Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The bankruptcy lawyer: job shadow Part I

Work may be scarce in some parts of the legal industry, but that’s not the case for Marc Levy. Partly due to the recession, people are streaming into Levy’s office at 440 S. Seventh St. in downtown Louisville. They’re seeking relief from credit card debts, mortgage foreclosures, and past-due medical bills. Levy, a 1980 graduate of our law school, allowed me to spend an afternoon with him as part of a series of job shadows that I hope to complete over the winter break. He also agreed to let me write about the experience.

Levy and I first met about a year ago when I was writing a feature story for The C-J about the sharp growth in personal bankruptcy filings in the metro area. His schedule was packed then, and it’s still packed now. Levy tells clients that they shouldn’t be embarrassed to file. Those “creative” home loans that got us into this economic mess are still a problem for many people, and credit card companies are slapping 20 percent APRs on loyal customers to make up for the industry’s new regulations. Levy has practiced bankruptcy law almost exclusively for the past 10 years. He takes cases that other lawyers turn down because they’re too complicated.

I sit through two initial consultations with new clients, and get a quick feel for how satisfying it can be to help people who are in serious financial trouble. For the most part, the process is fairly routine. Levy asks a series of questions: How long have you lived in Kentucky? Do you own any real estate? Have you previously filed for bankruptcy? He scribbles down answers on a yellow legal pad, then describes the two most common options: Chapter 7, usually for those with less income and fewer assets, and Chapter 13, which takes longer but allows the client to keep more property. The initial meeting takes less than an hour, and by the end of each consultation I can see the relief spreading across the faces of the people sitting at Levy’s desk. It’s not always this easy, he tells me later. Some people wait too long before they seek help. Others struggle to accept the realities of bankruptcy, such as being forced to lower donations to their church. But for the most part, Levy likes bankruptcy law. He’s settled there after also practicing in real estate, divorce, and criminal law.

I sit in Levy’s office for three hours, listening to him talk to clients, and fiddling with the buttons on the new suit coat that I bought the night before. When I picked it up the next morning, Gary, my “wardrobe consultant” at Men’s Wearhouse on Shelbyville Road, said I looked like a million-dollar bill waiting for change. It was my first new suit in nine years. I left Levy’s office with a very positive impression. I’m sure bankruptcy law isn’t for everyone, but the experience to me was fascinating. Clients open a window into their troubled finances, and the help you provide gives them a way to get back on their feet. Levy is waging a one-man sword fight against giant credit-card companies and mortgage lenders, and he seems to win most of the time. It’s also hard to argue about a job that gets nice and busy when the rest of the economy is in the toilet. Stay tuned for more job shadow reports in the next 10 days. My next assignment: the personal injury lawyer.

Monday, December 14, 2009

I know when you will get your grades

I will never forget the agony of waiting for my LSAT score (well, OK, both of my scores). Over the next few weeks, I imagine that many of us 1Ls will endure a similar experience as we wait for our first-semester grades. For some of us, these grades will play a big role in deciding whether we are able to find a summer job. They also will be the source of endless grumbling, speculation, rumors, and, for a few of us, excitement.

I happened to be in the law library today, and was thinking about when we would receive our scores. So I went straight to the source: Barbara Thompson, director of student records, who told me (much to my surprise) pretty much exactly when we would get the goods. For those of you who don't want to know, you might want to stop reading. For the rest of us, here's the deal: check ULINK in the late afternoon of Dec. 18, say around 4:30 p.m. Grades for each of our five finals, including Legal Research, will show up one by one. You also should receive an email informing you about the grades being posted. If they aren't there Friday afternoon, Thompson says check ULINK the morning of Monday, Dec. 21. There's a slight chance that the grades still won't be posted, but only if there's a problem with a particular course, a computer issue, a giant flood, etc.

Friday, December 11, 2009

One semester down, five to go

We have officially completed our first semester of law school. Not counting the bar exam and the fact that few law firms are hiring, we're one-sixth of the way to becoming attorneys. Today, I am promising myself that I won't think about the future. I just finished four gigantic final exams in twelve days, and I'm going to enjoy living in the moment. I'm going to walk my dog, Zola, get a haircut at a barbershop on Bardstown Road, and begin reading The Rainmaker by John Grisham. There will be no cases to brief, no open memos, no outlines.

When our class finished yesterday's Contracts final, members of both sections made a dash for The Granville on S. Third Street to consume large quantities of cold beer (and a few mid-day shots of tequila). It was a well-deserved session, Now we have three weeks of freedom before the spring semester begins. I'm going to worship every one of them.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Hip hop lesson in Civil Procedure

Just walked out of our final exam in Civil Procedure, and I can honestly say that it was the most grueling and difficult of our exams so far. Basically, it amounted to a three and a half hour mental beat-down. By the time I finished, my brain felt like total mush. But if there's anyone out there who wants an encore, check out this rap by a bunch of law students at UC Berkeley. Now, it's on to Contracts, our fourth and final exam. I don't know how I am going to muster the energy for another test. I guess I will start with lunch, and a lot of deep breaths.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

My 7-year-old kid may be a torts genius

I had one of those golden parenting moments this morning. I'm driving my 7-year-old son to school, and we get into a conversation about car wrecks - who is responsible, what are the penalties, etc. Then, almost out of nowhere, he turns to me and says this: "Does the driver have to pay if he doesn't mean to crash into the other car, and the judge decides it's a mistake?" For the love of law school, I almost jumped through the windshield. What a terrific question, I told him. Too bad we only had five more minutes to get to school.

This is the type of issue that we've just spent the entire semester examining in our Torts class. And in another two days, it'll be one of the central issues on our 1L Torts final - the second of four final exams that will end Dec. 10. The study of torts is a maddening process, but it has great application to everyday life. Liability in the car wreck scenario, for example, may turn on whether the driver could reasonably foresee the result of his actions, whether the injured driver did something to contribute to the crash, and other factors such as the weather, local traffic statutes, and whether the driver was behind the wheel of an ambulance or police cruiser. Here are a few other torts tidbits, gathered from our casebook and various study aids.

  • A driver who has a sudden heart attack behind the wheel may not be negligent in causing a wreck, as long as he doesn't know he is susceptible to a heart attack.
  • A child under the age of 18 is treated like an adult in a negligence case, as long as the child is engaging in an activity normally reserved for adults. Otherwise, the kid is treated like a kid. But courts differ widely on what is an adult activity. Some say golf is adult-like, but deer hunting is not. What about a snowmobile? A go-kart?
  • There is generally no duty to come to the aid of a person in peril in a public setting. But, a person who puts another in peril due to his negligent acts is also liable to anyone who tries to rescuer that person and is in turn injured. And the rescuer herself may be negligent if she acts rashly in conducting the rescue. And on and on and on...