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.

As reported in the NY Daily News and other outlets, New York City has endorsed a right to counsel for low-income tenants in housing court in the city.  Such an unprecedented move will undoubtedly not just help families avoid the terrible hardships of homelessness but will also save the City tens of millions of dollars in the cost of housing such families in homeless shelters.  This makes both moral and fiscal sense.  I’ve written about this issue at length here, and have encouraged the people of the State of New York to adopt this concept statewide should they vote to consider amending the state constitution in the upcoming referendum on whether to hold a new state constitutional convention.  Congratulations to Andrew Scherer who has been a tireless advocate on this issue for decades and Council Member Mark Levine for leading the charge on the legislation.

Today’s NY Times has a terrific piece on the reasons for the loss of many blue collar jobs over the last few decades, identifying automation as one of the main culprits.  It is argued that this phenomenon has exceeded outsourcing to countries like China as a cause for the decline in the prospects of many working-class workers.  It contains a passage about white-collar work as well, but predicts that “[w]ork that requires creativity, management of people or caregiving is least at risk.”  Can we include lawyers in this group of job categories that might be immune from automation and other forces diminishing job prospects and reshaping the economy?  The forces that are shaping the blue-collar economy are starting to infringe on the professional class as well, lawyers included.

In his prescient 2006 book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future,  Dan Pink identifies three forces that are shaping the new economy: automation, outsourcing (which he calls “Asia”), and abundance. Furthermore, thought processes that are dominated by the left-hemisphere of the brain (i.e., thinking that is “sequential, literal, functional, textual, and analytic”) are giving way to those that are dominated by the right hemisphere of the brain (i.e., thinking that is “simultaneous, metaphorical, aesthetic, contextual, and synthetic”).  He calls these types of thinking L-Directed and R-Directed respectively.  The future, as Pink argues, belongs to R-Directed thinkers:

Three forces are tilting the scales in favor of R-Directed Thinking.  Abundance has satisfied, and even oversatisfied, the material needs of millions—boosting the significance of beauty and emotional and accelerating individuals’ search for meaning.  Asia is now performing large amounts of routine, white-collar, L-Directed work at significantly lower costs, thereby forcing knowledge workers in the advanced world to master abilities that can’t be shipped overseas.  And automation has begun to affect this generation’s white-collar workers in much the same way it did last generation’s blue-collar workers, requiring L-Directed professionals to develop aptitudes that computers can’t do better, faster, or cheaper.

Furthermore, for Pink:

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.

Is the legal profession facing these sorts of challenges?  The rise of tech savvy startup companies offering a range of services that look a lot like legal services at a fraction of the cost and an increase in outsourcing of many legal functions and processes to lower-priced alternative service providers, both abroad and at home, are eating away at lawyer incomes. Is the legal profession ready for this shift?  Are law schools?  Are there ways the legal profession can embrace some of the themes of Pink’s R-Directed thinking to not just stem the tide of lawyer jobs but expand opportunities for lawyers while providing a superior product that meets client and community needs?  I am optimistic that through creativity and new thinking around service delivery, lawyers can not just survive, but thrive, in the 21st Century at the same time that we make progress in closing the justice gap: the millions of Americans who face their legal problems without a lawyer.  I explore some of these issues here.

As many communities, families and individuals wonder what the future holds for our immigrant communities, one city–the City of New Haven–has been leading the way in promoting inclusive policies that are welcoming to immigrant communities, like the adoption of a resident identification card, available to all residents in the city. These practices were initially met with opposition from the federal government, including heartless, early-morning raids to enforce immigration warrants.  But the city, its residents, and institutions fought back.  Read about the New Haven experience, written by then-Mayor John DeStefano, in his chapter in How Cities Will Save the World: Urban Innovation in the Face of Population Flows, Climate Change, and Economic Inequality (Routledge 2016), which can be ordered here. (Admittedly, it’s expensive to purchase; maybe ask your library to order it!)  You can also read the overview and introduction, written by my co-editor, John Travis Marshall, and I, here.

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