Many law firms employ law clerks, or hire summer associates. The former are often current law students, while the latter are almost always current law students. There are benefits to both the firm and the student in these situations; the student gains real-world legal experience and an opportunity to work alongside experienced attorneys, while the firm gets capable and often short-term employees. Many firms use these experiences as a way of determining future hiring, as a sort of “trial run” used to assess whether any of the clerks or associate could fit in well at the firm after graduating. It’s a practice that is as widespread as it is common.
Even the most experienced of professionals cannot predict the future. So, as a risk prevention measure, many of us turn to the next best thing by agreeing to clear contractual terms with our clients so as to eliminate confusion down the road. We spell out the terms and scope of our engagement and we identify the client’s responsibilities in an effort to avoid problems before they arise. We attempt to reach agreements today that may impact us tomorrow. According to the ABA, conflicts of interest are one of the most common legal malpractice claims so some attorneys may be tempted to seek a waiver of future conflicts in their engagement letters. This practice does not work. Consider for example the following case out of California.
Marijuana laws in the US are rapidly changing. Colorado, Oregon, and Washington have legalized marijuana outright for recreational use. Twenty more states and the District of Columbia have legalized the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Now, the Pennsylvania legislature has proposed a new law that would permit limited medical marijuana use. Despite these changes at the state level, marijuana is still classified under federal law as a Schedule I drug that has no accepted medical use. Inconsistencies between state and federal laws create potential ethics dilemmas for professionals who seek to advise clients operating in the marijuana industry. In order to assist professionals navigate this murky legal landscape, the Pennsylvania Bar Association Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility Committee recently issued a formal ethics opinion directed to counsel who provide legal services to marijuana-related businesses.
Attorneys often utilize local counsel to assist in a venue they are not licensed. The role of the local counsel will vary from case to case. Generally speaking, local counsel have a more limited role in the litigation. However, according to a recent NY ethics opinion, a limited role does not necessarily mean limited responsibilities or risks.
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), employees are entitled to compensation for “hours worked.” However, what is considered compensable work time is a contentious topic for many employers. A recent decision by the Supreme Court is likely to help clarify the test for compensable work under the FLSA and effectively end much of the current litigation faced by employers surrounding back wages and overtime pay. This month, in a rare unanimous decision, the Supreme Court held that employees’ time spent waiting for and undergoing security screenings is not compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Attorneys have an obligation to provide zealous advocacy on behalf of their clients and to pursue a client’s interests within the bounds of the law. We recently posted an example of an attorney that crossed the line. Here’s another example which resulted in sanctions imposed upon an attorney for discovery abuse. In both cases, sanctions were levied against attorneys defending a deposition. Accordingly, we’ll take the opportunity to provide some tips to avoid a similar result in your practice.
Before making dinner reservations, hiring a dog-walker, going to the movies or finding a plumber many consumers utilize online review websites to help make an informed decision. Sites like Angie’s List, Yelp, Consumer Reports and even Facebook provide the opportunity for an online community to publish a review for all to see. Professionals fall into the class of other service-providers who may be reviewed online. These reviews may serve as a nice source of referral business; they can also tarnish a professional’s reputation instantaneously. In the case of the latter, one attorney recently took an offensive approach by responding to an online review written by a former client. The result was undoubtedly not what the attorney intended.
On February 26, 2013 we posted this piece regarding an architect facing manslaughter charges arising from the death of an LA firefighter. At the time we posed this unprecedented issue: Can defective design lead to criminal liability? We’re now in a position to definitively answer that question: “yes,” given that the architect just received a one-year jail sentence.
Don’t say we didn’t warn you. Last month we discussed the first suit filed by unpaid interns against their “employers” under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Channeling our inner Miss Cleo, we suggested at the time that the decision in Glatt v. Fox Searchlight Pictures, Inc., would have far-ranging implications on the EPL community. Sure enough, the floodgates have opened for unpaid interns seeking repayment under the FLSA.
A recent contract negotiation blunder may result in a hefty malpractice claim by a professional football player against his agent. The former agent for NFL defensive end, Elvis Dumervil, is in hot water over his handling of Dumervil’s contract negotiations with the Denver Broncos. Due to his agent’s failure to timely transmit an executed contract to the team worth $8 million per year, Dumervil is unemployed and considering a suit.