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American Bar Association

ABA Section of Business Law


Business Law Today

Snap Judgments
By Molly Thomas
Green Light for Green Lawyers
Are you a lawyer with a passion for going green? Your time may have come, as lawyers with a specialization in environmentalism and construction are preparing for a boom in business, with interest in "green real estate" continuing to increase with no end in sight, reports the National Law Journal. It doesn't hurt that $80 billion in federal stimulus funding has been allocated to green entrepreneurs. The situation "has lawyers lined up to help get green projects off the ground." Also foreseeable is an increase in green construction litigation, as building mandates will likely be challenged, as well as product liability suits because of sub-par "green" performance. "I think it's a great time," says Stephen Del Percio, a construction attorney in the New York office of Arent Fox. "We're sort of at the very front of a really emerging practice—and it's not too often in the law that you get a new practice area." Given recent regulations, some have seen this as an inevitability. "My phone today has not stopped ringing," said Percio, ". . . there really is, all of a sudden, this mass realization by the [construction] industry that they need savvy representation."
Emphasis on Employers
In a major shift from the Bush administration's tactic on illegal immigration crackdown, the latest target in raids on illegal immigrants has not been on workers, but employers, reports the Chicago Tribune. New work site enforcement guidelines emphasize consequences for the employers of illegal immigrants, rather than the large-scale deportations common in the recent past. The idea is to target the reason for illegal immigration—jobs—partially to increase fairness for businesses that desire to play by the rules and that seek a pool of documented workers from which to hire. The new guidelines indicate that federal agents are to instigate "carefully planned criminal investigations" of work sites, which may be an indicator of more immigration reforms to come.
Climate Change Confessions
The Wall Street Journal reports that the National Association of Insurance Commissioners voted to require insurers to annually report how climate change may affect their businesses, in "an unusually aggressive stance on the environmental issue from industry regulators." The NAIC acted after coming to the conclusion that environmental changes could harm insurers in at least two important ways. Primarily, climate change could precipitate natural disasters such as wildfires, floods, and hurricanes, which would directly influence claims. Global warming concerns also have prompted governments to cap carbon emissions, which could affect the profits of companies in which insurers continually invest, such as coal-fired utilities. Concerned with reporting potentially sensitive information, some insurers did initially resist, but regulators have specified that insurers do not have to give information that is considered "forward-looking" or "quantitative," or which insurers "in good faith believe is commercially sensitive or proprietary."
Suddenly Seeking Help
Another victim of the economy—our spirits? The National Law Journal reports that, recently, programs to assist struggling lawyers are seeing a surge in those seeking help, and support groups are swelling to beyond capacity in some cases. The Illinois Lawyers' Assistance Program, which has seen nearly twice the number of monthly referrals from 2008, mainly deals with substance abuse problems and depression; and similar organizations in other states are seeing the same boom in need. California's program saw double the number of referrals in March and April than January and February of this year. Blaming it on the economy could be too simplistic, says Janet Voss, executive director of the Illinois program. "We don't have empirical evidence that says the economy is to blame. But that's the sense we have. There is something different going on now." The stress of a substantially down economy can exacerbate existing issues, or, in the case of layoffs, ignite something of an identity crisis for those who for years have primarily identified themselves with their occupation. On the other end of the experience ladder, many law students are calling with questions and frustrations. These issues can take months to compound to the point that help is sought, theorize organizations that are just now seeing a significant uptick in traffic despite a lengthy and continuing down economy.
In Poor Text Taste
A courtroom spectator had to tattle on a naughty cell phone user during a civil fraud case in Miami recently, reports the Daily Business Review, a South Florida legal newspaper. A mistrial was eventually declared after the surprising situation was sorted out. A witness, Sky Development chief operating officer Gavin Sussman, was text messaging from the stand with his chief executive, Yizhak Toledano, at the plaintiff's table. After being questioned by the judge, Sussman admitted that he and Toledano had exchanged two text messages. "Let me be really frank about this," said the judge. "I never had this happen before. This is completely outrageous, absolutely outrageous." Toledano replied, "It was on a break." Regardless, communication with anyone about their testimony during any kind of "break" is forbidden, leading to the request for, and granting of, a mistrial. The incident is indicative of the larger debate that the pervasiveness and speed of new technologies bring into the courtroom. Robert Jarvis, law professor at Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad Law Center called the Miami situation "the perfect example of the mischief where you've had to declare a mistrial. You've wasted that effort and put people through a great deal of expense. One has to be very careful about how and when you let technology in . . . There's just too much potential for disruption." Perhaps best to follow the airplane rule, and turn your phone off for the duration of the flight!
No Change, for Now
Despite the daily dreary economic forecasts and deep retail price-cutting, one place prices aren't dropping? Billing rates—according to a survey by Altman Weil, a legal consulting service. While increases in price competition and more nonhourly billing arrangements are seen as permanent changes in the law firm world, of those firms larger than 250 lawyers that were surveyed, none are putting their rates on sale, for now at least, reports the American Lawyer. Other changes seen as "permanent" by respondents included longer partnership tracks and more use of contract lawyers. "Temporary" changes included associate salaries, profits per partner, and smaller first-year associate class sizes. This survey runs contrary to popular rumblings that corporate clients are "demanding budgets, fixed fees, and discounts," according to Eric Seeger, an Altman Weil consultant. "The question we're left with is whether the day of reckoning between firms and their corporate clients will actually come."
Power Parasites
Vampires are sucking the life blood of your office—vampire power usage, that is. As Law Technology News reports, phantom power usage is power that is being used even when electrical devices are supposedly idle, and can be a major waste of electricity. Happily, small changes can go a long way in this department, with easy steps to take to get a little greener. The facts: even though computers can be set to blank out their screens when not in use, they still use a significant amount of power; cell phone chargers draw electricity just from being plugged in, regardless of whether the phone is connected; instant coffeemakers can make coffee so quickly because they are constantly warming water in preparation for a brew. Many simple gadgets exist to prevent vampire power usage like this, and while the savings may seem small, they can still make a big difference. Saving one watt per hour for one year amounts to nine pounds of coal not burned and 20 pounds of CO2 kept out of the air. A larger office kept vigilant can make an even bigger difference—cutting a kilowatt of electricity per hour for a year is about a thousand dollars of savings and 10 tons of CO2!

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