebook, and Twitter profile searches).

Other helpful predictions include charting what the “going rate” or the standard fee is, to ensure that a firm’s rates are “competitive.” The article even references information services that predict the viability of a winning (or losing) lawsuit, to predicting whether a particular motion will be granted or denied. Perhaps future technology developments will predict how jurors will decide in a particular case. One cannot help but ask what impact this information will have on discovery procedures.

At any rate, watching the intersection of technology with the legal industry always has its redeeming qualities, even if it is purely for entertainment purposes. Whether the edge of having access to “big data” will be a privilege vested with a few larger firms with bigger resources. Or whether the information revolution will trickle down to meager lawyers that still have to pick their cases manually (or on their own merits); we will have to see.

 

 

 

Driver-less cars: not if but when.

In 2007 I first saw an article in Science Daily advocating the possibility of cars that drive themselves. Always cognizant of the inherent danger we face on a daily basis-through driving our vehicles-the prospect of safer smarter cars resonated within me. I carried this in the back of my memory, without circumstance, until the past couple years. Notably, with the relatively recent news headlines that Google has developed such a vehicle. According to what I’ve read, this cutting-edge vehicle (Too bad the name Google Drive is already taken) is no longer beyond the realm of possibilities, but that the question seems to be if rather than when. While we are closer than ever to creating the technology to make the “driver-less car” possible, the concept is still very foreign to many people. I still remember my 65 year-old neighbor gawking at the idea of a car that he couldn’t “hit the gas” in.

After thinking about this prospect for a few years, some ideas have come to my mind. First, relinquishing control of a particular mode of conveyance is not so alien. Every subway, bus, taxi, plane, or boat that I’ve ridden in has always been controlled by someone other than myself. Obviously, in a personal motor vehicle the “chauffeur” is not a human being but the computer or technology itself. Consequently, this raises even more complex issues regarding insurance, fault and liability.

A recent column in Bloomberg News juxtaposes the speed of growing technology with the lag of regulations. Technology is perceived to be growing at an exponential rate, while regulators and legislators are mere human beings. Laws are subject to the democratic process, requiring votes, committees, tabling, quorums, and convening on a quarterly basis. These technologically advanced vehicles are developing at a rate that is unmatched by which our government is capable of reacting. Bloomberg even suggests the federal government step in to regulate these innovations. This strikes directly into the heart of issues of federalism and state sovereignty. Traffic laws are traditionally considered “police power” which the United States Constitution vests in the authority of the states. The Bloomberg article hits on all these points and more, including the federal government’s role in overseeing vehicle safety, the states’ regulation of insurance and licensing of drivers, how to assign liability and responsibility to inanimate objects rather than a person driving.

The future of driver-less cars appears to be certain, even though the logistics haven’t been hammered out yet. Fortunately, regulators are embracing innovations which could revolutionize the safety of the automobile industry. I look forward to learning more on this polarizing and multifaceted subject as it develops.

 

When worlds collide.

An interesting legal ethics case out of New Jersey has caused a former municipal judge to resign. According to the ABA Online Journal Vincent Sicari, in addition to his municipal judgeship, was working as a stand up comedian on the side. The State Supreme court unanimously ruled that Mr. Sicari could not continue to preside over municipal court so long as he was also performing stand up comedy routines. Given the ultimatum, Mr. Sicari chose to resign from his position as a judge.

In its reasoning, the Supreme Court of New Jersey considers some of the content from Mr. Sicari’s comedy routine. It is the court’s opinion that in the course of his show Mr. Sicari demeaned certain persons, ethnic groups, or people based on their national origin, in addition to revealing some of his political leanings. Based on the reasonable possibility some of those same same persons or ethnic groups he demeans may appear before his court, Mr. Sicari was forced to choose between comedy or his judgeship.

Admittedly, the action of the New Jersey Supreme Court does not strike me as unconscionable. While I adamantly oppose restraints or suppression of freedom of speech, at the same time the impartiality of the tribunal is sacrosanct. As an attorney it is uncomfortable to see limits placed on speech, even if it is offensive.  However, judges are public officials and may be subject to a heightened degree of scrutiny or criticism. The issues are complex, but on the information given here I think the court played it safe and made the right decision. Mr. Sicari, on the other hand, is now free to say whatever he wants.

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Leases in Louisiana

The civil code defines a “contract of lease” as a “synallagmatic contract by which one party, the lessor, bind himself to give to the other party, the lessee, the use and enjoyment of a thing for a term in exchange for a rent that the lessee binds himself to pay.

When you get swindled under Napoleonic code…

To outsiders our customs may be perceived as bizarre and our laws byzantine. Our state is divided by Parishes not Counties. We have neutral grounds not medians. And quite significantly, we govern by civil law not common law.

Intrinsic to a discussion of civil law is the topic of the Napoleonic Code. Its a dominating theme hammered into our collective consciousness. I still remember reading, and then watching A Streetcar Named Desire. The scene where Stanley Bekowski Kowalski (played by Marlon Brando) expresses what is his understanding of civil law:

“Now just let me enlighten you on a point or two… Now we got here in the state of Louisiana what’s known as the Napoleonic code. You see, now according to that, what belongs to the wife belongs to the husband also, and vice versa… It looks to me like you’ve been swindled baby. And when you get swindled under Napoleonic code, I get swindled too and I don’t like to get swindled…”

Except, this is not entirely the truth of the matter and legal theorist who read this discourse may be puzzled. Although seemingly innocuous, it is my opinion that statements such as the quote above, raise more questions than answers. Thereby, perpetuating the allure that surrounds our civil law system.

Does Louisiana have the Napoleonic code? No, but at one time it did. Does “what belongs to the wife belong to the husband, and vice versa”? Yes, Louisiana is among the 8+ community property states. However from a modern perspective Stanley has oversimplified the rule as it currently exists. And while the Napoleonic Code is a fun word to say, it is not the sole body of legal work that was the precursor to Louisiana law.

Much of Louisiana’s law is influenced by the Siete Partidas. Originally written between 1256-1265 the legal text is a compilation of laws, divided into seven parts.  Described as a “humanist encyclopedia” it addresses philosophical, theological, moral, and religious topics. Without expounding much further, there’s your history lesson for the day.

Recent changes.

We’ve made modest changes to our website. The new QuickLinks tab has been updated with pertinent web domains listed. Still in the first month of the new year, we’re relishing just a tad bit on our achievement of linking the Orleans Duty Judge schedule for 2013.

The information available is temporary limited to Orleans. However, we anticipate this will change very shortly. We’ll keep the lines of social media communication open and broadcast future updates.

Rules for Lawyers

The Louisiana State Bar Association has rules which govern the conduct of lawyers practicing within the state. Most of the rules should be intuitive. For many years there was no guide for what is or is not “professional.”  Given the exponential growth of lawyers over the past few decades, it is a useful guide for both old lawyers and new.

Striving for a happier practice.

While I don’t have any official citations, I know I’ve read at least one article correlating attorneys and depression. In fact, I’m almost certain that in Louisiana attorneys have the highest rate of suicide and/or substance abuse among the other professions. Perhaps this is the underbelly of practicing law in Louisiana, but this article about recognizing depression sheds light on a very serious issue.

Sometimes it’s the little things

If this blog has any readers, then it should be evident that I’m big on handing out example forms. I will admit, the previous forms have been more complex and absolutely do not substitute actual legal advice; however sometimes its the simpler things that matter. A colleague asked me for a sample motion to reset the other day. So, if you’re new to the practice or just curious, here is an example form of a motion to reset.