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McCloud Law Group Legal Blog

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Mediation & Alternative Dispute Resolution Options in Divorce

Mediation & Alternative Dispute Resolution Options in Divorce

My spouse and I would like to pursue an amicable divorce, and would like to stay out of court if at all possible. Are there alternative methods to divorce resolution?

With the dawning of no-fault divorce in New York, couples looking for a more amicable, less-stressful dissolution experience may be able to achieve such results through the use of alternative dispute resolution. Namely, mediation and collaborative divorce models have proven wildly successful in New York and elsewhere, allowing families the opportunity to transition their family dynamics with dignity and grace, as opposed to name-calling and vitriol.

Collaborative divorce

As the name suggests, a collaborative divorce is one in which all parties agree to forgo litigation (i.e., court intervention) in lieu of working together to arrive at a practicable solution. Issues ranging from spousal support to child visitation are negotiated in a non-adversarial environment, and parties are encouraged to work together – as opposed to in opposition – to arrive at a settlement agreement that meets the needs of the family as a whole. Collaborative divorce relies on the mutual agreement by both spouses to engage in full disclosure during all negotiations, as well as treat all parties involved with respect.

Mediation

As a component of the traditional divorce model, mediation is often used when parties are stuck on a particular issue, and is designed to avoid the costs and time investment of full-blown litigation. In lieu of the formal adversarial process, parties are seated at a table before a neutral third party. This third party will then work with both sides to determine the most important factors at play, as well as offer solutions for both parties to consider. If, at the conclusion of the session, an agreement cannot be reached, parties will be scheduled for a full hearing before a New York judge.


Monday, November 9, 2015

Business Succession Planning Tips

Business Succession Planning Tips

Business succession plans contemplate and instruct regarding any changes in future ownership and management of a business. Most business owners know they should think about succession planning, but few actually end up doing so. It is hard to think about not being in charge of the business you have built up, but a proper succession plan can ensure that your business continues long after you are there to run it, providing an enduring legacy.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when you begin to think about putting a succession plan into place for your business.

  • Proper plans take time - often years - to develop and implement because there are many steps involved. It is really never too early to start thinking about how you want to hand off control of your business.

  • Succession plans are a waste of time unless they are more than a piece of paper. Involving attorneys, accountants and business advisors ensures that your plan is actually implemented.

  • There is no cookie-cutter succession plan that fits all businesses, and no one way to develop and implement a successful plan. Each business is unique, so each business needs a custom-made plan that fits the needs of all parties involved.

  • It may seem counterintuitive, but transferring a business between people who are familiar with the business - from one family member to another, or between business partners - is often more complicated than selling the business to a complete stranger. Emotional investments cannot be easily quantified, but their importance is real. Having a neutral party at the negotiating table can help everyone involved focus on what is best for the business and the people that are depending on it for their livelihood.

  • Once a succession plan has been established, it is critically important that the completed plan be continually reviewed and updated as circumstances change. This is one of the biggest reasons having an attorney on your succession planning team is important. Sound legal counsel can assist you in making periodic adjustments and maintaining an effective succession plan.

If you are ready to start thinking about succession planning, contact an experienced business law attorney today.


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Do Multiple Applications Improve Your Odds of Winning the H1B Lottery ?

Do Multiple Applications Improve Your Odds of Winning the H1B Lottery ?

Over the past few years there has been a greater demand for H1B visas.  In fact, many more people apply for these visas than there are visas available. When this happens, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) conducts a lottery to determine whom the available visas will be awarded to. In order to increase their odds of winning, many visa-seekers have started filing multiple petitions.

USCIS’s H1B lottery does not take into account the visa-seekers’ educational background, career path, country of origin, age, sex, or any other distinguishing characteristic. Instead, the lottery is done with a random number generator. One’s odds of winning depend solely on the number of petitions in the lottery. This means that the only way to increase one’s odds of winning is to submit multiple visa petitions and thus increase one’s ratio of petitions to the overall pool of petitions. 

There is a USCIS rule prohibiting visa-seekers from filing multiple identical H1B applications. However, there is no prohibition on a visa-seeker having multiple valid petitions filed on his or her behalf by different employers for different job offers.

A large company that really wants to hire a certain visa-seeker can in effect file multiple H1B petitions for the same visa-seeker by having each of its related entities file a petition on behalf of the visa-seeker. The only limiting factor is that each entity must be able to show a legitimate business need to hire the visa-seeker.  Some visa-seekers are accepting job offers from multiple companies, each of who files a petition on his or her behalf.

If the visa-seeker wins the lottery, he or she can choose which company to work for, and the visa will travel with them to that company. If the employee chooses to work for a company whose petition was not selected, or a company that did not petition for a visa for the employee at all, they will need to fill out a new petition, but it will almost certainly be granted since it is not subject to the cap.

While the practice of filing multiple petitions is legal, some criticize it as unethical. They claim that it is dishonest for visa-seekers to lead employer on if they do not intend to actually take the job being offered. If you are a applying for an H1B visa or a company filing a petition on behalf of an immigrant, you should consult an experienced attorney today to review your options.


Monday, October 19, 2015

Legal Concerns for Businesses Engaged in Social Networking

Legal Concerns for Businesses Engaged in Social Networking

Social media is a phenomenon and in this day and age, it is rare that an individual, organization or business does not utilize it.  The use of websites like Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin can be of great benefit to your business and can assist in advertising, marketing and branding.  But, it is important to remember that their use is not without legal pitfalls.

While there are many issues to address when your business is considering entering the social media realm, some are more poignant than others.  Because the purpose of social media is to share information and to do so rapidly, privacy is a major concern.  You want to ensure that the privacy of your business and of your customers is protected.  While exposing private business information can have a dramatic effect on your venture in a variety of ways, you should also note that sharing customer information without permission can expose you to legal liability.  Privacy laws are enforced by the Federal Trade Commission and you would be best served by becoming familiar with them.  The regulations vary depending upon the industry and situation and you should therefore consult with a business law attorney to determine which are applicable to your business.

Intellectual property can be the subject of legal concerns when using social media in a business context.  If work is trademarked or copyrighted, you likely do not have the right to use it.  Even things that seem like they are open for public use can create liability.  Therefore, you should think about the implications of the content you are attempting to share before you do so and when in doubt, consult with your lawyer.

In addition, employment-related matters can cause legal liability.  Some employers use social media to make decisions before a prospective worker is hired and even while the worker is employed.  While this is acceptable in some situations, employers should be sure not to make decisions on a discriminatory basis.  Also, in most states, employers cannot make the decision to reprimand or fire a worker for their after-hours conduct, especially if they are breaking no laws.  Therefore, employers should be careful when reviewing their workers’ pages for this purpose.

Please note that this is not an all encompassing list and there are many other legal concerns that can and will arise with the use of social networking in a business context.  If your business has made the decision to use social media, you should put a social media policy in place.  This policy should outline what you are seeking to achieve by using social media, guidelines for its use in this context, the responsibilities of all those involved in the use and how those involved can be sure to comply with the applicable rules and regulations.

If you have questions about the use of social media in your business or need assistance putting a social media policy in place, contact an experienced business law attorney today.


Thursday, October 8, 2015

Legal Concerns When Doing Business Online

Legal Concerns When Doing Business Online

We live in a digital world and if you are not doing business online you could be missing out on the profits and other benefits of this marketplace.  If you want to expand your business horizons using the internet, you should be aware of the legal implications that may come along with the benefits.  You should make your customers aware of your policies when doing business online and it is also imperative that you tend to intellectual property concerns at the same time.

  1. I.                   Terms and Conditions

An important but frequently overlooked legal aspect of doing business online is the Terms and Conditions of Use agreement.  This agreement should detail who owns the website, what its purpose is and outline the business policies.  In essence, this agreement will formalize what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior on behalf of the business and its customers.  You should also include a disclaimer of liability on the site that is relevant to your business. An experienced business law attorney can help you draft both the agreement and disclaimer to be sure they are valid.

  1. II.                Privacy

Privacy is always a main concern for customers and they want to be assured that their information will be kept safe.  It is important to have a privacy policy in place that explains how you handle customer information.  The policy should be comprehensive and accessible to the public somewhere on the website.  Once the policy is in place, it is imperative that you abide by it.  The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and state law govern the collection and use of consumer data and it is in your best interests that an attorney reviews your privacy policy to make sure that it meets these specific regulations.

  1. III.             Intellectual Property

With regard to intellectual property, there are two preeminent concerns.  When setting up your website initially, it is important to check your URL to determine whether it is being used by someone else.  This will offer some protection against intellectual property claims in this area. In addition, it is a good idea to add a copyright notice to every page relating to the page and its content.  This will protect you in the event that someone attempts to use your original work as their own.  Actually applying for a copyright might be a good idea and an intellectual property attorney can assist you with that.

All of the standard laws that apply to regular business also apply to online business.  But, there are additional rules and regulations that you need to be cognizant of as you develop and maintain a web presence.  This is not an all encompassing list and therefore retaining a business law attorney knowledgeable in e-commerce is in the best interest of every business owner with a website


Monday, September 28, 2015

Medicaid Planning for the Elderly with Assets

Medicaid Planning for the Elderly with Assets  

 

There are many factors to consider when deciding whether or not to implement Medicaid planning.  If you’re in good health, now would be the prime time to do this planning. The main reason is that any Medicaid planning may entail using an irrevocable trust, or perhaps gifts to your children, which would incur a five-year look back for Medicaid qualification purposes. The use of an irrevocable trust to receive these gifts would provide more protection and in some cases more control for you.

As an example, if you were to gift assets directly to a child, that child could be sued or could go through a divorce, and those assets could be lost to a creditor or a divorcing spouse even though the child had intended to hold those assets intact in case they needed to be returned to you. If instead, you had used an irrevocable trust to receive the gifted assets, those assets would not have been considered the child’s and therefore would not have been lost to the child’s creditor or a divorcing spouse. You need to understand that doing this type of planning, and using the irrevocable trust, may mean that those assets are not available to you and therefore you need to be comfortable with that structure.

Depending upon the size of your estate, and your sources of income, perhaps you have sufficient assets to pay for your own care for quite some time. You should work closely with an attorney knowledgeable about Medicaid planning as well as a financial planner that can help identify your sources of income should you need long-term care. Also, you should look into whether or not you could qualify for long-term care insurance, and how much the premiums would be on that type of insurance.


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Enrolling in E-Verify: Pros & Cons

Should Employers Enroll in E-Verify?  Pros and Cons

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, in partnership with the Social Security Administration (SSA), offers E-Verify to help employers instantly determine an employee's eligibility to work.  Initial confirmations and "Tentative Non Confirmations" are available in as little as three to five seconds.

The voluntary Internet-based program works by comparing the information from an employee’s Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, with Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration records.  Instead of simply retaining I-9s on file in their own offices, employers who enroll in E-Verify must enter the I-9s of all new hires into the program's database.

There are both advantages and disadvantages to using E-Verify.  Employers must weigh each and its relevance to their circumstances.

Five Benefits of Signing Up for E-Verify

 • While E-Verify is generally voluntary, some states require employers to use E-Verify, and it is mandatory for some federal government contracts.

 • E-Verify could become mandatory nationwide.  Adopting it earlier affords employers more time to become familiar with it and adapt.

 • E-Verify helps companies avoid hiring and training a person who turns out to be ineligible to work.  It can eliminate "No Match" letters from the SSA notifying an employer that an employee's reported social security number does not match government records.

• If an employer hires foreign nationals who recently received a degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, enrolling in E-Verify may make those workers eligible to work an additional 17 months without the employer having to file H-1B petitions on their behalf

•Although using E-Verify does not provide a "safe harbor" from prosecution, it creates a "rebuttable presumption" that the employer has not violated section 274A(a)(1)(A) of the Immigration and Nationality Act ("Unlawful Employment of Aliens").

Five Drawbacks of Signing Up for E-Verify

 • E-Verify is not entirely free.  Employers must allot time and resources to training and supervising staff to use the system and deal with the results of queries.  

 • E-Verify makes mistakes, issuing Tentative or Final Non-Confirmations for workers who are authorized to work, or stating “Employment Authorized” for workers who are not.

 • Tentative Non-Confirmations open employers up to new legal risks.  For example, employees have sued employers for discrimination for not providing proper notice and instructions for contesting a Tentative Non-Confirmation.

 • E-Verify can lead to liability for privacy and discrimination violations.  Federal and state laws require the safeguarding of I-9 information.  Employers must make sure that their staff does not intentionally or accidentally misuse E-Verify data.

 • Because the government can use E-Verify to mine data, it may find employers' hiring mistakes that otherwise would not have been discovered.  For example, employers enrolled in E-Verify must complete and submit I-9 forms by the third business day after a new hire's first day of work.  Consistently missing this deadline could trigger an I-9 inspection and fine.  Employers who are not submitting I-9s to E-Verify might never be caught in a slight delay in completing them.

 If you have encountered any of these issues in your past or current use of the E-Verify system, you would be best served by discussing the problems with an immigration law attorney as soon as possible.


Friday, August 28, 2015

Sponsoring a Family Member for Immigration

Sponsoring a Family Member for Immigration

The Immigration and Naturalization Act allows citizens and permanent residents of the United States to sponsor family members abroad for immigration to the U.S.  The relatives must be direct relatives, and their sponsors must commit to supporting them financially.

A petitioner may apply on behalf of a son, daughter, husband, wife, parent, brother or sister.  In many cases, these relatives may bring along dependents, such as a spouse or unmarried children under 21.

What Paperwork Is Required?

The sponsor begins by filing a Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, which contains basic information about the identity of the sponsor and the relative seeking to immigrate.  The sponsor must also complete a Form I-864, Affidavit of Support, agreeing to be financially responsible for the relative.  

The Affidavit of Support assures the U.S. government that the immigrant will not need public assistance, such as food stamps or Medicaid.  If the immigrant ends up receiving "means-tested public benefits," the financial sponsor may be required to reimburse the government.  This affidavit remains enforceable until the immigrant becomes a U.S. citizen or has done 40 quarters (10 years) of qualifying work.

Financial Requirements

A sponsor must have an income level at or above 125% of the federal poverty level, or 100% in the case of active duty members of the military bringing in a spouse or child.  The exact numbers, which can change, are listed in form I-864p, Poverty Guidelines.

Sponsors who do not meet this requirement can submit evidence of bank accounts, stocks and bonds, real estate, or other assets.  These assets must have a cash value equal to at least five times the difference between 125% of the poverty level and the sponsor's income, or three times if the relative is a spouse or adult son or daughter.  It can simply be equal to the difference if the relative is an orphan arriving for adoption.

Other Sponsors

Financial sponsors can count the income and assets of other household members related to them by birth, marriage, or adoption, if they are listed as dependents on the sponsor's tax return or have lived with the sponsor for the last 6 months.  The sponsor and household member must complete Form I-864A, Affidavit of Support Contract Between Sponsor and Household Member.

A sponsor can also have an unrelated "joint sponsor" willing to accept financial responsibility for the immigrant.  A joint sponsor must complete a separate Affidavit of Support and meet all of its requirements independently.

Sponsoring a family member for immigration is an important matter.  You should discuss your situation with a seasoned immigration attorney to ensure that the process is handled appropriately.


Monday, August 10, 2015

Entrepreneurial Immigrants: Building the American Dream

Entrepreneurial Immigrants: Building the American Dream

The American Dream of starting your own business and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is alive and well. In fact, it is the creation and growth of small businesses that is instrumental in helping America recover from the Great Recession. What many do not realize is that a significant percentage of new business ventures in this country are started by immigrants.  Despite their business startup prowess, Immigrants face a multitude of legal issues as they start new ventures in the United States.

If you are an immigrant and are considering starting a business in your new homeland, there may be a number obstacles ahead of you. At the top of that list is obviously obtaining legal status for yourself, your family, and your employees. America welcomes innovators and business creators, but obtaining legal status is never easy. Thankfully, there are several paths to legal status available to entrepreneurs. Working with an experienced immigration attorney is the best way to figure out which options will work for you.

Providing employment for family members and friends is one of the rewarding aspects of being a small business owner, but immigrants must strictly adhere to all laws governing the employment of non-citizens. If you are caught violating this law you could lose your business and put your legal status in jeopardy.

Immigrant entrepreneurs may also face discrimination. If you think that a lender, supplier, or other business-related contact has treated you unfairly because of your nationality, and your business suffered, you should contact an attorney. An attorney can help you seek compensation if appropriate, and can help you negotiate and enforce future contracts.

There are also unique opportunities in the business creation world for immigrants.  As newcomers to an area, immigrants have the ability to see gaps in the market that others may not notice. A business attorney can help you take your vision and make it a reality by helping you through the formation and permitting processes.  The government also has several special programs that are designed to help minority and woman-owned businesses flourish. Many immigrant business owners are able to take advantage of these programs.

Starting a business is challenging regardless of whether you’re an immigrant.  The pride of owning your own business, seeing it succeed and living the American Dream more than makes up for the trials and tribulations that founders encounter.


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

"The Baseball Rule" and Sporting Event Injuries

Each year, over 70 million tickets to Major League Baseball games are sold in cities across the country. Fans flock to these games for the live action – the opportunity to see their favorite players in the flesh, enjoy a few hot dogs and belt out the fan favorite “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” with thousands of other die-hards during the seventh inning stretch. Unfortunately, each year some of this “live action” causes injuries to spectators when a foul ball or flying bat (and occasionally, a player trying to get that heroic out) finds its way into the crowded stands. If you’ve witnessed one of these incidents or have been a victim of one, you’ve likely wondered what happens next? Will the team pay for medical care? Does the injured party have a right to sue?

Under “the baseball rule” owners must demonstrate a high degree of care for visitors to their stadiums, taking measures to protect spectators in high-risk areas (such as behind home plate) and areas where spectators can expect to be protected. Under the rule, spectators in the unprotected areas of the stadium should assume the inherent risks of the game that include balls travelling at very high speeds and pieces of equipment that might be propelled into the seating areas.

On the back of nearly every ticket for a professional sporting event, you will find a warning of these inherent risks, and a statement that explains that the team and stadium is not responsible for any injuries resulting from the game. This ticket is seen as a form of an adhesion contract which is a standardized agreement that a party is bound to once they purchase the ticket (even if the ticketholder was unaware of the terms and failed to read them prior to attendance).

In deciding civil suits pertaining to injuries at baseball games and other professional sporting events, the courts have often looked to the baseball rule in making their judgments. It is, however, important to note that not all states adhere to the rule that limits the liability of owners assuming the standard of care to visitors is met.

In one recent case Rountree v. Boise Baseball, LLC, et al., the Idaho Supreme Court balked at the century old baseball rule and ruled that a gentleman who had lost his eye when he was hit with a foul ball at a game of a minor league affiliate of the Chicago Cubs could seek damages from the baseball organization.  

If you’ve been injured at a major sporting event, you may be entitled to seek compensation for your pain and suffering. It’s important that you contact an experienced personal injury attorney who can help you understand the laws in your state, all applicable court rulings and work with you to determine the best strategy for recovery. 


Monday, July 20, 2015

Commercial Lease Disputes

Commercial Lease Disputes

Sometimes a business grows more rapidly than expected and its leased space is no longer large enough. Other times a business finds itself losing money and unable to pay rent. In those instances, it is the commercial tenant that desires to break its lease. There are times, however, when a commercial landlord seeks to break a lease and even threatens eviction for reasons that may lack merit.

A commercial lease is basically a contract that establishes a relationship between the parties and outlines the respective rights and obligations of each. These documents can be confusing and complex. Resolving a commercial lease dispute often involves business, contract and real estate laws.

Unlike residential leases, where the law heavily favors tenants, in the commercial world, the law tends to be more even-handed. The terms of the lease (even if all you have is an oral agreement) are most often going to be what governs the outcome of the dispute. This reflects the view that both parties involved in commercial lease agreements are sophisticated business entities that can protect their interests.

Since the terms of the lease are most likely going to govern if you file a lawsuit and take your dispute to court, it is essential that anyone evaluating your case examines your lease in depth. Even if an out-of-court settlement is negotiated, familiarity with your particular lease agreement is crucial for anyone advising you. Many commercial leases contain a dispute resolution clause that might require mediation or arbitration. These options can often lead to a resolution in less time and with less expense than traditional litigation.

Assessing damages and amassing the means to prove those damages is another important component to handling a commercial lease dispute. Typically, monetary damages are sought. There might be a clause in the lease regarding attorneys' fees. Again, it is vital that a competent and informed review of your particular lease is made to properly guide your case.

Contact an experienced business law attorney today to discuss your commercial lease dispute and learn what legal options are available.

 


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