|Legal Blog Watch|
Family-Leave Lawsuits on the Rise
This past Sunday, the New York Times Magazine featured this lengthy article on the increasing number of lawsuits over family-leave policies (July 29, 2007).
Increasingly, employees who take time off for family care obligations -- ranging from caring for sick family members to having a baby -- and are prohibited from returning to their job are suing their employers. Up until recently, employees typically relied on the protections of the Family and Medical Leave Act, but its scope is limited (it does not cover companies with fewer than 50 employees). But now employees and their lawyers are developing new legal theories to protect employees who must take extended leave for family care obligations. From the article:
So how are employers reacting to the new slew of lawsuits -- and the new realities of the workplace? The article quotes Zachary Fasman, a partner at the New York office of Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker who specializes in employment law -- and holds a skeptical view about these suits. From the article:
But the article also points out that some companies are changing their policies voluntarily anyway, in an effort to attract and retain qualified employees.
As pointed out in this post at Labor Prof Blog, family care lawsuits "are fundamentally about family values, not gender discrimination. For this reason, they unite people on both sides of the political divide." But even with this unity, I don't expect a quick solution to these issues anytime soon -- because in my view, these are tricky problems. After all, no one opposes family values -- until they're the person who winds up picking up the slack at the office while co-workers are home caring for a child or sick family member.
Recruiting Lawyers for Document Review ... in India
Here, in the United States, document review or "contract lawyer" jobs aren't viewed with much prestige, nor are they typically recommended as the optimal start to a successful legal career. So I was amused to read this article, Legal eagles for digital age, by Sanjay Kamlani, founder of an India-based legal process outsourcing (LPO) company (Hindustan Times, 8/1/07).
I suppose that's one way of looking at the benefits of contract lawyering projects. I wonder whether these same arguments would play to U.S. lawyers in the U.S.
Imagine the contract process, without lawyers. Apparently, one Spanish startup, Negonation (here's a link to the company blog), has done just that, developing a system called Tractis, the first Web platform that lets users create, manage and execute contracts online, as reported in this article from Business 2.0 magazine (8/2/07). According to the article, Tractis is "stocked with a database of contract templates from around the world, and its contracts are legally enforceable in the offline world, even if the parties are in different countries." Tractis also includes a verification system for parties to verify identity (thus facilitating enforcement) and will reimburse users who are victims of fraud as a result of using a valid online contract. Right now, Negonation is targeting higher-end eBay transactions, hoping that the added level of security provided by a separate contract will appeal to eBay users.
But what I found most interesting was this description of the Tractis dashboard. Apparently,
So what are the prospects for Tractis in the lawyer-reliant business market? Will Tractis replace lawyer-drafted contracts or simply provide contracts for transactions where lawyers were never involved to begin with? It seems to me that Tractis and legal representation aren't mutually exclusive either: You could use the Tractis tools to negotiate contacts and track drafting changes while still represented by a lawyer.
Some Insight Into How Good Lawyers Go Bad
When I read about outrageous ethics violations by lawyers -- embezzling client funds or lying to clients that their cases are still ongoing, when in fact they were dismissed years before -- I always wonder how the lawyers reached that point. Were they lazy or disorganized or well-intentioned -- or simply bad, greedy and inherently evil? This article, Missing Lawyer Admits Embezzlement in Confessional Letter (8/2/07), via Legal Reader sheds some insight. The article reports on missing Connecticut lawyer Christopher Hoyt, who was last seen in early July. Hoyt's disappearance comes on the heels of serious financial troubles, including a March 2007 personal bankruptcy filing, not to mention a multitude of ethical and criminal violations relating to Hoyt's dealing with clients at the Hoyt Law Group. In a letter to his son, also a lawyer at the firm, the senior Hoyt admitted that his embezzlement followed a slippery slope of small takings, which got out of hand:
Hoyt also apparently suffered from depression as well as financial problems, mentioned earlier.
Ever the lawyer father, Hoyt also advised his son on how to compensate defrauded clients, wrap up the business of the firm and continue with his law practice either on his own or with another firm. And he also made clear that he was solely responsible for the embezzlement and that his son knew nothing about it.
I suspect that most ethics and criminal problems experienced by lawyers start this way. First, you take a little money, intending to repay it. Then, you get in over your head financially, which can lead to depression, which impairs your work, which forces you to dip into client funds to cover your bills and starts the cycle all over again. The lesson here is clear as well: Don't ever touch client fund. And equally importantly, get help for depression -- a problem that the legal profession must also take more seriously seriously, not so much for how it affects lawyers but also because of how the aftermath of depression can impact clients.