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April Book of the Month: The Library Book

library-book-medThe Library Book
By Susan Orlean
Reviewed by Courtney Nguyen, Reference Librarian

Fire. Stolen books. Lawsuits. Threats of eviction. Lack of funding.

Susan Orlean writes about nearly everything that a library fears in The Library Book, her fascinating and deeply researched account of the 1986 fire that destroyed the Central Public Library of Los Angeles. Like the best modern public libraries, Orlean’s extraordinary book is difficult to define: The Library Book is a true crime story of an unsolved arson case from the 1980s; a chronicle of the Los Angeles Public Library and her colorful directors, librarians, and patrons; a study of the evolving role of the library in American society; and a memoir of a lifelong reader and library patron. The sprawling cast of characters includes an aspiring actor with a penchant for lying (and perhaps fire); an eighteen-year-old female library director whose father had to walk her home from work because of her age; and a librarian who sneakily read “dangerous” books kept locked in a metal cage in the basement during her lunch break. All of these elements and more come together to form a sweeping panorama of the public library’s unique place in the community and people’s lives.

Just as a library contains different subjects and genres to appeal to a wide audience, so too does Orlean offer something for everyone by looking at the fire and the institution of libraries from various and oftentimes surprising angles. The chapter devoted to the actual April 29, 1986 blaze rivals the intensity of any action film, while her sobering examination of the practice of book burning frames the fire in a new devastating light. Orlean’s search for the possible arsonist is as riveting as any true crime serial, and her journalism background moves to the forefront as she follows suspects, detectives, firemen, city attorneys, and those charged with dealing with the aftermath of the destruction. Library enthusiasts can delight in the (often cheeky) card catalog headings that open each chapter before reading about the inner workings of a modern public library and what librarians actually do all day. Orlean’s book also serves as a history of the library and Los Angeles from the 1800s to the present-day, for a history of a public library will inevitably also be a history of a city and a community.

Orlean writes that “[A] library is as much a portal as it is a place—it is a transit point, a passage.” The same could be said of her book, which serves as both a record of fires and eccentric librarians as well as a portal to thinking about the importance and future of libraries. The book makes a strong case for the idea that libraries are embedded in a city physically and mentally—physically in the form of the actual buildings as well as through the constant transportation of library materials to the different branches, running like veins through the city; and mentally in the knowledge they guard and the memories they hold for both lifelong and casual patrons. Perhaps we are biased, but The Library Book is essential reading for everyone in any community. Find this book in its natural habitat at a public library today, including ours.

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March Book of the Month: The Legal Career

The Legal CareerThe Legal Career: Knowing the Business, Thriving in Practice
By Katrina Lee
Reviewed by Andrea Woods, Reference Librarian

The Legal Career: Knowing the Business, Thriving in Practice is a useful new book from West Academic Publishing that provides a thorough examination of the state of the legal industry today. It is oriented toward law students and aims to help them understand the business of law and how to navigate within the legal profession as they set out on their careers. This book is also appropriate for new lawyers or those with an interest in evaluating the changes that have occurred in law and better positioning themselves for a successful career.

Author Katrina Lee is well-versed in the legal profession. She is a San Francisco native who attended UC Berkeley, became an equity partner in a large law firm, served on the Board of Directors of the Bar Association of San Francisco, and is now an associate clinical professor at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. With her vast experience, she takes readers on an insiders’ tour of the legal industry, beginning with the traditional law firm business model, and then exploring how legal process outsourcing and legal services outsourcing have transformed the modern practice of law. Lee goes on to examine how in-house practice is evolving and also drives further change in the legal field in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Subsequent chapters cover the seismic advances in legal technology that have transpired, changes in ethics and the unauthorized practice of law as some states move to allow legal technicians, how the legal field is changing to serve low and middle income people, innovations in legal education to equip new lawyers for this brave new world, and finally, how to find satisfaction and even happiness amid the pressures and stress of law practice.

In all, The Legal Career is exceptional in the amount of detail and insight it provides into the inner workings of the legal profession and the fast-paced changes that are currently shaking it up. Most notable are the in-depth interviews that Lee conducts with industry insiders that span everyone from knowledge management professionals and legal tech entrepreneurs, to Big Law associates and “alternative model law firm” founders. This invaluable insider information is the gem of the book.

The Legal Career was kindly donated to the Law Library by author Katrina Lee.


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February Book of the Month: Becoming

BecomingBecoming
By Michelle Obama
Reviewed by Ruth Geos, Reference Librarian

Even if you don’t remember the fist-bump, begin with the beginning of Becoming and you will hear the vivid voice of a first-class storyteller with a full tale to tell. She is not just the former First Lady here but a narrator with a fascinating perspective of time and place. Michelle LaVaughn Obama describes growing up in a loving family in the South Side of Chicago, with her own evolution from a feisty little girl always ready for the next challenge, to Princeton and then to Harvard Law School, and — skipping ahead, as we already know — eventually to the White House, with her own initiatives and advocacy as First Lady over the two terms of the Obama administration. The Preface is an exceptional essay in itself, with an articulate grace and the kind of direct honesty that every good story needs, and history demands:

…until recently, I was the First Lady of the United States of America—a job that’s not officially a job, but that nonetheless has given me a platform like nothing I could have imagined. It challenged me and humbled me, lifted me up and shrank me down, sometimes all at once. I’m just beginning to process what took place these last years — from the moment in 2006 when my husband first started talking about running for president to the cold morning this winter when I climbed into a limo with Melania Trump, accompanying her to her husband’s inauguration. It’s been quite a ride…

It’s an intriguing story, starting with Becoming Me (the other sections are Becoming Us, and Becoming More) — a personal recounting of growing up in a largely African-American community, beginning to understand her own close family dynamics and community, and seeing how the history of deep discrimination had thwarted dreams and desires in her family and across the South Side. The story she weaves is anything but didactic, but a clear tracing of the cumulative impact of discrimination, such as how one grandfather’s dreams to be an electrician and to get a good union job were blocked, and others in her family circle limited to work in which there was no way to rise and push ahead.

Of course, before the White House lawn becomes a model garden, there are miles to go — piano recitals, marriage and children, campaigns, and many high-level professional positions. Ultimately, Becoming is a narrative of one woman’s intelligence, frustrations, humor, style, and perspicacity, with an inborn jolt of courage and personal daring, across history and her own personal way. Not the least, it also offers a fresh reminder of eight years of a White House not that long ago—and an altogether fascinating read. As Mrs. Obama says: “Your story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own.”


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January Book of the Month: Representing Children in Dependency and Family Court

Representing ChildrenRepresenting Children in Dependency and Family Court: Beyond the Law
By Rebecca M. Stahl and Philip M. Stahl​
Reviewed by Andrea Woods, Reference Librarian

Representing Children in Dependency and Family Court: Beyond the Law is a thoughtful new book from the ABA that guides legal representatives of children in dependency and family court through the professional and emotional challenges they will encounter. As the subtitle indicates, it takes readers “beyond the law” and delves into the complex psychological issues that children experience prior to and during these proceedings that their lawyers must understand. Authors Rebecca and Philip Stahl begin by examining the unique attributes that a child’s representative must have, noting that they need a fundamental curiosity about their child clients and a willingness to understand their motivations, feelings, and experiences. Only with this deeper level understanding of the child’s perspective can a lawyer adequately inform the judge what decisions the court should make, and the authors emphasize that the judge’s entire comprehension of the child will come from the lawyer’s ability to know and communicate the child’s views. In fact, the authors urge a new interpretation of the lawyer’s role, in which the lawyer uses the concept of an imaginary friend to guide their representation. In this model, the child retains a sense of autonomy and is able to use the lawyer to make sense of the adult world. This is especially relevant for children who are enmeshed in high-conflict situations, in which their parents are likely to put their own needs before their children’s.

The authors’ discussion of psychological issues provides the bulk of the book’s content, and it covers in detail trauma, child development, the impact of domestic violence on children, high-conflict separation and divorce, alienated-resistant children, and special circumstances such as neglect, immigration status, oppositional defiant disorder, and sexual abuse. Readers will benefit from the authors’ expertise with these complicated topics. With a thorough understanding of the ways that psychological issues manifest themselves both emotionally and physically, and what conditions are needed for a child to heal and recover, the lawyer can learn the proper way to communicate with their client and provide the best representation possible. The authors note that trauma-sensitive interviewing requires considerable patience and self-regulation on the part of the lawyer, and an awareness of the child’s reaction so that the representative can help the child client release emotion but also move forward. Again, the authors emphasize how critical it is for a child’s representative to understand why a child behaves in a certain way, rather than to focus on what the problematic behavior is.

The last three chapters of the book are devoted to the personal and professional challenges that a child’s representative will experience directly—ethical issues, bias, and personal impact. The authors acknowledge that the ethical issues are bound to be unique because of the tendency for the child’s representative to be the only legally trained person on the case other than the judge, as more and more litigants in these types of proceedings represent themselves. Furthermore, there is an inherent tension between the best interests of the child model and the child client’s personal autonomy that the lawyer must navigate. The authors’ comprehensive discussion of the types of bias that a child’s representative must grapple with is insightful and recognizes the difficulty of this type of work. They observe that children’s lawyers must be so fully trained in understanding bias that they can also recognize the biases of their own clients, unlike other areas of law practice where this is not necessary. Finally, the authors discuss the emotional and physical toll that representing children in dependency and family cases will have on their lawyers. With an understanding of how legal practice differs from healing professions, and the resulting limitations in terms of what children’s representatives can do that they must accept, the authors provide thoughtful advice on how to avoid compassion fatigue and continue to find reward in representing children. The authors do not suggest that there are easy ways to reconcile these personal and professional issues, but their knowledge and the breadth of their experience in representing children provides ample guidance.


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December Book of the Month: Corporations Are Not People

Corporations Are Not PeopleCorporations Are Not People: Reclaiming Democracy from Big Money and Global Corporations
By Jeffrey D. Clements
Reviewed by Aaron Parsons, Reference Librarian

In Corporations Are Not People, author and San Francisco Law Library MCLE speaker Jeffrey Clements argues for and enlists readers’ help in passing a Constitutional Amendment to overturn Citizens United. This 2010 Supreme Court decision invalidated or weakened campaign finance laws like McCain-Feingold, and has allowed billions of dollars in corporate funded influence and “attack ads” to drown out average citizens’ voices, ideas, and opinions, in favor of narrow and powerful moneyed interests. This corporate influence, Clements argues, produces an anathema to the democratic protections that were written into our Constitution “of the people, for the people, and by the people.”

Clements discusses similar historical upswings of organized corporatism and traces the current tide as the long-term effect of a push back against environmentalists beginning with the first Earth Day in 1970. The corporate response was an organized attempt to curtail environmental and other regulation, and was led by Lewis Powell—a corporate lawyer and tobacco corporation executive, who would take a new wave of corporate activism onto the U.S. Supreme Court where he wrote corporation-favoring precursor cases to Citizens United, such as First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti. Under Powell’s influence, corporations “gained vastly increased political power at the expense of average citizens.”

But what is a corporation, and what are corporate rights, asks Clements? He says that, strangely, the definition of a corporation is left vague and described in “word clouds” in Citizens United and other decisions that Justice John Paul Stevens called “glittering generalities.” These generalities allow corporations, as government created entities, to wear sheep’s clothing at the same table that people enjoy, where they are protected by laws, including the Bill of Rights. Clements provides statistics showing the billions spent on lobbying and on saturation advertising in elections by a handful of corporations. He argues that those efforts promote the interests of a few giant corporations at the expense of both conservative and liberal points of view.

Clements offers many resources and avenues to get involved in changing government to work more effectively for the people instead of for a few massive corporations, including his organization, American Promise, that seeks to enact a 28th Amendment to the Constitution and is backed by an increasing number of states, politicians, and Americans from across the political spectrum.

Corporations Are Not People was generously donated to the Library by Mr. Clements.


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Book Review: The Case of Rose Bird

Rose BirdThe Case of Rose Bird: Gender, Politics, and the California Courts
By Kathleen A. Cairns
Reviewed by Richard Schulke, Reference Librarian

The Case of Rose Bird: Gender, Politics, and the California Courts is a timely look at political activism aimed at members of the Judiciary. It recounts the circumstances that led to the removal of Rose Bird as Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court.

This book begins by looking at Rose Bird’s early triumphs during high school and law school, followed by her milestone achievements as the first female law clerk for the Nevada Supreme Court, the first female deputy public defender in Santa Clara County, and the first woman to hold a cabinet position in California.

The book follows Bird’s appointment to the position of Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court in 1977 by a then forty-year-old Governor Jerry Brown—she was both the Court’s first female justice and its first female Chief Justice—and then a series of three attempts to recall her. The attempts ultimately succeeded, and in November of 1986 she was the first Chief Justice of California to be recalled by the voters.

The author examines the then-current politics that made Bird a lightning rod—her liberalism, gender, and the perception that she was soft on crime. The author also takes an in-depth look at Bird’s political opponents and the take-no-prisoner attitude that ultimately resulted in her downfall through political machinations. It is as chilling now as it was then.

The description of Bird’s final years as a broken person battling unsuccessfully against medical issues and early death is a sad ending to her story.

Current events make clear that the issue of “Judicial Politics” is still a hot potato. We recently witnessed both the removal of Judge Aaron Persky following his controversial decision to impose a sentence of only six months for a Stanford student convicted of rape, and the political maneuvering during the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court. This fascinating exploration of Rose Bird and the turbulent beginning of judicial politics in California is still just as relevant today.

The Case of Rose Bird was generously donated to the Library by John Kelly.


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November Book of the Month: Tax, Estate, and Financial Planning for the Elderly

Tax, Estate, and Financial Planning for the ElderlyTax, Estate, and Financial Planning for the Elderly
By John J. Regan, Rebecca C. Morgan, David M. English & H. Amos Goodall, Jr.
Reviewed by Ruth Geos, Reference Librarian

In June of this year, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg announced that she doesn’t plan to retire for at least another five years, when she will be 90. She is one not defined by her age, but by the force of her being, good health, and personal strength.

For the rest of those who are looking ahead to retirement or facing changes in their way of life, finances, health, and control as they age, no book would be a better start than this one volume. It has no fancy cover, no pictures, and no forms. But it does contain a wealth of information aimed at both individuals looking for answers within the maze of legal and financial issues that arise, and attorneys developing the highly specialized practice of Elder Law with practical techniques and insight into the intertwining of issues and family context. Indeed, the very organization of the book keeps both parts of the practice clearly in sight. Each chapter begins with a short synopsis of the topic, with the kind of basic questions everyone wants to know (such as, how does a ROTH IRA differ from a traditional IRA? See § 2.06), and then expands into a full analysis of the type of asset protection, governmental or private benefit program, along with legal and psychological issues, and citations to statutes, regulations, cases, and other authority for additional research. It is an impressive source for both attorney and client.

Individual chapters address the major areas of law and top areas of concern: Social Security Benefits; Veterans’ Benefits; Private Pensions; Income Tax; Housing Concerns; Property Management during Incapacity; Health Care Rights and Decisions; Nursing Homes; Guardians and Conservators, Estate Planning, and Elder Abuse. Each topic includes a thorough summary of rights, a clear organization and analysis of the distinctions within a complex benefits program, such as Social Security, SSI, or Medicaid, which provides a clarity that is hard to find—not too simplified to be useful, and not just litigation-based to limit the kind of information that a full counseling requires. Tax issues are folded in as an intrinsic aspect of each topic, and a separate chapter on Financial Planning includes an extensive checklist to both assist clients and to aid the attorney in being comprehensive in making suggestions and building a strategy together.

person writing on paper

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

The authors consistently emphasize the role of communication and counseling. This defined approach is infused with a depth of empathy and psychological awareness of the fact that the primary goal of most clients is to maintain personal autonomy over their lives, and that the financial and legal issues that come up should be approached with that goal of empowerment. The publication is bookended by a first chapter on counseling the client and an introduction to the special focus required for elder law issues—including the need to create a productive atmosphere in the office to best exchange information—and ends with a last chapter on ethical issues and representation. Throughout, the authors describe building a relationship between attorney and client where the attorney provides information not only on the specific issue brought to the meeting, but also includes other useful information and resources, such as how to organize documents, disaster planning, and information on local community and agency services, senior centers, and other supportive organizations. It sets a high standard for the type and level of competence needed for an elder law practice, including a deep and wide knowledge about private and governmental benefit programs, legal and tax issues, financial planning—all connected to a wider social context, for the fullest representation possible.

For individuals bravely looking ahead on their own, this is also a source to light the way.

Tax, Estate, and Financial Planning for the Elderly is available in print at the San Francisco Law Library. A wide range of other elder law materials, including CA-specific treatises and various model forms can be found on the San Francisco Law Library’s LibGuide to elder law—or ask a Reference Librarian.