In House - The FindLaw Corporate Counsel Blog

November 2012 Archives

'Price Is Right' Loses Legal Showdown Over Maternity Leave

When it comes to maternity leave, "The Price Is Right" seems to have guessed wrong about how to treat its employees.

A jury last week awarded former "Price Is Right" model Brandi Cochran almost $770,000 in compensatory damages for employment discrimination. The next day, they awarded her another $7 million in punitive damages as well, the Associated Press reports.

Cochran accused the popular game show's producers of harassing and firing her because of her pregnancy. Their evidence to the contrary wasn't convincing to the jury.

5 Tips for Freelancing as Corporate Counsel

Maybe you've been thinking of making the switch to in-house, or you like the work but want to scale back to part-time. We have a solution: freelance as corporate counsel.

It's true this isn't a traditional path, but for someone with the right skills and expertise it could be a dream career move. After all, corporations often hire outside counsel for projects that are beyond their in-house expertise.

Since it's not a traditional career path, you might want some tips before getting started. Luckily, we have some ready for just this occasion.

Can GCs Use Confidential Info When Suing Their Employer?

If you ever find yourself in litigation against your employer, you may be wondering if you can use confidential information you gained through your position in your lawsuit.

For in-house counsel, this question is particularly tricky as you may be privy to certain confidential information that most other employees are not exposed to. And because of your position, it may be unfair to the employer if you can suddenly open the curtain on everything that happened at your company simply because you were fired or discriminated against.

As a result, state bar rules often set out specific instances about when in-house counsel can and cannot use confidential information.

Corporate Use of Internet Memes Could Be Costly

Internet memes -- those cute images, phrases, and videos that spread online -- seem like a great way to grab new customers' attention. Maybe your client's marketing department is already considering using a meme in its next advertising cycle.

But unless you're itching for an intellectual property fight, you may want to think twice before pursing that strategy.

Too often, marketing teams and in-house attorneys underestimate the value of intellectual property on the Internet. If you're one of those people, it could cost you.

With More Compliance Regs, GCs More Important Than Ever

We may be preaching to the choir here, but it appears that general counsel are increasingly valuable to their employers, especially in the area of compliance, even while the rest of the legal market struggles.

The idea that people will always need lawyers still holds true, but in the current economy a lot of the "people" who still need lawyers are companies. As state and federal governments increase regulations and crack down on consumer issues, companies desperately need legal advice.

But as in-house counsel, you can offer your client more than just your legal expertise. If you haven't already, it's time to take a more active role in the business side of things.

When Should a Worker Be Fired for Out-of-Office Behavior?

Corporate policies on hiring and firing are an important part of any large business. But should a company have a policy about when workers will be fired for out-of-office behavior?

Of course if your client hires employees who are "at will," then legally firing them isn't a problem in most cases. Even if employees can only be fired for cause, some out-of-office behavior certainly applies as reasons for termination.

But given the very public issues that the voice of "Elmo," Kevin Clash, has dealt with and his resulting resignation from "Sesame Street," it might be worth considering a policy that makes it clear when personal behavior interferes with work.

More in-house counsel are landing positions on corporate boards these days. So how does one land such an important position?

In a recent article, Inside Counsel described an invitation-only panel discussion about general counsel on corporate boards. Such governing bodies are increasingly looking to add lawyers to their ranks, especially when they face regulatory compliance issues, IC reports.

Does Your Company Value LGBT Workplace Equality?

If you're counsel for a Fortune 500 company (or a company that hopes to make it big one day), you may want to consider how your client stacks up when it comes to LGBT workplace equality.

The Human Rights Campaign's 2013 Corporate Equality Index ranks some of the biggest companies in the country, including multinational corporations, on how their policies address equality for LGBT employees. (For example, Thomson Reuters,'s parent company, scored 100 percent on the 2013 Corporate Equality Index.)

The Index describes the factors the HRC considered when rating each company -- factors that could be helpful for your client to consider as well. Not only is LGBT equality is the law in some states, but it's also good policy when it comes to preventing discrimination lawsuits.

Strippers Are Not Contractors, Win $13M Settlement

A class action lawsuit involving strippers classified as "contractors" resulted in a $13 million settlement against 16 strip clubs across the country.

The strippers' suit alleged they were actually employees, not contractors, and should have been entitled to the benefits that employees typically receive, the Ventura County Star reports.

While most strip clubs probably do not have in-house counsel, the strip club class action is still important to GCs, as it shows how damaging the improper classification of workers can be.

Apple Must Pay Samsung's UK Legal Fees: Lessons for GCs

The Apple v. Samsung battle continues around the world. But in the UK, the matter has been decided, and it has gone poorly for Apple.

In the final outcome of the UK case between the rival tech companies, Apple is being forced to pay Samsung's legal fees. A UK court ruled in favor of Samsung earlier this year, but it is Apple's more recent behavior that led to the order to pay the opposing party's fees.

Granted, it's much more common in the UK for the losing side to pay court fees, but there are still a few lessons American lawyers can learn from Apple's UK mistakes.

How General Counsel Can Avoid Personal Liability

It used to be unheard of for corporate executives, much less general counsel, to be held personally liable for crimes committed by a company.

But in the past 10 years, several GCs at companies like AIG, Hewlett-Packard, and World Health Alternatives have been personally targeted in legal actions, according to a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

You may be wondering if this is because corporate lawyers are committing more crimes or throwing ethics to the wind in this bottom-line-driven economy? Or is the prosecution of in-house counsel due to the federal government's renewed focus on holding corporate decision-makers (and those counseling them) accountable?

It's likely a combination of both. So if you're an in-house counsel, you should be aware that you may be held personally liable for your company's actions. Here are some tips you can incorporate to avoid liability:

A Pre-Thanksgiving To-Do List for General Counsel

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, which means it's time to wrap up loose ends at work so you can take a few days off from being general counsel and spend time with your family.

Obviously deadlines come first, especially if you're currently involved in litigation. But when those tasks are taken care of, there are still some things that need your attention before you set up your out-of-office reply and head home.

For in-house attorneys, that includes some specific issues that other lawyers may not think about. Here are just a few:

Do You Know What Your Outside Counsel Is Billing?

More in-house counsel are reviewing their outside counsel's legal bills, and they're not liking what they're seeing.

In the old days, you may have just taken a cursory glance and signed off on lengthy billing statements. But with the economy in an extended slump, corporate counsel are going through billing statements with a fine-toothed comb and disputing some charges -- both extravagant and not-so-extravagant, reports ABA Journal.

Here are five things you may want to pay special attention to when reviewing your outside counsel's bill:

How to Become an In-House Counsel: A Look at 8 Recent Moves

Eight recent changes at top in-house positions were reported by Inside Counsel. A look at the eight personnel moves may be a bit sobering for many attorneys wanting to know how to become an in-house counsel themselves.

That's because these organizations didn't pluck their new GCs from the law firm ranks (and certainly not from the ranks of recent law school grads); rather, many simply promoted from within the organization or hired an attorney from a very similar organization.

General counsel positions have long been viewed as the Holy Grail for many BigLaw attorneys. But based on a review of these eight GC moves, not that many BigLaw attorneys are transitioning to top in-house jobs.

Why You Should Consider a Web-Based In-House Mentor

Mentors for in-house counsel may be especially important, as an in-house attorney is oftentimes the only attorney in the corporate office.

But without someone to bounce ideas off of or to get some direction, an in-house attorney may be going in the wrong direction and have no idea until it is too late, reports Corporate Counsel.

So if an in-house attorney is the only attorney in the building, how does that attorney go about getting a mentor?

Employees Can Be Fired for Facebook Posts at Work: NLRB

Almost exactly a year after the NLRB's first ruling on whether employees can be fired for what they post on Facebook, the NLRB has issued a new ruling that further clarifies the its stance.

The case involved a car salesman who was fired for photos taken at his workplace and posted on Facebook, Inside Counsel reports. The pictures were accompanied by sarcastic remarks made by the employee. When Knauz BMW, the dealership where he worked, found the pictures, the salesman was fired.

The unidentified man filed a complaint with the NLRB, likely based on last year's ruling. But the board's decision in October may have come as a surprise.