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Archive for January, 2013

The Law School Blues

Ugh. The comments section is particularly rich.

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The Times editorial page expressed its support for a strong Mount Laurel doctrine, as Governor Christie continued seeking to dismantle New Jersey’s Council on Affordable Housing (COAH). Christie also vetoed the latest incarnation of the foreclosure land-bank for affordable housing, but he seems open to a possible reworking of its objectives through new legislation.

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Good News for Independent Attorneys

The New Jersey Supreme Court has accepted last year’s recommendation from the Professional Responsibility Rules Committee and relaxed the bona fide office rule. This change should facilitate simpler, less expensive, and more tech-smart ways to operate small firms. Meanwhile, the I.R.S. is simplifying the tax deduction process for costs associated with home-based offices.

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Sexist, Union-Busting Creeps

Erin Hatton, a University at Buffalo sociology professor, makes a compelling case that the temp industry played a disproportionate role in creating the American dystopia of the white-collar office:

“For example, in 1971 the recently renamed Kelly Services ran a series of ads in The Office, a human resources journal, promoting the “Never-Never Girl,” who, the company claimed: “Never takes a vacation or holiday. Never asks for a raise. Never costs you a dime for slack time. (When the workload drops, you drop her.) Never has a cold, slipped disc or loose tooth. (Not on your time anyway!) Never costs you for unemployment taxes and Social Security payments. (None of the paperwork, either!) Never costs you for fringe benefits. (They add up to 30% of every payroll dollar.) Never fails to please. (If your Kelly Girl employee doesn’t work out, you don’t pay.)”

Never Never Girl - KellyOh, how nice. I worked as a temp paralegal in New York City for a while after college, in a workplace that my friend Adam accurately described as a white-collar salt mine: 12-hour workdays, no benefits, rules against speaking (supposedly, a firable offense). On one occasion, a seventy-some-year-old man (presumably, unable to retire) threw up all over himself and his workstation, rather than risk going to the bathroom or (God forbid!) miss a day of work when he was sick. All this occurred in the Midtown offices of a white-shoe corporate law firm. Of course, even temp paralegaling in Midtown had a set of perks that wouldn’t be offered to temps at, say, a billing office in Toledo: We got free little glass bottles of Sanpellegrino, passable comped meals at the firm cafeteria, black-car service home to the suburbs on late nights, and a 34th floor view of Manhattan — not to mention what seemed (as a recent college graduate) to be good compensation for our time. But when the case we were working on looked like it might settle, they fired us all by phone, and cancelled the key-card privileges to the building. No “thank you” from the firm. No offer of a reference letter. In fact, we were curtly informed that we were not to contact the employer for any reason after leaving, and that we could pick up our belongings from the office of the temp agency. So, I should probably express my gratitude to the partners at the firm where I worked for providing me an early object lesson on why big corporate law sucks. And it’s not hard for me to believe that the temp industry, and the lawyers who work with it, have been central to replicating degrading working conditions for people across the U.S.

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Triangle FireI found this chilling contemporary account of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, from a 1911 issue of McClure’s magazine. In addition to providing a minute-by-minute description of the tragedy (which killed 146 garment workers — mostly young Jewish and Italian girls from the Lower East Side — and spurred the rise of the labor movement in New York City), the article offers an incredibly detailed description of the use and misuse of industrial buildings in Manhattan, and the building codes that existed, at the beginning of the twentieth century. As heartbreaking and infuriating as the story is, I couldn’t stop reading it.

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Scales and Lamp USSCThere were no reported land use or zoning decisions from the New Jersey appeals courts this week. Among unpublished cases, there was just one that centered on land use: Ingenito v. Point Pleasant Beach Z.B.A., a January 22nd per curiam opinion from an Appellate Division panel. It was actually a pretty interesting case. It began as a dispute about whether one of two structures on a residential-zoned parcel could be used to carry on a home-based business, without its owner first obtaining a D-variance from the local board. The plaintiffs, neighbors, pleaded their case on the theory that the business, a yoga studio, was being conducted in an accessory structure, rather than in the primary one, and that the use therefore failed to meet the precise definition of a home-based business. The trial court agreed with the plaintiffs and sent the matter back to the Z.B.A. for a variance proceeding. The court then accepted the variance that the Board subsequently issued. The plaintiffs appealed. Here, the A.D. sided with the defendants — the property owners and the Z.B.A. — finding that the business was being conducted in one of two primary structures, and that, accordingly, no variance had ever been required. In addition, the panel held that even if the variance had been required, the trial court’s blessing of that variance had been proper. The temporary New Jersey Courts link is alive for now, but the opinion will be archived at the Rutgers Law Library next week.

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In Canada and Hong Kong, apparently. It’s interesting. I’m kind of suspicious of these straightforward economic analyses of housing, though. They never seem to account for the artificial shortages that are created by calcified land use regulations in otherwise thriving regions. All of the supposed bubbles are in densely-populated, highly-regulated regions. I’m not an economist, but it seems to me that the combination of growing demand and constrained supplies will distort the prices of individual units upward; and that when one’s social and professional ties are concentrated in a particular region, then housing there is not a very elastic commodity. That is to say, cheaper housing that lies beyond the socializing/commuting frontier is just not a plausible alternative. Also, while creating a ratio between rents and purchasing costs might make for a useful rubric, the apparent disparities between the two may simply represent discrete snapshots in time, along a continuum of alternation between the two eternal models of housing occupancy. Right? Thoughts from readers more quantitatively-inclined than I am — and that would be most — would be appreciated.

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