Blog will continue in fall 2009…

August 31, 2009

Belin Law Firm, P.C., L.L.O. is re-designing its blog and will resume posts in fall 2009.  Stay tuned…

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T-minus 2 weeks: Many federal contractors / subcontractors will have to use E-Verify for I-9 identity checks

August 26, 2009

In less than two weeks, a new federal law will require many federal contractors and subcontractors to use a particular service to perform identity-document verification for new hires.

It is well-known that employers are required to complete and keep on file a Form I-9 for each individual employed within the United States. The form is used by an employer to verify an employee’s identity and to establish that the worker is eligible to accept employment in the United States. To properly complete a Form I-9, the employer must review and record identity documents (for example, social security cards, passports, and visas) to determine whether they reasonably appear to be genuine and related to the individual. In this process, many businesses choose to use E-Verify, a web-based voluntary program run by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to perform the document verification.

Beginning on Monday, September 8, 2009, most federal contractors and subcontractors will be required to use E-Verify (as opposed to using another service instead) to confirm that new hires and current employees working on federal contracts are authorized to work in the United States. Specifically, the requirement will affect federal contractors whose period of performance exceeds 120 days and whose contract exceeds $100,000, and subcontractors whose subcontract exceeds $3,000.

Momentum appears to be growing for legislation that requires all employers – not just federal contractors and subcontractors – to use E-Verify. In fact, many states already require use of E-Verify by state and/or local governments and their contractors, or are considering implementing this requirement. For example, in Nebraska, state and local agencies and their contractors and subcontractors must use the E-Verify system for any new hires after October 1, 2009.

Wall Street Journal: “Billable Hour” Under Attack

August 24, 2009

11_22_6_prevAn article on the front page of today’s Wall Street Journal (“Billable Hour Under Attack” – available online here for subscription-holders only) highlights how an increasing number of corporations are demanding that outside law firms enter into predictable fee arrangements (such as flat-fee arrangements), rather than continue billing by the hour.  Ashby Jones, one of the article’s co-authors, comments on this phenomenon on the WSJ online blog:

People who follow the world of law firms know, among so much else, two things: 1) that billing-by-the-hour has long been the way law firms get paid and 2) companies have over the years had only limited success in getting firms to agree to do it any other way.

That’s changing. In a big way. Companies are starting to ditch the hourly structure — which critics complain offers law firms an incentive to rack up bigger bills — in favor of flat-fee contracts and other types of arrangements.

The article focuses on Pfizer’s switch to flat-fee arrangements, and a video interview with Pfizer’s general counsel, Amy Schulman, is available here.  In the interview, Ms. Schulman deconstructs the traditional law firm’s business model, and explains why flat-fee arrangements are much preferable to her company.  I couldn’t explain it better myself.

Like Ms. Schulman, Belin Law Firm recommends and prefers “alternative” fee structures such as project fees, monthly retainers, or incentive-based fees.  Thus far in its short operating history, the firm has been successful in agreeing to such arrangements with most of its clients.

Are you using Twitter to market your business? You should be.

August 21, 2009

If you’re like me, you may be skeptical as to whether using social media – Facebook, Twitter, and others – to market your business actually translates into revenue and profits.  But I’m convinced – mainly because a lawyer friend of mine recently told me that most of his new clients and leads now come via his Twitter account.  Don’t believe me?  Read this article at Small Business Trends, which reviews (and recommends) the book Twitterville – a collection of anecdotes and stories of businesses that have successfully used Twitter for marketing purposes.

New lawsuits: Should workers be paid for after-hours email/calls on mobile devices?

August 20, 2009

In two recent lawsuits (one filed in New York against T-Mobile USA Inc., and another filed in Wisconsin against CB Richard Ellis Group Inc.), former and current employees are claiming they should have been paid for time spent after hours using company-issued cell phones to respond to work calls and/or emails.1038397_3g_smartphone_isolated_on_white_with_clipping_path

The proliferation of personal technology has made individuals more accessible at all hours of the day, which in turn lends to blurring of work and free time.  An employee doesn’t have to be at the office to be accessible anymore.  It used to be that only high-level, managerial and executive employees had access to technologies that tied them into the office network 24/7.  However, as communications technology gets cheaper, smart phones and similar devices – as well as the 24/7 access to office networks, bosses and co-workers that comes along with them – are now available to many more workers, including hourly workers.

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act requires that “non-exempt” employees be paid for work performed off the clock.  High-level employees are often exempt from this requirement, but hourly workers normally are “non-exempt”.

These two federal cases are among the first addressing pay for after-hours cell/smart-phone use by hourly employees.  It will be interesting to see how the cases play out.  The courts could decide pay is due.  Or, the courts could decide the work performed was so minimal that pay is not due.  The latter tact would mirror what courts have decided in many cases involving pagers.  In those cases, workers generally don’t have to be paid for carrying pagers unless they get paged so often they can’t use their time for “personal pursuits.”

In the meantime, employers should adopt policies to regulate smart phone use after hours and outside the office.  Employees should be contacted as little as possible, and employers should make sure such employees are paid for responding.

Doors opened, blog launched!

August 17, 2009

logo-big-blackToday, matters of law legal blog is officially launched!  The blog is hosted by Belin Law Firm, P.C., L.L.O., which opens for business today as well.  The firm, which is web-based and virtual, will provide general business law services to companies of various sizes.  This blog will commentate on topics of interest to the firm’s clients, potential clients and fellow practitioners.

Picture 006Belin Law Firm will be managed by its founding attorney, Phil Belin.  Owing to its business model, the firm will aim to provide sophisticated services at superior values than traditional law firms.   The firm wishes to acknowledge Axiom Legal, Valorem Law and countless other law firms that have encouraged a movement toward a progressive, “Third Wave” law firm business model.  These firms and their success have inspired Belin Law Firm to open its doors.