In House - The FindLaw Corporate Counsel Blog

September 2013 Archives

Anyone familiar with Abercrombie & Fitch knows its branding; the ubiquitous black-and-white photos of the semi-naked, "attractive all-American kid" are in all of its stores and advertising.

Well, no matter how much a company spends to build and maintain a "look," it does not matter (for the most part) when religious accommodation is concerned. Abercrombie has learned this the hard way.

Abercrombie has seen its share of controversy -- whether it's cultural or sexual insensitivity, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The latest controversy involves Abercrombie's treatment of Muslim women in its workforce.

Facebook Hires BigLaw Entertainment, Patent, Privacy Partner

Sharon Osbourne, in her memoirs, said that "Ashlie Beringer has got balls of steel," after Beringer defended Sharon's husband Ozzy in a lawsuit. Facebook stated, "We have always been impressed with her toughness and commitment to innovation."

They also just hired her to be their Deputy Counsel, and it's not hard to see why.

The BigLaw partner and litigator leaves Gibson Dunn, where she was co-chair of the firm's Information Technology and Data Privacy practice group, reports TechCrunch. She also has experience as an entertainment litigator (defending Ozzy and other reality television stars), patent and intellectual property litigator, and has recently worked on data privacy litigation.

This Week in FDA Regulations: 40 States Ask for E-Cig Rules

E-cigarettes seem to be the hot topic in federal regulation, and for good reason.

The tobacco alternative, which delivers nicotine-laced vapor into the lungs, has exploded in popularity while regulations have languished far behind. Prime example: Cigarettes cannot be flavored (even menthol may be on the way out), while e-cigarettes can come in such delightful flavors as cherry, rocky road, or chocolate.

Now, frustrated by the Food and Drug Administration's delay in regulating the devices, 40 states' attorneys general have signed on to a letter urging the administration to act before an October 31 deadline, reports CBS News.

Tired of hearing about Obamacare? Great, because we've decided to make your life easier and give you a distilled list about what you need to know to effectively represent your company. For purposes of this discussion, we're going to assume that the company you represent has more than 50 employees. If it doesn't, check out the nifty guide we put together for small businesses.

Large Business -- 50 or More Employees

If the company you represent has more than 50 full-time employees, it's considered a "large" business for purposes of Obamacare. As a large business, your company will not be eligible for the SHOP Marketplace. However, the government has created a grey area for companies that are not too big, not too small (they're just right); beginning in 2016 companies with up to 100 full-time employees can take part in the SHOP Marketplace, a program that simplifies the purchase of health insurance.

White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler To Leave for Private Sector

White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler plans to leave by the end of the year to return to private practice in New York.

Ruemmler served in the administration from day one of Obama's presidency -- first as principal associate deputy attorney general, the third-ranking official at the Justice Department, and later in the White House, as deputy counsel and later counsel, reports The Associated Press.

With the coveted spot up for grabs, who are the fortunate few contenders?

In 2012, American Bar Association President Laurel Bellows formed the ABA Gender Equity Task Force "to address the continuing gender equity issues that exist in the legal profession and in society at large."

In a recent publication, Power of the Purse: How General Counsel Can Impact Pay Equity for Women Lawyers, the ABA recommends six ways that General Counsel can influence gender equity at the firms they hire. Here's a brief rundown on the matter, in case you don't have time to read the whole thing.

$1 Billion in Fines for J.P. Morgan Chase is a Good Start

Last month, charges were brought against two of the three traders alleged to have taken part in the London Whale scandal at J.P. Morgan Chase, while the third participant agreed to serve as a cooperating witness. No charges were filed against any executives, even though the company's failed oversight led to $6 billion in losses.

After the charges were announced, we couldn't help but wonder: how does the government expect banks to reform their practices when the only disincentive was a temporary dip in stock prices? Today, we got our $1 billion answer.

Twitterfly Effect: Social Media and the Chobani Yogurt Mold Recall

When in doubt, blame social media.

An Australian man gets an 11-inch sandwich from Subway, posts about it on Facebook, and the sandwich chain faces a minor social media catastrophe and a handful of not-quite-footlong lawsuits. Best Buy issues an email coupon with too few restrictions, and it gets shared on social media. Hundreds of customers flock to the stores, only to be turned away. How many of those customers do you think will ever come back?

And then there is the Greek yogurt company Chobani. They issue a voluntary "withdrawal," pull possibly-contaminated stock from stores, and a tweet by a grocery store stock person about the yogurt turns a minor inconvenience into a massive uproar, and a recall.

5 Networking Tips for Introverted In-House Counsel

Networking, networking, networking -- we know, snagging a great in-house gig is all about networking. For social creatures, the mantra that "it's all about who you know" is music to the ears. Most introverts, on the other hand, would rather gouge their eyes out with a fork than attend a networking event.

If that describes you: Put the fork down, because guess what? Introverts can network, too!

Here are a few networking tips for socially awkward and introverted in-house counsel:

Transgender Discrimination: Update Your Company Policies

A South Dakota woman's transgender discrimination settlement reveals a growing trend toward recognizing transgender discrimination claims as cognizable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act's sex discrimination prohibition.

The case serves as a strong reminder to companies and their in-house counsel to update their LGBT policies to protect transgender employees from discrimination.

5 Tips for Using Freelance Corporate Counsel

If your company is going through a busy transitional period with boatloads of legal work to go around, hiring freelance corporate counsel may be a good idea. It's a great way to remedy productivity constraints while being mindful of budgetary concerns.

Here are five tips to keep in mind for using freelance corporate counsel:

Does your legal department benchmark against other corporate in-house legal departments? If you're not familiar with benchmarking it's a process where you meet with other corporate in-house law departments and compare notes. It's a way to find out how others run their department, learn more about industry practices, and get ideas to improve and create efficiencies in your department.

You can set up benchmark meetings informally through existing relationships or spend some money and hire a benchmarking company that will have access to industry-wide surveys and networks. Here are five things you should consider when benchmarking against other in-house legal departments.

BYOD is not just a trendy phenomenon -- it's here to stay. While there are many benefits of BYOD including increased company savings in funds and resources related to the purchase and supporting devices, and increased employee productivity and flexibility, BYOD also poses some serious risks.

To assist you in this ever evolving field, we're laying out the problems you should look for, as well as the policies and plans you should set in place.

How Many Businesses Will Miss the Oct. 1 Obamacare Deadline?

Obamacare (or the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) mandates don't apply to me. My business is tiny! Besides, didn't that whole Obamacare thing get bumped back a year?

Perhaps, but whether or not the insurance mandate applies to the business you counsel, and regardless of the one-year delay in penalties for not providing insurance, know that nearly all small businesses are required to comply with the "Obamacare letters" provision of the law, and the deadline, October 1, is just weeks away.

Blame it on the 70s, when that new phenomenon -- jogging or yogging -- became popular. Since then, there's been one new health kick after another, but one new health trend may actually save your company money -- employee wellness programs.

Jeremy Scott is a fashion industry darling. Each season he conjures up a collection for the young at heart that usually centers on a graphic theme. From superheroes to fast food, all was fair game for Jeremy Scott.

Until now.

Jennifer Rochon to Become 1st-Ever GC at Girl Scouts of the USA

Last week, Girl Scouts of the USA announced the appointment of Jennifer Rochon as the organization's first-ever general counsel.

Rochon, a seasoned litigator with experience ranging from complex contractual disputes to intellectual property, will join the Girl Scouts on October 1.

Sadly, she will be compensated in dollars and not in Thin Mints.

How to Release Bad Earnings Reports: Cloak in Nonsense?

The popular consensus is that the soda industry is in a funk. American consumers are flocking to other "healthier" and "all natural" beverages, especially in lieu of diet soda. Fox Business tosses out a number of statistics to show the decline:

  • 71 percent of Americans have had a soft drink in a two-week span. In 2000, that figure was 81 percent.
  • In 1998, Americans consumed an average of 54 gallons of carbonated soft drinks per year. Now, it's 43.8 gallons.
  • Diet soda consumption has declined in each of the past six years, including 3.4 percent in 2012 and 2.5 percent in 2011.

Yeah. Good news for our health, bad news for the industry. What does a company do when their earnings reports reflect such realities?

Face it, you got a bit spoiled at BigLaw. Between the sporting events, summer lunches and weekly free booze happy hour, you got accustomed to the finer things in life. Now, you're in-house counsel -- you've switched columns. You were once a rainmaker and now you're an expense on the balance sheet. But does that mean that you, and the rest of the company should suffer? No way.

According to Nancy Koehn, Harvard business professor, employee perks do matter. She splits companies that offer perks into two camps: those wanting to retain scarce talent, and those that realize that making employees a top priority is a way to grow business.

Twitter's Rumored IPO: Best, Worse Case Scenarios

The rumor mill is churning, and it looks like the next big tech-IPO could be the social network and micro-blogging platform Twitter. The rumors have reached a fever pitch as Twitter has made a number of strategic hires that point in the direction of a public offering, such as hiring Mike Gupta as the company's CFO. Gupta previously helped take Zynga public, according to BuzzFeed.

If indeed the company is planning on going public, it can learn lessons from two recent, and similar IPOs: that of LinkedIn and that of Facebook.

If you followed the typical road to in-house counseldom, you probably put in some time at BigLaw. Though many of the issues you may be dealing with are in the same practice area, you are now on the other side of the phone -- you are the client.

That's not the only difference. You also need to change your mind set a bit; you should not only be approaching problems with you lawyer hat on, but also your business hat. If you haven't figured this out yet, sometimes the business and legal teams' goals are not aligned. Seeing things from the business perspective will not only make you a more effective attorney, it will make you GC material.

Here are five ways to bridge the gap between the business and law sides of your brain ...

Viewabill: In House Attorneys' New Best Friend?

Outside counsel. They are a necessary evil for the overburdened in-house attorney. When a matter crosses your desk that is beyond your expertise, or beyond your schedule, you pass it on to outside counsel, and cross your fingers. Will they overbill? More like, by how much will they overbill?

Meet Viewabill. The startup first got our attention a few months ago, right about the time the "churn that bill, baby!" email from DLA Piper leaked. At the time, we questioned the utility to outside counsel: after all, who wants your client looking over your shoulder at all times, calling or emailing every fifteen minutes about the latest time entry?

How to Handle Government Inquiries as In-House Counsel

When it comes to government inquiries, in-house counsel has it rough. We've seen corporate counsel become scapegoats for bungled government inquiries. With in-house counsel and company executives receiving harsher penalties for company wrongdoing in recent years, taking precautions is essential.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when responding to government inquiries.

More Chatter about FDA E-Cigarette Regulation

We've written about the Food and Drug Administration's eye on e-cigarettes before, but with new advertisements hitting television, and toting the benefits of "vaping" over puffing, calls for the FDA to step in and regulate the industry are reaching a fever pitch.

USA Today describes one ad, where Stephen Doroff states, "It's time we take our freedom back," before listing places where men might like to smoke, but aren't allowed to, such as basketball games or at a bar. Another ad, starring Jenny McCarthy extols the virtues of e-cigarettes to the single woman, including not stinking up your hair, and not turning your teeth yellow:

Twitter's General Counsel Steps Down

Alexander Macgillivray is unexpectedly stepping down as Twitter's General Counsel. Not surprisingly, he tweeted the news himself and didn't offer a reason for the surprising move. (You do only get 140 characters per tweet.)

Here's why people are pretty surprised about it and who will be filling Twitter's empty legal nest.