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Prof. Ben Spencer Appointed to Virginia State Bar Council

January 13, 2014 Leave a comment
Prof. Benjamin Spencer

Prof. Benjamin Spencer

Washington and Lee law professor A. Benjamin Spencer has been appointed by the Virginia Supreme Court to the Council of the Virginia State Bar as an at-large member.  The Council is the governing body that exercises the authority of the VSB. The vast majority of Council members are elected in each judicial circuit around Virginia, but the Supreme Court appoints a handful of people to at-large seats. Prof. Spencer’s term will begin July 1, 2014.

This is not the only bar-related work in which Prof. Spencer is currently engaged. Last year, he was appointed by the President of the National Conference of Bar Examiners to the Civil Procedure Drafting Committee, which consists of 7 people who will write the civil procedure questions that appear on the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE). Civil Procedure is currently not tested on the MBE but will be beginning in 2015. Prof. Spencer will meet with the other committee members every six months as they prepare for the inclusion of this subject on the MBE.

Profs. Spencer and Shannon Hosting Third-Party Funding Roundtable

November 7, 2013 Leave a comment
Prof. Benjamin Spencer

Prof. Benjamin Spencer

On Thursday and Friday, November 7 and 8, the Frances Lewis Law Center at Washington and Lee School of Law is hosting the first-ever Works-in-Progress Roundtable for Third-Party Funding Scholars for scholars who write in the area of third-party funding of litigation and arbitration.

Third-party funding is a phenomenon by which an outside entity financially supports the legal representation of a party’s claim in exchange for the promise of a share of the proceeds if the party recovers any money.  On the defense-side, the funding arrangement typically involves the defendant making payments (similar to an insurance premium) to the funder in exchange for the funder paying the defendant’s legal expenses in the case.

Over the next two days, eight eminent scholars will present works-in-progress and share feedback on wide-ranging and cutting-edge topics in the field of third-party funding.  Here are their names and topics:

- Nora Freeman Engstrom of Stanford Law School: “Lawyer Lending: Costs and Consequences”

- Anthony J. Sebok of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law: “What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Control?”

- Brian T. Fitzpatrick of Vanderbilt Law School: “Should Third-Party Litigation Financing Come to Class Actions?”

- Manuel A. Gómez of Florida International University College of Law:  “Alternative Litigation Financing Heads South: The Potential for and obstacles to third party funding in Latin America”

- Selvyn Seidel of Fulbrook Capital Management LLC:  “Buying and Selling Claims – Why Not?”

- Maya Steinitz of the University of Iowa College of Law:  “Incorporating Legal Claims”

- Benjamin Spencer of Washington and Lee School of Law: “The Law of Litigation Finance”

- Victoria Shannon of Washington and Lee School of Law: “Optimal Dispute Systems for Third-Party Funding”

W&L Law Faculty Fellowships Announced

September 6, 2013 Leave a comment

Washington and Lee School of Law Dean Nora Demleitner has announced the recipients of a number of annual faculty fellowships that recognize excellence in teaching and scholarship.

Teaching Awards

Prof. Michelle Drumbl directs the Tax Clinic and also teaches courses in Federal Income Tax.  She received the Jessine Monaghan Faculty Fellowship for Teaching awarded to “recognize stellar teaching in the third year.”

Prof. Jill Fraley has taught Environmental Law, a new Environmental Practicum, a seminar on Law and Geography, and a small section of Property. She is the recipient of the John W. Elrod Law Alumni Fellowship in Teaching Excellence.

Prof. Brant Hellwig teaches a number of introductory and upper-level specialized tax courses. He is the recipient of a Law Alumni Faculty Fellowship for Teaching.

Scholarship Awards

Christopher Bruner’s book Corporate Governance in the Common-Law World: The Political Foundations of Shareholder Power, published this spring by Cambridge University Press, examines shareholder influence and power that challenges popular wisdom and provides fascinating insights into the uniqueness of U.S. corporate governance. He is the recipient of the Ethan Allen Faculty Fellowship for Scholarship.

Jim Moliterno published his book A Profession in Crisis (Oxford) to great acclaim and also put out a new Civil Procedure book with West, designed to provide a new approach to the teaching of civil procedure in law school. He is the recipient of a Law Alumni Faculty Fellowship for Scholarship.

Ben Spencer continues to be a prolific scholar despite his new duties as director of the Lewis Law Center and Associate Dean for Research. His scholarly work on civil procedure has received increasing acclaim, and his latest article “Class Actions, Heightened Commonality, and Declining Access to Justice” appeared in the Boston University Law Review. He also authored an insightful commentary on the state of legal education in his magnum opus on The Law School Critique in Historical Perspective. He is the recipient of the Law Alumni Faculty Fellowship for Scholarship.

Prof. Benjamin Spencer Publishes Article on Pleading Doctrine in the UCLA Law Review

September 5, 2013 Leave a comment
Prof. Benjamin Spencer

Prof. Benjamin Spencer

W&L Law Professor A. Benjamin Spencer has just published an article on the Supreme Court’s civil pleading jurisprudence in the UCLA Law Review.  It is entitled, Pleading and Access to Civil Justice: A Response to Twiqbal ApologistsHere is the Abstract:

Professor Stephen Yeazell once wrote, “A society based on the rule of law fails in one of its central premises if substantial parts of the population lack access to law enforcement institutions.” One apparent threat to access to justice in recent years has been the erosion of notice pleading in the federal courts in favor of a plausibility-pleading system that screens out potentially meritorious claims that fail to offer sufficient specificity and support at the pleading stage. But some have questioned whether this purported threat is more perceived than real. Indeed, this doctrinal shift has been defended in several ways that each suggest—in their own way—that the critical response to Twombly and Iqbal may be much ado about little or nothing.

These apologies for the doctrinal shift, if you will, generally fall into three categories. The first consists of arguments suggesting that the standard has not really changed at all, which I will refer to as the “consistency” defense. The second group concedes that there has been a change but argues that the change has not had or will not have a substantial impact; I will call this the “inconsequentiality” defense. The final category contains those arguments asserting that the changes are consequential but in a good way, meaning that the strengthening of pleading standards was warranted and will be beneficial to the litigation system. I refer to this type of argument as the “efficiency” defense.

This essay responds to each of these apologies, finding that the consistency defense is doctrinally unsound, that the inconsequentiality defense is doubtful (if not counterfactual), and that the efficiency defense is misguided, given the patent overinclusiveness and subjectivity of the plausibility doctrine.

A. Benjamin Spencer is Associate Dean for Research, Frances Lewis Law Center Director, & Professor of Law at Washington & Lee University School of Law.

Professor Ben Spencer Publishes Article on Walmart v. Dukes

April 12, 2013 Leave a comment
Prof. Benjamin Spencer

Prof. Benjamin Spencer

W&L Law Professor A. Benjamin Spencer just published an article entitled Class Actions, Heightened Commonality, and Declining Access to Justice in the Boston University Law Review.  Here is the abstract:

A prerequisite to being certified as a class under Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is that there are “questions of law or fact common to the class.” Although this “commonality” requirement had heretofore been regarded as something that was easily satisfied, in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes the Supreme Court gave the requirement new vitality by reading into it an obligation to identify among the class a common injury and common questions that are “central” to the dispute. Not only is such a reading of Rule 23’ s commonality requirement unsupported by the text of the rule, but it also is at odds with the historical understanding of commonality in both the class action and joinder contexts. The Court’s articulation of a heightened commonality standard can be explained by a combination of its negative view of the merits of the discrimination claims at issue in Dukes, the conflation of the predominance requirement with commonality, and the Court’s apparent penchant for favoring restrictive interpretations of procedural rules that otherwise promote access. Although an unfortunate consequence of the Dukes Court’s heightening of the commonality standard will be the enlivening of challenges to class certifications that would otherwise never have been imagined, this Article urges the Court to reject heightened commonality and read Rule 23 in a manner that remains true to the language and history of the common question requirement.

This article may be downloaded by visiting the BU Law Review website.

Honors for Professor Ben Spencer

January 24, 2013 Leave a comment
Prof. Benjamin Spencer

Prof. Benjamin Spencer

Washington and Lee School of Law Professor Benjamin Spencer, Associate Dean for Research and Director of the Frances Lewis Law Center,  has received two honors recognizing his professional accomplishments and standing within the legal academy.

First, Prof. Spencer has been elected to the American Law Institute (ALI), the most prestigious law reform body in the U.S. The ALI is focused on producing scholarly work to clarify, modernize, and otherwise improve the law. It has a membership 4300 judges, lawyers, and teachers from all areas of the U.S. and many foreign companies.

Also, Prof. Spencer has been appointed by the President of the National Conference of Bar Examiners to the Civil Procedure Drafting Committee, which consists of 6 people who will write the civil procedure questions that appear on the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE). Civil Procedure is currently not tested on the MBE but will be beginning in 2016. Prof. Spencer will meet with the other committee members every six months as they prepare for the inclusion of this subject on the MBE.

Congratulations to Prof. Spencer on these honors.

Professor Spencer Publishes Article on the History of Legal Education Reform

January 10, 2013 Leave a comment
Prof. Spencer

Prof. Spencer

W&L Law Professor A. Benjamin Spencer, Associate Dean for Research and Director of the Frances Lewis Law Center, has just published an article entitled The Law School Critique in Historical Perspective, 69 Wash. & Lee L. Rev. 1949 (2012).  This article provides an extensive review of the history of legal education and legal education reform up to the present day, gleaning lessons along the way for how we might address contemporary challenges facing law schools.  Here is the abstract:

Contemporary critiques of legal education abound. This arises from what can be described as a perfect storm: the confluence of softness in the legal employment market, the skyrocketing costs of law school, and the unwillingness of clients and law firms to continue subsidizing the further training of lawyers who failed to learn how to practice in law school. As legal jobs become increasingly scarce and salaries stagnate, the value proposition of law school is rightly being questioned from all directions. Although numerous valid criticisms have been put forth, some seem to be untethered from a full appreciation for how the current model of legal education developed. Indeed, a historical perspective on legal education is sorely missing from this debate, as many of the criticisms merely echo charges that have been lodged against legal education for well over a century, but do not draw lessons from how those former critiques ultimately failed to deliver fundamental change. This Article reviews the historical development of legal education in America, including the critiques and reforms made along the way, to gain insight that will inform our own efforts to make law schools better at preparing lawyers for practice.

This article, which was published in the Washington & Lee Law Review, may be downloaded from SSRN by visiting http://ssrn.com/abstract=2017114.

Professor Spencer Appears in the Virginia Lawyer Magazine in an Issue Dedicated to Legal Education

November 2, 2012 Leave a comment

Professor A. Benjamin Spencer is featured in the October 2012 issue of the Virginia Lawyer, the official publication of the Virginia State Bar.  Professor Spencer appears in his capacity as Chair of the VSB Section on the Education of Lawyers.  In the magazine, Professor Spencer introduces the issue, which is dedicated to coverage of the recent Twentieth Anniversary Conclave on the Education of Lawyers in Virginia.

The 2012 Conclave, which was put on by the Section that Professor Spencer chairs, was a meeting of members of the bench, bar, and legal academy to discuss the challenges facing legal education and how we can work together to tackle them.  The panel discussions focused on education during law school, the bar admissions process, continuing legal education beyond law school, and the role of judges in improving the training and preparation of lawyers for practice.

For more details regarding the substance of the 2012 Conclave or to read each of the reports that came out of the event, visit the Virginia Lawyer Web page.  Complete Conclave materials, including transcripts, DVDs, and written materials for the event are available at a dedicated website: http://www.vsb.org/site/members/20th-anniversary-conclave.

A. Benjamin Spencer is the Associate Dean for Research and a Professor of Law at Washington & Lee University School of Law, where he also serves as Director of the Frances Lewis Law Center.

New W&L Faculty Papers at SSRN

August 15, 2012 Leave a comment

Several new papers by W&L faculty are available for download from SSRN, including articles by professors Benjamin Spencer, Christopher Seaman, Christopher Bruner and Joshua Fairfield. Titles and abstracts are below:

Avatar Experimentation: Human Subjects Research in Virtual Worlds
Tue, 07 Aug 2012 | Joshua A.T. Fairfield
Joshua FairfieldResearchers love virtual worlds. They are drawn to virtual worlds because of the opportunity to study real populations and real behavior in shared simulated environments. The growing number of virtual worlds and population growth within virtual worlds has led to a sizeable increase in the number of human subjects experiments taking place in such worlds. Virtual world users care deeply about their avatars, their virtual property, their privacy, their relationships, their community, and their accounts. People within virtual worlds act much as they would in the physical world because the experience of the virtual world is “real” to them. The very characteristics that make virtual worlds attractive to researchers complicate ethical and lawful research design. The same principles govern research in virtual worlds and the physical world. However, the change in context can cause researchers to lose sight of the fact that virtual world research subjects may suffer very real harm to property, reputation, or community as the result of flawed experimental design. Virtual world research methodologies that fail to consider the validity of users’ experiences risk harm to research subjects. This Article argues that researchers who put subjects’ interests in danger run the risk of violating basic human subjects research principles. Although hundreds of articles and studies examine virtual worlds, none have addressed the interplay between the law and best practices of human subjects research in those worlds. This Article fills that gap. Virtual worlds are valuable research environments precisely because the relationships and responses of users are measurably real. This Article concludes that human subjects researchers must protect the very real interests of virtual worlds inhabitants in their property, community, privacy, and reputations.

Conceptions of Corporate Purpose in Post-Crisis Financial Firms
Wed, 01 Aug 2012 | Christopher M. Bruner
Christopher BrunerAmerican “populism” has had a major impact on the development of U.S. corporate governance throughout its history. Specifically, appeals to the perceived interests of average working people have exerted enormous social and political influence over prevailing conceptions of corporate purpose – the aims toward which society expects corporate decision-making to be directed. This essay assesses the impact of American populism upon prevailing conceptions of corporate purpose – contrasting its unique expression in the context of financial firms with that arising in other contexts – and then examines its impact upon corporate governance reforms enacted in the wake of the financial and economic crisis that emerged in 2007. I first explore how populism has historically shaped conceptions of corporate purpose in the United States. While the “employee” conceptual category best encapsulates the perceived interests of average working people in the non-financial context, the “depositor” conceptual category best encapsulates their perceived interests in the financial context. Accordingly, American populism has long fostered strong emphasis on the interests of bank depositors, resulting in striking corporate architectural strategies aimed at reducing risk-taking to ensure firm sustainability – notably, imposing heightened fiduciary duties on directors and personal liability on shareholders. I then turn to the crisis, arguing that growing shareholder-centrism over recent decades goes a long way toward explaining excessive risk-taking in financial firms – a conclusion rendering post-crisis reforms aimed at further strengthening shareholders a surprising and alarming development. While populism has remained a powerful political force, it has expressed itself differently in this new environment, fueling a crisis narrative and corresponding corporate governance reforms that not only fail to acknowledge the role of equity market pressures toward excessive risk-taking in financial firms, but that effectively reinforce such pressures moving forward. I conclude that potential corporate governance reforms most worthy of consideration include those aimed at accomplishing precisely the opposite, which may require resurrecting corporate architectural strategies embraced in the past to reduce risk-taking in financial firms. As a threshold matter, however, we must first grapple effectively with a more fundamental and pressing social and political problem – the popular misconception that financial firms exist merely to maximize stock price for the short-term benefit of their shareholders.

Best Mode Trade Secrets
Fri, 27 Jul 2012 | Christopher B. Seaman
Christopher SeamanTrade secrecy and patent rights traditionally have been considered mutually exclusive. Trade secret rights are premised on secrecy. Patent rights, on the other hand, require public disclosure. Absent a sufficiently detailed description of the invention, patents are invalid. However, with the passage of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (“AIA”) last fall, this once black-and-white distinction may melt into something a little more gray. Now, an inventor’s failure to disclose in her patent the preferred method for carrying out the invention — the so-called “best mode” — will no longer invalidate her patent rights or otherwise render them unenforceable. In this Essay, we explain why it may become routine post-patent reform for patentees to attempt to assert both patent rights and trade secret rights for preferred embodiments of their invention in certain types of cases. We also consider potentially undesirable ramifications of this change and suggest one approach courts may use to limit claims of concurrent trade secret and patent protection when equity demands.

Class Actions, Heightened Commonality, and Declining Access to Justice
Fri, 20 Jul 2012 | A. Benjamin Spencer
A. Benjamin SpencerA prerequisite to being certified as a class under Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is that there are “questions of law or fact common to the class.” Although this “commonality” requirement had heretofore been regarded as something that was easily satisfied, in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes the Supreme Court gave it new vitality by reading into it an obligation to identify among the class a common injury and common questions that are “central” to the dispute. Not only is such a reading of Rule 23’s commonality requirement unsupported by the text of the rule, but it also is at odds with the historical understanding of commonality in both the class action and joinder contexts. The Court’s articulation of a heightened commonality standard can be explained by a combination of its negative view of the merits of the discrimination claims at issue in Dukes, the conflation of the predominance requirement with commonality, and the Court’s apparent penchant for favoring restrictive interpretations of procedural rules that otherwise promote access. Although an unfortunate consequence of the Dukes Court’s heightening of the commonality standard will be the enlivening of challenges to class certifications that otherwise would never have been imagined, this Article urges the Court to reject heightened commonality and read Rule 23 in a manner that remains true to the language and history of the common question requirement.

Prof. Spencer on Judicial Power

December 14, 2011 Leave a comment

A. Benjamin SpencerProfessor A. Benjamin Spencer had his article, The Judicial Power and the Inferior Federal Courts, 46 Ga. L. Rev. 1 (2011), published in the Georgia Law Review.

The article discusses the third branch of the federal government, the Judiciary, which traditionally has been viewed as the least of the three branches in terms of the scope of its power and authority. The Supreme Court has permitted Congress to exercise authority over the Federal Judiciary, including the limitation of jurisdiction of inferior federal courts, without much thought or explanation.

Professor Spencer argues that it may be possible to imagine a more robust vision of the Judicial Power through closer scrutiny of the history and text of Article III of the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution vests Judicial Power of the United States exclusively in “one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.” In the article, Prof. Spencer reviews historical evidence that reveals that delegates to the Federal Convention considered and rejected language that would have given Congress express authority to manipulate the jurisdiction of inferior federal courts. The article argues that this fact, coupled with repeated indications by the Framers and by the delegates to state ratifying conventions that the independence of the Judicial Branch from each of the other branches was of paramount importance, may give some weight to an understanding of the Judicial Power that challenges—or at least may moderate—our understanding of Congress’s authority to withhold from the inferior federal courts some portion of the Judicial Power vested in them under Article III.

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