In House - The FindLaw Corporate Counsel Blog

June 2013 Archives

Business travel sounds really glamorous -- until you actually have do it. Going abroad to negotiate a deal is less about seeing the sights, and more about sitting in a conference room all day. And here's a little hint: Conference rooms all look the same no matter what country you're in.

Now that we've given you some clarity on the reality of the situation, here are our top five how to's for making the most of your first, or your next, business trip.

Having an "I don't have enough initials after my name" kind of day? Exhausted from spewing out the same non-disclosure agreement over and over? Or maybe you're just a good old Type A Personality overachiever.

Have you considered getting an MBA?

DOMA Struck Down: Update Your LGBT Employee Benefits Policy

The Supreme Court has struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Married gay and lesbian couples are entitled to federal benefits, the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday in a milestone victory for the gay rights movement.

If your company is not already more inclusive of LGBT employees, it's time to update the benefits packages offered to your LGBT employees and their spouses.

5 Reasons In-House Counsel Should Do Pro Bono Work

Pro bono work is a duty that shouldn't be brushed off as some annoying obligation. From SEC filings to redlining, when you're in-house counsel, it's easy to feel as though you're too busy to volunteer your legal services. But pro bono work can actually be well worth your time.

Here are five reasons why you should give your corporate soul a break and make a (genuine) foray into the pro bono world:

Amex v. Italian Colors: Another Arb. Decision Favors Clear Clauses

Now that is a clear arbitration clause.

In the wake of the Supreme Court's holding in Oxford Health Plans v. Sutter, we warned you to clarify your arbitration clauses. Now, weeks later, the Supreme Court has addressed arbitration clauses again, this time showing how much deference the parties' choice to dispute resolution in the contract will receive.

Men's Wearhouse Ouster: Lessons for In-House Counsel

By now you may have heard that Men’s Wearhouse Inc. has ousted Executive Chairman George Zimmer, the iconic face (and voice) of the suit-and-tie company he founded 40 years ago.

Remember the gentleman with a smooth husky voice who coined the slogan, “You’re going to like the way you look. I guarantee it”? That’s him.

The board didn’t give an explanation for the ouster, but Zimmer thinks it was because he expressed concerns over the direction the board was taking his company, reports San Francisco Bay Area’s KNTV. As in-house counsel, you should take note of the Zimmer ouster. Here are a few lessons to keep in mind:

Another Day, Another Media-Magazine Intern Lawsuit

Yep. First there was the bitter Black Swan lawsuit against Fox Searchlight pictures. Then, there was the Hearst Magazine class-action lawsuit, which went down in flames. Now, we’re getting a bit of déjà vu, as two former Conde Nast interns seem to be boldly going were the Hearst interns went before: the trash heap of suits denied class certification.

Seriously though, we’re curious to see how these interns plan on avoiding the same fate as the Hearst interns, who lost their claims of commonality and predominance, and by extension, their class certification, last month.

Janet Nova Named Deputy Group General Counsel of 21st Century Fox

News Corporation announced that Janet Nova, the Company’s Senior Vice President and Deputy General Counsel, will be elevated to Executive Vice President and Deputy Group General Counsel for 21st Century Fox, the media and entertainment entity to launch following the separation of the company into two independent, publicly traded companies, reports The Wall Street Journal.

You might recall when she assisted Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch and his son, Deputy Chief Operating Officer James Murdoch, with a committee hearing before the British Parliament in the summer of 2011 on the News Corp. hacking scandal. She’s the unsung hero who protected Murdoch from the infamous pie-thrower.

The pie paid off.

In-House Counsel Technology and 'Situational Awareness'

Situational awareness — a term typically used by military, emergency services and air traffic control — refers to “being aware of one’s surroundings and identifying potential threats and dangerous situations.” Fred Krebs, an In-House Coach in Canada, believes the situational awareness concept should be adopted by every in-house counsel when it comes to technology.

Applying his ideas to the ol’ US of A, here are five areas of technology in which in-house counsel should practice situational awareness:

5 Tips on Conducting Exit Interviews

Conducting exit interviews might be a quick formality at your company, but it’s actually a great opportunity to get candid constructive criticism from employees and reinforce post-employment expectations that could prevent a legal snafu further down the road.

The next time you have an exit interview, consider making it an “exit discussion,” with stronger two-way communication. Here are five points to add to your exit discussion checklist:

EEOC Mad About BMW and Dollar General's Background Checks

Well, they warned you. And we told you so, too.

Last year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued guidelines for how they believed employers should approach the use of criminal background checks in employment decisions. They gist of the policy was that the background checks should only be used when the crime has something to do with the nature of the position. For example, you might pass on hiring a twice-convicted check forger as an accountant.

Why did the EEOC suddenly care about background checks? After all, who you hire is your business, right?

Does Your Company Have a Clear Paternity Leave Policy?

Father's Day is a good time to revisit your company's paternity leave policy. A new father's bundle of joy could spell a bundle of questions for the legal department.

Regardless of whether or not your company is held to the FMLA, it's important to have a clear company policy on paternity leave.

Here are seven questions you should address in your company paternity leave policy:

What Does Oxford Health Plans v. Sutter Mean for Your Company?

Clarify your arbitration clauses.

Dr. John Sutter sued Oxford Health Plans, on behalf of himself and other physicians, over a payment dispute. The contract itself did not provide for class-action arbitration, but did provide for individual arbitration.

The parties agreed to mediation, and Oxford conceded that the arbitrator should decide arbitrability. According to the Supreme Court's holding, that was the fatal mistake, as far as avoiding class-action arbitration.

In-House Email Policy: What Makes a Good One?

The key to a strong in-house email policy is one that takes out the legal liability guesswork for both employers and employees — and the in-house counsel.

To avoid embarrassing legal nightmares at your company, it is crucial to have a written office electronic mail policy for employees to review and acknowledge. It’s not only meant to encourage productivity. It’s also an important tool to prevent email-based liability.

A solid in-house email policy should involve input from legal, technical and human resource managers. If you need to revamp (or craft) your in-house email policy, keep these questions in mind while drafting:

Chief Fed. Circuit Judge Supports Fee-Shifting for Patent Trolls

Terrible, terrible trolls. Two days ago, it was the President’s turn to speak out against the “non-practicing entities” or “patent-assertion entities,” terms that are kind descriptors for the litigants who purchase patents for nearly nothing, then file frivolous lawsuits en masse, hoping for quick settlements.

We were in favor of most of the proposed reforms. Forcing litigants to disclose the true “party in interest” negates the trolls’ tactic of forming dozens of value-less shell companies to hide behind when filing meritless suits. Protecting end-users from patent violation threats when they use an off-the-shelf product as intended is another great idea.

And of course, who would oppose the idea of hiring more judges?

Lay-Offs? Stock Dropped? How to Deliver Bad News: 10 Tips

A sad reality, in-house counsel often must deliver bad news. Sometimes you are a jack of all trades, judge, jury and executioner when it comes to legal policy and the actions that follow.

To put it even more bluntly: you're often getting paid to be the buzz-kill. You have to tell your boss when they're flying too high and taking too many risks. This happens a lot at start ups. Founders can be bent on taking one path and the last thing they want to hear is "no." So your voice won't always be appreciated.

Here are ten tips on how to deliver bad news:

Zynga: A Lesson in Managing Disgruntled Employees (Not)

If you’re an in-house attorney, you know that disgruntled former employees raise red legal flags. Let Zynga, the company behind “Draw Something” and “Farmville,” serve as a fable for how not to deal with demoralized employees.

After Zynga let go 520 employees and completely shut down the New York office of OMGPOP, the laid-off OMG staff threw an all-night anti-Zynga rager.

The Top 10 Tips for a Cost-Effective Legal Department

Attaining a cost-effective legal department doesn't have to be a corporate pipe-dream, according to a new analysis by the Corporate Executive Board. CEB surveyed 180 in-house departments around the globe and examined the corporate practices of departments with the highest and lowest expenses. What they discovered were efficiency trends every legal department should watch for.

Here are the top ten tips for a cost-effective legal department:

White House Announces Initiative to Fight Patent Trolls

Patent trolls. Patent Assertion Entities. Non-Practicing Entities. Expletives.

Whatever you call ‘em, the holding companies that produce nothing for this country, yet buy patent assets and assert the associated rights, are a much-lamented plague on this nation’s economy, cost intellectual property-heavy industries billions in patent litigation fees, and are an absolute boon for the lawyers.

(Hint: no one cares about the lawyers, this writer included.)