Posted by: Ray Brescia | June 20, 2018

Uber, Scooters, and Digital Networks for Social Change

In a recent article in the New York Times,  tech reporter Farhad Manjoo discusses the impact that technology companies are having influencing local government policies.  He uses two examples in particular–the efforts by Uber to beat back local ordinances designed to rein the company in and a recent campaign by an electric bike company to fight off legislation designed to curb the spread of these devices–which highlight the power these companies appear to hold over local governments.  But part of the reason they hold so much power is that they are mobilizing constituencies of customers using the very platforms–the mobile apps through which they delivery there services–as delivery and coordination vehicles for political agitation.  In these ways, they are activating networks of supporters using new, digital tools to convert their economic muscle into political throw weight.  Are there lessons here for community-based organizations and social movements in how to activate digital networks for social change?  I discuss the role of new, digital networks in advancing social change in a recent piece I published in the Dickinson Law Review. Read the article here.



Posted by: Ray Brescia | May 21, 2018

Alexander Hamilton and Albany Law School


On Friday, May 18th, at Albany Law School’s commencement, Alexander Hamilton was awarded an honorary degree, posthumously, of course.  If you are wondering about Hamilton’s relationship to Albany that might merit the granting of this award, those connections are actually quite deep.  After the British surrendered at Yorktown, where Hamilton was finally given a battlefield command, he moved to Albany and lived with his in-laws (the Schuylers — a prominent family in the area at the time).  He studied for admission to the bar while staying in Albany, learning perhaps the only way he knew how: by writing a treatise on New York Law that was used for decades after among the practicing bar.  New York law at the time required that aspiring attorneys had to spend time as an apprentice with a practicing lawyer before they could be admitted to practice themselves.  Hamilton petitioned the court to waive this requirement, saying that he had been a little busy the last few years, you know, winning the War for Independence.  The court granted his request.  After months of study, all carried out in Albany, Hamilton was admitted to practice.  If there had been law schools at the time, it’s safe to say  that Hamilton would have likely attended Albany Law School. This honorary degree is an effort to recognize this history.

For further reading on this period of Hamilton’s life, read Chapter 9 in Ron Chernow’s definitive biography.

Posted by: Ray Brescia | May 17, 2018

Fighting Urban Blight, One Semester at a Time


This past semester, as part of the Albany Law class “Law and Social Innovation: Creative Problem Solving,” law students and faculty and students from the University at Albany’s Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy and the U Albany Center for Technology in Government, teamed up to work with the land banks in the capital region of New York State to develop strategies and programs to address their prospects for long-term sustainability.  Read a description of the class and the class project here.  Read the students’ final report for the class here.  And read what I have written about the class in the past — the approach and methodology — here.

Posted by: Ray Brescia | May 8, 2018

The Strength of Digital Ties

In the 1970s, Mark Granovetter argued that it is our weak ties that benefit us more than our strong ties.  In other words, the individuals we know outside our immediate circle of friends are often in a better position to help us accomplish things like get a new job or find a place to live in a new city than our closest friends.  The reason for this is that it is likely that we know of and have access to the same resources as our closest friends; it is our more distant friends that open up new opportunities for us.  Because of this phenomenon, what Granovetter called “the strength of weak ties,” we are less likely to broaden our range of opportunities when we just rely on such close friends for assistance.  Similarly, in social capital theory, Robert Putnam would say that bridging social capital–the loose ties we possess that connect us to broader networks of trust–is more important for individuals and communities to advance collective goals than bonding social capital: i.e., the type of relationship that is found between close friends and immediate relatives and neighbors.   Communities and nations with more of this bridging form of social capital tend to be those where collective well-being is higher.  In Putnam’s landmark work, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, he argues that social capital has diminished over the last forty years for several reasons, including: the advent of television which can distract people from the civic engagement that both leads to and is a product of social capital and the fact that many Americans are working longer hours than they did in previous decades and have longer commuting times each day.  His belief in the decline in social capital emerged on the brink of the digital age, and we are now at a place where more modern technologies than the television can certainly further reduce social capital, but can such technologies also enhance it?  In a piece recently published by the Dickinson Law Review, I argue that new, digital tools increase the capacity of individuals and communities to build social capital, but it is different from traditional social capital in a way.  What I call in the piece “synthetic social capital” is, perhaps, a new form of social capital that holds out the possibility that digital technology, through this new form of social capital, can help build the types of relationships that we see in more traditional settings where social capital flourishes.  It is also especially helpful for creating bridging social capital and converting latent, weak ties into active and strong/weak ties, the kind of ties Granovetter argued are more important for individual and community betterment.  By no means do digital tools like social media necessarily enhance social capital.  Instead, I argue that they can, if used in a mindful way that helps to build on, and not detract from, traditional forms of social capital.  I welcome feedback and reactions. Please check out the piece here.

Posted by: Ray Brescia | April 26, 2018

Standing in the Travel Ban Litigation

Monday’s oral argument in Trump v. Hawaii, the travel ban case, did not reveal much in terms of where the Court may ultimately be headed, but one thing seems clear: the case is NOT about so-called “third-party” standing, the idea that the state and the individual plaintiffs might be suing on behalf of others.  That means the standing aspect of the so-called “justiciability” question on which the Court granted review may be answered. Only Justice Gorsuch seems to address this issue, and Neal Katyal, arguing for Hawaii, stated quite clearly: “This is not a third-party case.”  (Transcript at 51.)  In other words, the state and the individual plaintiffs are suing on their own behalf, on the injuries they suffer directly, like the economic harm to the state’s university system.  If of interest, I explore some of these justiciability issues in a piece recently published by the Oregon Law Review, available here.

Was honored to be a guest of the local public radio station discussing the topsy-turvy world of legal ethics right now.  Listen here.

Posted by: Ray Brescia | April 4, 2018

More on Emoluments and Standing

Last year on this blog, I wrote about the Emoluments Clause lawsuit filed by the District of Columbia and the State of Maryland.  This case is one of many by blue state regions against the Trump Administration, raising various claims on a range of topics: DACA, environmental practices, the Travel Ban, etc. One of the issues in many of these cases is whether the litigants have standing to sue, the judicially created requirement that a party to a lawsuit has some personal stake in the outcome of the suit so that the court is confident that any ruling will actually affect the parties that are harmed by the challenged action and the parties will be sufficiently zealous in the pursuit of their claims (I simplify the subject significantly here). Recently, the district court ruled that the plaintiffs in the Emoluments Clause action had standing to bring the case, on a number of grounds.  One of the bases on which the court found standing was that the litigants had so-called proprietary interests at stake in the outcome: here, that they operated their own businesses  in the hospitality industry, or had a stake in such businesses, and such businesses are experiencing harm from the use of a Trump hotel in the nation’s capital by foreign and domestic interests allegedly looking to curry favor with (and direct profits to) the president by choosing to patronize his hotel.  If of interest, I wrote about the importance of proprietary standing for states and other public plaintiffs, especially in light of the increasing number of cases being filed by states against the federal government, in a piece forthcoming in the Oregon Law Review, which is available in draft form here.

Posted by: Ray Brescia | April 2, 2018

ICYMI: Post on Parkland and Student-Led Projects

If of interest, over at the Best Practices for Legal Education Blog,I have a post up on the ongoing success of the rolling, national, student-led project designed to bring about legislative action on gun control. Please check it out here.

Posted by: Ray Brescia | March 30, 2018

More on Rural Justice Issues in New York State


The latest issue of the Government, Law and Policy Journal—a publication of NYSBA produced in cooperation with Albany Law School’s Government Law Center—can now be downloaded in its entirety on SSRN here.

The following are just some of the subjects covered in the volume, many of which touch on important rural access-to-justice issues:

  • Kristen Wagner and Victoria Esposito tackle the access-to-justice gap in rural New York generally in two separate articles;
  • Andrew Davies and Alyssa Clark look at the access-to-justice issue as it plays out in local courts;
  • Albany Law student Patrick Wood looks at it in the tribal courts in New York; and
  • Taier Perlman, a staff attorney in the Government Law Center, looks at rural businesses and their lack of access to justice.

In addition, Marcella Sgroi assesses how the Violence Against Women Act is being applied in tribal courts in the state.  In my own submission to the volume, I write about how rural communities can utilize technology to help bridge the justice gap.

Rural communities often get overlooked in the access-to-justice debate.  I hope this publication helps highlight and raise the profile of the problems rural communities face in securing access to justice.

Posted by: Ray Brescia | March 27, 2018

Global Insights on Access to Justice


Recently, the World Justice Project (WJP) released its first ever report on civil justice issues across the world: Global Insights on Access to Justice.  In the report, the WJP assesses the extent to which survey respondents in  45 countries resolve (or do not resolve) their civil legal disputes.  It also surveyed the types of civil legal problems people face, asked to whom  such respondents turn when they have such problems, and attempted to learn whether they end up resolving them. Overall, the report found that roughly half of the respondents had faced some civil legal problem in the last two years; such legal problems caused them harm in some way (in terms of a loss of a job, illness, displacement, or something else);  and many respondents simply had not resolved such problems.  In the United States, one of the countries surveyed, the numbers are striking.  For Americans, nearly half of those surveyed, 48%, had experienced a legal problem in the last two years, and 77% of those did not turn to an authority or third party like a lawyer to help them resolve it.  Even more troubling, 13% of respondents reported that these legal disputes ended in violence by one party.  The leading legal problem that respondents faced was housing, at 27%, with consumer problems coming in second at 22%.  Americans’ struggle with legal problems reveals the ever-present need for greater access to justice at a time when some question the value and importance of legal training.  We need to ensure that every American has access to legal assistance that can help them resolve their legal problems in a fair and peaceful way.  Law schools should have this access-to-justice issue at the heart of their missions, an issue I explore in more depth here.

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