Posted by: Ray Brescia | May 16, 2017

Philly Gets Into the (Fair Housing) Act

Following the recent Supreme Court victory of the City of Miami in its efforts to hold banks accountable for discriminatory lending under the Fair Housing Act, the City of Philadelphia has filed its own action against Wells Fargo, alleging discriminatory lending practices there, including that the bank was twice as likely to steer African-American borrowers into high-priced loans than White borrowers.  I’ve written about the City of Miami case here and explored the question of whether cities can file suit under the FHA here and here.  With the Miami case in the rear-view mirror, and the issue of whether cities can sue under the FHA settled (they can), it is interesting to see Philadelphia moving so quickly to bring its own action.  Time will tell whether other cities will line up to do the same.  With fair housing enforcement unlikely to be very robust under the Trump Administration, it is good to see cities like Philadelphia taking on this critical issue.

According to a recent Brookings Institution report, relatively few of the nation’s largest 100 metropolitan areas are showing broad-based and inclusive economic growth: i.e., economic growth that works to combat inequality.  Much of urban innovation and economic activity can help to lead to greater inequality.  What Austin, Albany and a few other cities are doing is showing how to have economic growth without exacerbating inequality, as the following table from the Brookings report reveals.


As the authors in the volume How Cities Will Save the World: Urban Innovation in the Face of Population Shifts, Climate Change and Economic Inequality reveal, cities can serve as engines of economic activity that leads to economic inequality but can also lead the way in charting paths forward that reduce inequality, as Austin and Albany show is possible.

Read the Introduction to How Cities Will Save the World here.

Posted by: Ray Brescia | April 27, 2017

Law Student Engagement with Current Events and Social Justice

I was honored to play a small part in the effort to support 167 members of Congress in the filing of amicus briefs in two pending cases before the U.S. Courts of Appeals challenging the Trump Administration’s current immigration bans affecting six predominantly Muslim countries.  Read about the effort here.  The students really drove this effort and their leadership, grit, and integrity is so inspiring to me.  Thank you Andrew Carpenter, Elyssa Klein, Mary Ann Krisa, Graham Molho, Martha Mahoney, and Gloria Sprague for giving us all hope that there is a new generation of emerging public interest lawyers ready to take up the mantle of social justice and access to justice!

Back Row, Left to Right: Mary Ann Krisa, Andrew Carpenter, and Martha Mahoney.

Front Row, Left to Right: Graham Molho, Gloria Sprague, and Elyssa Klein.

Read the Fourth Circuit brief here.

Read the Ninth Circuit brief here.

Albany area lawyers (and those interested in social justice), don’t forget tomorrow’s “Access to Justice is Social Justice” Forum at Albany Law School tomorrow at 3 p.m., featuring an all-star cast headlined by U.S. Legal Services President James Sandman and Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan.  2 credits of ethics CLE to boot, free!  Attendance is free, registration is requested by emailing Amy Gunnells at  Hope to see you there!

Just released, the New York Bank Ratings Index scores the nineteen largest banks by bank assets operating in New York State along 20 consumer-focused categories.  The index then ranks the banks according to how well they perform under all of the categories combined, with a potential score of 100.   More importantly, with a website that accompanies this index, consumers can customize the findings and create their own ranking, assigning different weights to the categories and focusing in on only those categories that matter the most to them.

Here is the ranking of these nineteen banks according to our assessment:

The information that formed the basis of this study was compiled in 2016, when Key Bank was still finalizing the purchase of First Niagara, so we left both banks in this ranking.

While creating an index such as this is somewhat in vogue, to my knowledge, very few such ranking projects allow for end-user customization, which is now available through the accompanying website.  Please check out the site and give the ranking a whirl to find the right bank for you.

If you do not live in New York State, you can still create your own ranking system based on what we have done in New York.  The accompanying report provides all of the background on the study and shows how different states and localities can create their own index and rankings.  Download the report here.

This ratings project was completed by Ralph Scunziano, a recent graduate of Albany Law School, and myself, in collaboration with the Empire Justice Center, a state-wide provider of free legal services to low-income New Yorkers, and the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development (ANHD), which works to build the community development movement in New York City.  The website was constructed by Christopher Velez, who made initial iterations of the site as part of a class he teaches at the University at Albany, part of the State University of New York system.

Today’s New York Times features a story on the future of the legal profession in the age of artificial intelligence and machine learning.  The piece takes the position that, while some functions of the practice of law–particularly those that are routinized–may prove susceptible to automation, much of what lawyers do is still beyond the reach of available technology:

[R]ecent research and even the people working on the software meant to automate legal work say the adoption of A.I. in law firms will be a slow, task-by-task process. In other words, like it or not, a robot is not about to replace your lawyer. At least, not anytime soon.

But what almost all lawyers presently do is use technology to complement the things for which legal judgment and expertise is needed, making their jobs easier and making their work flow much faster, which, in a world where lawyers charge by the hour, should mean lawyers are more affordable.  In this way, technology thus holds out the promise of helping to close the justice gap: the fact that roughly eighty percent of low-income Americans and fifty percent of middle-income Americans face their legal problems without a lawyer.

The imperative to use technology to help close the justice gap, which I explore in greater depth here, is become all the more critical as the largest funding source for free legal aid in the country, the U.S. Legal Service Corporation, is presently left out of the Trump Administration’s recent budget proposal.  This cruel act, should it come to fruition in the final budget, means millions of Americans could go without free legal assistance.   If that should happen, the long-time dream of those who want to take advantage of the poor–i.e., that they can act without the threat of being sued or can proceed in court with an opponent who is not represented by a lawyer–will become a reality.

While robots will not replace lawyers any time soon, the legal profession will need to get creative, mostly through the use of technology, in finding ways to make legal services more affordable, stretching the profession’s capacity to serve those presently facing their legal problems without a lawyer and the even larger percentage of Americans who may need to do so in the future.

Posted by: Ray Brescia | March 7, 2017

The New Job Market Needs “Social” Innovation

A recent article in the New York Times explores how we can prepare the workers of the future for the jobs of the future.  One important component of that effort will be teaching any worker “soft” skills—working in teams, communication, empathy.  As the Times piece states:

Educators should focus on teaching technical skills, like coding and statistics, and skills that still give humans an edge over machines, like creativity and collaboration, experts say. And since no one knows which jobs will be automated later, it may be most important to learn flexibility and how to learn new things.

(emphases in original)

This is consistent with research from David Deming of the Harvard School of Education that stresses the importance of these types of skills in the workforce of tomorrow.

In the prescient A Whole New Mind: How Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, published in 2005, Dan Pink argued that:

Mere survival today depends on being able to do something that overseas knowledge workers can’t do cheaper, that powerful computers can’t do faster, and that satisfies one of the nonmaterial, transcendent desires of an abundant age.

He identified six “aptitudes” he believes are necessary for those whose jobs are threatened by automation and outsourcing:

Design: Creating something beautiful or engaging.

Story: Telling a compelling narrative.

Symphony: Seeing the big picture/coordinating resources.

Empathy: Forging relationships.

Play: Engaging lightheartedly.

Meaning: Pursuing fulfillment.

In my class “Law and Social Innovation: Creative Problem Solving,” I try to offer students the opportunity to develop these aptitudes as they tackle thorny collective action problems like the thousands of vacant and abandoned homes that plague post-industrial cities in the wake of the Financial Crisis of 2008.  Read more about the class here.


Recent revelations show how the ride-hailing app Uber developed highly sophisticated strategies for evading law enforcement.  As in other recent scandals, including Volkswagen’s cheating on emissions tests, Uber developed complicated, technology-driven algorithms for cheating the system.  This scandal shows that the Sharing Economy is posing new challenges to regulators who are trying to balance ensuring consumer protection while not stifling productive innovation. As I argue here, regulators could borrow strategies from the legal profession to protect consumer interests while promoting creativity and economic development .

Six First-Year law students at Albany Law School—Andrew Carpenter, Elyssa Klein, Mary Ann Krisa, Martha Mahoney, Graham Molho, and Gloria Sprague—provided research support to lawyers at the law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine, LLP, and the Constitutional Accountability Center, in drafting an amicus brief filed on behalf of 167 members of the United States Congress.  Led by Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), the brief was filed on behalf of these elected officials in the federal district court for the Eastern District of New York.  As the brief states, the Members of Congress are “committed to ensuring that our immigration laws and policies both help protect the nation from foreign and domestic attacks and comport with fundamental constitutional principles, such as religious freedom and equal protection under the law.”

The brief goes on, explaining that the Executive Order “is vastly overbroad—targeting both individuals and countries in a way that does nothing to further the Order’s stated purpose of ‘protect[ing] the American people from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals admitted to the United States.’”

Read the brief here.

It was an honor to assist the students in providing this important service.

Posted by: Ray Brescia | February 22, 2017

PBS Documentary Discusses Roots of the Guantánamo Bay Prison Camp

Last night, PBS aired “Forever Prison,” which highlights the story of the early litigation to close the prison camp on Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, that housed HIV+ Haitian refugees in the early 1990s.   Brandt Goldstein’s “Storming the Court: How a Band of Law Students Fought the President and Won” tells the complete story.  If of interest, I’ve written about the team dynamics of the student/lawyer group here and written a short piece on what the lessons learned from this effort might mean for student activism today here.

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