In House - The FindLaw Corporate Counsel Blog

January 2016 Archives

On January 16th, the International Atomic Energy Agency verified that Iran had met its nuclear commitments to the United States and Europe. With that, years of economic sanctions against Iran were suddenly relaxed.

But if your business is rushing to open its first office in Tehran, you'll want to tell them to slow down. Here are three things you need to know about doing business with Iran, post-sanctions.

It was a rough start and quick finish for the first trail over General Motors' defective ignition switches, which have left over 124 dead and many more injured. The first bellwether case fell apart last week as evidence emerged that the plaintiffs had lied about the extent of their injuries. The plaintiff dismissed his claim on Friday, after Southern District of New York Judge Jesse Furman said he had committed "a fraud on the court and on the jury."

So, what went wrong for the plaintiffs and so right for GM?

Salaries and compensation used to be highly-guarded information. Employees generally didn't know what their colleagues were making or how much they earned relative to the cubicle next door.

But pay secrecy's days are numbered, given new state and federal laws, NLRB rulings, and the anonymity of the Internet.

Someone didn't like your shrimp sales, or your "clean diesel" advertising, or your employment practices, and they've filed suit. It's not just any lawsuit, however. It's a class action, so the stakes are a bit higher than your everyday litigation.

What is in-house counsel to do? Here's what.

Copyright Conundrums and Due Diligence

As the world of contract law becomes ever more complex, and as app-authors and programmers get ever more callow about the legal realities of licensing, its easy for parties to get caught up in 'get rich' enthusiasm. They do so at their peril. Copyright and other IP lawsuits lurk around every corner.

We'll go over a scenario that's been playing out more and more recently and some of the steps you, as the in-house lawyer, can do to minimize your client's headache.

Should GCs Move to the Company Board?

Gone are the days when general counsel simply served a company as the consummate legal stick-in-the-mud. As the world of business becomes more complex, GC skills are now needed more broadly, at higher levels, and earlier.

Merck Settles Investor Lawsuit, Will Pay $830 Million

The giant pharma company Merck just settled an investor suit with a figure of $830 million. Although Merck admitted no wrongdoing, it was faced with allegations that it failed to inform its investors about less than encouraging data from early company-funded trials of its famous drug, Vioxx.

The $830 million number is large, but it's not the biggest pill that Merck & Co. has had to swallow. In 2008, it settled a plethora of suits related to drug to the tune of $4.85 billion.

You Can Be ESIGN and UETA Compliant and Still End up in Court

Electronic signatures have quickly become the predominant means of closing a deal, although it would be a mistake to believe that all digital signatures are made the same.

Under basic application of business contract and evidence rules, one could say that electronic signatures are really not that "toothier" than their paper counter-parts. At least this is the current law under Federal ESIGN and state UETA laws.

Bloomberg announced on Tuesday that it had bought up the intellectual property and patents of Netbox Blue, an Australian company that provides social media risk management and compliance services. Netbox Blue's tech will be used as part of Bloomberg Vault, the company's enterprise compliance platform.

Bloomberg Vault's customers are primarily financial services firms and the newly-acquired technology could be used to help them catch an errant tweet, email, or instant message before it lands the company in trouble with the SEC or FINRA.

Lumosity Settles $2M for Failing to Back Ads With Science

The FTC has often been the public consumer protection outfit that helps people take down companies making absurd claims about their products or services. One of the more famous FTC takedowns was of L'Oreal, which had claimed that products in its Genefique and Paris Youth Code lines essentially were the keys to youth by unlocking proper gene expression.

The latest company to feel the FTC's wrath, Lumosity, settled with the federal agency to the tune of $2 million because it failed to back up its brain-training program claims with "sound, scientific research."

The Paris climate accords, agreed to in December by 195 nations, are one of the largest economic and environmental policy advancements in recent decades. The accords marked the first time that all countries have agreed to reduce climate change causing greenhouse emissions. The accords also committed nations to a global temperature rise of 3.6 degrees, just enough to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

The impact of businesses can be seen throughout the accords, and we're not talking climate change denying fossil fuel companies here. Instead, large businesses were immensely supportive of climate action -- though not as supportive as some civil society groups would want. Here's the impact big business had on the climate accords.

Tech Companies Are Outraged Over U.K.'s Spying Bill

If you're lucky enough to be on one of the in-house counsel teams of Facebook, Google, Apple another giant tech company, then you've already heard about the U.K.'s proposed Investigatory Powers Bill. Your companies are not happy.

But what are some of the concerns that are getting tech firms so upset?

The past year was a mixed bag for corporate compliance. In 2015, we saw major compliance scandals, like the Volkswagen emissions fraud, and the continued fallout from the GM recall, not Just for General Motors, but for its in-house legal team. The year also saw the continued rise of compliance professionals and a re-commitment by the Department of Justice to vigorously pursue compliance enforcement.

But enough about 2015. What lies ahead in corporate compliance?

Samsung Tries to Push Its Wins Against Apple, Reduce $120M Award

Remember the lawsuit brought by Apple against Samsung a year ago? Suing over allegations that the Korean technology company infringed on Apple's patents, the sum at issue was a rather modest $120 million.

Now, in a twist of the knife against Apple, Samsung is attempting to press that number down even lower. After Samsung's success against Apple over the last few years, this would be a real cherry on top. This is the latest development in what can only be described as a very confusing and very expensive journey through the IP courts. In-house lawyers, if you're overwhelmed, join the club.

The Department of Justice filed its first charges against Volkswagen on Monday. In a civil complaint filed in the Eastern District of Michigan, the Justice Department alleges that Volkswagen repeatedly and illegally violated the Clean Air Act by installing "defeat devices" on its so-called clean diesel vehicles. Those devices allowed the cars to cheat emissions tests and release air pollution at much higher rates than allowed under the Clean Air Act.

The case could lead to civil fines of costing tens of billions of dollars. But that's just the opening salvo in the government's response to the VW emissions scandal and does not foreclose the possibility of criminal charges against Volkswagen executives sometime in the near future.

IRS Gives Employers a New Years Gift: An Extension

In celebration of the new year, the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the IRS opted to be generous and to extend the deadlines for the 2015 information reporting requirements for employers and insurers under Affordable Care Act (ACA, Obamacare). Unbeknownst to the general public, this will be the first year that employers and insurers will be required to report specific information about their health coverage given to their employees.

In-house should use this time wisely to ensure that the human resources department in their respective companies are on the ball.

Important Skills In-House Counsel Should Master

Remember when landing a job at BigLaw was the holy grail of law school graduates? Hard to believe, but that's now old hat. The new brass ring in the law world is in-house -- with luck, general counsel.

But before you can firmly call yourself established in your position of in-house legal counsel, you're going to have to master a few skills first -- like outsourcing your work, believe it or not. Even with that, being in-house is no easy task.

In-House Job Outlook for 2016

According to information compiled by Robert Half Legal, the legal staffing and consulting firm, many legal departments don't' plan to hire or fire in the coming year.

Looking a little more closely at the data, it appears that in-house lawyers can rejoice: legal departments don't plan on reducing their spend too much. Only 1 percent of in-house lawyers report that their legal departments plan to eliminate jobs in the new year. Not bad!