In House - The FindLaw Corporate Counsel Blog

August 2013 Archives

Why Amazon and Overstock's SCOTUS Petitions Matter to You

Two things in life are certain: death and taxes. Except when they are not.

For the longest time, Amazon's clearest advantage over brick and mortar stores was the lack of sales tax. That advantage, however, has been slowly dissipating, at the company has clashed with multiple states over attempts to force the online retailer to collect taxes from customers, and in many cases, relented.

Overstock is more of the same story. Now, both companies, facing different sales tax rules in each state, and facing different rules than their competitors, have petitioned for a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court.

How the Ever-Connected Workforce Poses Problems For Your Company

Ars Technica calls this trend "the workforce that never stops working." With cloud-based everything, and proliferation of smartphones and tablets, workers are always connected to the office, even when on vacation or at home. It allows flexibility in office arrangements, telecommuting, and increased productivity.

It's not all good news, however. Here are three ways in which your company's forward-thinking, always-on tech practices could have negative legal and business consequences.

Forbes reported about a new study indicating that all that smiling those pesky optimists are so fond of may not actually be good for business.

Aha! Why is that? Well, according to Forbes writer Jan Bruce, optimists are less likely to take care of themselves, and less likely to have a plan B in case things go wrong ... because, you know, everything will be all right.

So, if pessimism is bad, and optimism is bad -- what's good? A healthy balance.

Ode to MLK's Dream: Update Your Diversity Policy

Achieving true diversity in the workplace can be a tricky matter. Our jurisprudence on affirmative action is hanging in the balance of obscurity, yet we still have a way to go in attaining proportional representation of minorities in employment. What's an in-house counsel to do about a company's diversity policy?

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" Speech during the March to Washington, here are five ways to legally promote diversity at your workplace and keep MLK's dream alive:

After the 2008 financial meltdown, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act ("Dodd-Frank") was enacted to reform our crumbling financial services industry. After languishing for several years because of hastily drafted imprecise wording, The Wall Street Journal reports that a requirement of the Act may soon be taking effect: disclosing the gap between CEO compensation and "rank-and-file employees." (Subscription only).

The Washington Post reports that Mary Jo White, SEC Chairwoman hopes the rule will be finished by September and stated: "We are very much as a staff and commission focused on that rule-making."

More Bad News for 'Scanner' Patent Trolls

If tomorrow, you were to receive a letter in the mail that accused you of violating a patent by using your copy machine or scanner, and that letter demanded $1,500 per employee, you'd probably ignore it. After all, you are a seasoned attorney, and you probably know all about patent trolls.

Not all companies are as lucky as your company, however, and not all of them are so informed, especially when that letter comes with a draft of a lawsuit that the company, MPHJ, "plans" to file against you. A layperson might even hand over part or full payment to avoid litigation.

This Week in FDA Regulations: Flavored Cigars, Pharmacies, and Deadlines

This week is more about the FDA being regulated (and empowered), rather than the agency regulating others, with the exception of their continuing crusade against tobacco use -- in any form. The recent trend began with e-cigarettes and menthols, continued with roll-your-own, and now, the FDA is eyeing flavored cigars, reports Fox News.

Meanwhile, a district court in California is keeping the pressure on the FDA to issue tardy food safety laws, while the Senate is moving to grant the FDA additional powers to help the agency oversee the operations of compounding pharmacies.

In 2012, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), U.S. government-contracted non-profit company that oversees the Domain Name System, began accepting applications for domain names coming after the "dot" (i.e., .gucci).

Also known as new global top-level domains (new gTLDs), brand owners will have to act fast to protect their marks. As in-house counsel, it's likely that you've had to deal with some trademark and/or cybersquatting issues. While your first reaction may be to think that ICANN is opening up a whole new (I)can of worms for you to deal with -- there are many reasons why your company should consider registering for a new gTLD.

RE/MAX Files for $100 Million IPO

RE/MAX, a giant franchisor of real estate brokerage, is moving into the IPO neighborhood. The company has publicly filed a registration statement for a proposed initial public offering of $100 million in common stock. The made the move after competitors -- Realogy, Zillow and Trulia -- have had strong post-IPO performances in the market.

In-house counsel in the real estate sector should recognize the filing as a strategy for investors to gain exposure to the recovering housing market.

Women have been getting a lot of attention lately. We recently talked about whether you should lean in, opt out, and the best law firms for women. Today, we give you an inside look into the thoughts of female in-house counsel.

Specifically, we wanted to know if, as women, they had unique career issues. Not surprisingly, the various women we spoke to brought up shared experiences, and they seem to mirror the issues in the corporate world in general -- affecting everyone, both women and men.

Two J.P. Morgan Traders Charged, but Will Anything Change?

Many Americans have called for the prosecution of the high-level bankers behind the 2008-and-onward economic collapse, and while that hasn't happened, they can take solace that things may be headed in that direction.

Reuters reported this week that two traders involved in last year's "London Whale" fiasco, in which J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. lost $6.2 billion, would be charged, while the "whale" himself would serve as a cooperating witness.

While this may seem like a step toward holding those who gamble with shareholders' money accountable, one has to wonder if this is enough. Will the prosecution of two mid-level employees, who allegedly disguised losses amid pressures to perform, really dissuade big banks from turning a blind eye towards' underlings' actions?

This Week in FDA Regulations: Roll-Your-Own, Trans Fat, Cosmetics

Here are a few good questions: What's the difference between filtered cigarillos and cigarettes? How about pipe tobacco and roll-your-own cigarette tobacco? And why are cigarettes, cigarillos, cigars, and pipe tobacco all regulated differently?

If the lines between types of tobacco are blurry, then the regulations are even more so, though the FDA is stepping up their enforcement. Meantime, someone is suing the FDA for not regulating, specifically their inaction towards trans fat. And in another area of nonregulation, the FDA has issued "guidance," rather than binding regulations, on cosmetics.

Read on for the regulation roundup:

Last week, The New York Times published an article 10 years in the making. It followed up with some women who had "opted-out" of their careers a decade ago to be full-time mothers, and tracked their career paths. The three women profiled wanted to "opt-in" again to their careers, but were facing obstacles along the way.

Which makes us ask: What can companies do to reduce "opt-outs" and help women thrive in corporate environments? The overwhelming response: more flex time. Working Mother magazine and Flex-Time Lawyers recently released their 2013 list of 50 Best Law Firms for Women, and not surprisingly, all of the firms on the list offered flex time or reduced hours.

What is surprising: A new study shows that when men and women ask for flex time, "Bosses favor men over women when employees request flex time," reports Slate. Um, anyone else feel like we're going around in circles?

When President Obama stated, "You don't want to mess with Mary Jo," he wasn't kidding.

Sworn into her new position just a few months ago, SEC Chairwoman Mary Jo White is leading the charge against fraudulent SEC filings with a new Accounting Quality Model dubbed "RoboCop", report Forbes. The completely automated analytical tool flags filings with high risk indicators and high risk inducers.

It's time to cozy up to the accounting department to make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to compliance. Here's an abbreviated list of the factors Forbes suggested as ways to avoid an SEC audit:

Should You Ban Gchat at Your Company?

A number of companies have banned Gchat at work. Should yours follow suit?

Google's chat feature is an inexpensive way to communicate with colleagues (along with friends and family) and combat mental fatigue from insanely long workdays. But companies like global auditing firm KPMG believe Gchat's costs outweigh its benefits and gave it the axe years ago.

Here are a few of the reasons why companies are banning Gchat at work:

Olive Garden, Red Lobster, and the Cyclospora Outbreak: 3 Lessons

Sometimes, even when it's not your fault, your name can be tarnished. During the recent Cyclospora outbreak, a few of the cases were tied to salad served in Iowa and Nebraska at Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants, which are both owned by the Florida-based Darden Restaurants. The source of the lettuce in those restaurants' salad was Taylor Farms de Mexico, reports Fox News.

According to CBS News, as of August 7, there were 504 cases of Cyclospora infection reported to the Centers for Disease Control, most of which were in the Midwest region and which are believed to be connected to bagged salad mix. Cyclospora is a rare parasite that causes flu-like symptoms and long-lasting gastrointestinal issues.

This Week in FDA Regulation: Celiac Disease and More Power!

Man, it must be unspeakably awful to suffer from Celiac disease. To never taste the majesty of a buttered croissant, or to have to worry about whether one's beer is going to cause distressing intestinal pain, is a terribly depressing thought. Imagine then, picking up a product labeled "gluten free" and then discovering, the hard way, that the label was "inaccurate" or "exaggerated."

That shouldn't happen anymore, or at least after this year, per a new FDA labeling regulation. Beyond waging war on wheat-sneakers, there have been calls for the FDA to reach into two other previously unexplored (or loosely regulated) areas: compounding pharmacies and dietary supplements.

So once more for you food-industry GC's, regulation wonks, or the merely curious, here is a run-down of some of the latest in FDA regs.

Welcome to corporate America. You are now a part of a team that fits within a larger corporate culture. Adjusting from BigLaw (or Small-to-MidLaw) to your company's corporate culture can take some getting used to.

One of the ways that the corporate world breeds cohesion and camaraderie is through team building. Yes, you're a lawyer, but you're in the corporate world now. You've got to play by the company's rules.

Here are five tips to help in-house counsel run an effective legal team building exercise.

Is Being Called a 'Shark' Really All That Bad?

Have you ever been called a "shark"? If you were a gunner in law school, then you are probably nodding -- in a somewhat aggressive and menacing manner. Well, guess what? In honor of "Shark Week" on the Discovery Channel, we are not going to reduce you to a jerk. Today, we celebrate you ... from a safe distance.

We opined in another blog, that maybe being called a shark could be viewed as a compliment -- but that was for litigators. The business world of an in-house counsel requires a very different set of teeth, but still, here's why being called a "shark" isn't all that bad:

One of the main reasons you left BigLaw and became in-house counsel was so you could get away from the infamous billable hours. But, increasingly, corporations are looking for ways to measure the performance of their legal departments.

As the ACC stated: "You can't manage what you can't measure." Since what we're really talking about is cost control and management -- it can be divided in two general areas: spending and matters.

This Week in FDA Regulation: Food, Chicken, and Turtles

Free range chicken. If you've ever wondered what the limits of "free range" are (and really, who hasn't), the Food and Drug Administration is about to make that question infinitely more complicated. If your chicken, vegetables, fruit, or other food is imported, they've got a rule or two for you too. And finally, for all you turtle lovers, the mass executions will stop.

Are you a GC in the food services industry? Just curious? Intrigued yet? For the latest in FDA regulations, read on: