Friday, May 26, 2006

In The News: FEMA Evicts Katrina Victims

In Mississippi, nearly 3,000 families have been deemed ineligible for housing provided by FEMA. Residents of FEMA issues trailers say they are being kicked out erroneously, or for technicalities that arise from gray areas in FEMA regulations. Eviction letters received are vaguely worded--how are people supposed to know when and if they meet regulations for government housing?
Read More and tell us what you think.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

In-house, from A to Z

The things we do in-house.

Last week I spoke at a conference in New Orleans sponsored by the local chapter and Loyola University law school. I spoke first thing in the morning about attorney-client privilege issues for in-house counsel, but I stayed for the whole day.

The content was great, but what really struck me was the amazingly broad range of topics. After my ethics talk. we moved on the OSHA, then to ERISA, a little on litigation, negotiating contracts. IP agreements, professionalism, and software agreements. The list of issues seemed huge, but then I realized, I dealt with most of those issues every week when I worked as general counsel. From what I see on the discussion boards here, so do many members.

How many hats do you wear? I would love to hear how you balance these issues, ands some of the stories about the fringe topics you deal with.

In the News: I'm not making this up

"Wine Trademark Leaves Big Ass Hangover" is a classic headline if I've ever read one. Go on, read the story. You know you want to.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


After many hours in a plane, home from Athens late last night. At the conference, I talked with in-house counsel from all over the place. Mostly Europe, but even some attendees from as far as Nigeria. Some of the folks worked for multi-national companies. Some worked for US based companies, but many worked for purely European companies. No matter where from, the conversations ended up very similar. We would talk about work a bit, and realize that the legal challenges were the same no matter what legal system we were talking about. More striking was that, especially after a glass of wine, we talked about career issues. These issues were universal- job satisfaction, networking, how to advance, downsizing at companies. ACC offers resources on all of these topics, and provides opportunities to network and learn about things that can give us all more control over our careers. It was nice to hear that these resources and opportunities work all over the world.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Something for Nothing

This week, it is Athens. I am here for the ACC European meeting, and am sitting in a session about technology in the law department. The speakers are sharing some very useful experiences from their own law departments (and you will be able to find those materials in the ACC Virtual Library), but what really strikes me at the moment are the questions from the audience. Big department, small department- everyone wants one thing- a "Holy Grail" technology solution that will make the law department more efficient, get things done cheaper, ensure complete corporate compliance, and..... cost nothing, or next to nothing. The speakers have laid out ROI calculations showing that the money their companies have invested produced great payoffs, but there still was an investment up front. Apparently, even if you can show that spending $1 will get you $2 in savings, many law departments will not or can not make the investment. In my experience, the business units usually get the money, if they can make the case for the ROI. Maybe law departments need to take a lesson from the business units on how to do this as well.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

On the road again

I spent the better part of this week up North (by Washington, DC standards) at meetings with ACC members and potential members in Calgary and Vancouver.

We can talk about the legal side of things later, but the one thing that struck me was how civilized things are here. Calgary has metal sidewalks grates just like DC, but there were large metal foot-shaped panels welded on the grates so that if your heels would not slip through. In both places the taxis were clean, the drivers wore suits, and the driving was courteous. I noticed more little niceties like this as the week went on.

The ACC members I met were nice, as well, but many were concerned that their companies had been or might be bought out by US based companies. I heard how one US buyer immediately started to impose a US culture on one legal department of a company that was doing just fine before the buyout.

As ACC membership grows in Canada, we will be working to make sure we meet member needs up here while honoring the local culture, but we also could learn something from that culture for operations elsewhere.

Monday, May 08, 2006

In the News: The Hours

Did you know that the billable hour didn't really become the norm for legal billing until the 1960s? Me neither. Read California Lawyer's article, "The Hours: Is the Billable Hour Running Out of Time?" for an interesting history lesson that also manages to work in a reference to "Farenheit 451" and (bonus!) several references to ACC.

Disclaimer: Just in case it wasn't obvious from the brief description above, this isn't breaking news.

In the News: Enron, SarbOx, HealthSouth

The Chicago Sun-Times has a great opinion piece by a law professor on the Enron case and prosecutors' questionable tactics.

Otherwise, you might be interested in an appellate court's decision that a HealthSouth executive's sentence was "too extreme a reduction" from prosecutor's recommendation. He will be re-sentenced.

Or probably more relevant is the coming battle over Sarbanes-Oxley...see the Reuters story for more.

In the News:

The Chicago Sun-Times has a great opinion piece by a law professor on the Enron case and prosecutors' questionable tactics.

Otherwise, you might be interested in an appellate court's decision that a HealthSouth executive's sentence was "too extreme a reduction" from prosecutor's recommendation. He will be re-sentenced.

Or probably more relevant is the coming battle over Sarbanes-Oxley...see the Reuters story for more.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

In the News: Bird Flu Planning

Have you spent any time thinking about the Bird Flu? State and local health officials said they welcomed the federal government's latest plan for dealing with a pandemic flu outbreak, but some complained that the Bush administration had failed to provide the money needed to pay for the plan's long list of recommendations.

Some companies are considering what effect it might have on their bottom line.

Have you considered how this could effect your company? Let us know.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

You don't have to give it back!

I am sure many of you noticed the headline today that former Tyco GC Mark Belnick has agreed to pay a $100,000 civil fine to settle allegations that he "received around $14 million in unauthorized and undisclosed company relocation loans." You can see the story here.

Many in-house counsel have witnessed the business people doing something that may not be per se wrong, but that is questionable, in order to hit the profit goals and reap the big paycheck in return.

As we in-house counsel know, there is not always a bright line between what is ok and what crosses the line. Sometimes, even if the business people have crossed the line (something that is hard to decide, except in hindsight), they never seem to have to give the money back, or at least not all of it. There is always therefore a strong incentive to get as close to that line as possible. Some people say this is a good thing for business, others note that it flies in the face of many of the speeches from CEO's about "building cultures of corporate compliance."

Most of the in-hosue lawyers I know interpret their ethical obligations in a way that means drawing the line a little closer to the safety zone.

The Belnick case is interesting because it appears he got the same deal the business people got- a chance to score big, and not having to give any back. I do not know Mr. Belnick, and of course he was acquitted in the criminal case, so it appears he did not cross the line in that case. There is still a class action pending, but, for now at least, his choice appears to have paid off (and some of business people were not as lucky and were convicted, although it doesn't look like they had to give back all the money).

Question for in-house counsel: Would you do the same thing as Mr. Belnick if you could negotiate the compensation deal he obtained? Do you think would it affect your ability as counsel to provide legal advice?

Monday, May 01, 2006


One of the fun parts of this job is that I sometimes get to visit ACC chapter meetings all over the place. Last week I was in Parsippany NJ. Ok, not the hottest of spots, but since I grew up in-house in a large law department not to far from there in Newark, it was sort of like going home.

The interesting part of the meeting was a presentation by an independent organization called the Law Department Purchasing Consortium. They are trying to establish a network of suppliers, such as outside counsel and document management companies, and law departments, that will work together to create operational efficiencies. The buzzword was something about "adding value." In my experience, this concept is something everyone talks about, but few pull off.

The presentation was fascinating. If this group delivers what they are promising, it has the potential to be truly useful. If nothing else, the technology (which is free for law departments, at least for the first year), makes it worth a close look. You can find out more at :

Law Department Purchasing Consortium