Friday, March 06, 2009

Beth A. Wilkinson becomes a Member of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP in the Litigation Department of the Washington D.C. Office

We just received an alumni announcement in the mail that Beth A. Wilkinson has "join[ed] Paul, Weiss as a partner in the firm's Litigation Department in the Washington, D.C. office. She will practice general litigation."

Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison, known in the trade as Paul, Weiss, is in our mind the best litigation firm in the United States - it certainly was when I was an associate at that firm in the 1970's and, indeed, it was recently selected, nearly 40 years later, as the Litigation Department of the Year by the American Lawyer. See also the current Awards & Rankings. Paul, Weiss has never lost a partner laterally to another firm, although some have left in the course of years to start their own firms.

The addition of Wilkinson only strengthens the litigation reputation of Paul, Weiss. Wilkinson successfully prosecuted the Oklahoma City bombing cases in the 1990's as a Special Attorney to the U.S. Attorney General and comes to Paul, Weiss now from Fannie Mae, where she served as Executive Vice-President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary.

A detailed history of Paul, Weiss can be found at Legal Questions Answered Online : A Portent of Law Practice in the Future at the Simplest Level? or is it the Illegal Practice of Law?

We have learned never to sneeze at new developments until we have examined them carefully. It is so easy to make judgments based on preconceptions, which often turn out to be wrong.

One area about which have been very skeptical is the use of the Internet as an online service for user questions to be answered by "experts", who are paid for their efforts by the questioner.

We have nevertheless discovered that there is a website at which provides "just" that question and answer service, also for elementary questions of law, which are allegedly answered online by attorneys.

We wonder how this matter is viewed by the various State bar associations, which are essentially archaic monopolies at their core, and protect their territory tooth and nail. When can and can not an attorney answer an online legal question as a matter of bar jurisdiction? Can he do it under his own name, or incognito, under an alias? Can such an attorney claim that no lawyer-client relationship is established? Does the reimbursed answer by online attorneys of law-related online user questions constitute the practice of law? Does the reimbursed answer of law-related online user questions constitute the practice of law also if the answerer is NOT a lawyer? Under what circumstances? For which jurisdiction? Does it depend on the domicile of the asker? or the State whose law is in question? What about federal questions? What standards apply?

Can an attorney claim that no direct attorney-client relationship has been established in spite of the fact that he or she is paid for the answers provided to legal questions raised at has the following disclaimer on its site at "Answer" pages:
"Information in questions, answers, and other posts on JustAnswer ("Posts") comes from individual users, not JustAnswer; JustAnswer is not responsible for Posts. Posts are for general information, are not intended to substitute for informed professional advice (medical, legal, veterinary, financial, etc.), and do not establish a professional-client relationship. The site and services are provided "as is" with no warranty or representations regarding the qualifications of Experts. JustAnswer is not intended or designed for EMERGENCY questions which should be directed immediately by telephone or in-person to qualified professionals. Please carefully read the Terms of Service."
The JustAnswer Expert Agreement provides at 6. Expert Warranties:
"(b) You will not provide any legal or medical advice or other professional advice or information (such as securities, tax, psychiatry, veterinary, etc) that may only lawfully be rendered or provided by a licensed professional unless you are a licensed professional in good standing and you abide by all the rules and regulations of such profession."
That is clear enough. An online lawyer can legally answer only those questions which he or she can legally answer. But what questions are those?

Please be aware that we find the idea to be quite a good one and futuristic in its approach. Moreover, we are by no means a friend of the monopolistic bar associations, whose main purpose is to serve as economic barriers to entry and as generally unnecessary and ineffectual controlling institutions for their guild-like membership. There is for example no reason whatsover to exclude graduates of accredited law schools from practicing law until some bar association has obtained its pound of flesh. Nor should each State have its own bar association which can determine who can and who can not practice law in its State. It is all quite a monopoly scam, with State bar exams bearing little if no relation to the actual practice of law.

Nevertheless, given the present anachronistic realities, it would nevertheless appear to us that any legal advice given online for any kind of reimbursement, cloaked in the "expertise" of the law, IS IN FACT the practice of law, and thus in many cases prohibited in this form by the bar. Or are we wrong?

Subscription Newsletters for Professionals at PinHawk : Corporate Financial Economic Political Federal Law Firms NYC Real Estate Blawgs Media Courts

We ran across a professional fee-based newsletter service at PinHawk which could be of interest to the law and business community as a means to keep up to date with the latest developments, especially in the legal field, mostly covering the United States but also including newsletters about Australian, Canadian and UK law firms. A newsletter on Law on Blogs is also included. They offer newsletters on the following topics:

Law Firm News
Real Estate
The Media
New York
U.S. Federal Government

German Constitutional & Election Law : Electronic Vote Computers Rejected by Germany's Federal Constitutional Court for Lack of Proper Public Scrutiny

As reported at, the website of the German Missions in the United States, the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany (the Bundesverfassungsgericht, BVerfG) has rejected electronic "vote computers" as machines which - by current law - are not ensured to abide by the constitutional requirement of the public nature of elections, for which reason the law permitting such voting machines is unconstitutional.

The court decision is at first glance a surprising one since the voting machines in question have been used in Germany for the past 10 years, including the most recent 2005 general election, and since there was no evidence that the machines had failed in executing their proper task.

See the court's Press release no. 19/2009 of 3 March 2009 Use of voting computers in 2005 Bundestag election unconstitutional (in English), where it is written:
"The Second Senate [of the Court] decided that the use of electronic voting machines requires that the essential steps of the voting and of the determination of the result can be examined by the citizen reliably and without any specialist knowledge of the subject. This requirement results from the principle of the public nature of elections (Article 38 in conjunction with Article 20.1 and 20.2 of the Basic Law (Grundgesetz – GG)), which prescribes that all essential steps of an election are subject to the possibility of public scrutiny unless other constitutional interests justify an exception. Accordingly it is, admittedly, constitutionally unobjectionable that § 35 of the Federal Electoral Act (Bundeswahlgesetz – BWG) permits the use of voting machines. However, the Federal Voting Machines Ordinance (Bundeswahlger├Ąteverordnung) is unconstitutional because it does not ensure that only such voting machines are permitted and used which meet the constitutional requirements of the principle of the public nature of elections."
Nevertheless, the court points out in that same press release that there is no need to dissolve the present German Parliament as elected in the 2005 general election:
"This, however, does not result in the dissolution of the Bundestag because for lack of any indications that voting machines malfunctioned or could have been manipulated, the protection of the continued existence of the elected parliament prevails over the electoral errors which have been ascertained."
For the full text of the decision in German, see the Judgment of 3 March 2009 at:

2 BvC 3/07 and 2 BvC 4/07

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