In House

In House - The FindLaw Corporate Counsel Blog


Ever sense the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944, Western governments have been moving toward free trade and open markets. For generations, reducing barriers to trade has been almost universally approved by the dominant political class, leading to institutions like the IMF, GATT, NAFTA, and the WTO -- an entire alphabet of neoliberalism.

But the same day that the global elites were leaving Davos, having spent nearly a week singing the praises of open markets, Donald Trump was inaugurated as President of the United States, his victory fueled in part by skepticism towards international trade. And the president put that skepticism into action on Monday, issuing an executive order abandoning the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free trade agreement long supported by the Obama administration.

General Counsel's Whistleblower Trial Proceeds Against Ex-Employer

Sun-tzu, a Chinese general and military strategist, is credited with coining the phrase about 2,400 years ago: "Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer." Sanford "Sandy" Wadler, formerly general counsel at Bio-Rad Laboratories Inc., might be feeling that about his former employer today.

Wadler, who worked for Bio-Rad for two decades, is suing the company for allegedly firing him after he blew the whistle on its conduct in China. He contends that he was forced out of his job after he advised the company about potential bribery in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

"If he had not made his report to the audit committee, he would have not been fired," plaintiff's attorney James Wagstaffe said in opening arguments last week.

What lawyer brought a razor-sharp wit to, well, a razor fight? Jack Sarno, general counsel of the razor-blades-by-mail startup Harry's.

After Gillette launched a campaign to "welcome back" former Harry's users, Sarno sent off a demand letter to Gillette, part of Procter & Gamble -- a demand letter with plenty of, ahem, edge.

Is Your Company's Confidentiality Agreement Illegal?

If all confidentiality agreements were truly kept confidential, it would be hard to determine if they were legally binding.

That assertion underlies a basic reason that all confidentiality agreements are not, in fact, binding. Public policy and many laws prohibit confidentiality in various areas. Indeed, some laws mandate disclosure of information that cannot be kept confidential.

Here are three types of confidentiality agreements and related problems to avoid:

Government lawyers seem to be in a rush to wrap up high-profile cases before the new administration takes over. In December, Deutsche Bank settled a federal investigation into its mortgage securities, for $7.2 billion. Then came Volkswagen, laying out almost $15 billion in what might be the most expensive corporate scandal ever. Last week, Takata agreed to settle an investigation into its cover up of airbag defects for $1 billion, a relative steal. Credit Suisse followed, agreeing to pay $5.3 billion for violations involving mortgage-backed securities.

Today, JPMorgan Chase joined the ranks, agreeing to pay $55 million to settle a Justice Department lawsuit that accused it of discriminatory mortgage lending practices targeted at African-American and Hispanic homebuyers.

Volkswagen has agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges and settle the federal investigation into its "clean diesel" emissions fraud -- for $4.3 billion in civil and criminal penalties. That comes on top of the nearly $15 billion the company has agreed to pay to consumers, making VW's emissions scandal perhaps the most costly corporate scandal ever.

But that's hardly the end of things for VW. Last week, six executives were charged with wire fraud, conspiracy, and violations of the Clean Air Act -- and more prosecutions could be coming, implicating even the company's in-house attorneys.

Takata to Pay $1 Billion in Air Bag Scandal

Japanese auto-parts maker Takata will pay $1 billion as part of a criminal settlement stemming from the company's cover-up of defective air bags that contributed to the deaths of at least a dozen motorists and injuries to almost two hundred others.

The U.S. Justice Department announced the deal Friday, which included one guilty plea to wire fraud, $25 million in fines, $125 million for injured motorists, and $850 million for recall and replacement costs. Prosecutors said Takata and three of its executives, who separately face fraud and conspiracy charges, repeatedly falsified critical test data about the safety of its products for more than a decade.

"Automotive suppliers who sell products that are supposed to protect consumers from injury or death must put safety ahead of profits," said U.S. Attorney McQuade. "If they choose instead to engage in fraud, we will hold accountable the individuals and business entities who are responsible."

NY Times Promotes David McCraw, Lawyer Who Called Out Trump During Election

David E. McCraw, newly appointed deputy general counsel for the New York Times, isn't one to shy away from confronting powerful people. At least, that's the reputation he earned for himself when he stood up against Donald Trump's lawyers during the presidential campaign last year.

They demanded that the Times apologize and retract an article about two women who alleged Trump had groped them. Showing that the pen may be mightier than the sword, McCraw virtually stared them down and said: "Go ahead. Make my day."

Fiat Chrysler installed 'engine management' software on more than 100,000 of its diesel vehicles, allowing them to release increased pollutants, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The software was installed on 2014, 2015, and 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Ram 1500 trucks, the EPA says, and resulted in extra emissions of nitrogen oxide, a toxic pollutant and one of the main contributors to smog.

The accusations harken back to Volkswagen's emissions fraud, which was discovered in September 2015. There, Volkswagen used "defeat devices" to evade emissions test, allowing its "clean diesel" cars to otherwise emit illegal levels of pollution.

Salary negotiations can be a bit more difficult for in-house attorneys than for other lawyers. Whereas BigLaw firms tend to follow strict compensation plans, pay for in-house lawyers can vary significantly across companies, industries, and experience levels.

That means you'll need to put in extra work to understand what salary is possible for you and negotiate a decent compensation plan. Here are some tips.