10 Safety Tips for Law Firms, Attorneys and Legal Professionals

Violence committed by clients against attorneys and legal professionals is real. It happens in small towns and big cities, and in small and large legal practices. Some practice areas are more volatile than others, such as divorce and family law, dispute resolution, employment law and real estate litigation. Particularly in a bad economy with high unemployment, tempers are short and more people reach levels of desperation.

While dramatic cases like shootings at law firms make headlines, the majority of security incidents among attorneys and staff are unreported because they involve harassment and lower level threats. In the privacy of attorney-client meetings, emotional and sometimes irrational individuals lash out at their lawyers. Money is often at the heart of disputes and many attorneys are confronted with disagreements about their billable hours. Clients become upset and irate about how their case is proceeding or the outcome of a case. Meetings that involve elevated voices and foul language can be the precursor to a physical altercation.

Receptionists and other staff in law firms also encounter angry, hostile clients. Although experienced receptionists have a thick skin and are sometimes trained in how to manage harassment by clients and opposing parties, there are situations when they are truly threatened and in danger.

Law practice management should include systems and procedures that ensure workplace safety and violence prevention for attorneys and staff. All law office employees should acquire the skills to recognize and manage threatening, potentially dangerous individuals. Client-facing legal professionals need tools to protect themselves and prevent early stage situations from escalating into major, dangerous events.

Here are 10 safety tips for attorneys and legal staff.

1. Create a safe work environment for receptionists. Ensure receptionists have a clear view of the office entry way with little opportunity for people to sneak in or hide, particularly doors, elevators, and all traffic flow. Design the front desk to provide a barrier between receptionists and clients but also allows easy escape. Delineate a clear understanding of where clients are allowed to be in the lobby and front desk area. Remove office objects from the front desk that are potential weapons and keep them stored in drawers or cabinets – staplers, scissors and letter openers. Keep computer screens and family photos away from public view.

2. Establish safe meeting areas for clients and attorneys. Safe areas can include windows to allow co-workers to see what is occurring inside but still maintain confidentiality. Meeting areas should have two entrances so attorneys and staff can avoid being cornered. Before entering meeting rooms with potentially threatening clients, remove potential weapons from them.

3. Install security technology. Technology helps protect employees, reduces the severity of incidents and provides ways to quickly respond to situations. Consider installing buzzer doors that allow entry only after verification of the visitor. Provide panic buttons for attorneys, receptionists and other staff to discreetly notify others of a potentially dangerous situation before it escalates. Cameras and adequate lighting also help deter assailants.

4. Train all attorneys and staff how to handle angry clients. Defusing skills and knowing how to de-escalate hostile behavior are essential for attorneys and client-facing employees. Listening skills, redirecting negative behavior, setting boundaries and assault awareness are all acquired skills that should be continually honed with training and practice. There are many free online resources and security consultants who provide these services.

5. Establish a workplace violence policy and procedures. These should include clear instructions on how employees can report any concerns. Just as important as the method of reporting is an environment where all employees feel safe and supported. A danger that occurs in all workplaces, including law offices, is domestic violence spillover. When employees face domestic violence threats they must feel comfortable enough to inform their manager about embarrassing, private matters.

6. Provide employee assistance programs. Employee issues also arise from within a law practice. Human resources should provide support programs to employees with disciplinary issues or personal problems. This type of support helps prevent acts of violence and helps create a stronger, healthier workplace.

7. Develop risk and threat assessments. When a threat by a client emerges or is identified, a law office needs a process to determine the likelihood and severity of the threat. A process that gathers information, collects and reviews evidence and weighs warning signs is part of a good threat management system. Connections and relationships with local law enforcement and security professionals are paramount to risk analysis. Front desk personnel should be given descriptions of the threat with safety instructions should identified individuals arrive at the law firm.

8. Utilize legal resources to increase employee protection. Workplace restraining orders and trespass orders can always be obtained. Misdemeanor charges such as telephone harassment, stalking or property damage can be levied to create a paper trail for a threat, and the charges warn the individual not to harass legal professionals pending the trial. Many states also have a victim notification system that automatically calls any phone number once a person is released from jail.

9. Establish emergency response procedures. Should a threat ever become a reality, emergency response procedures help prevent a bad situation from becoming a complete catastrophe. A system that notifies all employees, has escape and lockdown procedures and support mechanisms for emergency response personnel are all components of crisis management.

10. Coordinate and communicate with neighboring businesses. It is important neighboring businesses are aware of potentially threatening, dangerous individuals. When a man bent on killing an attorney opens fire, anyone in the vicinity can be a target. Not only can emergency management be coordinated, but the surveillance of individuals and potential risks is increased through such community partnerships.

Law firms committed to workplace security ensure safe workplaces through the design of their facilities and the implementation of accessible, sophisticated technology. They train attorneys and employees in basic security skills to help mitigate hostile encounters. Conscientious law firms provide support for employees in need and establish an environment where their concerns can be disclosed. Safe law firms establish and practice threat and emergency management procedures that are vital in maintaining a safe workplace. While shootings in law firms are rare, the much more common hostile encounters with clients are sometimes warning signs that should be taken seriously.

These safety tips provide a general framework for establishing a safer law office, but the key requirement is to recognize threats against attorneys and legal professionals are real and can happen anywhere.

Legal Landmines – 2009 Law Changes Could Impact Your Business

Employee lawsuits are distracting, expensive, and mostly avoidable. Jury Verdicts Research 2007 edition of “Employment Practices Liability, Jury Award Trends, and Statistics” highlights some employment statistics and trends that you should know:

Employee lawsuits have risen 400% in the past 20 years to the currently level of 6.5 claims per 1,000 employees annually

The most common targets for Federal discrimination claims are private employers with between 15 and 100 employees (41.5%); second are private companies with an excess of 500 employees (23.9%); and third are private companies with between 100 and 500 employees (18%)
In any employment case filed in federal court, there is a 16% chance the award will exceed $1 million and a 67% chance that the award will exceed $100,000; attorney fees are not included
The average compensatory award in all federal court employment cases was $493,534 and reflects a 45% increase since 2000; a compensatory award does not include punitive damages or attorney fees
In State courts, compensatory awards are up 39% while wrongful termination claims are up 260%
If an employment lawsuit goes to trial, plaintiffs are more likely to win 67% of cases in State court and 63% in federal court
The cost to settle an employment lawsuit has grown significantly over the last 5 years, from an average of $130,476 in 2001 to $310,845 in 2006

These general statistics are sobering and are cause for concern to ALL organizations. Compounding these are recent changes in Federal and State laws that affect almost all organizations. In a litigious employment environment that seems to increasingly favor employees, risk-minimizing organizations MUST understand the recent changes to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) regulations. Employers should take immediate steps to assure they are in compliance with new laws to protect themselves from future liability.

What Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 2009 Changes do I Need to Understand?

The ADA requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide qualified individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from employment-related opportunities. It prohibits discrimination in recruitment, hiring, promotions, training, pay, social activities, and other privileges of employment. It further requires employers to make reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities, unless it results in undue hardship to the employer.

The ADA Amendments, effective January 1, 2009, overturns prior Supreme Court decisions and makes clear that the ADA is intended to provide a broad scope of protection for employees. In general, it expands existing definitions to more employees. For many employers, existing policies and procedures may no longer be valid or useful in determining HR practices.

Specific 2009 ADA changes:

Organizations cannot consider mitigating measures such as medications or other measures that treat a disease when determining if an individual has a disability.
Broadens the definition of disability by adding to what may affect a major life activity, and now includes major bodily functions, such as functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions.
Clarifies that an impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it substantially limits a major life activity when active.
Clarifies that one of the definitions of disability – “being regarded as having impairment” – doesn’t require the impairment to actually limit a major life activity.

What Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) 2009 Changes do I Need to Understand?

The FMLA provides leave entitlement to eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job protected leave, per 12-month period for employers who employ 50 or more employees. Leave may be taken for birth or placement for adoption or foster care of a child; the serious health condition of the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent; or the serious health condition of the employee that makes the employee unable to perform the functions of the employee’s job.

The new regulations, effective January 16, 2009, have created new categories of leave-military caregiver leave and qualifying exigency leave, and has revised and clarified existing regulations. Especially for organizations with active duty or reserve duty military personnel, or with families of active duty or reserve duty military, these changes require modifications to leave procedures/forms, training/communications, and policies, current HR practices related to employee leave.

Specific 2009 FMLA changes:

Provides military caregiver leave, which permits an employee who is a spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin of a service member with a serious injury or illness to take a combined total of 26 workweeks of unpaid leave during a single 12-month period.
Provides qualifying exigency leave, which permits an eligible employee to take protected, unpaid leave for a period up to 12 workweeks for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent who is on active duty or called to active duty in support of a contingency operation. This leave includes short notice deployment, military events and related activities, childcare and school activities for those incapable of self-care, making or updating financial and legal arrangements, spending time with covered military member of short-term, temporary rest and recuperation leave during deployment, post-deployment activities and other activities that arise out of a covered military member’s active duty or call to active duty.
Gives employers 5 days to provide an Eligibility Notice following employee’s request for FMLA leave or knowledge that an employee’s leave may be FMLA qualifying.
Changes time requirements and procedures for medical certifications.
Specifies that light duty work does not count against FMLA leave allotment.
Clarifies that the employee is required to explain the reasons for requesting leave if the employee cannot give 30-day advance notice of need for leave.
Clarifies when an employer may require a fitness-for-duty certification.
Allows employers to delay or deny FMLA leave to an employee who unjustifiably fails to comply with employer’s notice and procedural requirements for requesting leave.
Requires the employee to provide notice of need for qualifying exigency leave as soon as practicable, regardless of how far in advance such leave is foreseeable.

What Other Changes do I Need to Understand?

In addition to the ADA and FMLA changes, other laws and changes may require modifications to existing policies, procedures, and HR practices.
Effective January 1, 2009, in order to have independent contractor status, one must obtain an Independent Contractor Exemption Certificate from the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry. Employers in some industries will be required to pay workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance and other benefits to anyone without a Certificate.
Effective February 2, 2009, all employers will be required to use a new I-9 form;
Effective November 2009, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 will protect Americans from being treated unfairly by employers and health insurers because of differences in their DNA that may affect their heath.
Effective January 1, 2008 employers are required to give employees notice of their rights and remedies available under the Personnel Records Statute.
The Minnesota Supreme Court in 2008 clarified that Minnesota’s wage statute requires employers to pay vacation pay to departing employees only if there is a promise to pay. There is no longer an automatic right to accrued vacation pay when employment terminates.

Are your documented policies, procedures, and practices aligned with all of the 2009 changes?

What Should Employers Do?

Given the many changes, employers must act quickly to align policies, procedures, and practices with these changes. At a minimum, all Minnesota employers should conduct a thorough review of recruitment, selection, training, promotion, performance evaluation, and HRIS systems to ensure compliance. All employee and managers handbooks, forms, website information and more must be aligned with these changes.

What Policy Changes Should We Implement?

Review and revise all policies to reflect changes in the ADA, FMLA, and other laws.

Importance of Legal Translations

Corporate globalization and the growth in international trade have led to a rise in the demand for legal translations. Numerous companies require legal documents to be translated from one language to another. However, translating legal documents is a very complex task. Even minor errors in the translation can result in potential lawsuits and legal exposure that will consume a lot of unnecessary time and money. This is why you need professional legal translators to do the job.

Legal translation involves translating various legal documents such as:

Trademark Applications
Articles of Incorporation Contracts
Copyright Registrations
Litigation documents
Tax returns
Certificates of Accuracy
Witness Statements
Immigration Documents and others

Legal translation involves highly complex subject matters and specialized terminology. Usually the subject matter of any legal document is rather delicate and a large amount of money is often at stake. Hence it is extremely important to assign the legal translation task to a translator who is qualified and specialized in handling legal documents. Usually professional translation services in Ottawa or other locations have qualified translators who are specially trained for handling legal documents.

Even more so than with other translations, legal translations have to be completed within the framework of the legal system and culture of the country in which the source text was created. Usually legal structures and legislative frameworks differ quite significantly from country to country as every country has different a culture, language and laws. The legal documents written in the source language reflect that country’s culture and legal framework. Therefore it becomes quite a complex task for translator to find language structures in the target language which are exact equivalents to those in the source language. To do a competent job, the translator has to have an indepth understanding, not only of the two languages, but also of the two legal systems involved in the translation project.

Legal translators need to have an overview of the common law and civil law systems which are used throughout the world. Besides they need to have clear understanding of important legal terminology in such specialized areas as international law, tax law, insurance law, contract law, maritime law, criminal law, commercial law and corporation law.

Not just any professional translator can do legal translations. Ideally, legal translation experts have a background in law and many years of specialized experience. Various universities will offer specialized courses for legal translations which provide a good foundation and understanding of the legal system. Specialized legal translators work in many organizations, from private sector law firms, to government departments, to translation companies in Ottawa or translation services in Calgary.

Especially when it comes to legal translations, hire a professional company, whether you require translation services in Calgary or translation services in Ottawa. Professional companies carefully select their translators and ensure that they understand the nuances of legal clauses. Professional, well trained translators are able to meet tight deadlines without compromising the quality of the end product. In addition, professional translation firms will handle all your documents with utmost confidentiality.

Wisconsin Contract Law – What Makes a Legally Binding Contract?

As a business owner, you probably enter into contractual relationships every day. Many of you deal with written contracts on a fairly regular basis. However, do you understand the basic concepts of contract law and what makes a legally binding contract? Do you know what to look for when reviewing contracts prepared by the other party, or your own attorney that make it a legally binding contract?

Under Wisconsin contract law, legally binding contracts, whether oral or written, require three basic components: offer, acceptance, and consideration. An “offer” requires that one party offers to provide something of value to another party, which is then “accepted” by that other party. “Consideration” is what the two parties are obligated to exchange with each other as part of the contract. Consideration must be something of value, and the consideration must be mutual, i.e. both sides must provide something of value under the contract. For example, an agreement whereby a party agrees to pay you $1,000.00, without receiving anything in exchange, is by definition not a contract.

Typically, consideration takes the form of money paid in exchange for the provision of goods or services. This holds true for multi-million dollar transactions between international conglomerates, and when you take your car in for repairs by a mechanic. One corporation agrees to pay millions of dollars for another corporation to develop specific software or some other product, and you pay your mechanic to replace your spark plugs. In either case, there is an offer, acceptance, and consideration, and therefore an enforceable and legally binding contract. Keep in mind, however, that legally binding contracts may require consideration other than money, for example when two parties agree to exchange parcels of real estate.

Under Wisconsin contract law, all contracts also come with an implied duty of “good faith and fair dealing” on the part of both parties to the contract. While this is admittedly a rather broad phrase, in essence it means that, once an agreement has been reached, both parties have an obligation to make reasonable efforts to fulfill their respective obligations, and to avoid taking actions that would hinder the performance of the contract.

Parties to contracts have the right to enforce them in courts of law. Generally, the remedies for breach of contract take one of two forms, either specific performance or monetary damages. Specific performance is an equitable remedy most often awarded in cases involving real estate transactions, and consists of the Court ordering the breaching party to fulfill its obligations, i.e. “specifically perform” the contract.

In most cases, the remedy for breach of contract is money damages, usually in the form of “consequential” damages. Consequential damages are those damages that flow naturally from one party’s breach of a contract, and can include the cost to replace a product that was never delivered, the cost to repair a defective product, and any resulting lost profits. However, consequential damages must be “reasonably foreseeable” at the time the contract was created in order to be recoverable.

With certain exceptions, oral contracts may be just as valid and legally binding as a written contract. As an attorney, I recommend that whenever possible, contractual obligations be set forth in a written document signed by both parties. As a general rule, courts are required to look only at the written contract itself to interpret the parties’ obligations, unless there is some ambiguity in the contract. In the absence of a written agreement, or when an ambiguity exists in a written contract, the court may look to extrinsic evidence, including the testimony of the parties, to determine their intent. In other words, the judge or the jury will be determining the fate of the parties, as opposed to the parties themselves. Therefore, written contracts that clearly define the obligations of the parties are almost always preferable to oral contracts.

I will close with a suggestion. Never ignore the “boilerplate” language that you often find at the end of contracts. While these provisions may seem like an afterthought added by the attorneys to make the contract longer, they are often of vital importance, specifying among other things where written notices (for example, terminating the contract) must be sent under the contract, to where a lawsuit must be filed and what jurisdiction’s laws will govern the contract. While it is important to review the detailed provisions of the contract, it can be just as important to understand the “standard” provisions at the end of the contract.

What Does a Legal Cashier Do? Choosing the Right Law Job

The legal cashier’s job can be ideal for someone who finds the idea of working for a solicitors or law firm appealing but doesn’t have the experience or desire to work directly on legal matters. Normally a legal cashier is responsible in one form or another for the finances of the company. As the financial needs of solicitors and law firms are quite unique, a niche has opened up for those with the skills and expertise to carry out these kinds of jobs.

There are a number of different jobs which could be described as a legal cashier:

Legal Accountant – The responsibilities of a legal accountant are in many ways similar to a traditional accountant however there are some distinct difference unique to the industry. For example the large transfers of money for house purchases and legal fees are quite different to that of a traditional business. Though the tasks carried out by a legal accountant may differ from other industries many of the skills required to carry out the role are quite transferable.

Financial Controller – typically a financial controller has a lot more strategic role than a legal accountant, they might not be as involved in the day to day, invoices, payments and bank reconciliations but are still heavily involved in how a legal firm manages it finances.

Accounts Manager – This might be a role for someone working within a legal firm who has extensive accounts experience yet isn’t a qualified accountant. They don’t have the legal ability to carry out accounts like their professionally qualified colleague but might still carry out very similar tasks on a day to day basis.

Practice Manager- a far more administrative role typically, though it may still involve aspects of a finance common to most legal cashier roles. A Practice manager would normally have responsibility for the teams responsible for the administration and non legal functions of the firm.

Legal cashiers can also often be given the responsibilities within a company beyond the financial. These tasks often include

Marketing- while legal firms might not instantly seem like they require a great deal of marketing just like every business they need new customers. For most firms they would never reach the size where they could afford or justify a full time member of staff dedicated to marketing the firm. However often the responsibility of attracting new customers can be passed to someone with the appropriate skills. Often a legal cashier has just the right mix of abilities and enthusiasm to be given the task of marketing.

HR – the responsibility for human resources is another important part of a business which a small legal firm may not be able to dedicate a member of staff. As legal cashiers often manage a large number of the firm’s staff often HR can be allocated to them.

Administration – the amount of paper work and administration that a team of practicing solicitor can create is surprising. Consequently there is a team of administrators at most firms dedicated to organizing the firm and their work. As legal cashiers develop through their career they can often.