Friday, April 10, 2015

Tell the Unviersity of Alberta Faculty of Law to #SaveSteve

A friend posted the above on his facebook feed, and a couple of professors at the law school have been tweeting about it.

Evidently, Steve, the guy who sells coffee at the "Hello My Friend Cafe" in the student lounge at the University of Alberta Faculty of Law, has had his lease terminated, with less than a month's notice.

People are upset.  If that's hard to understand, let me try to help.

Everyone in the legal profession goes to law school. Not everyone has a class together, or shares a professor, or studies together. But everybody who attended the U of A Faculty of Law has had their day made better by Steve from Hello My Friend Cafe.

He is a shared experience for us.  A touchstone.

He was not selling coffee and tea, so much as selling comfort.  As a second year with a newborn at home, I couldn't have made it without him. And if you didn't have the money for it, he just gave it away on a promise.

He knew you were good for it, and he was happy to tell you that he trusted you precisely because you were going to be a lawyer. Some people, if you heard them say that, you would think they meant that you were going to be able to afford it.  Somehow, when he said it, you knew that he meant you were trustworthy.

I am personally hurt at the idea that they would kick him out without so much as giving him a month's notice.

The faculty ought to pay the guy to stay there, and sell coffee, and give every student 1 credit for a part-time course in customer service. I aspire to be as good at customer services as he is.

To lose him is stupid, and impoverishes the law school community.  To dismiss him in this way is disrespectful of his contribution to the community.  He deserves so much better.

Please, if you are one of the people who has this shared experience, please tell the Faculty of Law that Steve deserves better, and that none of us deserve Steve, but that we have an opportunity to keep him around a bit longer.

Six Sigma won't help you estimate costs for flat fees.

I recently read a white paper suggesting that six sigma techniques could be used to improve the "process" of estimating the costs of providing legal services (in lawyers' hours, obviously).

It strikes me as all kinds of wrong-headed.  There are things that six sigma can do.  But it is most useful when it deals with an output that can be measured, that has a normally-distributed variation, and where you control the factors that affect the variation.

Your success in estimating client costs in, for example, a litigation matter, fails on the last two.  There is no reason to believe that the costs of a law suit are normally distributed.  And there are myriad factors involved over which the lawyer has no control.

The differences between suing someone and making a widget are so massive that it's hard to see why you would ever hope to get an answer from one for the other.

The analogy is not to widget manufacturing.  The analogy is to something more along the lines of weather forecasting.  You get better at it the shorter the time horizon you apply, and we only understand it well enough to predict approximately the next week unless the pattern you are following is certain type of massive disaster.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Nonsense on Mental Health at the Alberta Court of Appeal

I read with interest a commentary on the case of R v Maier, 2015 ABCA 59, by Glen Luther Q.C. and Dr. Mansfield Mela.

It discusses the way a person who is mentally ill but not to the threshold of lacking criminal responsibility for their crimes is treated in sentencing.  The authors object, correctly, to the individual's mental illness not being treated as a mitigating factor in sentencing on the basis that the patient has failed to obtain treatment for it, and to the use of the individual's long criminal history as an aggravating factor, when that history is likely a result of the mental illness.

Imagine for a moment I could give you a drug, which had two effects.  The first effect was that it deprived you of rational decision making.  You would believe things that were false, and you would be unable to reason.  The second effect, and this is very important, is that you would not notice that anything was different with you at all.

Your experience on taking this drug would be of the rest of the world being delusional and accusing you of being impaired somehow.  No wonder you wouldn't seek treatment.

That is what it is like to have a mental illness that deprives you of insight into your condition.  You may know that under general circumstances it is wrong to obstruct police officers.  But when you believe, with a certainty that seems only available to people suffering from mental illness, that the police officer is going to kill someone, what you know in general about right and wrong ceases to matter much.

In R v Maier, the Alberta Court of Appeal distinguished the case from two in which the accused was seeking treatment for their illness.  Instead, the Court drew an analogy to a case in which the person had murdered someone.  The Court chose to view the reasoning in the murder case as suggesting that the mental illness was not a mitigating factor because it was not being treated, as opposed to because it was not being treated and it was making the accused kill people.

Did I mention? Mr. Maier was on trial for spitting. Not murder.

With all due respect to the Court of Appeal, that is nonsense.

This quote from R v Harris, 2002 BCPC 0033, which is quoted by Mr. Luther and Dr. Mela, is important:
The cognitively challenged are before our courts in unknown numbers. We prosecute them again and again and again. We sentence them again and again and again. We imprison them again and again and again. They commit crimes again and again and again. We wonder why they do not change. The wonder of it all is that we do not change.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Can Prentice Call an Election? Yes. But...

The CBC reports that lawyer Tom Engle has filed an application for an injunction against the Premier calling a snap election before the fixed election date.

Article: Court challenge filed in attempt to stop Alberta snap election

I was sceptical at first, but I think Engle may have a point. The legislation is quite categorical.

The problem is that Engle correctly claims that an early election can always be called by the LG if there is a lack of confidence. And a lack of confidence is a thing that a majority government can manufacture, if necessary.  So all this legislation actually requires the government to do is vote against itself in the legislature, and the fixed election date law is meaningless.

It would be perhaps more intellectually honest to just repeal the law.

But rest assured, even if Mr. Engel wins his application, there will still be an election.