Volkswagen Used “Defeat Devices” in 11 Million Cars

Exhaust pipe.The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should have listened to Ron Weasley’s dad. In the Harry Potter books and films, Arthur Weasley is a bureaucrat in the British magical world’s chief regulatory agency, the Ministry of Magic. His job is to protect people from dangerous devices. He is known for his unusual fascination with non-magical technologies and toward the end of the second book he delivers a deep lesson in living safely with technology. “What have I always told you? Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain.”

Volkswagen programmed diesel cars over half a decade to cheat on its emissions tests. It’s a story of massive corporate fraud but also an object lesson in everything that’s terrifying about a world in which cars and other things can think for themselves.

VW used software to put a new spin on an old scam. Wherever there is a test, someone will try to cheat on it. The EPA has banned emissions test “defeat devices“ for decades. In 1995, it fined GM $11 million for turning off carbon monoxide controls when the air conditioning was on. Some observers have defended GM, arguing that carbon monoxide pollution is primarily an issue in the winter. But the larger principle — truth in testing — is important. You don’t tell your kid to cheat on their math test.

The car of the future is a computer with wheels. And wherever there’s software, you’ll also find bugs, hacks and viruses.

VW’s defeat devices were subtle and more insidious. Instead of just turning off and on with the air conditioner, they took into account “the position of the steering wheel, vehicle speed, the duration of the engine’s operation, and barometric pressure” — a list of criteria that precisely mirrors the conditions of the EPA’s required emissions testing.

A dedicated circuit or a special valve would have been impossible for VW to hide. But it’s easy to conceal the scraps of code that check to see whether the car is being driven in a way that looks suspiciously like an emissions test. Modern cars already contain tens of millions of lines of code; what’s a few more between friends?

In theory, at least, software should also be easy to fix. VW’s engineers will write a replacement version of its emissions-control software, leaving out the defeat device this time. Installing that software on existing cars — “patching” them, in the language of software — is just a matter of taking them to a service center and plugging them in to a computer there.

It might not play out that way, though. A large fraction of recalled cars are never fixed, because owners never get the notice, don’t realize it was serious, or never get around to bringing their cars in. Even safety recalls — which you might think would get car owners to take action — have shockingly low completion rates. One-third of recalled cars are never fixed; there are an estimated 37 million cars on the road in the United States with unfixed safety recalls.

The VW recall is going to be an even harder sell: Bringing down the cars’ emissions will also bring down their performance and their mileage. A Jetta owner who takes their car in to get “fixed” will drive off the service center lot in a much slower car. Some “green” owners will bite the bullet and do it for the environment’s sake.

In hindsight, these sentiments are darkly ironic in the way that great corporate crimes always are. The best way to rob a bank is to own one; the best way to defeat factory-set emissions controls is to own the factory. A panic about individual mom-and-pop garages tampering with a few cars was used to justify laws that helped make it harder to detect the fact that one of the world’s largest automakers tampered with 11 million cars. The EPA has already shown that it doesn’t know when to look inside of software black boxes. Unless the rest of us are allowed to, who knows what other evil lurks in the hearts of cars?

Brain Injuries and the Law

acb9e26d-fb00-4ec4-a56a-05604bbba884In recent news, an Iowa jury found Bedford High School negligent with freshman football player, Kacey Strough. The young man suffered severe head injury due to teammates throwing footballs at his head from a short-range distance. The school did nothing to stop the “hazing” and are now facing the largest payout by a high school in history for a head injury case: $1 million in damages and medical fees.

According to experts, a blow to the head that at first seems minor and does not result in immediate pain or other symptoms, can turn out to be a life-threatening brain injury.

There are two types of brain injury, traumatic brain injuries and acquired brain injuries:

Traumatic brain injuries include more obvious impact injuries, such as penetrative injuries (an object pierces the skull and enters the brain), coup-contrecoup contusions (an impact that causes the brain to slam into the opposite side of the skull, creating a second contusion at the second impact site), diffuse axonal injury (shaking-rotational forces cause tears in various brain structures), and concussion.

Acquired brain injuries are caused by oxygen deprivation. They include anoxia (absolute oxygen deprivation, possibly resulting in cell death; can be fatal), and hypoxic brain injury (partial oxygen deprivation, which may also result in cell death; can be fatal).

Unless there is objective evidence of brain injury on MRI or CT Scan, insurance companies may assume the individual is either faking their injuries or has pre-existing psychological problems. A brain injury attorney must first “objectify” as best as possible for their clients’ injuries. The patient’s condition is the focal point of the case and juries are very sympathetic to brain injuries that can be proved.

One thing to note, when pursuing a brain injury claim you open up your entire life’s history to examination. Grade school records, medical records from childhood, and anything else through the years that insurance companies can obtain is open game. Psychological and psychiatric records are obtainable and will be obtained.

During the recovery of a brain injury, the insurance company will try to contact you and speak to you through the adjuster. They will likely have this conversation recorded. If there is a later claim for a brain injury, they will try to use this conversation as proof that there was nothing wrong with the individual. This is nonsense since most people with traumatic brain injury can speak normally; the difficulties are often not manifested in speech.

Insurance companies may also try to look through your trash, specifically evidence of illicit drug use, use of medication or anything else they can get their hands on. Though we have a right to privacy in this country, many courts have held that there is no right to privacy of trash that is put out on the curb. Lastly, be very careful about your social media engagement. Any post-accident photos or posting contrary to your case will be used against you.

Remember that many of the difficulties associated with this type of case can be overcome and dealt with by an experienced brain injury litigation attorney. This is certainly not a case to take on alone or with a lawyer not familiar with brain injury law.

If you or a loved one has suffered a brain injury, your legal claim depends on the specific circumstances of the brain injury. Slip and fall accidents, motor vehicle accidents, intentional harm (such as a fistfight, or strangulation-induced anoxia), and other impacts usually come under the person injury or premises liability umbrella, and in some cases there may be a separate criminal action.

If you feel you may have a case, you need to contact a lawyer who has a history of winning brain injury cases. Depending on the seriousness of the injury, and the extent to which the injury has negatively impacted your life, you may be eligible for a substantial damage award.

4 Things You Should Always Use a Lawyer For

judge-gavelNot all of us have a personal attorney at our disposal. The cost alone sometimes can be excessive and overwhelming, unless of course, you really need one. Then they can prove to be priceless and even help the future of your life.

There are some areas that a lawyer is not necessary. For instance, if you don’t have many or any kids, you don’t need one to write out your last will and testament. Also, despite what you may have heard, you do not need an attorney when buying a house or filing a name change for yourself or child.

There are 4 areas in which an attorney is a must and not having one could prove to be detrimental.

  1. Getting Sued – It doesn’t matter how petty the allegation may be against you and how you feel the plaintiff has zero case, you can’t ignore the fact that you may be wrong in your initial judgment. An attorney can ensure you are prepared and will make sure you are properly represented. If the plaintiff hired an attorney, you definitely will be thankful you decided to obtain one for yourself.
  2. Charged with a DUI – There is really no question with this one. It is worth every penny to hire a lawyer to represent you in a DUI case. You are very well at a risk of losing your right to drive, jail time, fines, and other judgments against you. A DUI attorney will represent you and help reduce the penalties in your case.
  3. Declaring Bankruptcy – Yes, you’re broke. Yet, when you reach the point of no return and decide to file for bankruptcy, the wisest choice you can make is having a lawyer to assist you. If you don’t, when you face the judge, a decision may not be made to wipe out all of your debt.
  4. Getting a Divorce – Unless you just want to hand everything over to your soon-to-be ex spouse, a lawyer is not even a questions, especially when children are involved. Divorces get nasty, even when you think you’re ending the marriage on good terms. Divorce attorneys work together to decide who gets what and they present the best case to the judge who then decides everything from custody of the children, to the marital residence, alimony, child support and beyond.

As you can see, you don’t always need a lawyer in every situation you have, yet it is imperative in the four listed above. You need to always protect yourself and sometimes having skilled representation serves you better than trying to play lawyer yourself.

Can you ask your employees for proof on sick days?

What is the legality of requiring your employees to provide proof that they were sick?

As many cities and states are now passing mandatory sick laws, employers now have an added reason to review their sick day policies. The main question here is what kind of proof, if any, should an employer ask of his worker in order to be able to call in sick.

Let’s have a look at some of the legal principles that stand behind requiring proof for sick days.

Federal status

While some states like California have mandatory paid sick leave laws, there is still no federal law that makes employers give their workers paid sick leave. In fact, a number of states have barred cities and counties from enacting mandatory sick day legislation, so the matter is still far from being decided.

Meanwhile, you should make sure that your business complies with all state and city laws, regardless of what kind of notification is required of your employees. In California, employees need only give “reasonable advance notification” (Healthy Families Act of 2014) – there is no mention if an employer can ask for further proof, like a medical note.

Depending on state and city laws, an employer might be forced to provide paid sick days for certain health conditions or preventative care. In such cases, denying a request for a lack of proof may be illegal.

Can Require Proof for FMLA Leave

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) states that employees who want to take an extended sick leave have to provide proof under federal law, in case the employer asks for it. Usually an employee has 15 days to provide proof that the requested sick leave is for a valid reason (surgery, physical therapy, etc.). This can be provided in the form of a doctor’s note.

Note that providing FMLA notice is the employer’s responsibility, not the employees.

10 Things You Should Know About Estate Planning

When we think about the future, we can never be too prepared. From investing in our retirement to purchasing insurance policies for our assets, our daily decisions influence our future for better or worse. But how do you secure your family’s future in the event of your death? Few people like to think about their demise but it’s important to get your affairs straightened out in order to ensure that your family is cared for and your assets are distributed the way you intend them to be.


There are two legal instruments that are used for the protection of your assets and ensuring that your family is cared for: wills and trusts. A trust is simply a way of having a separate legal entity which offers your property and your assets protection from taxes, probate and public scrutiny. Trusts can be established either when you are living or upon your death if it specified in your will. The type of trust you create will determine the level of control you have over the property that you place within. An experienced attorney will know what type of trust is best for your property and assets and will help you establish one.


A will is a legal document that allows a person to name a guardian for your children and it specifies who will inherit your property when you die. Without a will you won’t have any decision about what happens to your property. Consult a will and trusts lawyer to help you draft a will that has the necessary foresight and detail that a will requires.

Even if you have a will, your estate will still go through probate. This is the legal process an estate passes through to ensure that property and assets are distributed according to will. When there is no will present, the probate commences according to state laws. This process takes around a year to complete. The reason for such a long wait is that the validity of the will must be established, all heirs, creditors and anyone else that has a stake in the deceased’s property must be informed of the person’s death and if there are any disputes over the will, they must be resolved in probate court.

Establishing a trust or writing a will that is valid and is disbursed without delay is important so make sure that you use the services of an experienced trust and wills attorney.

Things to know

Of course, even many people think that estate planning is a good idea, few, if ever, get to actually do anything about it. Wills and trusts are usually at the end of to-do lists for most people. However, getting things clear and writing will save your family from unnecessary anxiety in the event that you pass away and the issue of dividing your assets comes up.

You don’t have to do it all – taking just a couple of the steps below will ensure that the people you care about will receive your assets the way you intend, without any headaches or loss of money.

  1. There is no excuse for not having a will. Writing a will is easy. You can do it on your own using a good how-to book or even computer software. All you need to do is write down the persons and the assets they will inherit and then sign the will in front of a witness. That’s it. No need to file it anywhere; just put it in a safe place.
  2. Account for everything. A majority of your property – retirement accounts, jointly owned real estate, life insurance proceeds and even cars – usually do not pass through a will. Think about who you want to inherit it.
  3. Retirement plans. The law states that your spouse automatically inherits your 401(k) plan upon your death. This can also be given away in writing.
  4. Your assets – your call. Although people usually leave everything to their children, it doesn’t mean that you have to do the same. Just make sure that you list them in your will so that everybody is accounted for.
  5. Tax myth. A common misconception people have is that they have to pay income tax on money they inherit; that is false.
  6. Federal estate tax. The only time that you will have to worry about paying taxes on inherited assets is if you have more than $5.34 million in your estate. In this case it would be best to hire an attorney to make sure that everything is accounted for.
  7. Being specific helps. You can save your family many fruitless arguments if you specify whom should receive any items with special sentimental value you might have. It’s not uncommon for people to fight over seemingly useless items – so why not clear it up now?
  8. Business. Own a business? You’ll have to specify what happens to it after you’re gone.
  9. Complex vs simple. A simple will is sufficient as it will cover most bases. In other cases, if your family is older or ill, a living trust may be more beneficial. A living trust allows a family to skip probate court.
  10. Keep your files in a known & safe place. This may seem obvious, but none of your estate planning documents will be of any value if your family doesn’t have access to them in the first place.

Law School Dean Proposes Increase In Tuition Fees

It’s no secret that law education is expensive. Not only are students hit with crippling debt but they are also being deterred from potential careers in work for underserviced geographic areas. This damages the profession as a whole and it prevents underprivileged students from pursuing a career in law.

In a counter-intuitive move, one of the highest rated law schools in the ATL Rankings has decided to go the other way around and increase tuition fees.

The University of California is not in the best position financially, especially after the tax revolt and the unruly ballot measure process impoverished the state, with 70% to 90% of the state budget allocated to laws that only serve special interest groups, lobbyists and extremists.

The Daily Californian writes that the UC Berkeley School of Law is considering an increase in its tuition fees by $1,432 for the 2015-16 academic year as a way to “account for rising costs”. Dean Sujit Choudhry discussed the tuition hike at a public town hall meeting at the school on Monday.

Dean Choudhry called the increase a “modest” one but we are forgetting that the $1,432 increase is only a surcharge. Berkeley Law anticipates increase in tuition fees across the whole campus, with a total 5.4% increase for Californians, rising the cost of attendance to $54,091 from the $51,320 it was previously. Non-residents would also be affected by the hike, paying $58,225 from the $55,271 they paid in previous years.

Experts believe that the blame is with the people of California, who gutted the school’s finances with laws that slowed down funding for what is supposed to be the state’s public university. The reasons outlined by Dean Choudhry are, however, more immediate with soaring costs of faculty health care being the main one behind the increase as well as the school’s ongoing compensation for a pension plan that is deficient at best. Another reason cited by Choudhry is the increase in staff size to accommodate for student services. However the Dean assures us that his main focus is financial aid, something he hopes will “soften the blow” of the proposed increase.

Leaving California’s underfunded pension plan aside, this is a tale that we have heard before. The Washington Monthly even conducted a study on the matter and concluded that tuition fees are being eaten up by academic administrators who are keen on hiring even more administrators. Even when “faculty” health care costs are being brought up, Dean Choudhry fails to mention that a big majority are made up of administrator health bills.

Baker & McKenzie reclaims title of world’s biggest law firm

Global law firms have been charting a slow but steady growth and now it seems that the title for the biggest law firm in the world goes back to Baker & McKenzie with a reported $2.54 billion gross revenue in 2013. Getting back to the top comes right after Baker released their financials back in August, but Baker is not the only international law firm who has seen growth this past year.

According to the Global 100 survey conducted by American Lawyer, revenue grew 4.3% among the world’s 100 largest law firms last year, to a figure of $88.7 billion, a record for the industry. Collective headcount also grew by 3.9%, with more than 112,000 lawyers being employed across firms.

AmLaw writes that this growth has been spurred by stabilizing economies, resurgent transactional markets and the foray of law firms into markets that were previously unavailable in Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa. Although the figures are anything but exceptional, the slow, steady growth is a welcome sign after the global economic crisis took a toll on law firm financials.

U.K. legal consultant Tony Williams calls this a sustained recovery, with a prognosis that is certainly better than it was a few years ago.

What about the other firms? Here are the numbers for the top 10 law firms, ranked by gross revenue in 2013:

  1. Baker & McKenzie: $2.54 billion
  2. DLA Piper: $2.48 billion
  3. Latham & Watkins LLP: $2.29 billion
  4. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP: $2.23 billion
  5. Clifford Chance: $2.13 billion
  6. Kirkland & Ellis LLP: $2.02 billion
  7. Linklaters: $1.96 billion
  8. Allen & Overy: $1.93 billion
  9. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer: $1.92 billion
  10. Norton Rose Fulbright: $1.9 billion

Some of the growth is also due to mergers, with names such as Norton Rose Fulbright, Dentons and King & Wood Mallesons being recently created after cross-border combinations.

New York’s Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP has had a 15% revenue increase last year, being one of the many that was boosted in part by a revitalized mergers and acquisitions market.

U.S. law firms have sought growth by expanding in overseas markets, preeminently China and the Middle East. AmLaw reports that Am Law 200 firms now have over 25,000 lawyers that work in foreign offices in more than 70 countries. While Europe remains a focal point, China now holds the second-largest population of lawyers from the Am Law 200, after the United Kingdom. Countries such as Australia, the UAE and South Africa are some of the newer additions that have shown exceptional growth in head count.