In House - The FindLaw Corporate Counsel Blog

November 2013 Archives

As a mother of a little girl, I came across Goldieblox in my search for un-pink toys. The company's goal is to inspire a new generation of engineers to equalize the playing field as only 11% of engineers are women, worldwide. As someone also raised on late '80s -- early '90s hip hop, when I saw their commercial set to the tune of the Beastie Boys' "Girls," I had one more reason to be a fan.

But, rather predictably, the Beastie Boys are not fans.

FindLaw Survey: Employers Rarely Ask for Social Media Passwords

We hear the nightmarish "Big Brother" tales of employers requiring social media passwords as a condition of employment.

But as in-house counsel might expect, only three percent of Americans have actually been asked by an employer to hand over their social media passwords, according to a new FindLaw survey.

ACC's Law Dept. Compensation Survey: More In-House Spending

The ACC's 2013 Annual Law Department Compensation Survey's results are in, and it's good news for in-house legal departments. As some might expect from all the bad news in BigLaw, spending on outside counsel is down overall, and in-house spending is up. Departments of all sizes are seeing modest salary increases, and in another unsurprising note, the bigger the in-house legal department, the more the general counsel's base salary is on average.

What else did the survey find? Read on.

While whistleblower laws have been in existence for some time, the passage of Dodd-Frank has changed the legal landscape for dealing with whistleblowers. The SEC has created incentives for whistleblowers, including rewards, and anti-retaliation measures. Because of these incentives, we're likely to see an increase in whistleblower cases.

The ACC Docket published an article, "Strategies for Keeping a Whistleblower In-House," and we were inspired to share some ways that your legal department should prepare for, and train employees for dealing with whistleblowers.

As in most cases, the most valuable thing you can do for your company is be prepared.

The USPTO West Will Soon Be My Neighbor. Yay Silicon Valley.

Downtown San Jose is a funny place. On one block, you have a law school with homeless people (presumably, not all of them are recent graduates) sleeping on the doorstep. Two blocks over, you have a place serving $9 beers. And, of course, there's that shiny new San Jose City Hall, which seems to be largely vacant, and which has an art installation on the bottom floor, filled with art that no one wants to actually see.

The shiny building just got a purpose. The United States Patent and Trademark Office has announced that it would accept a bribe offer from the City of San Jose to open up a Silicon Valley branch office in some of the building's vacant space. (Why they built a city hall that is so grandiose and vacant is a bit unfathomable, but that's not the USPTO's concern.)

Back in October, we posted about JP Morgan and the DOJ's tentative settlement, and yesterday, a $13 billion settlement was finalized, and announced, reports The New York Times.

As one banking analyst stated to the Los Angeles Times, "[b]efore the crisis, Big Brother was asleep on the couch ... Now Big Brother is coming back with a vengeance."

Survey Finds Corporate Board Communications Pose Security Risks

Keeping in step with the mantra that "you are your own worst enemy," a new Thomson Reuters survey reveals that corporate board members present security risks to the company.

The Thomson Reuters annual Board Governance survey -- which gleans its results from more than 125 general counsel and company secretaries across a wide-ranging cross-section of industries and geographies globally -- shows that corporate board communications present genuine security risks.

Here are a few of the survey's main highlights:

Last week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in one of the two union cases it is hearing this term. In Unite Here Local 355 v. Mulhall, the Supreme Court must determine whether organizing assistance can be considered "a thing of value" for purposes of the Labor-Management Relations Act.

Lawyers, good news, if you are currently employed, and have more than three years' experience, your salary will likely go up in 2014, according to a Robert Half Legal 2014 Salary Guide. Surveying 200 lawyers from firms and corporations in the U.S., the study found that hiring in legal departments of corporations "has strengthened ... to support renewed business activity and meet increased demand for legal services."

Insert collective sigh of relief here.

This Week in FDA Regulation: Trans Fats, Fried Food Will Kill You

Adios, fried and well-done foods.

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took the long-awaited step of announcing a 60 day notice-and-comment period for regulations that will ban artificial trans fats from the nation's food supply. This week, while abstaining from rulemaking, they warn us that fried and burnt grains and potatoes will cause cancer due to a newly-discovered chemical that forms at high temperatures.

No more French fries? Pass the boiled and steamed veggies.

'Natural' Claims Disappearing From Food Labels After Lawsuits

To paraphrase the chorus of a popular tune, "Blame it on my J.D., baby."

The nation's second-most-lucrative food adjective (behind low-fat), which brought in $40 billion in sales in the last 12 months, is suddenly being stripped off of labels. No longer will you find "Natural" Goldfish, or "All-Natural" Naked Juice. In fact, PepsiCo just paid $9 million over its Naked Juice labels.

And the blame for the disappearing adjective lies (almost) completely with the lawyers, reports The Wall Street Journal.

On Monday, we posted about how women attorneys could help other women in the legal industry. Today, we look at the same issue through the lens of in-house counsel.

As only one department among many, in-house attorneys are in the unique position to help women advance their careers, whether in, or out, of the legal department.

Here are some steps you can take right now:

3 Ethics Issues In-House Counsel Regularly Face

Traversing tricky ethical boundaries comes with the territory of an in-house counsel gig. Though in-house attorneys can often turn to their GCs to guide them in the right direction, it's also important to have an independently firm grasp of ethics rules.

Here are three common ethics issues in-house counsel face:

Last week Office Depot and OfficeMax completed their merger, and it made us wonder, what is going to happen to each respective legal department?

Here are some things we think are important to consider if you work in the legal department of a company that was merging with another ...

This is Probably a Tech Bubble. Adjust Expectations Accordingly.

Welcome to the calm before the second storm, a sort-of prequel to the next tech bubble burst. Though I'm not the only person calling this before it happens, I did predict that the Kansas City Chiefs, currently sitting at 9-0, would be vastly improved this year (and in my wildest fantasies, a Super Bowl contender). Nostradamus, out.

In all seriousness though, some big social media company just IPO'd yesterday at $26 per share, setting its market value at about $25 billion. The company, commonly known as Twitter, isn't expected to turn a profit for at least a couple of years. And though the shares opened at about $45 per share due to high interest, and spiked to around $50, it's now hanging around at $42.30 per share.

That's not the only insanity pervading people with too much money: an app used for sexting and a money-agnostic scrapbooking social network have each been valued at around $4 billion. Again, none of these companies have turned a profit, nor are they expected to any time soon.

Twitter IPO: Why Is Unprofitable Company Worth a Bajillion Dollars?

Last night, Twitter announced that it was setting its IPO price at $26 per share, more than the $23 to $25 per share that analysts expected. According to Ars Technica, that puts the company's value at $18 billion, and it brings in $1.8 billion in cash, more than the $1 billion the company targeted.

It got crazier. The stock opened at $45.10 per share, and was up 92 percent in the first hours of trading, reports Reuters. Its market value now sits at around $25 billion. This is a company that still has not turned a profit, and isn't expected to do so until 2015 at the earliest.

In The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli declares: "It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both." And writer Rex Huppke agrees --except he means F.E.A.R, not fear. Though he tailors his approach to the world of business in general, the F.E.A.R. approach is just as useful when approaching legal issues.

Here's how.

While we at FindLaw have done a fine job of addressing corporate social media policy as it relates to employees, we have not yet spoken to creating a social media policy as it relates to your company's marketing and advertising.

An article in the ACC Docket magazine brought to light various issues that corporate counsel need to consider when it comes to advertising via social media. We've distilled the tips into four easy steps to help you craft an advertising social media policy.

Need a Cybersecurity Refresher? Check Out SBA's New Online Course

Whether your client is a rinky-dink startup or a blossoming corporate giant, all in-house counsel realize the critical need for clients (and their attorneys) to understand the nuts and bolts of cybersecurity.

For those in need of a refresher or crash course on the topic, the Small Business Administration is offering a new online cybersecurity course that is geared to small business. The course, Cybersecurity for Small Businesses, provides a nutshell primer on how to secure business information, identify security threats and guard against cyber-attacks.

Here's a breakdown of the SBA course's topics paired with FindLaw's own tips:

Sometimes your company, or your outside counsel, will host CLE classes that are open for you to attend. Other times, you may want to do something a little different, and maybe even commiserate with other in-house counsel. If you choose the latter, then check out the great classes ACC is offering both online, and in person.

In-house legal departments are often seen as cost centers, but the past few years has seen an interest in converting legal departments to profit centers. This was especially the case during the Great Recession, but is smart business in all financial climates.

Here are some areas, and things to consider, in trying to make your company's legal department profitable.