woman in airport

Longer Lines, Coming to an Airport Near You

If you think the lines at airport baggage checks are unbearably long, I have some bad news for you. TSA announced stronger security measures that require domestic US travelers to separate all electronics larger than a cell phone in bins for X-ray screening. This excludes TSA Pre-Check lanes. So far, TSA has implemented the rule in only 10 airports, but is planning on expanding it to the rest of America in the following months.

The announcement of this new program should not come as a surprise. Just last March, former Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, and current White House Chief of Staff, implemented a new set of security measures for US-bound travelers from 10 airports in the Middle East and North Africa. Airlines from these airports have been barred from allowing passengers to bring their laptops and any other large electronic devices into the cabin. While this “laptop ban” has caused the 325,000 passengers a day who arrive in the US major some major headaches, Secretary Kelly is convinced that “it is time that we raise the global baseline of aviation security. We cannot play aviation whack-a-mole with each new threat.”

These new security measurements for US-bound travelers from overseas may also include an increase in K-9 units, greater security presence, or the use of new electronic monitoring devices. Unfortunately the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has not been specific with what these new security measures are; their favorite term is “enhanced screening,” which could not be more vague. The goal is to establish a global standard, but according to a senior DHS official, the security changes will vary from airport to airport, and it will be the responsibility of the airlines to specify what the rules are to travelers.

The DHS has remained unclear about the state of security for inbound flights, as well as the future of airport security in the United States. As of right now, people will have to get used to longer TSA checks for domestic flights; the number of items that we will have to unpack then pack has increased. But what about flights that leave the United States? Will people on outbound flights be able to bring laptops and any other large electronic devices with them into the flight cabin?

While the specifics are unclear, there is no doubt that whatever DHS decides will be the official security plan, millions of domestic and international travelers will be affected. But for now, do unto your fellow domestic travelers as you would have them do unto you: keep your large electronics together so that you can quickly get through security. Don’t waste time. Otherwise, the already infamous American airport is on track to becoming an even more hellish place.

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courthouse painting lawdecoder

How to Become a Lawyer for Only $6,000

John Marshall, the fourth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, and Mike Ross, a leading character from USA’s hit legal show, Suits, are more alike than some may believe. Although Marshall has been dead for almost 200 years, and Ross is merely a fictional Hollywood creation, they share a unique, and very legitimate, path to the practice of law: lawyers are not required to attend law school.

Instead of securing a JD degree, aspiring lawyers in California, Virginia, Vermont, and Washington can serve for a practicing attorney and judge as an apprentice, take the bar exam, and become 100% eligible to practice law. How is that possible? This unconventional and largely unknown shortcut to the professional legal world has been around since colonial America. Shortly after Great Britain created the 13 colonies, lawyers were sent to North America from England, where these professionals gained expertise through an apprenticeship program called the Inns of Court. Most simply, this system allowed people to practice law if they just connected with a working lawyer for mentorship and training.

This process eventually evolved into another type of apprentice system in New York by the 1730s. All American lawyers had to not only finish a seven-year clerkship, but also pass a state-administered bar exam for full eligibility; students either enrolled in college to pass the exam or relied on self-study. While people found this combination of self-study for the bar exam and apprenticeship to be very rigorous, it took the next 140 years to change the system to what it is today.

The American Bar Association (ABA) was founded in 1878. This organization did not agree with the self-study aspect, and fought for a system that promoted a uniform code of ethics. They believed that in order to establish an impartial institution, national standards needed to exist. The ABA tirelessly campaigned the idea that every state should only allow law school students to take the bar exam.

The ABA was successful in most states, but California, Virginia, Vermont, and Washington slipped through the cracks. As a result, they are the only states that consider apprenticeships as the minimum requirement for taking the bar exam. The benefits of this shortcut are obvious: apprentices do not have to take out hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of loans to afford law school, nor do they have to spend years working a lucrative job to pay off their enormous debt. Additionally, apprenticeships are active-learning opportunities and allows people to see how law operates in the real world, not just learn in a classroom setting.

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*Top five law schools, according to U.S. News’ Best Law Schools Ranking 2017

There are some drawbacks too. The most prestigious law firms only recruit from top-tier schools, leaving those who took the apprenticeship route with a limited number of career choices. Partly due to the efforts of the ABA, modern society has turned into a degree-obsessed environment that no longer accepts the oldest path to practicing law. Even some of the states that allow apprenticeships to replace law schools, such as California, purposefully hide information about this alternative method, making it difficult to find out about apprenticeship programs. Christina Oatfield, an undergraduate from Berkeley, found out about an apprenticeship under California’s Law Office Study Program after she received her undergraduate degree. She said, “The state bar doesn’t advertise this program really well… There is info on their website, but you really have to search for it to find it.”

The number of people who have chosen apprenticeship over law school since 1996 to 2014 is 1,142. Within that small group, only 305 have passed the bar exam. When comparing the pass rates of apprentices and of those who attend ABA-approved law schools (71.1%), apprenticeships seems like a lot of work for a relatively small return. Bar exam pass rates for apprentices are usually pretty low, as they range from 18% to 33%, but they are tied with the pass rates of those who attend non ABA-approved law schools (26.7%) and are not too far behind those of students from law schools outside the US (34.6%). These stats show that a classic law education never guarantees a successful bar exam!

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Law school is not for everyone. Some need a traditional classroom setting and structure, while others prefer hands-on work experience to learn the skills they need in the real world. While the practice of law is not entirely accepting of this unconventional path to taking the bar exam, it must be comforting to know that there is a cheaper and more vocational route for the John Marshalls and Mike Rosses in this world.

paperwork

The Problem with E-Signatures

Throughout elementary school, I remember I had ten different versions of my signature. Some were decorated with smiley faces, others had giant swirls at the end of each letter, and the remaining versions just had a single letter with intricate circles surrounding it. All of them were terrible and overwhelmingly complicated, but each one I was able to claim as my own and share with restaurants and shops as a form of identification. It was also fun to dramatically scribble on a piece of paper.

I have since grown out of that phase and now only use one boring signature, mostly because I don’t have enough time to craft an intricate design whenever I need to sign along a dotted line. The rest of the world has also adopted the same attitude of rushing through things, especially now that society uses “e-signatures” to consent to an official document, whether that is a marriage license or a credit card receipt.

The concept of “digital signatures” was first introduced in 1869, when it became legally accepted to send signatures via telegraph. It wasn’t until the 1980s when the topic of copied signatures resurfaced; during the rise of the fax machine, courts declared faxed signed documents to be valid. Finally in the year 2000, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (also known as the E-Sign Act). This law “… allows the use of electronic records to satisfy any statute, regulation, or rule of law requiring that such information be provided in writing, if the consumer has affirmatively consented to such use and has not withdrawn such consent.” In other words, electronic signatures are legally binding.

The E-Sign Act prompted many programs to come up with their own e-signature features, such as DocuSign and CoSign. Thanks to these tools, companies can save millions of dollars because people no longer have to spend money on FedEx deliveries and printing supplies to ship a document and have it signed. All they have to do is send an email. E-signatures also save time!

The rules governing electronic signatures vary from country to country; one type of document that accepts electronic signature in one country may not be the case for another. In the United States, “the E-Sign Act and most state laws exclude real property transfers, wills and some legally required notices to consumers.” On the other hand, the EU has two different types of electronic signatures. One is for basic transactions (which cannot be denied legal effect solely based on their electronic form) and the other is for more advanced agreements (these electronic signatures include unique identification measures to make sure the signer is the correct individual and to validate the certificate).

The convenience of electronic signatures in the United States also comes at a price, of course. If official documents that are not handled through e-signature vendors like DocuSign and CoSign, can be signed digitally, and therefore, remotely, how can people verify that the right people signed the documents? In the Adams v. Superior Court of Orange County (2010) court case, Lynn Adams applied to work for Quicksilver and was told that she had to pass an online background check in order to complete her hiring process. When she received a link from a Quicksilver employee to the online background check form, she found that her name was filled out next to the statement, “By typing my name, I fully understand the above Notice and Authorization.” Adams testified that she did not sign the document, and the people who had access to the link were the ones who had done it. The court found that there wasn’t enough proof to say that Adams signed the document, and sided in Adams’s favor.

Adams won the case, but the decision fails to address some of the concerns the case raised. What happens to contracts and documents that are being signed without the intended signer’s’ knowledge? If a random person can potentially sign any document for anyone, are those documents no longer valid? And if an electronic signature does not necessarily belong to any one person, what will stop people from pulling out from an agreement they no longer want to be a part of by dishonestly arguing that they did not sign the document in the first place?

While people are more efficient by using electronic signatures, there are risks that may cost companies and individuals even more time and money than they are saving. DocuSign and other e-signature vendors that provide extra security are solutions to this problem, but they are not enough. Without any universal measure for authentication, our signature no longer belongs to us alone, but rather to everyone who knows our name. Until the US adopts a more secure option, like the EU’s authentication requirements for advanced agreements, e-signatures will never be the ideal option.

television hollywood law

Lights, Camera, Action

One of the many cliche reasons to why people love watching movies is that it encourages escapism. For two hours, people are able to forget about their everyday routine and worries, and live in the experiences of fictional people and creatures. To be able to believe in stories that do not exist, audience members must suspend their belief for two hours and accept that the film’s universe may not make the most sense. But it becomes a problem when the picture on the silver screen is supposed to represent a real aspect of our society today, such as the legal system.

While many sci-fi films consult real physicists to make sure that characters are not describing absolutely false facts about space and time travel, this is not the case for movies and television shows about the law. These characters make illegal decisions and even make up certain laws:

“You got one call, son. Make it a good one.”

The “one phone call” rule in every arrest scene is merely a Hollywood invention. It just doesn’t exist. Some jails have payphones, but everyone who is arrested is entitled to as many phone calls as they want. As long as the person on the receiving line agrees to pay for it, you can call all your family members and friends if you wanted! If you ever find yourself watching a movie in which a middle-aged man hits rock bottom, finds himself in jail, and can only call one person to bail him out, please remember that the “one phone call” rule was created by some screenwriters with writer’s block to keep the movie going!

In a courtroom, orange is not the new black

Picture a courtroom scene from a movie or TV show. What is the defendant wearing? If you imagined him or her in an orange jumpsuit, that scenario is highly unlikely. An outfit like that with their hands chained to their sides will definitely bias the jury to think that the individual is a convict, even though he or she hasn’t been convicted of anything yet. That’s why they’re in court! The Supreme Court even ruled in Estelle v. Williams (1976) that “the State may not compel a defendant to appear for trial before a jury in identifiable prison or jail clothing.” A prisoner may choose to dress that way, but no one can prevent the defendant from dressing in normal civilian clothing.

Chill. Copies of official documents are just fine.

In the film, Changing Lanes, Ben Affleck leaves the official documents in a taxicab that will give him control over the foundation of his law firm. He FREAKS out, thinking that only official documents are admissible in court. In reality, that is absolutely not the case, because courts are aware that this world has fires, pets, sloppy interns, and other forces that can easily destroy and lose pieces of paper. Rule 1003 of the Federal Rules of Evidence states that “a duplicate is admissible to the same extent as the original unless a genuine question is raised about the original’s authenticity or the circumstances make it unfair to admit the duplicate.” So the lesson here is: keep calm, and photocopy every document you own.

No one wants a dramatic lawyer

In Hollywood, the law is a lot more lively than in real life. Screenwriters will plan courtroom scenes so that the Harvey Spector’s and Alicia Florrick’s of television and movies angrily pace up and down the courtroom, intimidate the witnesses at the stand, and start an argument with the opposing counsel. In reality, however, lawyers are more restrained and calm when defending their clients. Judges control all aspects of the courtroom, even the attitudes of those in it during a trial. That is why, the judge has the power to throw out anyone, including lawyers, if they move too much around the room without permission, get into heated arguments with one another, address the opposing counsel, or “object” to the opposing argument for reasons that are not for flaws in the legal reasoning.

These are only four of the many ways Hollywood has misrepresented the legal system. Forget the fast-paced timeline of Law and Order: SVU and the intense performance put on by Jim Carrey’s character in Liar, Liar. Everything that keeps your attention on these films and TV shows is just a way to make the legal system entertaining. So, if you ever find yourself dealing with the law as a lawyer, judge, juror, or any other person that belongs in a courtroom, don’t expect too much from your experience.

travel

Things to Know if You Ever Find Yourself in Alaska

Exactly ten years ago, the plane I took from California was forced to make an emergency landing in Alaska. I was only seven years old at the time, but I can still remember the captain announcing to the entire plane that a passenger had fallen sick and needed immediate medical attention. The flight attendants raced up and down the aisles to let everyone know that the stop in Alaska would only take an hour and that we would be on our way to our final destination.

Nope.

My family and I waited on the tarmac for several hours and ended up staying a night in a small Alaskan town before heading home. Back then, I didn’t understand why people began to grow restless and impatient with the crew; I was just happy that I got to watch more plane movies. Now at the age of twenty, and after years of reading articles similar to the ones about the recent United Airlines’ overbooked flight fiasco, I started realizing that I’ve been in so many situations at the airport that are questionable, and maybe even illegal. With intimidating TSA agents, cold immigration officers, and tired airport employees, it probably never occurs to most people that they have rights specifically to protect them from major airlines.

Where do these rights come from? When problems arise, your rights as passengers are protected not by consumer-friendly state laws, but rather by international treaties and other regulations. Most recently, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has started an initiative called “Enhancing Airline Passenger Protections” to strengthen these protections.

If you didn’t know already, here are your rights as an airline passenger:

Lost, Damaged, or Delayed Luggage

Up until 2010, the cost of a lost, damaged, or delayed bag that airlines had to pay was somewhere between $500 and $1000. Even if you were traveling with a computer that cost a couple thousand dollars, airlines only had to pay back a fraction of what the passenger lost. Thanks to the DOT, this limited range was extended so that airlines were obligated to pay up to $3,300 for any lost, damaged, or delayed luggage during domestic travels and up to $1,742 for international flights. You must submit receipts to the airline for all the items in the suitcase in order to get an exact compensation amount.

Delays and Cancellations

We all know that airlines just LOVE making their passengers wait in the airport. Knowing how frequent flight delays and cancellations are, it’s no surprise that there are no laws in the United States that prevent these unfortunate events from happening. Contrary to popular belief, however, no airline is obligated to provide meal vouchers or hotels for those stranded in the airport.

But for the people traveling within the European Union, delays and cancellations will get you some perks. Passengers are entitled to money for meals, refreshments, and two telephone calls when there is a considerable delay (two hours for short haul trips and four hours for long haul trips). If the delay is five or more hours, passengers are allowed to get a full reimbursement of the ticket.

Tarmac Delays

What is worse than waiting for a delayed flight in the airport is a tarmac delay. That is when passengers are waiting for the plane to take off inside the plane. After a record number of tarmac delays that lasted more than three hours in 2009 (a total of 535 delays over the span of 4 months), the DOT decided to implement a new rule: domestic planes cannot remain on the tarmac for more than three hours with passengers on board. If planes do not comply with this rule, the responsible airlines will be subject to a fine of $27,500 per passenger. International flights are allowed to remain idle on the tarmac for a maximum of four hours before facing a fine.

Additionally, passengers are entitled to an update about the status of the delay every 30 minutes, an opportunity to deplane if the plane door is voluntarily opened, snacks and water after two hours on the tarmac, and operable lavatories.

Remember, there is a limit to waiting.

Overbooking and Denied Boarding

When Ralph Nader was unable to give a speech in 1972 due to his overbooked flight, he brought the situation to the Supreme Court. He lost Nader v. Allegheny Airlines, giving commercial airlines a precedent that allows them to overbook flights. The DOT recognized that the power to forcibly deny boarding can place a major burden on passengers, so they implemented the following compensation for domestic flights based on the time it takes for the passenger to find a new flight:

0 to 1 hour delay: No compensation

1 to 2 hour delay: 200% of the one-way fare (up to $650)

Over 2 hours delay: 400% of the one-way fare (up to $1,300)

For international flights:

0 to 1 hour delay: No compensation

1 to 4 hour delay: 200% of the one-way fare (up to $650)

Over 4 hours delay: 400% of the one-way fare (up to $1,300)

It is hard to keep in mind your specific rights when you are desperate to get on a plane or get your lost bag back. In the moment, you will feel like you would do anything to get what you want. But passengers aren’t at the mercy of these airline companies. Make sure to know all your rights before your next trip; you never know when you might find yourself at an unexpected stop in Alaska.