Monday, April 6, 2009

Our Friends at the Bank

Uganda in the mid-1990s is the setting for Thursday's documentary, Our Friends at the Bank, which shows some aspects of the tripartite negotiations within and between the government of Uganda, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.

I had several teaching goals in mind when I first decided to show Our Friends at the Bank, but watching the film again yesterday, while I was also thinking about the interviewing exercises you have been working on, one more course-related question emerged: Who is the client?

The adjunct faculty and I have been discussing this issue, and I plan on devoting some class time to it when we review the Fourth of July footage together. In addition to the 10 questions that I have prepared for you (see the focus-and-feedback sheet posted on TWEN) here is another set of questions: Which relationships in the film are analogous to the attorney-client relationship, and within those relationships what are the factors that make them different from the attorney-client relationship? Please mull this over while you watch.

Responsibility to and for clients is something else for us to think about. In the 2006 film The Last King of Scotland, starring Forest Whitaker as the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, I noticed a motif that came back to me when I first watched Our Friends at the Bank.* Several times during The Last King of Scotland the camera focuses on a mosquito. I can't be certain what the filmmaker intended the mosquito scenes to convey, but what I took from the images were messages of blood-extraction and disease.

Those messages are consistent with the role of the anti-hero, the Scottish physician Nicholas Garrigan who, even while his patient (Idi Amin) despoils the whole country, enjoys the kind of celebrity lifestyle that an uncharitable observer would describe as parasitical.

The mosquito motif does not lead me to pose any further concrete questions of my own for you at this point. I am just asking you to ponder it and, if it triggers questions in your mind around the subjects of interviewing, counseling, ad negotiating, please share them with the rest of us.

* Just to help orient you temporally, Idi Amin fell from power in 1979, approximately 15 years before the events that Our Friends at the Bank covers.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Fourth of July Exercise

There were some great questions in class yesterday that drew my attention to gaps in the exercise and areas that I need to explain more thoroughly. So I'm glad we have a little time to clarify the objectives, the work product, and the roles.

If, after reading the following, you still have questions please feel free to e-mail me. I realise that time is of the essence and I'd like to reply promptly. Right now I'm having trouble accessing my UConn e-mail from home, so send your questions to That way I can respond even while I'm at home.

Objectives and Work Product
When I designed the syllabus I envisioned two items of gradable work product coming out of this exercise, namely a settlement agreement and a reflective memorandum. Generating a settlement agreement, however, would demand considerable negotiation. Practice is immensely beneficial and you would reap real educational benefit from another Balance of Power-like experience. But crafting a settlement agreement would probably take more time than I can fairly ask of you and, given the fact that you do have other classes and a life outside of law school, would be unduly burdensome. So no settlement agreement.

I still want the reflective memorandum, but instead of a settlement agreement I would like you to write an office memorandum, the kind of detailed memo you would put in the file to refresh your memory the next time you pick it up, or to explain the case to a colleague who is picking up the file for the first time. So there are two possible audiences for this office/file memo: yourself and your colleagues.

Now, even though I do not require a negotiated settlement it would be helpful for you to converse with one another informally. Yesterday evening after class one of the adjunct faculty, Attorney Mike Harrington, mentioned to me that the second round of meetings (when you counsel your respective clients) will be more productive and realistic if you have talked to one another beforehand. For example, those of you representing the Town Manager could check in with counsel for the parade organizer and the chair of the protest committee. Mike is absolutely right, so please do sound out your counterparts in other teams so get a sense of what their clients want.

Getting back to the gradable work product, what should the office/file memo look like? As in real life, this document should reflect the substance of your conversations with your client. It should be no more than five pages long, double-spaced, in 12-point Times New Roman font. At the top of the document you should write "memorandum." In the "to" line write "file," and in the "from" line write your name. The subject line should state the name of your client.

In our exercise, Attorney Mike Harrington is playing the role of the Town Manager, Michael Bartolo. Attorney Karla Turekian's character is Alex Sachs, the parade organizer. Attorney Thomas Jones will star as Joseph Kelly, the chair of the anti-war group Amherst Committee for Peace and Justice (ACPAJ, pronounced ack-paj).

In addition to the documents on TWEN, you might want to do some additional background reading to get a sense of the real-life parade dispute. So here are the sites that flashed before your eyes briefly in class:

For the minutes of the Select Board meeting click here.

To browse the Amherst Bulletin's news, columns, and letters to the editor you can use the paper's search engine.

For the relevant post on the Only in the Republic of Amherst blog click here.