Illinois Supreme Court Rules 6-Person Jury Act Unconstitutional

trial by jury Illinois Supreme CourtIn an opinion released this morning, the Illinois Supreme Court held that the right of trial by jury includes the right to demand a 12-member jury. In Kakos v. Butler, 2016 IL 120377, the Court held that Public Act 98-1132, which bars a litigant from exercising this right, and the statute it amended, 735 ILCS 5/2-1105(b), were “facially unconstitutional.” Kakos, 2016 IL 120377, ¶ 37. Because the provision regarding jury size could not be severed from the entirety of the Act, the Court invalidated the entire Act.

Public Act 98-1132 (effective June 1, 2015), which amended section 2-1105(b) of the Code of Civil Procedure, limited the size of a civil jury to six persons and increased the amount paid per juror across the state. In Kakos, the plaintiffs filed a complaint at law alleging multiple counts of negligence and loss of consortium against the defendants. The defendants then moved to request a 12-person jury and sought a declaration that P.A. 98-1132 was unconstitutional. The circuit court agreed with the defendants and granted the motion, finding that the Act was facially unconstitutional and violated separation of powers. The plaintiffs then appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court as a matter of right under Rule 302(a).

According to the Supreme Court, “it is clear that the drafters of the 1970 Illinois Constitution intended for the essential common-law features of a jury trial as then employed to be preserved and protected.” Kakos, 2016 IL 120377, ¶ 36. The Court said that Article I, section 13, of the Illinois Constitution “reveals an intent on the part of the drafters to maintain common-law characteristics of jury trials.”Id. Article I, section 13, provides: “The right of trial by jury as heretofore enjoyed shall remain inviolate.” Id. ¶ 13. According to the Court, “[t]he phrase ‘as heretofore enjoyed’ plainly indicates that the drafters intended for certain characteristics of a jury trial to be maintained.” Id. It further observed, “[t]his court has long interpreted the phrase ‘as heretofore enjoyed’ to mean ‘the right of a trial by jury as it existed under the common law and as enjoyed at the time of the adoption of the respective Illinois constitutions.’” Id. ¶ 14.

The Court said that it “has long included the 12-person size of a jury within its descriptions of the essential features of a jury trial.” Id. ¶ 36. The “transcripts from the convention debates,” the Court explained, “make clear that the drafters did not believe the legislature had the authority to reduce the size of a jury below 12 members and the drafters did not act to give the legislature such power.” Id. The Act and statutory amendment violated Article I, section 13.

The decision, authored by Justice Garman, was 5-0, with Justices Thomas and Kilbride taking no part.

© 2016 Heyl, Royster, Voelker & Allen, P.C

Register Today for LMA Tech West – October 5 & 6, 2016

The Legal Marketing Technology Conference is the largest conference dedicated to technologies that law firm professionals use to identify, attract and support clients.

Legal Marketing Technology Conference LMA tech west

Register today!

Join us for the full day conference on October 6, and the half day pre-conferences on October 5. Our pre-conferences include: Technology Workshops and a Lead Marketers’ Summit.

Agenda highlights:

  • Leading Law Firms through a Competitive Revolution (Keynote: Roland Vogl, CodeEx: The Stanford Center for Legal Informatics)
  • How CLOC is Changing Legal Service Delivery Models
  • How Law Firms Can Use Video to Reach New Clients
  • Data Visualization for Law Firms
  • Bringing your CRM Data, Legal Expertise and Pricing Data Together: The Future of Effective Legal Sales
  • Creating Efficiencies Through Marketing Automation: Principles & Practices
  • Dynamic Content via Deep Personalization – the next stage in email marketing
  • Using Livestreaming Video to Tell Your Story, Build Relationships, and Attract Clients
  • Blockchain ID and The Changing Face of Digital Identity

Pokémon Go: At (Or Coming To) A Workplace Near You

Pokemon GoIf you haven’t already heard, Pokémon Go, a virtual reality app created by Nintendo and Niantic, is taking the world by storm. According to Forbes, the app is about to surpass Twitter on the Android platform in daily active users, even though it was first released just a couple weeks ago in the United States and Australia and has not yet been made available worldwide. More and more people are getting in on the action, exploring real world landscapes with their smart phones in hopes of capturing virtual Pokémon appearing on their screen based on their phone’s clock and GPS location. It seems that no location is off limits, as Pokémon appear on or near both public and private property – even in bathrooms. As the Pokémon franchise motto commands, users “Gotta Catch ’Em All” at designated “Pokéstops” in their quest to become a renown Pokémon “trainer” who can out battle other users at local, virtual “Gyms.”

Pokémon Go users have been wreaking havoc, day and night, along the way. They have been loitering near, and trespassing on, private property, so much so in Massachusetts that the Boston police are calling for users to be “vigilant” in avoiding private property and the “obvious inherent dangers” presented by playing Pokémon Go. They have disrupted operations at hallowed sites, such as the 9/11 Memorial and the Holocaust Museum. One even interrupted a live weather report. Users have used the app to lure and then rob other, unsuspecting users. One gamer ran his car into a tree while playing the app. Another was hit by a car trying to cross a public highway while playing the app. They have even fallen off a 75 foot-high cliff while playing the app.

Employers are not immune from the Pokémon Go fun. They have been – or soon will be – affected not only as property owners but also as managers of their employees.

Employer as Property Owner

As legal bloggers have noted, Pokémon Go challenges the traditional paradigm for legal property rights. It blurs the lines between reality and augmented reality, raising a number of interesting legal questions in the process. Does placing a Pokémon on private property without permission affect a property owner’s common law right to exclusive ownership of his property? Are Nintendo/Niantic potentially liable for placing characters on private property? Does the presence of virtual Pokémon on a property create an attractive nuisance that could create liability for the owner in the event a child-user injures himself on the property? If so, how would the property owner abate the nuisance? Can the state preclude users from playing Pokémon Go on public property consistent with the First Amendment? The answers to these questions are unclear.

What is clear, however, is a property owner’s right to exclude others from his property under West Virginia law. A property owner generally has the right to exclude other persons from his property, but there are exceptions to this rule. For example, if the property is a place of public accommodation, the property owner may not exclude persons based on their protected status, e.g., race, sex, religion, disability, or national origin. Generally speaking, however, property owners could legally exclude Pokémon Go users from their premises. To wit, in the case of a trespasser, a property owner could seek monetary damages for any damages caused by a trespass, even if such damages are only nominal.

A property owner’s obligation to keep his property safe is also clear. In the case of an invited person, the property owner must exercise reasonable care to protect the invited person from anticipated/foreseeable hazards. In the case of a trespasser, such as a wandering Pokémon Go user, the property owner need only refrain from willfully or wantonly injuring the trespasser to escape liability.

Pokémon Go isn’t all bad from a property owner’s perspective, however. For the right property/business owner, Pokémon Go could be a very useful marketing tool. Just Google “6 Ways To Use Pokémon Go in Your Local Marketing Campaign” to learn how. One New York Pizzeria spent just ten dollars to have a dozen Pokémon lured to its store and saw a 75% increase in their business. How’s that for return on investment?

Employer as Manager

Pokémon Go also raises several concerns for employers as managers. Several of these concerns are obvious. The foremost of these concerns may be workplace safety. In a little more than a week, Pokémon Go users have shown just how dangerous the app can be. Think about what could happen if you added a distracted user to the existing hazards in your workplace. Disaster. In addition, there is the age-old concern of vicarious liability, especially for employers who have employees out on the road. Your mobile device policy should preclude employees from using a mobile device while driving, if it doesn’t already. West Virginia law makes it unlawful to use your phone while operating a motor vehicle on a public road.

Further, Pokémon Go is yet another appealing fad, much like March Madness, that threatens to bring your workforce to a halt while on the clock, particularly if you employ groups of Millennials or Gen Zers. You must set appropriate boundaries and outline clear expectations with your employees, especially where you are relying on broad language in your company handbook. If you need a “catchy” sign to get your employees’ attention, one human resource manager has got you covered:

pokemon forbidden

Otherwise, revisit your personnel policies and update them as needed to mitigate the potential employment carnage that could result from Pokémon Go. At bare minimum, no Pokémon hunts in the bathroom!

There are at least a couple of hidden concerns with Pokémon Go too. For one, users participate on the Pokémon Go program with their phone’s camera and will soon, if they do not already, have the option of recording or even live streaming their Pokémon Go gameplay. That is cause for concern where employees are permitted to play Pokémon Go on breaks in the workplace. In their quest to capture Pokémon “living” around the office, they may record or stream unsuspecting coworkers, or worse, confidential company information. This creates one more avenue for workplace conflict among employees and raises security concerns for private company information.

For another, Pokémon Go may be a cyber-security concern for company’s using Google products, such as Chrome, Gmail, and Google drive. When the app first debuted, it requested “full access” to the user’s Google account, which meant that Nintendo and/or its partner, Niantic, could not only review your email, your Google docs, Google photos, your location history, your search history, but also, modify all that content, and even send emails as the user of your Gmail account! For users who signed up with a company-related Google account, Niantic was functionally a business partner. It appears that recent outcry has led the Pokémon Go creators to modify the permissions required to download the app. It will be interesting to see whether this change is enough to quell the public outcry. Either way, the initial cyber-security scare is a reminder that employers should remain vigilant in maintaining the wall between work and play with employees that have been granted a company-sanctioned mobile device.

What You Should Do

Pokémon Go is all the rage and promises to be for your employees soon, if it isn’t already. Regardless of whether the app catches on at your workplace, go through the exercise of reviewing your mobile device and social media policies. Are they inclusive of augmented reality apps? If necessary, update them to ensure that they are clear on the use, non-use, or limited use of augmented reality apps like Pokémon Go at your workplace. But don’t stop there. Review your policies with your employees, even if you don’t make any changes. Make sure that employees are aware of the boundaries for augmented reality apps at the office.

© Steptoe & Johnson PLLC. All Rights Reserved.

OSHA to Employers: No Gagging Whistleblowers!

OSHA whistleblowersOn September 9, 2016, the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) published new guidelines for approving settlements between employers and employees in whistleblower cases to ensure that those agreements do not contain terms that could be interpreted to restrict future whistleblowing. OSHA reviews settlements between employees and employers to ensure that they are fair, adequate, reasonable, and in the public interest, and that the employee’s consent was knowing and voluntary. The guidance provides that OSHA will not approve settlement agreements that contain provisions that discourage (or have the effect of discouraging) whistleblowing, such as:

  • “Gag” provisions that prohibit, restrict, or otherwise discourage an employee from participating in protected activity, such as filing a complaint with a government agency, participating in an investigation, testifying in proceedings, or otherwise providing information to the government. These constraints often arise from broad confidentiality or non-disparagement clauses, which complainants may interpret as restricting their ability to engage in protected activity. The prohibited constraints may also be found in provisions that:

    • restrict the employee’s right to provide information to the government, file a complaint, or testify in proceedings based on a respondent’s past or future conduct;

    • require an employee to notify his or her employer before filing a complaint or voluntarily communicating with the government regarding the employer’s past or future conduct;

    • require an employee to affirm that he or she has not previously provided information to the government or engaged in other protected activity, or to disclaim any knowledge that the employee has violated the law; and/or

    • require an employee to waive his or her right to receive a monetary award from a government-administered whistleblower award program for providing information to a government agency.

  • Provisions providing for liquidated damages in the event of a breach where those provisions are clearly disproportionate to the anticipated loss to the respondent of a breach, the potential liquidated damages would exceed the relief provided to the employee, or whether, owing to the employee’s position and/or wages, he or she would be unable to pay the proposed amount in the event of a breach.

When OSHA encounters these types of provisions, it will ask the parties to remove those provisions and/or prominently place the following statement in the settlement agreement: “Nothing in this Agreement is intended to or shall prevent, impede or interfere with the complainant’s non-waivable right, without prior notice to Respondent, to provide information to the government, participate in investigations, file a complaint, testify in any future proceedings regarding Respondent’s past or future conduct, or engage in any future activities protected under the whistleblower statutes administered by OSHA, or to receive and fully retain a monetary award from a government-administered whistleblower award program for providing information directly to a government agency.”

© Copyright 2016 Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP

Department of State Releases October 2016 Visa Bulletin

October 2016 Visa bulletinEmployment-based China and India First Preference and Worldwide Second Preference cutoff dates become “current” once again.

The US Department of State (DOS) has released its October 2016 Visa Bulletin. The Visa Bulletin sets out per-country priority date cutoffs that regulate immigrant visa availability and the flow of adjustment of status and consular immigrant visa application filings and approvals.

What Does the October 2016 Visa Bulletin Say?

The October 2016 Visa Bulletin includes a Dates for Filing Visa Applications chart and an Application Final Action Dates chart. The former indicates when intending immigrants may file their applications for adjustment of status or immigrant visas, and the latter indicates when an adjustment of status application or immigrant visa application may be approved and permanent residence granted.

If the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) determine that there are more immigrant visas available for a fiscal year than there are known applicants for such visas, it will state on its website that applicants may use the Dates for Filing Visa Applications chart. Otherwise, applicants should use the Application Final Action Dates chart to determine when they may file their adjustment of status applications. It is not yet clear which chart the USCIS will select for October 2016 filings. To be eligible to file an employment-based (EB) adjustment application in October 2016, foreign nationals must have a priority date that is earlier than the date listed below for their preference category and country (changes from last month’s Visa Bulletin dates are shown in yellow).

Application Final Action Dates

Application Final Action Days
EB All Charge-
ability 
Areas Except
Those Listed
China
(mainland 
born)
El Salvador,
Guatemala,
and Honduras
India Mexico Philippines
1st C C (was 01JAN10) C C (was 01JAN10) C C
2nd C (was 01FEB14) 15FEB12 (was 01JAN10) C (was 01FEB14) 15JAN07 (was 22FEB05) C (was 01FEB14) C (was 01FEB14)
3rd 01JUN16 (was 01MAY16) 22JAN13 (was 01JAN10) 01JUN16 (was 15MAy16) 15MAR05 (was 15FEB05) 01JUN16 (was 15MAY16) 01DEC10 (was 01JULY10)
Other Workers 01JUN16 (was 15MAY16) 01JAN05 (was 01JAN10) 01JUN16 (was 01MAY16) 01MAR05
(was 15FEB05)
01JUN16 (was 15MAY16) 01DEC10
(was 01JUL10)

Dates for Filing Visa Applications

Application Filing Dates
EB All Charge
ability 
Areas Except
Those Listed
China
(mainland 
born)
India Mexico Philippines
1st C C C C C
2nd C 01MAR13
(was 01JUN13)
22APR09
(was 01JUL09)
C C
3rd C 01MAY14 (was 01MAY15) 01JUL05 C 01SEP13
(was 01JAN13)
Other Workers C 01AUG09 01JUL05 C 01SEP13
(was 01JAN13)

How This Affects You

On the Application Final Action Dates chart, the cutoff dates for EB-1 will once again be “current” for all chargeable countries, including India and China. EB-2 cutoff dates for the worldwide allotment, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Philippines will be “current” as well. Cutoff dates for EB-2 India and EB-2 China will advance by slightly more than two years (China to February 15, 2012 and India to January 15, 2007).

EB-3 final action cutoff dates for the worldwide allotment, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico will advance by one month to June 1, 2016. The final action cutoff date for EB-3 China will advance by more than three years to January 22, 2013. EB-3 India will advance by two weeks to March 1, 2005, and EB-3 Philippines will advance by five months to December 1, 2010. The EB-5 China cutoff date will remain unchanged at February 15, 2014.

The DOS confirmed that the EB-1 allotment should remain current in the coming months, the allotments for China should see modest advancement of three months, and the allotment for India will advance by up to four months. EB-1 allotments will return to “current” status for October. The EB-3 category may see retrogression in the worldwide classification with advancements of up to three months for EB-3 China and up to one week for EB-3 India.

Read the entire October 2016 Visa Bulletin.

ARTICLE BY A. James Vázquez-Azpiri of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP
Copyright © 2016 by Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP. All Rights Reserved.

Estate Planning and Client Engagement Letters: Deloitte’s $500 Million Sentence

New York, Estate PlanningAccounting firms very often question the need to include certain provisions intended to limit their liability to their clients and sometimes ask whether the provision is even enforceable. Whether the provision will be enforced is uncertain due to the very limited case law addressing liability-limiting provisions in accountants’ client engagement letters, and there could be variations in enforcement from state to state. Nevertheless, it is important to include the provisions, even if enforcement is uncertain, because the provision might just be accepted and never challenged, thereby serving its purpose, even if a court strikes it down after a legal challenge.

One of the more important liability-limiting provisions is limiting the client’s time to sue the accountant to a fixed period (usually one year) measured from when the services are provided. These provisions serve the dual purpose of shortening the lengthy statute of limitations in some states and defining exactly when that period starts to run. Our provision sets forth that the period starts to run at the time the services are provided rather than when the client knows or should know about a claim, which could be years and sometimes decades later.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a similar single-sentence provision in an engagement letter saved Deloitte Tax LLP from having to defend a $500 million malpractice suit filed in New York against the multinational professional services firm. A New York court dismissed the lawsuit and affirmed the validity of the one-year limitations period. However, unlike the provision we generally recommend, the Deloitte provision indicated the one-year period started to run from when “the cause of action accrued.” Since New York law holds that such claims accrue at the time the advice is given, the court held that Deloitte’s provision shortened the time period to sue the accountant to one year from the time the advice was given. In effect, our provision would reach this result even in states that do not have the same highly favorable point of accrual.

Facts of the Case

Deloitte was engaged in 2008 by billionaire William Davidson to modify his estate plan, and Deloitte provided advice until shortly before Davidson’s death in March 2009. Deloitte was then engaged to assist with the administration of the Estate, including providing advice on a variety of tax issues, some of which related to the modifications put in place prior to Davidson’s death.

Not surprisingly, the IRS scrutinized the Davidson Estate filings, but somewhat surprisingly concluded that the Estate owed billions more than was reported on the Estate’s returns. Those conclusions were contested by the Estate, which ultimately settled with the IRS for approximately $500 million in July 2015. Deloitte continued working with the Estate until September 2015, when the Estate brought an action against Deloitte in New York seeking to recover the $500 million paid to settle with the IRS.

The Estate alleged, among other things, that Deloitte was reckless and negligent in the estate planning advice provided to Davidson. Deloitte filed a motion to dismiss the complaint in its entirety, arguing that the claims were time-barred based on the limitations provision in their engagement letter with Davidson. The critical language in the engagement letter stated:

No action, regardless of form, relating to this engagement, may be brought by either party more than one year after the cause of action has accrued, except that an action for nonpayment may be brought by a party not later than one year following the date of the last payment due to the party bringing such action.

New York law provides that parties to a contract can shorten the statute of limitations, so the plaintiffs did not dispute the validity of the provision shortening the statute of limitations to one year. Instead, the plaintiffs argued that the doctrines of continuous representation and equitable estoppel deferred accrual of the causes of action until Deloitte stopped providing services to the Estate. The plaintiffs, focusing on the services Deloitte provided after Davidson’s death during the administration of the Estate and resolution with the IRS, argued that the claims did not accrue until services stopped in September 2015.

The Decision

On August 22, 2016, the Supreme Court of the State New York, New York County dismissed all claims against Deloitte, holding that they were time-barred under the one-year limitations provision in Deloitte’s engagement letter. After confirming that New York law permits parties to shorten the limitations period by contract, the Court focused on “accrual” of the claims, since that is the point from which the one-year period is measured under the engagement letter provision.

For the malpractice claim, the Court pointed to the longstanding New York law holding that a malpractice claim against an accountant based on allegedly faulty tax advice accrues at the time the advice is given, which in this case predated Davidson’s death in 2009 − more than six years prior to commencement of the action. The Court also ruled that the representation of the Estate after Davidson’s death did not save the claims through application of the continuous representation doctrine because the provision in the engagement letter expressly barred any tolling. Finally, the Court ruled that equitable estoppel did not apply because Deloitte did nothing to conceal the Estate’s tax problems.

Takeaways

  • Well-drafted engagement letter provisions that shorten or otherwise limit the
    time a client has to commence suit can be strong risk management tools that will be upheld by at least some courts. The strength and enforceability of the provision will vary from state to state, but New York is not unique in holding that these provisions are enforceable.

  • Shortening the time period to commence a suit to as little as one year is possible.

  • If your jurisdiction does not measure accrual from the time the services are provided, as it is in New York, adding language measuring the commencement of the contractual limitation period from the time the services are provided is a possible solution, depending on the law in your state.

  • If drafted properly, the provision can eliminate any tolling or extension of the limitations period based on additional or subsequent services that may be provided.

The purpose of the statute of limitations in the context of professional malpractice is to allow an accounting firm a degree of certainty that past services will not lead to stale complaints in the distant future. Accountants can increase that certainty, limit the future period and protect themselves from stale complaints in the distant future by incorporating a limitation provision into their engagement letters.

For Deloitte, a single sentence in its engagement letter limiting the time period for all claims to one year was worth $500 million.

© 2016 Wilson Elser

New York Proposes First-Ever Cybersecurity Regulation for Financial Institutions

cybersecurity regulationThe New York Department of Financial Services recently announced a new proposed rule, which would require financial institutions and insurers to implement strong policies for responding to cyberattacks and data breaches.  Specifically, the rule would require insurers, banks, and other financial institutions to develop detailed, specific plans for data breaches; to appoint a chief privacy security officer; and to increase monitoring of the handling of customer data by their vendors.

Until now, various regulators have been advancing similar rules on a voluntary basis.  This is reportedly the first time that a state regulatory agency is seeking to implement mandatory rules of this nature.

“New York, the financial capital of the world, is leading the nation in taking decisive action to protect consumers and our financial system from serious economic harm that is often perpetrated by state-sponsored organizations, global terrorist networks, and other criminal enterprises,” said New York Governor Cuomo. He added that the proposed regulation will ensure that the financial services industry upholds its commitment to protect customers and take more steps to prevent cyber-attacks.

The rule would go into effect in 45 days, subject to notice and public comment period.  Among other detailed requirements, it will mandate a detailed cybersecurity program and a written cybersecurity policy.  While larger financial institutions already likely have such policies in place, the rule puts more pressure on them to fully comply.  It also mandates the hiring of a Chief Privacy Officer at a time when privacy professionals are already in a very high demand.  To attract top talent, the financial institutions will need to allocate appropriate budgets for such hiring.

Additionally, the rules outline detailed requirements for the hiring and oversight of third-party vendors.  Regulated entities who allow their vendors to access nonpublic information will now have to engage in appropriate risk assessment, establish minimum cybersecurity practices for vendors, conduct due diligence processes and periodic assessment (at least once a year) of third-party vendors to verify that their cybersecurity practices are adequate.  More detailed specifications can be found here.  Other requirements include employment and training of cybersecurity personnel, timely destruction of nonpublic information, monitoring of unauthorized users, and encryption of all nonpublic information.  As DFS Superintendent Maria Vullo explained: “Regulated entities will be held accountable and must annually certify compliance with this regulation by assessing their specific risk profiles and designing programs that vigorously address those risks.”

Among other notable requirements, the regulations further mandate that banks notify New York’s Department of Financial Services of any material data breach within 72 hours of the breach.  The regulations come at the time when cybersecurity attacks are on the rise.  The proposed rules also follow on the heels of recent legislative initiatives in 4 other states to bolster their cybersecurity laws, as we previously discussed.

The regulations are sweeping in nature in that they potentially affect not only New-York-based companies but also insurers, banks, and financial institutions who conduct business in New York or have customers who are New York residents.  If you are unsure about your company’s obligations and the impact of the proposed rules on your industry, contact Mintz Levin privacy team for a detailed analysis.

©1994-2016 Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, P.C. All Rights Reserved.

EEOC Transgender Case

Oklahoma and U.S. DOL Agree to Tag-Team Worker Misclassification Initiatives

As the effort to stamp-out worker misclassification under the Fair Labor Standards Act continues to run strong, Oklahoma is the latest state to join the U.S. Department of Labor’s Misclassification Initiative. Specifically, the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission entered into a three-year Common Interest Agreement with the U.S. DOL’s Wage and Hour Division, under which the agencies agree to share data, exchange information, and coordinate investigations and other enforcement actions within Oklahoma. As part of this collaboration each agency will be responsible for designating a “Point of Contact” and a representative to participate in quarterly (if not more frequent) meetings.

Employers in Oklahoma need to be cognizant of the risks of worker misclassification and continue to ensure that they are not improperly classifying employees as independent contractors. Indeed, Oklahoma’s joinder with the DOL’s Misclassification Initiative serves as a reminder to employers that this is a hot-button issue of particular interest to both state and federal officials, and targeted efforts are being made to eradicate misclassification nationwide. For more information, employers can look to the U.S. DOL’s website dedicated to the Misclassification Initiative. The DOL has provided a map identifying those 35 states that have partnered with the DOL as part of the Misclassification Initiative and details of such arrangements, as well as fact sheets and general DOL guidance on worker classification issues that may be of use.

This post was written by Koryn M. McHone of Barnes and Thornburg LLP.

Double Your Law Firm’s Lead Conversion Rates with This Proven System (Part 2 of 3)

Over the years, we have developed a proven intake and lead conversion system that has doubled the lead conversion rates of thousands of attorneys all across the nation. It consists of four major components:

#1: Training for your front office and intake staff;

#2: Specific tactics and strategies to maximize your conversion at each stage;

#3: An intake customer relationship management (CRM) software that automatically tracks and follows up with every lead; and

#4: Tracking and measurement of key metrics.

The subject for today’s post is #2:

#2: Specific Tactics and Strategies to Maximize Conversion at Each Stage

Dr. James Oldroyd, visiting research fellow at MIT and David Elkington, CEO of InsideSales.com, researched three years of data across many companies that respond to online-generated leads. The data included 15,000 unique leads and 100,000 call attempts, which the researchers scoured to determine how companies should respond to their online leads for the best possible results. The results were broken out into four areas and reveal the best days to make contact, best times, response time and persistence. Here’s what they found – and what you can use to guide your intake person in responding to online leads:

Wednesday and Thursdays stand out as the best for making contact with online leads. In fact, there was almost a 50 percent bump for calls made on Thursdays in comparison to calls made on Tuesdays. The best time to call leads is between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. The second best time is between 7:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. Prospects are more willing to talk to you either before they start their day or at the end of the day.

We have discovered over 45 additional techniques your intake staff can use that can rapidly increase your lead conversion rate. Here are a few of the top techniques:

Every lead must be followed up within five minutes! Research is very clear that speed-to-call is the highest predictor of lead conversion.When the initial follow-up call/contact goes from five to 10 minutes, lead conversion drops by up to 400 percent! The intake team must be trained and monitored to ensure every potential new client is being called back within five minutes or less.

Every lead must be called back a minimum of six to 10 times!It’s not enough to call back a prospect once and then hope they call you back. When dealing with consumers you need to be persistent, often calling them back four, five or more times before you reach them. Once you reach them, you either disqualify them and stop calling or qualify them and set the appointment. Just making one or two attempts will net you next to nothing; if you don’t connect, you have to be persistent in continuing to call.

The first day, each lead should be called two to three times.The average consumer calls five to seven law firms when making a buying decision and the law firm that gets them on the phone first will likely be chosen. We never received more than one call back or voicemail the first day.

Scripts need to be written for voicemails so they aren’t always the same.Unless you give them direction, most staff will leave the same, generic message, “Hi this is Stephen from ABC Law Firm calling you back. Our number is (888) 588-5891. Please call us back.” This does nothing to differentiate you from the pack of attorneys they have already called. Come up with different voicemails that encourage the prospect to call your office back. For example, “Hi Mr. ____. This is ____ with ABC Law Firm. I’m calling about a potential motor vehicle accident you inquired about. I need to get some more information from you to determine if this is a case we can assist you with. If you could please give me a call back as soon as possible, I can be reached at (888) 588-5891 and my extension is 613.”

Never make an attorney or paralegal responsible for making follow up calls.They will not do it. They just won’t. Trust me. We have tried every possible incentive to get associates or paralegals to make follow-up calls and they will not. As much as possible, you want to build a wall between anyone who takes calls from prospects and those who do the work.

© The Rainmaker Institute, All Rights Reserved

Double Your Law Firm’s Lead Conversion Rates with This Proven System (Part 1 of 3)

lead conversion generationThe purpose of marketing is to generate leads. The purpose of your intake system is to convert those leads into clients. To take your law firm to the next level, you need both lead generation and lead conversion. The problem is most attorneys spend all their time and money focusing on getting more and more leads, but fail to recognize that what you do with those opportunities is just as important as generating them.

Over the last 16 years, we have developed a proven intake and lead conversion system that has doubled the conversion rates of thousands of attorneys all across the nation. It consists of four major components:

  1. Training for your front office and intake staff;

  2. Specific tactics and strategies to maximize your conversion at each stage;

  3. An intake customer relationship management (CRM) software that automatically tracks and follows up with every lead; and

  4. Tracking and measurement of key metrics.

Today’s post covers #1:

#1: Training for Front Office and Intake Staff
Most law firms have a receptionist, but a receptionist is very different from an intake person. When hiring someone to handle calls from prospects, you are not looking for a receptionist. You are essentially looking for a sales person – someone who feels very comfortable “selling” over the phone. They are selling prospects on why they shouldn’t try to handle their legal problem on their own and why they should come in for a consultation. One of the biggest mistakes for consumer law firms is having an untrained, minimum wage receptionist handling calls from prospects. The only thing worse is to have a paralegal or attorney handle incoming calls. Why is that worse? Because in our experience, 99 percent of the time, they are terrible at it. Paralegals and associates see these calls as an interruption to their day.

Here are the major areas your intake staff should be trained on:

  • How to quickly qualify or disqualify prospects (this should be no more than four to six questions).

  • Precisely what information you want collected: name, phone, email, reason for call.

  • Talking points on exactly how you want the phone answered.

  • Answers to the most frequently asked questions prospects call about.

  • Scripts for when they leave voicemail messages.

  • Brief guide on how to use your phone system.

  • How to use your lead tracking system or intake CRM.

  • Your firm’s relevant information, such as website, address, driving directions to your local office.

  • Protocol on expectations on how, when and how frequently to follow up with prospects.

  • Top three reasons why they should come in for a consultation (for local clients).

  • Top three to five reasons why they should hire you. What makes your firm unique?

  • How, when and with whom to set appointments for initial consultations.

  • What to do when you don’t know how to handle a prospect.

  • Key phrases of empathy and support.

  • How to control the call for when prospects want to talk too much.

  • Sample intake form filled out correctly as a guide.

  • Training on how to use any software required of them.