In House - The FindLaw Corporate Counsel Blog

May 2016 Archives

Retail Mass Tort Trends GCs Should Know

If no one has said it to you yet, then we should step in to do that honor: retail is getting killed, and we all know that online-retail's rise and brick-and-mortar retail's coincidental decline is no coincidence at all. And the fight for consumer retail dollars is finding its way into the courtroom.

But not all the time. General counsel and other in-house lawyers should take the time to get familiar with mass tort class action trends that have been afflicting the industry. The short verdict? Business is tougher than ever.

3 Recent Changes in In-House Practice and Why They Matter to You

The law changes with the ebb and flow of legal tides, but in the world of in-house practice, the waters are especially treacherous. We're talking about recent developments that implicate how GCs do their job, for whom they do their job, and what liability they could face for doing their job.

In fact, these changes even implicate whether or not anyone would want to go in house at all, anymore.

God bless the corporate scandal. Not only does it provide a bit of voyeuristic schadenfreude, it's a valuable teaching moment. "See kids, don't do what that white collar criminal did." And whether it's a Bank of America executive's claims that the bank has become a sexist "bro's club" or the continued fallout from Volkswagen's emissions fraud, there's plenty of lessons to be learned these days.

Here are some of our top corporate scandal takeaways for GC's and in-house counsel, from the FindLaw archives.

New start-ups need many things: the best young talent, a fair amount of funding, sometimes even gourmet lunches and on-hand masseuses. But what they don't need is lawyers. After all, many start-up behemoths like Uber and Airbnb started up with business plans which skirted or even ignored the law.

Or so the typical tech thinking goes. A start-up's job is to "move fast and break things" and lawyers are the suits who say "no." But, according to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, attorneys can bring many valuable skills that are needed at young start-ups. So if you want to be in-house counsel for a start up, here's how to convince them they need you.

4 Things New In-House Attorneys Should Do

In-house lawyers are special within the legal community in that they are beholden only to a single client and are not burdened by the daily concerns of making the bills and paying employees. If you landed an in-house job, you are the employee.

But you’re also likely the employee who is going to be handling a mountain of crap — more so than any other employee in the company. The rumor that in-house life is cushy may be true for some lucky IH, but it will most likely not be in your cards for many years to come. How best to handle your new position? Here are some basic tips that anyone can follow.

EEOC Clears up the Direction of 'Wellness' Programs

The EEOC cleared up some confusion surrounding the interaction of corporate wellness programs of other federal laws like GINA and the Americans with Disabilities Act by issuing rules concerning voluntariness. And the results have some upset.

In-house lawyers for most companies may be able to slip by without making major changes to legal compliance this time around, as the rules appear to have changed little from the proposed rules of last year.

Bayer, the German drug giant, has put forward an offer to buy Monsanto, the St. Louis-based purveyor of genetically modified crops, for $62 billion -- in cash. The offer, which came without solicitation by Monsanto, would be the largest all-cash takeover ever, according to Reuters.

But, it's far from a sure thing, with investors in both companies reacting unenthusiastically.

Female Exec at BoA Sues, Alleges 'Bro's Club', Lies, Butt-Kissing

A high ranking female executive at one of the nation's biggest banks brought a wallop of a suit against her employer recently, alleging, among other things, a "subordinate 'bro's club' of all-male sycophants."

It's a damning set of allegations against a professional industry that has already lost a lot of its balance amidst frequent allegations of sex-related pay imbalances.

ADA Tort Reform Bill Could Mean Fewer Suits

California recently passed Senate Bill 269, a law that extends protections to small business owners, shielding them in some cases from penalties and fines arising from ADA violations.

Small businesses have generally let out a collective sigh of relief. But really, what are some of the effects of the new law? Fortunately, it all appears pretty simple.

There are 50 beautiful states in this country and you've probably got business in more than a few of them. As in-house counsel, you don't need to memorize the commercial codes from California to Connecticut, but there are some important state issues that you should be aware of. States with big markets and lots of regulation deserve extra attention. (We're looking at you, California and New York.)

So, to help you out, here are our top state-specific tips for corporate counsel, from the FindLaw archives.

Facebook Recruits Bay Area Judge as In-House Counsel

The world's most popular social networking company just hired a sitting judge to join its legal team instead of turning to the legal gray matter of other Silicon Valley companies, according to the Wall Street Journal. It's a nice touch.

The hiring of that judge, U.S Magistrate Judge Paul S. Grewal, hardly seems coincidental. After all, Facebook has its hands full when it comes to hot potato legal issues.

In-House Counsel's Short Guide to Important PTAB Cases

Though it was only created within the last few years under the America Invents Act of 2012, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) has been the situs of much intellectual property drama and bloodletting. Generally, boards that are this young need even a decade or two to pass before lawyers can start generating a nice spreadsheet of precedential cases.

But the recent tidal wave of PTAB appeals before the Federal Circuit has reminded us of the importance of in house counsel's understanding of the whole PTAB process.

President Obama signed the Defend Trade Secrets Act into law last week, giving powerful new tools to companies looking to protect their trade secrets from misappropriations.

The act adds two major weapons to the corporate legal arsenal: a federal cause of action for trade secrets theft and a civil seizure mechanism that gives the act some serious bite. But it also places new requirements on employers. Here's what in-house counsel should know.

Legal Departments: Getting Ready for Summer Associates

Recently we covered the legal issues involving summer interns working gratis. Now we can address a meatier concern: summer associates.

Much ink and gossip is spilled and spent (not necessarily in that order, mind you) over how to handle summer associate culture. But what about summer associates in an in-house setting?

The past few years have seen a major change in public attitudes towards and legal protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals. Last year, gay rights advocates won a stunning victory in the Supreme Court, as the Court recognized a constitutional right to marriage equality. This week, the Obama administration squared off against North Carolina, over the legal protections afforded transgender individuals.

These changes have a significant effect on the workplace, requiring updated policies or leading to new anti-discrimination suits, for example. Here's what in-house counsel need to know.

Cyber Defamation and What You Can Do About It

Cyber defamation has been the tech tort that has dogged companies and individuals for almost a decade now. Who knew that the anonymity of the Internet would lead to some people to venture off into a character murdering campaign?

We all pay a price for the ability to be able to reach literally millions of people almost instantly. But what are some of the legal considerations a company must think about when addressing this pervasive problem we call cyber defamation?

North Carolina has faced a significant backlash since it adopted House Bill 2, a law meant to force transgender individuals to use the bathroom of their birth gender, rather than the gender they identify with. PayPal cancelled plans to expand to Charlotte, Lionsgate and A+E have refused to film in the state, and last week, the Department of Justice warned that the law violated the civil rights of transgender people, which could cost North Carolina millions in federal funds.

Now, the North Carolina is back on the offensive. Governor Pat McCrory filed suit against the DOJ this morning, calling the DOJ's warning a "radical reinterpretation" of the law and asking for court's to declare it legally sound.

Business Disclosures: When Your Business Discloses Too Much

One of the biggest problems that an in-house lawyer will have to address is what to do with inadvertent business disclosures of valuable company information.

In fact, many of these disclosures can be made (mistakenly) by your business in an attempt to build strong business relations. Sounds good. But what do you do to address problems that are sure to arise due to good-faith disclosures?

No one likes to be fired and few people like to fire others. But if the firing is tough, the resulting litigation can be tougher. For, as inevitable as terminations are in the business world, they're also often fodder for lawsuits.

As in-house counsel, you can have a role in reducing firing-related litigation and making sure terminations are done right. To help, here's our top firing tips, from the FindLaw archives.

HIPAA Violations Cost HCPs Big, but In-House Can Help

Health care providers collectively are holding their breath following last month's $1.55 million settlement agreement between Minnesota's North Memorial Health Care and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights (OCR). Soon all the oxygen was sucked out of the room following an even bigger settlement with New York's Feinstein Institute. What is a health care provider to do?

Even though hindsight is 20/20, compliance departments and in-house counsel would do well to peruse their agreement contracts with company contractors. A change might be just what the doctor ordered.

Anti-Chinese Hacking Trade Secret Bill Goes to Obama's Desk

In these highly interconnected times, a company's intellectual property and trade secrets are more valuable than ever. With this in mind, both houses of Congress sent a bill which will, upon President Obama's signature, become the Defend Trade Secrets Act.

If passed, the newly minted federal law will open the door for companies to sue domestic and foreign violators in federal court in a streamlined litigation manner instead of having to navigate the state laws.

The founder and CEO of Sam Adams wants his employees to tell him, "F*** you" -- except without the asterisks. Under the F You Rule, "it's okay to say f*** you to anybody else in the company," CEO Jim Koch explains. The rule is just one of the "business lessons learned over a beer or two" he covers in his new book.

So, should other companies follow suit? Can you start tossing expletives around the office without opening yourself up to legal issues?

In-House Counsel: Business Person First, Lawyer Second?

If a study by NYSE Governance Services and BarkerGilmore is to be believed, then in-house counsel jobs are getting less cushy. A big percentage of directors and officers recently polled have noticed a tectonic shift in the role of the in-house lawyer.

There are pros and cons to this developing trend, of course. At least one con should be screaming at you, unless you think we've seen this all before.