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American Bar Association

ABA Section of Business Law

Business Law Today

Snap Judgments
By Molly Thomas
If it makes you happy
Do candied apples and milkshakes really compete in the race to attract top young talent? Yes, reports the New York Times. No longer reserved for partners, perks are now viewed as necessary to recruit and retain associates. These little treats represent the essential lifestyle change that many young lawyers are truly looking for, that is, not just BlackBerrys and sports tickets, but more practical and long-term lifestyle solutions such as on-site child care and personal counseling. (However, the ever-powerful cash bonus has not lost its popularity.) While certain benefits may seem extreme to some, for instance, hybrid car reimbursements, on-site tailoring, and personal concierge services; the sentiment behind them really is simple and sincere—keeping associates happy and healthy. Hence, the aptly named committee behind the recent surprise treats of candied apples and milkshakes on the Perkins Coie staff members' desks--the "happiness committee."
Hedge failures: No fun for anyone
The year 2008 isn't looking up for hedge funds or their investors, as litigation against the funds is expected to continue to climb, reports New York Lawyer. Said Ross Intelisano of the New York firm, Rich & Intelisano, "Anytime a hedge fund blows up, you are going to see class actions and a lot of cases are going to end up in [U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission] receivership and bankruptcies." Investigations into possible asset-value manipulation and conflicts of interest are up markedly, from around 20 per year nationwide for the past five years, to, in the Northeast alone, 30 ongoing investigations in 2007. The increase in investigations reflects the spike in hedge fund growth. Some estimates put the number around 9,000, while the hedge fund total was only a few hundred in the last decade. And out of those 9,000 funds, as many as 2,000 could see investors seeking redemptions. The reality of an increase in litigation surrounding the hedge fund industry means that some firms are seeing that area of their practice grow, such as Morrison & Foerster, which last year created a hedge fund recovery team specifically to address the anticipated issues surrounding hedge fund failures; in particular, bankruptcy, fund liquidation, and restructuring. Regulators in California are pushing a registration requirement for unregulated funds, perhaps an indication that even more changes are afoot for the private investment vehicles.
Going green for good
In the effort to go green, small and steady wins the race. Charging ahead with this credo is the president of the Massachusetts Bar Association, David W. White Jr., who is implementing change with his start-small-for-big-effect efforts to make "the practice of law the most environmentally friendly business in Massachusetts," reports the Boston Globe. Energy use in his law office is already down 10 percent simply by starting with directives as easy as turning off lights and equipment when the office is empty, and using office equipment that is energy efficient. Attentive recycling alone can make a big difference in a notoriously paper-heavy industry. White believes that his goal is not only good for the environment, but good for the bottom line, because green initiatives can ultimately save firms money. He also feels that lawyers need to show the way to their clients who "will be looking to law firms to demonstrate leadership in energy conservation." A task force established by White plans to release "green guidelines" meant to apply to the whole of the legal industry, with examples such as minimizing printing by utilizing only e-mail, reducing emissions while traveling by renting hybrid cars, or reducing travel needs altogether by holding meetings via teleconference. White believes in the reality of his vision, and in fact, the green initiative has already caught on at Nixon Peabody. Carolyn S. Kaplan was recently appointed "chief sustainability officer," with responsibility for minimizing the environmental impact of Nixon Peabody's 17 offices nationwide. Kaplan was previously with the firm as a lawyer in their energy and environmental group, and said of her new post, "Taking this type of position perhaps is unusual now, but at some point soon this is going to be business as usual."
Ascot arguments
The truly fashion-devoted aren't unaccustomed to suffering for their personal flair. But rather than a too-tight waist or wardrobe-induced foot pain, neckwear was the source of anguish in a recent three-hour courtroom delay--or rather, the definition of "necktie" was to blame. To ascot, or not to ascot? That was the question, and a Milwaukee County circuit judge's answer was a firm "no," although he was concerned less with the technical definition of the neckwear than in maintaining the "integrity of the court," reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The lawyer in the hot seat has been warned in the past that the only acceptable deviation from long ties is the bow tie. While Hugh Hefner appropriated the ascot as a part of his pajama-suit uniform, fashion experts contend that the ascot is a formal tie, although most popularly worn to dinner parties and at weddings.
Goodbye boom as deals dip
The New York Law Journal reports that corporate lawyers are anticipating an activity dip after a busy mergers and acquisitions year, as markets are uncertain in 2008. While in 2007 private equity firms were a powerful force behind deals, at almost 20 percent of the year's volume, only 9 percent of fourth quarter deals were reported to be backed by private financial sponsors. Chairman of Sullivan & Cromwell, H. Rodgin Cohen said, "It's hard to be an optimist. With the markets where they are, it is going to be a tough year." Cohen's firm has no plans to cut bonuses or begin layoffs, however, as he also said that it is too soon to tell how lawyers will be affected by the mergers and acquisitions slowdown.
Survey says . . .
Isn't technology supposed to make things faster and easier? But the convenience of electronic communication means an increase in information volume, which can also mean a lot more time spent poring over it down the road. Perhaps this is what the lawyers who responded to the Robert Half Legal survey were thinking when asked what they felt "would have the biggest impact on the practice of law over the next five years," as one in four respondents cited electronic discovery, with globalization on its heels, cited by 23 percent of those surveyed. Executive director of Robert Half Legal, Charles Volkert, explained the ways electronic discovery has and continues to change the practice of law saying, "Changes to document retention and e-discovery rules have placed greater demands on companies. To prepare for litigation, legal teams must review massive amounts of material in short periods of time and determine relevancy to the case. The complexity and cost of the task . . . make this a challenge."
Keeping correct
In our January/February 2008 issue, the e-mail address for Craighton Goeppele, author of "Second This! A Personal Look Back at My Secondment," was listed incorrectly. Those wishing to contact Mr. Goeppele may do so at cgoeppel@starbucks.com.

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