In House - The FindLaw Corporate Counsel Blog

October 2012 Archives

DOMA Decisions Raise Questions About Employer Health Benefits

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has done poorly in recent court decisions which has led some to consider the impact its invalidation could have on employment issues, including health benefits.

DOMA's invalidation would affect federal laws regarding private employment as well as benefits for federal employees. If it's overturned by the Supreme Court that could require employers to offer the same health benefits to both gay and straight employees.

Even if the law isn't overturned, public opinion seems to be moving in favor of gay rights, reports ABA Journal. That may mean it's time for your client's policies to change.

NLRB Not a Fan of At-Will Employment Disclaimers

A company's employment handbook sets out the requirements and expectations for employees but to avoid any confusion about employment status some contain an 'at-will disclaimer.' The disclaimer generally specifies that the handbook doesn't change an employee's status from 'at-will.'

But the NLRB isn't a big fan of certain kinds of those disclaimers and it's struck down a few that it feels violate employees' rights.

So far two disclaimers have been struck as a violation of the NLRA but both have had a similar problem. They've been excluded because they discourage collective bargaining.

Bank of America Seeks to Lower Legal Fees with Questionable Plan

Like most companies, Bank of America (BofA) wants to reduce the amount it pays in legal fees to outside counsel. But their plan to do that is far from orthodox.

The deal they've offered outside counsel is a break in legal fees based on the business that BofA sends to those law firms. As part of the offer it sent to the firms, BofA asked them to confirm "that these fee arrangements are ethical," according to the ABA Journal.

But legal experts aren't convinced the agreement would be ethical given the rules regarding referrals.

City of San Jose Struggles to Get Back Confidential Documents

The city of San Jose, California has gotten itself into a tight spot after it accidentally leaked some confidential documents in a stack of paperwork given to Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman.

The documents were handed over as part of a California Public Records Act request between December 2011 and June of this year. Then in August public officials realized that not all of the documents were public records. The stack also contained 11 email chains that are confidential.

Most stories on this kerfuffle focus on the fact that Pillsbury won't turn over the documents. But it seems the more important issue is that 'San Jose in the past has inadvertently released other bits of privileged information,' according to Reuters.

Why is that happening?

In House Medical Clinics: More Convenience and More Liability?

More employers are turning to in house medical clinics in the workplace. These clinics provide a variety of services to employees such as diagnosing symptoms, writing prescriptions, and more. Is this trend a good idea?

These clinics can be a great morale boost to employees as they can simply have their medical issues checked out at work. More importantly for employers, these in house medical clinics can also save them a lot of money as employees are diagnosed and receive treatment earlier, writes NBC.

For every dollar spent on in-company programs, employers can get a return on investment of $1.50 to $3, according to a health care professionals study.

Corporate Counsel Fight Back: Track Scapegoat Prosecutions

Lauren Stevens' acquittal earlier this year didn't come a minute too soon and it raised questions about whether corporate counsel are becoming scapegoats.

The Association of Corporate Counsel is worried about just that so it launched an inquiry to track instances where in-house counsel have been targeted in litigation. They're not just worried about targeting from government agencies or government and state prosecutors. The study will also look at whether opposing counsel are unfairly targeting the actions of in-house lawyers.

But is the issue really targeting? Or is the problem with how in-house counsel and government regulators interact?

Allowing employees to drive company-owned vehicles may be a necessity for your business, but it can also drive your corporation straight into legal trouble.

Nationwide, distracted driving accidents take place at a rate of about three per minute, Inside Counsel reports. Some of those crashes involve employees within the scope of their employment, which means employers are often held liable.

In one case, a lumber salesman was driving while using a cell phone and caused a crash that left a woman crippled. That accident led to a $16 million settlement, according to Inside Counsel. Other vicarious-liability crashes resulted in payouts between $5 million and $22 million, the magazine reports.

'Beauty Bias' Could Land You in Hot Water for Discrimination

There are lots of factors that companies can't take into account during hiring but is 'beauty bias' considered unlawful discrimination?

There is some anecdotal evidence that attractive people get preferential treatment in a variety of things including hiring. But in some cases that preference is clearer than others. Marylou's Coffee is an example of where a beauty bias could get your company in legal hot water.

The Massachusetts-based coffee chain has a reputation for hiring young, cute female employees to wear their recognizable pink shirts and sling coffee. Their troubles should be a warning to other companies that follow the same pattern.

Top 5 Reasons Outside Counsel Are Fired

Thirty-percent of in house counsel fired their outside counsel last year, reports Above the Law.

With the highly coveted nature of corporate clients, and the wining and dining that goes on in procuring such clients, the 30-percent seems high. That's not even mentioning the costs, time, and hassle that come with changing outside counsel.

Nevertheless, for a variety of reasons, in house counsel are firing firms at an alarmingly high rate. Here are the top five reasons given as to why outside counsel are fired, writes ATL's Staci Zaretsky:

The Center for In House Counsel is Coming to UC Irvine

Because what the world needs now is lawyers with even more degrees? UC Irvine is planning to launch a Center for Corporate Law next summer that will offer extensive training for attorneys already working as in house counsel as well as those aspiring to go in house.

While several schools already offer programs for corporate counsel that last a few days, UC Irvine hopes to distinguish itself with a program that will last six weeks over the summer, reports The National Law Journal.

The program will cover such important matters as management and business skills and intellectual property. Lawyers who graduate from the program will receive a "corporate counsel" certificate or a "general counsel" certificate depending upon the number of modules they complete within four years.

Is the In House Counsel Lifestyle Really Better?

In a recent article, in house counsel lifestyles were described as seemingly much better than the lifestyle of law firm attorneys.

The article was no big shocker as the general stereotype is that in house counsel positions are much cushier than law firm positions. The hours are better, there's no need to bill, etc.

But the article in Above the Law seems to suggest that the actual culture of a corporation was better than a law firm. This included the hierarchy of corporations to the level of support that employees receive.

Top Apps for In House Counsel

When you think of a corporate counsel, do you think of a stodgy attorney with no use for apps on her smartphone? Think again.

Apps are not a fad and if used properly, apps can save you time, keep you better organized, and impress the people you report to.

Apps for smartphones and tablets make your life easier outside the office, and there is no reason these apps cannot similarly benefit you while you're at work. Here are some of the top apps for in house counsel, as compiled by Corporate Counsel.

Mythbusting 3 Untruths About the In House Lifestyle

Becoming in house counsel is the Holy Grail for a lot of attorneys. The common perception is that you put in ten grueling years at a law firm, and then you can jump to a cushy in house position. But are these tales of leisure for in house counsel just myths?

To say that all in house lawyers work less hours and enjoy a better quality of life than their law firm counterparts would be untrue. Depending upon who you ask, in house counsels can have as many deadlines and work just as many hours as the associate at the largest firms.

Here are three common myths of in house counsel, and a more realistic set of expectations, as compiled by Corporate Counsel.