In House - The FindLaw Corporate Counsel Blog

April 2013 Archives

BP Hit With Flood of Lawsuits 3 Years After Deepwater Horizon

The bad news for British Petroleum (BP) just keeps on coming. Remember that $20 billion the company set aside for claims arising out of the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill? They only have $1.7 billion unassigned after Business Economic Losses claims were higher than expected, reports Reuters.

Nearly two billion? That’s quite a bit, isn’t it? The company has also been hit by over 2,200 new lawsuits in the days before April 20, the three-year statute of limitations deadline imposed by the United States Oil Pollution Act of 1990. Meanwhile, they are currently in trial in New Orleans, Louisiana on related claims. According to Reuters, BP is expected to try to consolidate most of the new suits with the ongoing trial.

Even In-House Attorneys Can Be Suspended

It’s important to keep your state bar filings current. If you don’t submit the required updates at the required time, your license could be suspended. Even if you’re in-house.

Last week, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court concluded that a lower court had properly ordered a six-month suspension for an in-house attorney who kept practicing after her license was administratively suspended, BNA reports.

Humana Fires Greenberg Traurig as Investigations Begin

The Wall Street Journal calls Mark Hayes a lobbyist for Humana, an insurance company that makes much of it's revenue off of Medicare. Bloomberg calls him a lobbyist for Greenberg Traurig. He's also a consultant for an investment research firm, Height Securities. The parties' intertwined relationships are starting to sound like a Mississippi family tree.

Greenberg Traurig represented both Height and Humana. The Journal published an email from an analyst at Height to a Humana lobbyist, which was met with an "out of office" email auto responder, that stated "You guys seem to have done everything you can. I wish you the best with rates this evening."

DLA Piper's Bill-Churning Debacle Quietly Settles

Late last week, the biggest BigLaw billing dispute in recent memory came to an anti-climactic conclusion with a confidential settlement, reports Reuters. The motivation to settle is certainly understandable. Though an unpaid $675,000 tab is quite a bit of bucks, and compromising on the bill sets a bit of a dangerous precedent, the cost of the negative publicity to DLA Piper was more significant.

For those not familiar with the semi-scandal, DLA Piper sued TransGas over the unpaid balance. The company’s CEO and long-time DLA Piper client, Adam Victor, countersued, alleging overbilling. The discovery process led to evidence that supported Victor’s claims and embarrassed the BigLaw behemoth.

5 Sites to Search for In-House Jobs

We’ve previously discussed how to beef up your résumé to go in-house, and how much in-house jobs pay.

But those tips won’t help you unless you can find one of those magical in-house listings. So today, we’re helping you out with a list of 5 sites to search for in-house jobs.

Equitable Rules Cannot Override Clear Terms of ERISA Plan

"Principles of fairness" won't come between an employer health insurance plan and its chance to recover damages from a third party.

In a 5-4 decision this week, the Supreme Court ruled that equitable rules cannot override the clear terms of an ERISA plan, Thomson Reuters reports. If a contract gives a health plan administrator the right to full reimbursement from funds recovered from third parties, federal courts cannot use principles of fairness to rewrite the contract terms to reserve the reimbursement for the plan participant.

Companies Won't Be Held Liable in U.S. for Bad Acts Abroad

Until today, there was a 3-1 split regarding whether aliens could use the Alien Tort Statute to sue corporations in U.S. courts for human rights offenses committed overseas. The D.C. Circuit, (John Doe VIII et al v. Exxon Mobil Corp et al), the Ninth Circuit, (Sarei v. Rio Tinto), and the Seventh Circuit, (Flomo v. Firestone Natural Rubber Co.), had all ruled that federal courts have jurisdiction over alien claims under the ATS.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals was the lone outlier, finding that aliens couldn't bring ATS claims against foreign companies doing business overseas.

The Second Circuit's ruling, however, received a vote of confidence from the only court that really matters. Today, the Supreme Court ruled against a group of Nigerian plaintiffs who claimed that Royal Dutch Petroleum Company -- better known as Shell Oil -- aided and abetted the Nigerian government in committing human rights abuses against them.

New to In-House? ACC's Corporate Counsel University is May 19-21

Jack-of-all-trades - that's what you'll be. As the in-house attorney for your company, you are going to need to know finance, contracts, employment law, accounting, law department management, liability, indemnity, and confidentiality. There's probably more, but hey,that's what the conference is for, right?

The Association of Corporate Counsel will have its annual Corporate Counsel University intensive program from May 19-21 in New Orleans, LA at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside. From the Google Map, it looks like you'll be near both the French Quarter and the Coyote Ugly Saloon, which we can only assume is related to the landmark "women dancing on bars" film of the same name.

Rutgers' Blame Game Leads to Scapegoats, Firings, Lessons Learned

In what universe does Mike Rice's conduct not warrant a full investigation and swift and severe sanctions? Only in New Jersey, apparently, and some of those responsible for the wrist-slapping turned PR nightmare are getting the axe. Meanwhile, we can only hope that the university has learned a lesson in governance from this mess.

Mike Rice flung basketballs at players, berated them, physically struck them, and hurled homophobic insults constantly. His conduct only came to light after a disgruntled former employee, who is suing under a state whistleblower statute, leaked the tape to ESPN. Internally, however, Rutgers University was well-aware of the abuse - and responded with a short suspension and a fine.

How Does Your Company Handle Offensive Email?

If you've ever read PerezHilton.com, you may have seen the blog publish an email message with anti-gay slurs, complete with the sender's name and email address. The idea is simple and effective. The site's large fan base, enraged by the sender's offensive remarks, will flood the sender with responses.

The man behind the Perez persona -- Mario Lavandeira -- has been fighting a lawsuit over one of these posts for five years. This week, an arbitrator resolved the claim in favor of Perez, The Hollywood Reporter reports.

A tiff between a gossip blog reader and the "Queen of All Media" may not be the type of topic that usually concerns corporate counsel, but it's relevant in this case because the plaintiff, Diane Wargo, sent the email in question from her work email account at Menorah Park Center for Senior Living.

Are Free Lunches at Your Company Fringe Benefits?

Occasionally, I stop for a bagel on my way into work. On Fridays, however, my office offers a carbohydrate smörgåsbord: bagels and donuts and donut holes. Oh, and fruit.

So Friday, instead of scrambling eggs at home (about 90 cents) or buying a bagel (about $2), I load up on carbs for free at the office.

Should I be taxed on that amount? The answer turns on whether the IRS considers my bagel a fringe benefit.

Axiom: A LegalZoom for In-House? Blame BigLaw

Many have said that startups like LegalZoom.com are "disruptors" of the legal industry. That label, which is about as played out as "cyber-__" is overused, and some might say, misapplied in the LegalZoom context. Sam Glover, over at Lawyerist, points out that legal form distributors and prepaid legal services have been around forever. LegalZoom just tossed it onto the Internet (and added some damn good marketing).

He has a great point. We'd wonder what he'd think of Axiom Law. This not-law firm legal service provider, with the equally clichéd slogan "law redefined" promises to "do legal work efficiently." It wouldn't be difficult to mistake the LLC for a law firm based on its marketing.

Or based on its services.

Cybersecurity Law Firms: You're Just Using Me for my Privilege

We feel so dirty.

The Wall Street Journal ran an interesting story last week about a new tactic that companies are employing to deal with cybersecurity threats and data breaches - hiring lawyers. Now, that probably isn't surprising to you - for nearly every significant data breach, there's a class action lawsuit filed in response. However, the real surprising part of the story was that the firms aren't being hired for their legal skills - they're being hired for privilege.

A breach happens. Data is compromised. A company's first response is probably to call a cybersecurity expert. After all, they can assess the damage, plug the leak, and prevent future hacks.

Can You Go In-House Straight out of Law School?

In-house counsel seems like the ideal legal gig.

Power. Prestige. Stock options. Who doesn’t dream of such things?

But in-house jobs aren’t reserved solely for those lawyers who have paid their legal dues. There’s often room in the GC’s office for fledgling lawyers. Sometimes, there’s even room at the top.

How to Get Yourself Blacklisted by In-House Counsel

How do I hate thee, let me count the ways: your cold calls, your billing practices, your soliciting legal work from our MBAs. While in-house attorneys are generally considered to be Jacks and Jills of all trades, they do occasionally have to call upon outside counsel for help. If you want to land (or keep) some of this lucrative work, you have to avoid some of the more common missteps that will land you on the mythical black list.

Though every person has their own individual pet peeves, there are some acts that will irritate even the most even-keeled Ghandi-like attorney.

Top 5 Tips for New In-House Attorneys

So you made it to the promised land: The General Counsel's office. Congratulations.

It's normal to be nervous about your first in-house gig, especially if you're diving into a new practice area. Fear not. Here are five tips for new in-house attorneys that can help you navigate the learning curve in your new job:

SEC Revises Social Media Information Disclosure Rules

Some people put up a Facebook status update about their cats’ latest hairball. Others use it as a medium to mock the Oakland Raiders’ hilariously inept attempts at locating a starting quarterback. Reed Hastings, of Netflix, used his Facebook account to announce that his company had streamed more than one billion hours worth of video in June 2012, reports the Washington Post.

Within a day, Netflix’s stock price shot up - by more than $11 in a single day, and the SEC shot Hastings down - launching an investigation over whether the Facebook post violated SEC rules regarding distribution of important company information.

ACC Starting Crusade Against Bill Churning?

Too many lawyers. Not enough gigs. What happens when supply greatly exceeds demand?

Firms charge hundreds of dollars per hour for contract counsel, apparently.

Now, we're all familiar with the job market. Many of us who suffered, or are suffering, long-term post-graduate unemployment are familiar with the effect of that market on contract counsel wages. On the rare occasion that such a position is actually available, it pays far less than $100 per hour - unless the position is extremely specialized (such as Japanese patent law).