Minimum Competence - Daily Legal News Podcast
Minimum Competence
Legal News for Fri 4/12 - White House $20b Climate Fund, Who Cares About USNWR Law School Rankings?, and Next Steps in Epic Games' Antitrust Win Against Google

Legal News for Fri 4/12 - White House $20b Climate Fund, Who Cares About USNWR Law School Rankings?, and Next Steps in Epic Games' Antitrust Win Against Google

White House's $20 billion climate fund, waning influence of U.S. News law school rankings, and Epic Games' antitrust win against Google.
Galileo being tried, pencil sketch

This Day in Legal History: The Trial of Galileo

On April 12, 1633, a pivotal moment in the annals of legal and scientific history unfolded as Galileo Galilei faced the Roman Catholic Church's formal inquisition on charges of heresy. This trial was not merely a religious condemnation but a significant clash between emerging scientific ideas and established ecclesiastical doctrine. Galileo, by advocating the heliocentric theory that posited the sun at the center of the universe—a view first propagated by Copernicus—directly challenged the Church's geocentric model, which placed Earth and, by extension, humanity, at the cosmos' core.

The inquisition's core accusation was that Galileo held "as true the false doctrine taught by some that the sun is the center of the world," in stark contradiction to the theological view that emphasized Earth's central position. This confrontation was not just about celestial mechanics; it was fundamentally about the authority to define truth. The trial, therefore, was as much a legal battle over doctrinal correctness as it was a referendum on intellectual freedom and the role of evidence in shaping belief.

Found "vehemently suspect of heresy," Galileo's conviction was a foregone conclusion given the Church's powerful influence over societal norms and scientific discourse at the time. His sentence to life imprisonment was a stark message to the intellectual community about the limits of inquiry. However, perhaps recognizing the harshness of this penalty or the potential for backlash, his punishment was later commuted to house arrest.

During his house arrest, Galileo continued his scientific work, demonstrating a resilience and commitment to knowledge that would posthumously vindicate his theories. It wasn't until centuries later, however, that the Church would formally acknowledge the error in its judgment against Galileo. In 1992, Pope John Paul II officially conceded that the Church had erred in condemning Galileo's support for heliocentric theories.

This episode serves as a critical reflection point on the interplay between law, power, and knowledge. Galileo’s trial underscores the dangers of legal systems enmeshed with doctrinal control and highlights the enduring struggle between innovation and orthodoxy. It remains a poignant example of the need for legal frameworks that protect and promote intellectual freedom, emphasizing that the pursuit of truth should guide both scientific inquiry and legal principles.

The $20 billion allocated from the White House to fight climate change through the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund aims to enhance the nation's clean financing capabilities while managing financial risks carefully. This fund is intended to catalyze up to $150 billion in private investments for clean energy projects and other initiatives to decarbonize the economy, prioritizing both greenhouse gas reduction and benefits to disadvantaged communities. However, these investments carry inherent risks, which have garnered scrutiny from congressional Republicans, who are vigilant for any signs of failure or financial missteps to politicize the issue.

Sophie Purdom from Planeteer Capital notes the low threshold for political controversy, even if only a few investments do not perform as expected. Meanwhile, Beth Bafford of the Climate United Fund, which received the largest grant, emphasizes her organization's long-standing expertise in distinguishing between real and perceived risks and structuring financial transactions accordingly. This approach is aimed at enabling aggressive action towards achieving net zero emissions without jeopardizing financial sustainability.

The discussion extends beyond financial returns, highlighting the potential for broader economic benefits, especially in underserved communities. For instance, investments are planned in areas like on-site solar, building decarbonization, and bringing electric vehicles to disadvantaged areas. The Climate United Fund alone plans to deploy significant capital towards these ends, leveraging their extensive experience in financing similar projects.

Comparisons are drawn with other federal initiatives like the Paycheck Protection Program, where community development financial institutions played a crucial role with minimal risk of loss, suggesting a blueprint for successful deployment of the climate funds. Despite concerns about fraud which affected previous federal programs, advocates like Jessie Buendia from suggest bolstering EPA staffing and education on using blended capital to mitigate risks and maximize the impact of investments.

The political landscape remains contentious, with Republicans actively opposing the fund, citing concerns over waste and the influence of foreign supply chains. Yet, there is a call for bipartisan support to foster clean, thriving communities across all states, pointing towards a need for collaborative efforts between the government and the private sector for transformative market changes.

Climate Lenders With $20 Billion in Grants Weigh Risk and Reward

Winston & Strawn emerged as the top legal biller for the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), which significantly reduced its legal expenses to $1.7 million in 2023 after finalizing a new collective bargaining agreement. This figure marks a substantial decrease from the $3.7 million spent in the previous year during intense negotiations following a three-month league lockout. The legal fees covered a range of services, with Winston earning approximately $264,000 for salary arbitration work, signaling its longstanding role as a key advisor to the MLBPA.

Following Winston in billing were several other prominent firms, including Latham & Watkins and Boston-based Hemenway & Barnes, with respective payments of $176,000 and $147,000. Additional significant contributions came from Weil, Gotshal & Manges and Sidley Austin, highlighting the diverse array of legal expertise enlisted by the MLBPA.

The reduction in legal costs coincided with a major expansion of the MLBPA, which saw its membership grow from 1,200 to about 6,000 as minor league players were incorporated. This expansion suggests a broadening of the union's scope and responsibilities, potentially influencing its legal and operational strategies.

Internally, the MLBPA faced discontent from some players critical of the union's direction and leadership under Executive Director Tony Clark and Chief Labor Negotiator Bruce Meyer. Clark’s compensation nearly doubled over the past year, which, coupled with the union's strategic decisions, has fueled some unrest among members.

The legal team at the MLBPA also saw changes, with significant salaries for roles such as the new general counsel and other senior positions, reflecting the union's complex legal and operational environment. Moreover, the MLBPA engaged other legal and advisory services, including risk analysis and lobbying efforts, to support its broadening agenda.

Overall, the MLBPA's legal expenditures reflect its strategic navigation through labor negotiations, membership expansion, and internal challenges. The focus on managing both high-profile and routine legal matters underscores the critical role of legal counsel in supporting the union’s evolving needs and ambitions in the dynamic landscape of professional sports.

Winston, Latham Top Big Law Billers for Fractious Baseball Union

The influence of U.S. News & World Report's law school rankings appears to be diminishing, evidenced by a significant decrease in web traffic for leaks of the rankings and a widespread boycott by law schools. Mike Spivey, a law school admissions consultant, noted a 50% drop in traffic when he published the top 25 law schools a week ahead of U.S. News' official release. This decline in interest is linked to recent controversies, including data errors in the previous year's rankings and a boycott that started in 2022, with 53 out of 197 American Bar Association-accredited schools refusing to submit data.

Despite these challenges, the rankings still generate considerable attention, as noted by Staci Zaretsky from Above the Law, although the level of interest has waned compared to past years. A survey conducted by Kaplan Test Prep revealed mixed sentiments among law school admissions officers regarding the prestige of the rankings, with a majority acknowledging a loss in prestige over recent years.

U.S. News has responded by adjusting its ranking methodology to de-emphasize LSAT scores and grades in favor of employment outcomes and bar pass rates. This change reflects broader concerns within the legal academy about the impact of ranking methodologies on financial aid distribution and academic priorities.

The discussion around the rankings highlights a shift in priorities among law school applicants, with more emphasis being placed on employment outcomes rather than ranking positions. Spivey's own firm, which conducts rankings analysis, benefits from the ongoing relevance of the rankings, yet he advocates for greater transparency and meaningfulness in how the rankings are formulated and presented. This evolving perspective among stakeholders suggests that while the U.S. News rankings continue to influence applicant decisions to some extent, their dominance and credibility are increasingly being questioned within the legal education community.

After setbacks, U.S. News law school rankings show signs of waning influence | Reuters

Epic Games has called for significant reforms to Google's Play Store, following a jury's decision that Google had abused its dominant position in the Android app market. In a recent court filing, Epic suggested that the Play Store should allow third-party app stores and limit Google's agreements with device makers that prevent the preloading of alternative stores. These recommendations were part of a proposed injunction submitted to U.S. District Judge James Donato in San Francisco, who oversaw the antitrust trial concluding with a verdict against Google in December.

Epic's proposal does not seek monetary damages but aims to alter Google's practices to foster greater competition. Specifically, Epic wants to prohibit Google from restricting how apps inform users about purchasing options outside of the Google Play Store. This move is part of a broader challenge against major tech companies' control over app distribution and transaction processes.

While Google has denied any wrongdoing and defended its app store policies, it has been compelled to make concessions in the face of legal pressures. In December, alongside the jury verdict, Google agreed to a $700 million settlement addressing allegations related to its Play Store restrictions. Moreover, Google introduced "choice billing" as an alternative for in-app purchases in the U.S., allowing developers more flexibility.

The case against Google could extend for years, especially as Google plans to appeal the December verdict and potentially challenge any reforms mandated by Judge Donato. This legal battle mirrors a similar ongoing dispute between Epic Games and Apple, emphasizing Epic's broader strategy to challenge the app distribution monopolies held by tech giants. The outcomes of these cases could have significant implications for the app development industry and consumer choice in digital marketplaces.

Epic Games proposes Google app store reforms after antitrust win | Reuters

Ludwig van Beethoven enjoying the countryside, pencil sketch

This week’s closing theme is by Ludwig van Beethoven.

Ludwig van Beethoven, born in 1770 in Bonn, Germany, stands as a monumental figure in the history of Western music. His works span the transition from the Classical period to the Romantic era in music and continue to be revered for their depth and innovative qualities. Beethoven was a virtuosic pianist and composer who was known for his profound ability to convey emotion and intellectual depth through his compositions. Despite suffering from progressive hearing loss that eventually led to complete deafness, Beethoven's relentless dedication to music allowed him to compose some of the most celebrated pieces of all time.

Among his extensive body of works, Beethoven’s symphonies particularly stand out, with each contributing uniquely to the evolution of the genre. His Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68, known as the "Pastoral Symphony," is an exemplary piece that depicts the composer's love for nature. Unlike many of his other symphonies, which are driven by dramatic heroism, the Pastoral Symphony is filled with warmth and expressions of the joy and peace Beethoven found in the countryside. This symphony is programmatic, meaning it intentionally evokes scenes or nature images, showcasing Beethoven's deep reverence for the natural world.

The "Pastoral Symphony" is divided into five movements, each describing a different element of rural life. Of particular note is the first movement, marked "Allegro ma non troppo," which translates to "Lively, but not too much." This movement, titled "Awakening of cheerful feelings on arrival in the countryside," beautifully sets the stage for a symphonic expression of a day in the countryside. It starts with a leisurely pace that suggests the gentle unfolding of a landscape bathed in the rejuvenating light of spring. The melody is simple yet expressive, with flowing lines that mimic the tranquility of nature, perfectly capturing the essence of spring's awakening.

In this movement, Beethoven uses a sonata form to explore musical themes that suggest the freshness of the season, the rustling of leaves, and the bubbling of streams. The development section weaves these elements together, creating a rich tapestry of sound that feels both vivid and idyllic. This movement not only sets the tone for the entire symphony but also offers listeners a sonic escape into the peacefulness and renewal that characterizes spring. Through the "Pastoral Symphony," particularly in the allegro of the first movement, Beethoven invites us to share in his reverence for nature and experience the restorative powers of the natural world.

Without further ado, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, Allegro movement.

Minimum Competence - Daily Legal News Podcast
Minimum Competence
The idea is that this podcast can accompany you on your commute home and will render you minimally competent on the major legal news stories of the day. The transcript is available in the form of a newsletter at