Sergio Garcia

Law License for Illegal? — Sergio Garcia seemed to have the wind in his sails as he tried to become the first undocumented immigrant lawfully granted a California bar card. The State Bar and Attorney General Kamala Harris support his application. He brings a compelling back story of self-sufficiency and perseverance. And there is no formal opposition.

But on Wednesday at the California Supreme Court, Garcia appeared to lack one key ingredient: a majority of four justices willing to stick their necks out. Indeed, all seven sounded inclined to strictly interpret a federal law that bars the issuance of professional licenses to undocumented immigrants, though the 1996 statute gives states leeway to amend the standard through "enactment of a state law."

Even Justice Goodwin Liu, arguably the most liberal justice, sounded skeptical. Congress "chose specifically the instrument of the state legislature to ensure political accountability," he said. "Why isn't that the most straightforward reading of the statute?"

Garcia, 36, was born in Villa Jimenez, Michoacan, Mexico. His family brought him to California when he was 17 months old. His father, a legal resident, applied for Garcia's visa in 1994. It was approved the next year, but due to the quota for immigrants from Mexico, he will have to wait as long as 25 years for it to issue.

In the meantime, Garcia attended California State University-Chico, then completed four years of night classes at Cal Northern School of Law. He passed the bar exam in 2009. After a lengthy review, the Bar recommended his admittance in 2011, prompting Wednesday's hearing.

His attorneys argue that while immigration laws may limit Garcia's employment options, they should not prevent him from being licensed. International law students routinely obtain California law licenses to practice in their home countries, they point out. The Supreme Court does not condition their admission on being authorized to work in the United States. — The Recorder


James Silkenat

Two-Year Degree Not Favored — President Obama got legal educators buzzing last month by remarking that law school should last for two years rather than the traditional three. But American Bar Association President James Silkenat isn't so sure the president really meant it.

Rather, Obama likely meant that a J.D. should be more affordable, he said, noting the president's remarks came during a speaking tour about college affordability. "His real emphasis was the cost issue — so if we can find a way to reduce the cost of the three-year degree, that's a plus," Silkenat said during a panel discussion Tuesday. "Employers want more training, not less."

The gathering, at Brooklyn Law School, was focused on alternatives to the three-year J.D. and the challenges facing law schools and their students. Reducing the number of credits and time required is perhaps the most obvious way to significantly reduce costs. But that concept received little love from the panel, which included New York Law School Dean Anthony Crowell, Brooklyn Law School Dean Nicholas Allard and New York City Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo.

Their consensus was that law schools are already experimenting with program structures and practical-skills training, and that dropping a full year of coursework would be too dramatic a change. Most panelists agreed that the legal academy needs to push harder to reduce student costs, but they offered few concrete ways to do so. "I'm not prepared to say we need a two-year law school, but I agree with the president that we need to make the third year more practical and less expensive," Cardozo said.

Regulation is also part of the cost conundrum, he added. "We have to take a look at existing ABA rules and some New York State rules, because I think there are some significant impediments."

The ABA is considering whether its accreditation standards are driving up legal education costs, Silkenat said, and a report on that topic by the ABA's Task Force on the Future of Legal Education is due out next month. "If they do result in higher costs, we'll get rid of them," he said. — The National Law Journal


Litigating With Wit — Most legal writing tends to be rather dry, but occasionally an attorney breaks the mold with such panache, the document begs to be shared.

Such is the case with a letter penned by Vermont attorney Andrew Delaney in response to a threat of legal action for alleged copyright infringement. Delaney, a partner at Martin & Associates in Barre, Va., represents Greg Thatcher, founder of a website that publishes bank routing numbers as a public service.

With sarcastic comments and amusing footnotes that even include a reference to the Spice Girls, Delaney spells out his legal argument for why no infringement has occurred. The letter needs to be read in its entirety for its full effect. But the closing paragraph certainly demonstrates the overall tone:

"If you do feel it's necessary to sue our client, we are open Monday through Friday from 8:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. and we have lollipops for people who serve process. So if you do file a complaint and send someone over with a summons, please have them wear something with a bit of purple … we all like purple."

Delaney wrote the letter to Covington & Burling attorney Nigel Howard, who represents the American Bankers Association — the organization that alleged copyright infringement and sent Thatcher a takedown notice. Although Thatcher was convinced he did nothing wrong because he obtained his data from the Federal Reserve, he removed the information from his site, noting on the page that it was "unavailable due to legal action."

Delaney has not yet received a response from Howard (who was also unavailable for comment). But Thatcher wrote on his website that the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a prominent San Francisco-based nonprofit that focuses on digital rights, has contacted Delaney and said it was impressed with his letter and would be interested in helping out. — Corporate Counsel