It’s Time for Tax-Exempt Entities to Restate Their 403(b) Plans

Under a new IRS program, tax-exempt entities who sponsor 403(b) retirement plans can adopt pre-approved documents that include determination letters that confirm the tax-qualified status of their plans. Plan sponsors need to adopt pre-approved plans before March 31, 2020, in order to qualify for the program.

Under a 403(b) plan, eligible employees can elect to make pre-tax contributions towards the cost of their own retirement benefits. The accumulated savings is most often used to purchase an annuity when the participant retires. Until now, a plan sponsor could not receive a determination from the IRS that its 403(b) plan satisfied all applicable tax requirements.

However, on January 13, 2017, the IRS announced the opening of a “remedial amendment period” under which plan sponsors can adopt pre-approved plan documents retroactively to the later of January 1, 2010, or the date that the plan was first adopted. Various entities such as insurance companies, financial service providers and companies that sell standardized retirement plan documents have already received approval of their forms of 403(b) plan documents. Most plan documents can be customized to reflect the terms of an existing 403(b) plan. The IRS will not review or provide determination letters for individually designed 403(b) plan documents.

By adopting a pre-approved document that has a determination letter, a 403(b) plan sponsor can protect against an assertion (for example, in the course of an IRS audit) that its plan document is not tax-qualified and that the plan sponsor and participants are not eligible to receive the tax benefits afforded under the Code. Therefore, it is highly recommended that sponsors of 403(b) plans adopt an IRS-approved plan document before March 31, 2020. Although the deadline for adoption is almost three years away, plan sponsors should begin discussions with their legal counsel regarding the conversion of their current documents to a pre-approved plan.

*Katharine’s license application in the State of Wisconsin is pending.

This post was written by Katharine G. Shaw and Bruce B. Deadman of  Davis & Kuelthau, s.c.
For more legal analysis, go to The National Law Review

The ABA Presents: International Humanitarian Law Sourcebook (Law of Armed Conflict)

Now available from the ABA’s Center for Human Rights: International Humanitarian Law Sourcebook (Law of Armed Conflict)

This book is a comprehensive compilation of the major source documents of International Humanitarian Law.  This ready-reference will be invaluable to lawyers, policymakers, military leaders, nongovernmental organizations and academics around the world.

Available for purchase here.

Using Technology to improve legal services? Submit to the Chicago Legal Tech Innovator Showcase! Deadline 9-29!

Is your firm combining technology and innovation to serve clients? We want to know about it! The Chicago Legal Tech Innovation Showcase, brought to you by the Chicago Bar Association’s Future of the Profession Committee and Chicago Kent School of Law is October 24th.  Submissions are due by September 29th, 2017.

A panel of distinguished judges will choose five “Best in Show” awards in each of the 2 awards categories: Law Firm/Legal Services and Company/Product/Service. Each award winner will present a 5 minute pitch at the Chicago Kent Auditorium on October 24 and have an opportunity to exhibit during the event. All submissions that meet the criteria will be listed in a Chicago Legal Tech Showcase Guide 2017

 

The Chicago Legal Tech Innovator Showcase will promote the law firms, legal aid orgs, and companies that are using technology to improve legal services in the Chicago area and highlight those whose innovations are exceptional. Whether the end result is better legal knowledge management, more affordable legal services, or improved metrics for decision making and analysis—and regardless of how the services are delivered—we want to hear what you are doing and so does Chicago’s legal community!

 

To learn more and submit go to: http://lpmt.chicagobar.org/chicago-legal-tech-innovator-showcase/

 

City of Birmingham Passes Nondiscrimination Ordinance, Creates Human Rights Commission

On September 26, 2017, the Birmingham City Council passed an ordinance that makes it a crime for any entity doing business in the city to discriminate based on race, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or familial status. The ordinance passed unanimously and is the first of its kind in Alabama. Enforceable through the municipal courts, the local law applies to housing, public accommodations, public education, and employment. It carves out two exceptions: one for religious corporations and one for employers with bona fide affirmative action plans or seniority systems.

In a separate measure passed during the same meeting, the city created a local human rights commission to receive, investigate, and attempt conciliation of complaints. The commission has no enforcement authority. Citizens who believe they have suffered unlawful discrimination must appear before a magistrate and swear out a warrant or summons. The entity or individual will not receive a ticket but will face a trial before a municipal judge in the city’s courts. Ordinance violations are classified as misdemeanor offenses, and those found guilty of discrimination will face fines of up to $500. Alabama municipalities have no authority under state law to create civil remedies for ordinance violations, therefore, an employer would not be required to reinstate an employee or provide back pay if it were found guilty of violating the ordinance in municipal court.

Because the city’s courts, which are courts of criminal jurisdiction, operate much more quickly than federal civil courts do, one would expect that a guilty verdict under the Birmingham ordinance likely could be used as evidence of discrimination in a federal civil claim that is almost sure to follow.

Although the city’s mayor must sign the ordinance for it to become effective, the mayor has announced he will sign it into law immediately. The city also expects that the Alabama Legislature will challenge the ordinance.

This post was written by Samantha K. Smith of Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C., All Rights Reserved. © 2017
For more legal analysis, go to The National Law Review

New Rules Offer Clarity On China’s Outbound M&A Crackdown

On August 18, 2017, China’s State Council issued guidelines clarifying rules passed a year ago by the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE) limiting outbound investments as cover-up to move money out of China.

The new guidelines provide different policies for Chinese companies’ investment overseas, broadly dividing overseas investment into three categories:

  • investments in “real estate, hotels, entertainment, sport clubs, [and] outdated industries” are restricted;

  • investments in sectors that could “jeopardize China’s national interest and security, including output of unauthorized core military technology and products” and investments in gambling and pornography are prohibited; and

  • investments in establishing R&D centers abroad and in sectors like high-tech and advanced manufacturing enterprises that could boost China’s Belt and Road Initiative, and investments that would benefit Chinese products and technology will be encouraged by Chinese outbound regulators.

These guidelines are new and we have to wait and see how they will be interpreted and implemented by regulators. Still, there may be reasons to believe they will have a net positive effect on the China-U.S. M&A market. The new guidelines bring about greater certainty to buyers, lenders and targets on whether a deal will get approved by Chinese regulators.

The volume and size of Chinese outbound M&A is already on an upward trajectory in the second quarter of 2017, as buyers are already getting more acclimated to SAFE rules announced at the end of 2016 restricting the outflow of Chinese capital. Chinese buyers completed 94 deals totaling $36 billion in Q2, compared to the 74 deals totaling $12 billion in Q1. The current Chinese outbound M&A trend, coupled with greater certainty under the new guidelines, is likely to result in more Chinese outbound M&A deals during the last quarter of 2017, as well as in 2018.

This post was written by Shang Kong & Zhu Julie Lee of Foley & Lardner LLP © 2017

For more legal analysis go to The National Law Review

H-1b petition

GOES Website Goes Away…October 1 Trusted Travelers Take Note

Effective October 1, 2017, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is replacing the GOES (global online enrollment system) website with the new cloud based Trusted Traveler Program (TTP) system website. Users of the various Trusted Traveler Programs (Global Entry, Nexus, Sentri, Fast, APEC) managed by CBP are all familiar with the GOES website. The GOES website is used for applications and the creation of accounts as well as receiving notifications from CBP and updating certain account information.

September 30 will be the last day users can access the GOES website information regarding their accounts. It is critical for users to save/print out their information in their GOES account including their PASSID membership number to recreate their account in the new TTP system.

What do current TTP program participants need to do before September 30?

  1. Make sure your GOES profile information is correct. Log into your GOES account at: https://goes-app.cbp.dhs.gov/ and print/save the information located in your profile. Make sure to record your PASSID number, which appears on the back of your TTP card or in the top left corner of your GOES homepage.
  2. Create a Login.gov account, if you do not have one. Visit https://login.gov/. The GOES user ID/password will not work to log in into the new TTP system website. You can also create this Login.gov account after September 30, 2017.

The GOES website will be gone on October 1, 2017. So, what must TTP users do on or after October 1?

  1. After using login.gov to create an account for authentication, create a new account using the TTP system at https://ttp.cbp.dhs.gov (not yet activated).
  2. For those who had started an application in GOES before October 1, the application will be cancelled unless it is submitted before October 1. If the application was not submitted in GOES before October 1, the data will be lost and a new application must be submitted using the TTP system.
  3. To manage TTP accounts in the future, the place to go will be https://ttp.cbp.dhs.gov (not yet activated).

This post was written by Kathleen C. Walker of  Dickinson Wright PLLC © Copyright 2017

For more Immigration legal analysis, go to The National Law Review

immigration travel ban

The Time to Comply is Now: The New “I-9 Sheriff” is in Town!

As we have previously informed our readers, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued yet another update to U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services’ (USCIS) Employment Eligibility Verification Form (commonly referred to as Form I-9).

As of September 18, the revised Form I-9 is in effect, bringing a new paperwork duty for all U.S. employers. All employers who have not already done so must immediately disregard the old version of and begin using the new version of Form I-9. The new form is accessible on the (USCIS) website, and older versions of Form I-9 are no longer available to the public. The new version of Form I-9 is not required for existing employees, since it pertains only to new hires joining a company on or after September 18, 2017.

Following are some reminders for employers to keep in mind during the onboarding process:

  1. While the core requirements of Form I-9 remain unchanged, employers will find minor revisions concerning the instructions and the list of acceptable documents that confirm an intended employee’s identity and employment eligibility. Specifically, USCIS changed the name of the U.S. Department of Justice’s enforcement arm on employment eligibility compliance, namely from the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices to its new name of Immigrant and Employee Rights Section. What is more, USCIS modified the form’s instructions by removing “the end of” from the phrase “the first day of employment.” As a result, employers should amend their Form I-9 procedures to ensure that all intended employees complete the form’s Section 1 at the outset of the first day of employment.
  2. USCIS has also revised the list of acceptable documents concerning employment eligibility. Notably, USCIS added the Consular Report of Birth Abroad Form (Form FS-240) as an acceptable List C [employment eligibility] document. Form FS-240 is generated by the U.S. Department of State (DOS) at U.S. embassies worldwide to record the birth of a U.S. citizen outside U.S. territorial limits. Now, employers completing Form I-9 on a computer will be able to select Form FS-240 from the drop-down menus available in List C pertaining to Section 2 and Section 3. E-Verify users will also be able to select Form FS-240 when creating a case for an employee who has presented this document for Form I-9. Lastly, USCIS combined all the certifications of report of birth issued by the DOS into selection C # 2 in List C and renumbered all List C documents, except the Social Security card.

USCIS has included all these changes in a revised Handbook for Employers: Guidance for Completing Form I-9 (M-274), which is more user friendly than older editions of this document. Unlike previous versions of M-274, users can no longer download the handbook as a PDF document. Instead, USCIS has now organized and posted the M-274 handbook’s content as a web-based resource. It is yet unclear how USCIS will be updating this document.  By consequence, employers should regularly review the most updated, on-line content of the M-274 handbook, as it will likely be a more dynamic document.

3.  Another valuable resource for employers handling Form I-9 issues is the I-9 Central webpage available on the USCIS website. This webpage provides additional information about Form I-9, including learning resources and frequently asked questions.

Although the changes to Form I-9 are minor, failure to use the new version of the form can result in significant fines. Employers should therefore revisit their compliance policies to ensure a seamless transition to the new Form I-9.

This post was written by Roy J. Barquet of Foley & Lardner LLP © 2017
For more Immigration Legal Analysis go to The National Law Review
attorney legal consumer

Why the Billable Hour Is Here to Stay

While you may grind away on files day in and day out through six-minute intervals, tracking the time can prove distracting and burdensome. The billable hour remains the standard method for billing with lawyers, and this has been the standard for decades. Despite the longevity of the billable hour, plenty of lawyers believe they can find a better way to bill their clients.

The Argument Against the Billable Hour

Lawyers from a variety of fields have raised arguments against billing by the hour. One of those arguments is how you only have so many hours in the day that you can work. In addition, an hourly billing setup fails to acknowledge how different legal services will have differing value. Some have made the claim hourly billing encourages inefficiency and incompetence because the longer it takes a lawyer to finish the job, the more they get paid. This shows a conflict of interest because a lawyer might feel tempted to spend the maximum hours on a file.

Does the Billable Hour Remain the Standard?

Gradually, lawyers have started to charge through alternative methods. Some of those methods include:

  • Flat fees

  • Results-based fees

  • Contingency fees

  • Fees by stages

In today’s world, a client asks more value for his dollar, and plenty of lawyers are happy to accommodate. Still, the billable hour reigns supreme even despite talk of a massive shift. The billable hour hasn’t taken hold as of yet. However, it has been growing. In fact, a recent study found how the alternative fee arrangements were up five percent from several years ago to 22 percent since.

Revolutionizing the Law Industry

Plenty of firms have seen this and started to shift their own law practice out of the curiosity of what a billable-hour free firm might look like. Since the early 1990s, lawyers have predicted the eventual end of the billable hour, but it has never truly ended. Until a more alternate billing comes, it’s unlikely that the billable hour will ever fully go away. In fact, some law firms will always prefer it, and unless the clients demand a change, the billable hour serves both lawyers and clients in a way where an alternative arrangement might prove to be more difficult.

Education of the Client

Bill Rice, a partner at Bennett Jones, says that his national firm offers the alternate billing proposal. Many times clients will ask for the alternate billing, but in the end, they wind up choosing the hourly billing because they don’t know how to judge if the alternate arrangement will be fair. Rice says, “While we’ve moved forward with breaking the billable hour, we still haven’t reached the appropriate level of comfort with alternate billing.” Essentially, clients are unable to find a better way to judge the value or to maintain control over it.

This is where research comes in play. If you decide to want to take an alternative route, education is key. By explaining the process, average cost, and the highest potential cost, your client can decide which avenue he or she may want to take.

Where Alternative Billing Does Best

In some cases, the billable hour continues to be the best fit for the attorney and/or law firm. This includes the markups and discounts and how much time a lawyer puts into the case. Sometimes blended rates come into play due to work getting divided amongst the firm. In these circumstances, you will experience a blend of hourly rates.

Where fixed-fee billing (say that five times fast) works best, might be when an event an activity is scheduled. Some of the possible examples include:

  • Patenting

  • Immigration visa

Fixed-rate billing also allows an attorney to exit a case with less worry. Sometimes with the billable hour, there’s that worry of a possible lawsuits malpractice. When you lay everything on the table, the client knows what he’s getting himself into. As a result, you have a more satisfied group of clients because they feel they got the value out of what they paid for.

The Problem of Efficiency: The Billable Hour

You could spend up to an hour trying to fix a leaky faucet and getting nowhere in the process, even though the problem is fairly simple. The same could be said about the billable hour. You want to provide attorneys with some incentive on why they should work hard to finish the case fast. It’s true that some of the other billing methods might not necessarily be cheaper than the billable hour, but it gives clients a fixed budget to work with and peace of mind knowing it won’t go higher.

The billable hour isn’t likely to go anywhere in the future. New methods of billing will, however, probably come up as lawyers get more creative on how to bill their clients for their legal services. The world today focuses more on value-driven legal services. For that reason, it seems like a good incentive to provide lawyers with a reason to up the quality of their services while giving clients predictable budgets they can count on to stay the same.

This post was written by Jaliz Maldonado  of PracticePanther © Copyright 2017
For more legal analysis go to The National Law Review

EPA Acts to Increase Supply of Clean Drinking Water in U.S. Virgin Islands

WASHINGTON (September 23, 2017) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today issued an order to the Federal Emergency Management Authority (FEMA) and the Department of Defense (DOD) that provides direction on supplying of clean drinking water in the U.S. Virgin Islands in response to impacts to the island’s drinking water system from Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma.

The order authorizes FEMA and DOD to install and operate temporary water treatment units that will provide a supply of clean drinking water. U.S. Virgin Islands public water systems are currently not in operational condition. The lack of clean alternative water supplies has created the potential for significant public health impacts. USVI public water systems have been significantly impacted by Hurricanes Maria and Irma and subsequent flooding, including by a loss of electrical power, and are not yet fully able to provide adequately treated water to meet the needs of those affected areas.

EPA is monitoring environmental and public health conditions across the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico and is working closely with federal, territorial and local officials to ensure impacts from the hurricanes are addressed in order to protect public health.

Read this article on the EPA website here.

This post was written by the United States Environmental Protection Agency © Copyright 2017
For more Environmental & Energy Legal Analysis go to the National Law Review

Revised Travel Ban Coming?

The Trump Administration reportedly may replace the current travel ban with a country-specific set of restrictions.

In June, the Supreme Court allowed the government to begin enforcing the 90-day travel ban against individuals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen who had no bona fide relationship to the United States. The 90-day ban will expire on September 24. The 120-day ban on refugees also went into effect in June. The Supreme Court plans to hear the full travel ban case on October 10.

The Department of Homeland Security’s recently finalized classified report on screening foreign travelers may support anticipated changes to the travel ban. Substituting a new ban could change the dynamics, potentially making the case before the Supreme Court moot or leading to a remand of the case for further hearing at the lower court level.

The new restrictions are expected to be open-ended and based upon the DHS review and identification of countries with deficient security standards. More than six countries may have been identified. Additional countries could be added to the banned list, others could be removed, and still others might become subject to certain visa restrictions.

This post was written by Michael H. Neifach of Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2017
For more legal analysis go to The National Law Review