In House - The FindLaw Corporate Counsel Blog

July 2012 Archives

Beware: Compensable Time Covers Nights, Weekends Too

Some of the largest judgments and verdicts you will see against employers involve wage and hour class action claims.

Wage and hour lawsuits encompass many violations. One of the trickiest areas can involve figuring just when employees are working, also known as compensable time.

So just when is someone working? Unfortunately, not every case is straightforward. Here are five compensable time scenarios that frequently give rise to problems, as reported by Inside Counsel:

More Workers Suing Employers for Wage and Hour Claims

There have been a record number of wage and hour lawsuits this year, according to federal judicial caseload statistics.

So far this year there have been 7,064 lawsuits filed under the Fair Labor Standards Act (which covers wage and hour claims). In all of last year, there were only 7,006 such claims. A decade ago, only 2,035 such cases were filed, reports NBC.

The reason for the spike in lawsuits?

One can point to tough economic times, prospects of a large settlement, increased government enforcement, and employers who don't know the law.

Walmart Opposes $7B Visa/Mastercard Deal, Urges Retailers to Join Them

Walmart is not pleased with the Visa/MasterCard settlement and they're not keeping it to themselves. The company is urging other retailers to reject the multi-billion dollar proposed settlement.

Visa and MasterCard reached a $7.25 billion agreement with retailers earlier this month for damages in a price-fixing claim involving credit card swipe fees. The deal repays retailers for unfair fees and also lowers swipe fees for the next few months.

As part of the settlement, retailers now have the option to charge credit card users more for their purchases.

That's all well and good but the real issue for Walmart and other retailers is what the agreement doesn't do.

Jack Daniel's Cease and Desist is More Like Honey than Vinegar

Jack Daniel's deals with trademark infringement just like any large company and when they do, the first step is generally a cease-and-desist letter. It's just that practice that has people talking about the company in a positive way.

Independent book publisher Lazy Fascist Press and author Patrick Wensink published a book that uses a design similar to that on the Jack Daniel's label on its cover. The company noticed the similarity and sent Wensink a letter asking him to change the cover design the next time the book was printed.

Not only did Jack Daniel's succeed in protecting its trademark, they also earned the goodwill of people around the country who saw the letter.

They even managed to do it without giving up any of their rights as trademark owners.

General Counsel Salary Falls By Almost Every Measure

The average pay for general counsel at Fortune 500 companies fell by almost every metric.

The average general counsel's salary fell by 1.8 percent this past year. More significantly, the average stock award and stock option award fell by 10.8 percent and 18.7 percent respectively. In total, a general counsel's pay fell by 5.7 percent on average.

But before feeling too sorry for them, it should be noted that the average general counsel at one of these big companies still took home about $1.7 million in pay.

Chick-Fil-A's Anti-Gay Stance Addressed Via Facebook

Last week, the president of Chick-Fil-A publicly came out with an ant-gay stance saying that his company stood behind the "biblical definition" of the family unit.

And just to show that this was not a random sound bite taken out of context, the company's president, Dan Cathy, then reiterated his stance during an appearance on a popular radio show.

In an effort to mitigate the damage from Cathy's large foot in his mouth, Chick-Fil-A issued a statement via Facebook saying that it would leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government, reports the Huffington Post. If you were Chick-Fil-A's general counsel, is this the action you would have advised to address the inevitable fallout?

Gilead's Truvada has won historic FDA approval as the first drug ever to prevent sexually acquired HIV infection in healthy adults, Reuters reports.

It's a big victory for lawyers who worked to get Gilead's Truvada approved -- though their work is likely far from over.

Monday's FDA approval comes two years after groundbreaking reports that Truvada reduced the risk of HIV infection in the high-risk group of men who have sex with men. A separate study found even better results among heterosexual couples.

But the FDA's approval also comes with some conditions.

Visa, MasterCard Settle Record $7.25B Antitrust Case

Visa and MasterCard have reached a settlement with plaintiffs in what is reportedly the largest antitrust case to date.

The suit dates back to 2005 when merchants began filing price-fixing lawsuits against the credit card giants and the banks who issue the cards. It grew into a class-action claim that Visa and MasterCard were working together on how much to charge merchants for each credit card transaction.

The final settlement represents a significant change in credit card swipe regulations and a sizable chunk of cash flowing from Visa and MasterCard to individual merchants.

A company's nonexempt employees must be paid for their hours worked. But federal wage laws can be confusing, leaving employers uncertain about when hourly workers must be paid.

Compounding that uncertainty, there are a few paid-time issues that often trip up employers and can lead to potential legal disasters, Inside Counsel advises.

Here are the Top 3 hourly-pay issues for which corporate counsel need to pay close and careful attention:

Is Hiring New Grads In House the Wave of the Future?

Law firms have long been the training ground for new attorneys while in-house positions are generally for associates with several years of experience.

The rationale is that new graduates don't have the practical skills to dive into legal practice. In-house counsel don't have time to provide training on both how to be corporate counsel AND how to practice corporate law.

But that problem might be solved as more law schools focus on practical coursework. Schools are revising their offerings to create more opportunities for practical and hands-on learning according to The Wall Street Journal.

Some companies have already signed on to the idea of hiring new graduates rather than fifth-year associates.

Is it Ethical for an In-House Counsel to Whistleblow?

Attorneys have a duty to their clients to keep their confidential information secret.

This duty of confidentiality is one of the building blocks of trust that you will have with your client. Without it, your client may not tell you everything you need to know.

Still, as in-house counsel, you may be faced with situations where you will be forced to choose between keeping your client's secrets and whistleblowing. This oftentimes arises when you are notified of a client's potential criminal act.

Staying on Top of Cross-Cultural Business Etiquette

With the business world growing increasingly global, borders and time zones are being torn down for the global board room.

As in house counsel, it's not unfathomable that you may have to engage in mediation or negotiations with parties in other countries. You might even have to travel to other countries to engage in discussions or mediation.

How can you ensure that you maintain a cultural respect when dealing with another party whose business culture might be different from what you're accustomed to?

Work-Life Balance for the In-House Attorney: Myth or Reality?

You often hear that an in-house counsel job will afford you the work-life balance that so many attorneys crave. It's not uncommon for BigLaw refugees to flock to in-house positions, hoping that they can now put their feet up and have some balance in their lives.

Now, if you're coming from Big Law, with the 80-plus hour work-week, an in-house job may seem like an amnesty. But is the concept of work-life balance a myth or reality for the in-house lawyer?

It depends on how you look at it.

The most successful general counsel show low “excitability” but are highly “mischievous,” according to a new report that highlights the eight habits of highly effective legal executives.

Just what does being “mischievous” mean? It means going “well beyond spotting legal issues to helping the business actually take risks and find creative solutions,” according to the report by executive-search firm Russell Reynolds Associates. In fact, the”best” legal executives are 11% more willing to take risks than less-effective legal execs, the report found.

In addition to mischief and low excitability, the rest of the eight habits of successful GCs are:

The U.S. Supreme Court's upholding of the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare, may lead to a long list of legal questions for corporations.

How should you advise your corporate clients about the best ways to proceed, especially regarding the ACA's employer mandate?

Here are 5 things that corporate counsel need to know about the High Court's Obamacare ruling: