Is it possible to minimize your legal bills?

Cost is often the first thing on a business owners mind when it comes to hiring an attorney. When youve got high hourly billing and high lawyer fees its hard to budget for legal expenses. Because of this, many owners and entrepreneurs call on the services of a lawyer only when there is a crisis to avert. However, if youre already facing a crisis, its going to cost you more time and money to solve it than if you had consulted with an attorney in the first place, before there was an issue.

Here at Labour Research we believe that an attorney is indispensable in the activity of business, big or small, but we also know that many business owners are weary of dealing with lawyers. We have put out a small guide on how to select the right lawyer while keeping costs down.

Hiring

When it comes to hiring an attorney, many people still go by word-of-mouth recommendations but thats not the best solution. We recommend that you meet a couple and schedule a number of free consultations in order to get clear on how much its going to cost, how well youre getting along and what kind of aid the attorney can offer you. Doing this will allow you to get a sense of what a number of attorneys will charge you for the same service and also what is included in that service. One thing that the legal industry is notorious for is lack of opacity there is no standard price to compare against. Shopping around and getting a number of price quotes will give you a better negotiating position.

Dont try to drive a hard bargain and argue every single bill you get. If you present yourself as a client that is constantly looking for the lowest price possible vs one who is a potential long-term client you may incur higher fees from the start.

If youre going to be working with an attorney on a hourly basis and he is offering you a low hourly rate dont take it at face value without asking a couple of questions first. How long would a matter like this, based on the attorneys experience, take to resolve? If they say it depends, ask him or her what it depends on. Aside from this, you should ask every attorney what type of law they practice and if they had previous experience with your type of matter. An experienced attorney will know more accurately how long your legal issue will take and he will probably be able to solve it even faster than others.

Attorneys prefer clients that they can work on a long-term basis. If you can present yourself as a long-term client, you are sure to get preferential rates. Even if you need a lawyer for a one-off issue, you can help them by pointing to other potential clients in your industry.

With that said, dont be afraid to negotiate. The worst thing that can happen is that they will simply refuse. Tell them that you understand and value the importance of their service. Everybody opens up when you treat them as someone valuable rather than as someone you have to haggle with on price.

Handling expectations

Once youve honed in on the lawyer that youre going to hire, make sure to clearly state any expectations you have. Being clear on all points will prevent future disputes and will give you space to negotiate when a problem arises. Here are a couple of issues to keep in mind:

  • What fee structure does the attorney work with? Depending on a couple of factors, you could have hourly, flat (fixed), contingent or monthly retainer. Some attorneys might agree even to equity or exchange of services. Dont be afraid to ask for alternative structures.
  • Payment method and period. Law firms that represent clients on an hourly rate usually send an invoice at the end of the month. There is also the option of deferred payment which means that you can discuss the periodicity of your payments.
  • Who will do the work: an associate or a partner? Clients may think theyre getting a great deal by having an associate do the work at a low hourly rate but associates are less experienced than partners and will take longer, sometimes costing more than if the partner took the lead on the matter.
  • Who is responsible for legal research? Will you be billed for paralegal or administrative work? If so, at what rate? Are there any disbursement estimates included in the hourly rate?
  • How is new work handled? If you have an hourly billing agreement with your attorney ask him to contact you before he does anything outside the explicit scope you initially established.

Handling and defining expectations at the outset of a representation will come in handy later, as you can always turn back to it when any issues arise.

Be involved

Its a good idea to be involved and active during the representation. If you pay your bills on time and you are clear and responsive in your discussions with your attorney, he/she will likely be more responsive as well when you bring up an issue with a line item or the quality of work you received.

  • If work took longer than expected, ask why.
  • Double check that any client calls and client emails are accurate with your records.
  • Dont hesitate to mention any inaccuracies or discrepancies that you find in your bills.
  • If the work you received does not correspond to your expectations inform your lawyer and tell them that it is their responsibility to fix it.

Legal services can be negotiated and being cautious is a proactive measure to cut costs. It is true that good lawyers dont come cheap but by using the tips that we laid out you will be able to get a better price. Lastly, the old saying you get what you pay for holds true, especially in law. Dont let price be the sole driver of your decision. Ironically, hiring an experienced attorney will keep your costs down because you wont have to pay to rectify mistakes they made with the work.

Legality of firing a worker for running for office

Election season is coming and people are running for local, state and even national office. But what happens if its one of your employees thats running?

Even though many companies encourage their employees to get politically active in their after-hours, in some cases an employees political campaign can present a conflict of interest, if not an unwelcome distraction.

If an employees political activity starts interfering with his professional one, is it legal to fire a worker that is running for office?

There is no protection for political belief

While there is legislation that protects a worker from being fired for his race, religion, nationality or age, this protection is not extended when it comes to political views and beliefs. Firing an employee for his political activity is not considered wrongful discrimination as there is no coverage for political beliefs in the employment discrimination laws.

On the same note, firing a worker for his political ambition is not considered grounds for a wrongful termination claim.

Off-the-clock activities can be grounds for termination

Even if the employee is conducting his political activities in his own spare time, an employer still has the power to fire him if he so chooses to do. A recent example is Viviana Janer, a senior manager with Marriott Vacations, who was terminated from her job after she refused to resign from her campaign for a seat on the Osceola County Commission.

A 2010 National Conference of State Legislatures report writes that there are only four states that have laws for off-duty conduct discrimination: California, Colorado, New York and North Dakota. There may be states that protect workers rights to use lawful products and tobacco products but when it comes to running for office: there are no guarantees.

Think it over and consult a lawyer before running for office. Are your political ambitions worth more than your job?

An end in sight for medical malpractice tort reform?

The healthcare community has long debated the issue of medical malpractice, with patient safety advocates being some of the most vocal supporters. The problem has seen some traction in recent years, but not everybody is happy with the speed that things are currently progressing at.

Those who support the reform of medical malpractice laws say that as it is right now, victims of malpractice arent being compensated enough. Many are quick to cite statistics, most of which are provided by victims themselves. However it doesnt matter if there are a hundred or a hundred thousand cases healthcare providers and medical experts are still not proactive enough.

On the other hand weve got trial lawyers who are fighting against tort reform under the banner of protecting people from incompetent medical professionals.

But who actually benefits from tort reform? Why is the debate so polarized and why is progress so slow?

Critics are quick to point out that trial lawyers have a financial stake in the game they want to see an increase in malpractice caps only because thats how they can get to make more money from their clients. Proposition 46 in California would raise the cap of non-economic damages, and, not surprisingly, is written and supported solely by lawyers. Local and statewide organizations have been quick to oppose Prop 46, pointing out that if such a law were to be approved, the costs would fall onto taxpayers while raising the premiums for both healthcare and insurance.

Tort reform is a delicate issue that needs to be thought over. If anyone could get exactly what they wanted, malpractice victims would get bigger compensations and medical practitioners would get reasonable, stable rates for malpractice insurance, healthcare costs would remain low and tax payers would not have to shell out more to cover the costs of malpractice lawsuits.

But what if we were looking at the problem from the wrong angle the whole time? What if the issue isnt about financials but professional responsibility? Wouldnt it be better if we focused on having higher patient safety and train medical professionals more thoroughly so as to eliminate any possibility of medical malpractice? If we had safety in mind instead of money, there would be less errors being committed and less lawsuits being filed.

For anything good to come out of tort reform, all sides would have to benefit in some way. A more radical approach would be to eliminate medical malpractice altogether but of course, that would only be possible in a perfect world. As it stands, medical malpractice reform is still a long way from being realized.

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11/5/14 Update:  Proposition 46, the ballot initiative to include random physician drug and alcohol testing and raise the limit awards for pain and suffering from $250,000 to over $1 million for victims of medical malpractice, has failed.

Mid-Term GOP Victories Bring Change to Employment Policy

Remember, remember, the 5th of November.  409 years ago today, a failed attempt to overthrow the British monarchy with copious amounts of gunpowder met with failure, and the conspirators enthusiastic resistance to government authority failed to change who was in charge.

Today, the day after mid-term elections, a more peaceful process (e.g. voting) has resulted in a change of whos in charge in the U.S. government, though with far less potential explosions or deaths. Victories by the Republican Party at the mid-term elections will shift the balance of power in Washington, leaving a lame-duck Democrat President with a Republican Congress for his last two years in office. With the change of the balance in power comes new friction over the future of U.S. workplace and employment policy.

Wall Street, and with it many large employers, views GOP gains as mostly a victory for big business. While issues like minimum wage and paid sick leave are no longer seen as necessarily partisan issues, the presumption that the Republican-led Congress will treat business interests more favorably remains. Labor unions fear further crackdowns on their actions, at a time when union membership is already at an all-time low level, while energy companies see greater potential for domestic production amid lower costs and regulation. Fresh debate about what protections are necessary for both union and non-union employees will arise, including which workers should be treated as employees vs independent contractors. In short, many of the age-old questions that arose when last a Republican president was at odds with a Democrat Congress will once again be part of the political debate for the next two years.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. For employers and employees alike, the next two years will see some changes in the relationship as Washington politicians attempt to exert influence. Debate about the future of Obamacare will drive changes to the law and its implementation, and labor unions will likely see a further fading of their influence in the 21s century. For most of us, the skirmishes in our nations capital are a world away, fought by people with agendas far different than the constituencies they are supposed to represent.

The Lawsuit Against Apple for Poaching

Why would Apple need car battery engineers? Well, it seems that the iconic computer company has plans to branch out into other markets. At least that is what Apple’s bold move to hire numerous high-profile auto engineers from A123, a prominent large-scale battery manufacturer, suggests. Beginning in June 2014, Apple began luring some of A123’s best and brightest to work in its own secret division, ostensibly a team of pros designing a new type of electric car to usher in the dawn of a new era for Apple. While it is all well and good to expand horizons, in this case, it is also illegal.

The complaint names five of its former employees Don Dafoe, Michael Erickson, Indrajeet Thorat, Mujeeb Ijaz, and Depeng Wang – as having left A123 before their contractual obligations had been met. Three of these employees served as PhD project heads researching new electric car technology. Another of the employees, Mujeeb Ijaz, oversaw not only the other named individuals in the lawsuit but the research division as a whole. After these five employees departed A123, email correspondence between them and Apple’s talent acquisition staff set off red flags that the computer company known for computer and cell phone technology had its eye set on something entirely new that translates to “unfair competition,” according to A123. There is an in-depth article about employee contractual obligations and what can be enforced found on this blog.

According to A123, the employees that moved to Apple did so in grave violation of their legal agreements with their original employer. A123, which has U.S. government contracts of its own to fulfill, isnt just upset with the early and unexpected departure of its engineers. Apparently, these engineers were so vital to A123’s operations that the entire future of its own projects are in peril. The former employee who is at the center of the lawsuit is Mujeeb Ijaz, who has been accused of not only jumping ship but actively recruiting other bright minds from within A123 to Apple’s own battery-making efforts.

“It appears that Apple, with the assistance of defendant Ijaz, is systematically hiring away A123’s high-tech PhD and engineering employees, thereby effectively shutting down various projects/programs at A123, a portion of the lawsuit reads. They are doing so in an effort to support Apple’s apparent plans to establish a battery division that is similar if not identical to A123’s, in competition with A123.” The fact that Ijaz has also been contacting some of A123’s partners on behalf of Apple only seems to confirm the battery manufacturer’s fears.

The complaint also notes how Apple’s recruiting efforts have not been limited to taking at least 11 of A123’s former engineers (although only five of those are named as defendants in the lawsuit). There is evidence that Apple has reached out to other well-known battery engineers from Samsung, Panasonic, Toshiba, and more. At this time, none of those companies have made an official comment or have begun lawsuits of their own against the iPad and iPhone producer. That does not, however, mean that additional complaints will be filed in the near future.

Although Apple has a history of beginning and later abandoning projects the company deems as not worth the hassle after a bit of research, it seems that whatever secret division (that is ostensibly designing a new electric car) requires these automotive battery engineers is here to stay. John Crawfords theory suggest that with over 60 former employees of A123’s rival Tesla now at Apple’s new division’s helm in addition to the allegedly poached A123 engineers, there is a huge investment in highly skilled manpower. For now, the purpose of collecting so many car battery engineers remains a mystery because Apple continues to decline comment for the time being.

Five Employment Mistakes Made By Businesses

The process of hiring a new employee at your place of business is not as simple as one may think. There are important steps that must be followed in order to keep your company safe from costly legal disputes. Every type of business, large or small, is an open target for lawsuits by employees, past and present. First and foremost, labor laws must be fully understood and strictly obeyed. Since labor laws differ in each state be sure to research and understand the labor laws in your state.

Small businesses tend to be more apt to have lawsuits filed against them due to small mistakes that could have been avoided. Knowledge is power, so here are the top five mistakes made by companies that increase their threat of litigation:

  1. Hiring Employees as Independent Contractors – In order for a worker to be considered an “independent contractor” vs. an “employee”, they must have their own personally established business, do work for other clients/businesses, be paid by the job and not on a salary or by the hour, and provide their own workspace and tools required to perform the job, or some combination of these factors. If these requirements are not met, then the person could considered an employee by law and is eligible for benefits, overtime, worker’s compensation and unemployment benefits. Workers have been known to divulge this information to local labor agencies and in the event of a dispute, you could be forced to pay hefty fines and penalties, including back pay.
  2. Not Having an NDA – If a company fails to establish a well-drafted confidentiality/non-disclosure agreement (NDA) that is signed by employees, investors or contractors, the company is setting themselves up for significant risk. Protection of your confidential information is critical and the success for many businesses relies upon business models, formulas, devices, methods and/or ideas. The NDA must specifically state the types of information your business deems confidential and proprietary information and prohibit any use or disclosure of such information.
  3. Not Having a Non-Compete or Non-Solicitation Agreement – First, go ahead and determine whether or not a non-compete or non-solicitation agreement is needed for your business. If your evaluation’s answer is “yes”, then it is time to have your legal counsel carefully draft and review the non-compete and/or non-solicitation agreement for your company. The agreement restrictions differ in each state with some being stringent (Oregon and California), while others are regulated more loosely. Next, determine if this agreement should be signed by all employees and customers, or limited to certain employees and/or customers.
  4. Hiring/Keeping Employees with Poor Performance – First and foremost, the hiring process needs to be carefully prepared and executed. You should market the job position with multiple sources, including using headhunters if the job profile is a high-level or executive position. Another idea is to market with local colleges or specialty trade and business schools. The job description should be written in depth and convey exactly what the role is required to do and your expectations for the new hire. Next, the interviews must consist of questions that put applicants in real-life situations to help you determine how well they have handled past issues and what they will do when future problems arise. Once you have selected an applicant, if they are consistently not performing up to par and have been warned, it is time to let them go and find a replacement. You are wasting your company’s time and money keeping someone there when you could replace them with a much better employee.
  5. Violating Wage and Hour Laws Employees either fall into the category of “exempt” or “non-exempt” when determining if they are entitled to overtime pay. Employees that are paid hourly wages are non-exempt and must be paid hourly and paid overtime. Exempt employees include those paid on a salary basis (not hourly). Additionally, outside sales professionals and certain highly paid computer professionals may be exempt. One of the most common mistakes is the wrong classification of employees. If incorrectly classified, a business can be forced to pay penalties, attorney fees and back pay.

A profitable business usually has a productive, positive workplace as its backbone to success. It is best practice to provide excellent employee benefits plans and develop strong personal policies and procedures that are consistently followed by managers and HR. It is far too easy to make a mistake that can cost your company later down the road. Make sure that everyone in your company is following the rules and not bending them or rewriting them in their own way. You want to avoid any legal issues that are preventable, and set your business in the best possible position if a legal issue does arise in the future.

Imported Diesel Car Sales Drop in South Korea

October saw the lowest level in sales of imported diesel vehicles in South Korea in a year as customers seem to be avoiding diesel models following the volkswagen emissions scandal. Around 70% of foreign auto sales in South Korea are diesel engine vehicles.

According to the data by the Korea Automobile Importers and Distributors Association, imported diesel car sales came to the smallest monthly figure since last year. The October sales marked a 20 percent drop from September.

Market experts attributed the decline to the ongoing emissions scandal involving Volkswagen and Audi where they installed defeat device software to cheat emissions testing.

Volkswagen sales in South Korea dropped by a third in October from a month earlier. Sales of Audi, the luxury brand of the German carmaker, also fell over the same period.

Due to the VW emissions cheating escapade, the overall sales of foreign brands in S. Korea are slumping. Market experts have not yet stated when they anticipate sales to rise again.