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Androvett Blog

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 2:48:00 pm

Cyberattackers have targeted all types of businesses, from oil companies to hospitals. This week, a small West Texas law firm reportedly discovered its email system had been hacked and used to dupe people around the world when they received an email from the firm regarding a “lawsuit subpoena.”

The emails were from a valid address at the law firm of James T. Shelton in Clarendon, Texas, east of Amarillo. But no one from the firm had sent the messages. In a classic “phishing” attempt, the email reportedly contained a virus in a Word document loaded with malware that can be used to steal banking and other personal information when downloaded. As reported on the legal news website Texas Lawbook, the law firm shut down the email account and placed a warning message on its website saying not to click on links from the email.

“Certainly, there has been a lot of interest in the last couple of years among companies and regulators about the potential vulnerability of law firms and how they might be the weak link enabling hackers to get access to corporate documents and information,” says Mark Thibodeaux, cybersecurity lawyer in the Houston office of Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP. Mr. Thibodeaux is also a former IT executive and has an in-depth understanding of the techniques used by data hackers.

“All organizations must train computer-using employees to recognize ‘phishing’ emails. When unsuspecting victims open attachments or click on links in these emails, that is how the attackers get their foothold on the organizations' networks,” he said.

“There have been allegations that big law firms have been targeted by (primarily Russian) criminal gangs to get access to pre-release corporate information to use for insider trading of stocks and other securities. And, of course, there has most recently been the supposed hacking of Mossack Fonseca in Panama, leaking information about the widespread use of offshore companies to hide money,” said Mr. Thibodeaux. "Both federal and state regulators have increased their scrutiny of how financial institutions are managing cybersecurity when they have entrusted information to third parties, like law firms, accountants, and IT contractors. They want to see due diligence on cybersecurity before information is handed over, strong contractual confidentiality protections, periodic audits of security, and notification and cooperation with investigations when incidents occur.”

Mr. Thibodeaux notes that a group in the oil and gas industry, including many Houston-based companies, recently founded an Information Sharing and Analysis Organization (ISAO) focused on sharing ideas regarding protecting information shared with outside counsel and information about threats and defenses.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 2:33:00 pm

The credits on Beyonce’s new album Lemonade give a nod to the band the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs for a lyric she uses in the chorus of her second song. Steve Mitby, a partner in the Houston-based law firm Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi & Mensing, or AZA, says this was a smart move by the Houston-born pop star.

“This was well played by Beyonce. It is a huge risk for someone in a creative business to borrow anything without giving proper credit. We’ve seen this harm reputations again and again in academia, book and speech writing and in the music industry,” Mitby said.

“I tell clients to acknowledge any work they use substantially, or just in passing. What Beyonce did here is good business. The line between accepted sampling and copyright theft may be fuzzy, but giving credit where credit is due is an easy rule to follow,” Mitby said.

Artists from 2 Live Crew to Pharrell, and writers from Doris Kearns Goodwin to Mike Barnicle, have come under fire for uncredited references to others. Even Vice President Joe Biden was accused of plagiarism. It appears Beyonce will avoid those perils.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 2:15:00 pm

Dallas attorney Rogge Dunn has represented a variety of professional sports figures over the years, and he has been closely watching the “Deflate-gate” saga involving New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Mr. Dunn says today's decision from the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals to reinstate a four-game suspension levied against Brady by the National Football League shows how much power has been placed in the hands of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

“Under the collective bargaining agreement signed by the players union and the NFL, the commissioner has broad discretion, which the ruling notes," Mr. Dunn said. "The 2nd Circuit also noted that it was required to give the commissioner ‘substantial deference’ when considering an appeal of one of his rulings. That means that unless the commissioner goes outside his authority and ignores the plain language of the collective bargaining agreement, or unless he is demonstrably unfair, then his rulings will not be overturned by an appellate court. This court decision will have implications in the future when players and team owners reexamine their collective bargaining agreement, which gives the commissioner these broad powers. This isn’t the first time that a commissioner of a major sports league has taken decisive action and made a statement. Back in the early 1920s, Major League Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned White Sox players for life for throwing a game in the World Series even though they had been found innocent by a jury.”


by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 1:25:00 pm

Aaron Dobbs, a shareholder in the Texas-based law firm Roberts Markel Weinberg Butler Hailey PC who handles tough probate cases including many for sizable and complex estates, said if Prince did not leave a will, state law usually dictates that the estate passes to the person’s family. The deceased’s family, referred to as “heirs,” will be determined through a judicial proceeding where the court will formally declare the names of each person inheriting and each person’s share of the estate. If the court declares that the person’s property passes to siblings, half-blood siblings inherit half as much as that inherited by each whole-blood sibling. This result may be contrary to the deceased’s wishes, which is why developing an estate plan is important.  Estate planning can be an empowering process because you -- not the state – dictate who will inherit your estate and who will handle your estate business in the interim. 

What happens with Prince’s assets will likely depend on if a will is ever found and on the particular laws in Minnesota. In many states, including Texas, a person’s estate will pass according to the terms of the deceased’s will. Of course, the validity of a will can be challenged due to allegations that the deceased lacked capacity or was unduly influenced. Also, the will may not contain all of the elements required by law to be a valid will.  This is why it is important to have a professional prepare estate planning documents. 

When it comes to Prince’s music, that will likely be handled by a personal representative, often referred to as an executor (when there is a will) or as an administrator (generally, when there is not a will), will need to be appointed by a court in order to administer the estate. Administering the estate includes maintaining and securing all assets of the estate, including intangible personal property like music and other copyrighted material.  This might include the personal representative bringing legal action, on behalf of the estate, against those that may be using copyrighted materials without permission.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 12:08:00 pm

While the official announcement is not until tomorrow, it is being reported that former Cleveland Browns and Texas A&M University quarterback Johnny Manziel will be indicted on domestic violence charges. Philip Hilder, founder of Hilder & Associates in Houston and former federal prosecutor, focuses his practice on white collar criminal defense. He explains:

“It is unusual but not unprecedented that a grand jury was utilized to consider whether to charge Mr. Manziel.  Though a grand jury was not needed in charging a misdemeanor, it can be  used, as here,  to shield a DA from criticism.  In this case, no matter the course of DA action, or inaction, there would be criticism in this high profile matter. It is easier for the DA to punt in this situation and let a body of citizens decide.”  

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 9:00:00 am

What’s the best thing about your job?

The people. I work with talented, smart, fun people here at Androvett. And I enjoy the people I work for – the lawyers and law firms.

From a marketing standpoint what are law firms not focused on that they should be?

We are all tempted by the bright and shiny tactic. The best marketers start by focusing on the objective: What does the firm want to achieve? What is success? How can the firm grow its practice? Answering those questions will make the decisions about individual tactics much more apparent.

In contrast, what are some of the positive things that law firms are doing in the area of marketing?

More and more, firms are recognizing the importance of their Brand, and understanding that even with legal services, hiring decisions are driven by how the firm and its attorneys are perceived. And that’s what a Brand is – a bundle of perceptions.

What’s on the horizon in terms of trends and tools that could assist firms in building their brands?

Lawyers, by training, are often risk averse. So it’s less about trends and being on the vanguard of marketing, and more about adopting current best practices. LinkedIn is a good example. So is content marketing, taking the thought leadership that attorneys create – white papers, speeches, articles, etc. – and disseminating those across multiple platforms, such as LinkedIn, the firm website, blogs, email marketing and even Twitter.

What is something most people don’t know about you?

I have a small fragment of limestone embedded in my cheekbone, the result of a childhood fall. So I sorta have rocks in my head. It explains a lot.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 12:00:00 pm

This morning it was announced that Uber reached a settlement with 385,000 drivers in California and Massachusetts over the classification of its drivers. Drivers were pushing to be classified as employees, where Uber took the position that they are independent contractors. In the settlements, Uber is paying $100 million in exchange for the drivers to be classified as independent contractors. Attorney Randy Gordon, Chair of Antitrust and Trade Regulation at Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP, explains:

“The most important aspect of the settlement is that it preserves Uber’s position that its drivers are independent contractors, not employees.  And although this settlement doesn’t have the force of general law, it will, if approved, bind hundreds of thousands of drivers and avoid a trial of the issue in what has proven to be an unfavorable venue for Uber.  The drivers also secured some monetary relief (up to $8,000 for experienced drivers) and other concessions, including a right not to be ‘deactivated’ without reason or recourse and to organize (but on a non-union level).”

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 2:43:00 pm

Dallas appellate lawyer Chad Ruback says despite today’s “victory” for the City of Dallas, the case against porn convention Exxxotica is far from over:

“This morning, a federal judge denied Exxxotica’s request for a preliminary injunction.  While the judge’s ruling is certainly a win for the City, it is not nearly as big a win as one might think.  This ruling merely signifies that the judge will not be changing the status quo until the case has been more fully developed.  Exxxotica was facing an extremely high legal hurdle to get the judge to change the status quo and force the City to rescind its decision about barring Exxxotica from the convention center.  Exxxotica’s burden will be much lower at trial.

In a separate ruling also issued today, the judge denied the City’s motion to dismiss Exxxotica’s case.  If the judge had granted the City’s motion, that truly would have been a monumental win for the City.  Read together, the judge’s two rulings indicate that this case will likely be pending for a long time.  If it proceeds to trial and then to appeal, the City’s total legal bill will easily be in the millions.  So, the biggest loser today may have been the City’s taxpayers, who are footing the bill for the private attorneys who’ve been hired by the City.”

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 1:28:00 pm

U.S. regulators announced this morning that they are proposing new rules that would regulate Wall Street executives’ bonus pay including making them wait four years to collect most of their bonus pay, and forcing them to return money if companies lose money. Mark Shank, Managing Partner of Gruber Elrod Johansen Hail Shank, who specializes in executive compensation and regulatory issues says:

“The proposal calls for creating a standardized policy of governmental oversight that supersedes both existing industry standards and the independent, internal policies of individual businesses. I’m not sure imposing these regulations create any benefit to these companies, their customers or the overall economy.”

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 11:36:00 am

The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing oral argument today in a case that pits the president against 26 states over the issue of immigration.  Who wins?

“With the passing of Justice Scalia, you effectively have a stalemate,” says Dallas appellate attorney Chad Ruback.  “You end up with four conservative justices and four liberal ones.  And if they go the way one might think they would go, the trial court’s ruling – against the president – stands.  And that means Texas wins and the president loses.”

Some background. Frustrated by Congress’s unwillingness to enact his immigration reform legislation, President Obama signed an executive order which would grant temporary legal status and work permits to all undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally prior to 2010 and have children who are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. This would include over four million of the approximately eleven million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States.

The State of Texas assembled a coalition of 26 states to mount a legal challenge to the president’s executive order, contending that the order exceeded the president’s authority. Last year, a federal trial court judge ruled against President Obama in this case and issued an injunction prohibiting the president’s order from being implemented.  A federal court of appeals affirmed the trial court judge’s decision.

The Obama administration has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has historically given presidents broad discretion over who should be deported. The Supreme Court is conducting a hearing on the case today.

At today’s hearing, the State of Texas is arguing that, while a president may have broad discretion with regard to deciding who should be deported, President Obama’s order exceeds the bounds of that discretion.  While other presidents—including George H.W. Bush—have ordered that certain individuals not be deported, this is the first time that a president has ordered that everyone meeting certain criteria be spared from deportation.

The State of Texas is also arguing that, by providing work permits (in addition to freedom from deportation), President Obama’s order should not be judged by the same liberal standard as simply an order deciding who should be deported. The provision of work permits is significant because, under existing U.S. law, a person who works with a valid work permit is automatically eligible for social security and Medicare benefits.

The Supreme Court is now split evenly between four Republican-appointed justices and four Democrat-appointed justices. If all eight justices vote along party lines, President Obama’s order will not be implemented.  However, there is certainly the possibility that one of the more moderate Republican-appointed justices will vote with the Supreme Court’s liberal faction.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 10:00:00 am

April 12 is Equal Pay Day – the day that women’s 2015 earnings equal that of what men were paid last year. Lawyers are no exception to the pay gap.

According to a U.S. Census Bureau report, median pay for full-time female lawyers was 77.4 percent of the pay earned by their male counterparts, the ABA Journal reported.

“Women lawyers are subject to the same pay gap that women in other professions face,” says Dallas Women Lawyers Association President Angela Zambrano. “Given the fact that law school is no less expensive for women than it is for men, that pay gap must end.”

“It can’t just be incumbent on women lawyers to ‘be better negotiators’ or demand higher pay,” she says. “Employers hold the purse strings, so they need to make special efforts to ensure that their male and female lawyers are being judged – and compensated – by the same yardstick.  I do not believe that any individual working for an employer wants his or her daughter or wife earning less than her male colleagues for doing the same work.  But having these issues top of mind in the compensation process can prevent creating unintentional wage disparities.  We can fix this issue in one generation with right-thinking employers.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 10:00:00 am

A former federal immigration investigator says the announcement of a crackdown on visa fraud – and the use of a fake university to make it happen – sounds like a creative idea.  But AJ Irwin wonders if the feds might have done even more with what they learned, and the people they identified.

News coverage this week detailed the University of Northern New Jersey, which came complete with a website, a Latin-laden seal and a list of business degrees.  But it was all fake, a mirage created by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to snare those who act as recruiters and commit visa fraud involving students.

Irwin, who worked for ICE’s predecessor – the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) – says the number of those recruiters arrested in the sting, 21, seems rather low for an operation that began in 2012.  What’s more, since the scheme reportedly involved 1,000 students, he wonders what information the agents may have gathered if they had grabbed some of the students as well.

“There’s no telling what sort of information the ‘students’ may have had, “ Irwin says.  “My preference – I’d arrest them and interview them.  You can learn an awful lot from them and maybe even identify some additional defendants, material witnesses – maybe even threats to our Homeland.  Doing it this way is kind of a notice that tells them they should run – right now.”