5 Business Communication Etiquette Pet Peeves

I frequently work with my children to help them understand the importance of good table manners – elbows off the table, how to set a table, which fork to use, how to hold a fork and knife (and properly use them), which glass to drink from, and to never chew with their mouths open. Let’s just say it is a work in progress.

While these lessons seem obvious, you would be surprised how frequently we get requests for etiquette training for lawyers. But it’s a fact that how we present ourselves has a significant impact on our brand. If you are seated next to a lawyer who slurps his soup, uses the wrong fork and drinks from your water glass, how likely are you to hire him?

Like our table manners, our communication etiquette sometimes needs attention, too. After all, good relationships begin with good communication. As a communications professional, here are my five biggest communication pet peeves:

  1. Email Signatures: It is a best practice to include your telephone number in your email signature, even on the reply. In this day and age, a majority of our business is conducted without ever hearing someone’s voice. Sometimes, though, actually talking is the best way to communicate, and it is terribly frustrating to have to go digging through old emails, files and even paper notebooks to find a phone number.

If your law firm doesn’t already have a standard email signature protocol, now is the time to institute it. Use it as a way to market your law firm, being mindful not to overwhelm readers with too many ways to reach you. If you are including a graphic, make sure recipients can view it on a mobile device and that it does not make an email too large to open. Your clients will thank you!

  1. Grammar & Spelling: They’re/their, who’s/whose, you’re/your, it’s/its. Learn it, live it, love it. Sure, we all can make mistakes when using our smartphones and blame them on autocorrect, but there are some basic grammar rules that we as legal industry professionals should know.

In addition, try to tighten up your sentences. For example, “I thought I would connect with Jane to discuss,” can be rewritten as “I am going to call Jane to discuss,” or “Jane and I are going to discuss.” To put it concisely, be direct.

And take the time to ensure that you do not have any spelling errors. Readers will automatically assume the worst of you – and your intellect – if you misspell words. Spellcheck is not always accurate, so proofread your work. If you are not a great proofreader yourself, enlist the help of a colleague or a professional proofreader before you send documents to clients. With emails, take a few extra seconds before clicking send.

  1. Limit the Word “Just”: In the spirit of being direct, I want to share my dislike of the word “just.” Improper use of the word often weakens what you are communicating and implies an unspoken apology. I am certainly guilty of using it and am consciously trying to eliminate it from my vocabulary. For example, “I am just following up” suggests that I am sorry to bother you but have something that I think is important to say. “I just have to say” implies that what you have to say is somehow a side note.

Try eliminating the word “just” when you are asking someone to do something for you as well. “Can you just…” minimizes a person’s contributions. Count how many times you use the word “just” in a day, and see if eliminating it helps you become a stronger communicator.

  1. “At Your Earliest Convenience”: Be careful with this term because, when used the wrong way, it makes you seem lazy and unengaged. It is perfectly fine to ask someone to respond at their earliest convenience, but how do you feel when I tell you that I will call you back at my earliest convenience? Probably like I will get to you after I drink my coffee and check social media. For most law firm marketers, your “clients” are the attorneys in your firm. They are your most important asset. Make them feel that way, and avoid telling them that you will do something when it is convenient for you. Try “as soon as possible” instead. It feels much better!

  2. Emphasize Sparingly: When I receive an email that is filled with bold, underlined and all-caps words, I FEEL LIKE I AM BEING YELLED AT and that whatever isn’t emphasized probably isn’t important! Think about what you are emphasizing. Is it really crucial? As a general rule of thumb, focus on headers and deadlines to make sure that all of the content of your email is properly read and understood. Then think about using the signature at the bottom of the email to give the person a way to call to confirm.

All of the ways we present ourselves and communicate – both directly and indirectly – impact our personal brands. Making yourself available and easy to communicate with will boost your personal brand, make people feel good about doing business with you, and hopefully drive more business.

This post was written by Stephanie Kantor Holtzman of Jaffe Associates.,© Copyright 2008-2017
For more legal analysis, go to The National Law Review

FDA Issues Final Regulations Easing the Path for Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Testing

New regulations issued on November 7, 2017 by FDA will make it easier for companies to offer certain types of genetic tests directly-to-consumers, without a health-care provider intermediary.

The first regulation finalizes a new medical device classification for “autosomal recessive carrier screening gene mutation detection systems.”  This regulation essentially codifies classification already established by FDA in response to a request by 23andMe, and  enables other laboratories to offer their DTC tests according to the criteria specified in the classification regulation.  These tests may be offered without the need for FDA premarket review.

Similarly, the second regulation finalizes a new medical device classification for  DTC “genetic health risk assessment” (GHR)  (i.e., predictive) tests.  The classification specifies the conditions under which these tests may be marketed, and includes the requirement for a 510(k) premarket notification to FDA. However, in a Federal Register Notice, also issued yesterday, FDA proposes to exempt GHR tests from the 510(k) premarket submission requirement after a lab has successfully obtained FDA clearance of its first GHR assay.  Comments to this proposed exemption are being accepted by FDA until January 8. 

This post was written by Gail H. Javitt of Epstein Becker & Green, P.C. All rights reserved., ©2017
For more Health Care legal analysis, go to The National Law Review

Maryland’s Montgomery County Joins Jurisdictions Increasing Minimum Wage to $15.00

Montgomery County, Maryland, where the minimum wage already is $11.50, is set to join two states (California and New York), the neighboring District of Columbia and at least six local jurisdictions (Flagstaff (Arizona), Los Angeles, Minneapolis, San Francisco, San Jose, SeaTac and Seattle) that have enacted legislation increasing the minimum wage for some or all private sector employees to $15 over the next several years.

On November 7, 2017 the Montgomery County Council unanimously passed Bill 28-17, which increases the minimum wage for “large employers” — those with 51 or more employees in the county — to $15.00 by July 1, 2021, with intermediate increases to $12.25 on July 1, 2018, $13.00 on July 1, 2019, and $14.00 on July 1, 2020.

The bill also increases the minimum wage to $15.00 by July 1, 2023 for “mid-sized employers,” those who (1) employ 11 to 50 employees; (2) have tax exempt status under IRC Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code; or (3) provide “home health services” or “home or community based services,” as defined under federal Medicaid regulations and receive at least 75% of gross revenues through state and federal medical programs.

The bill additionally increases the minimum wage to $15.00 by July 1, 2024 for “small employers” — those with 10 or fewer employee (including non-profits and Medicaid funded home health and home or community based service providers of that size) — with intermediate increases to $12.00 on July 1, 2018, $12.50 on July 1, 2019, $13.00 on July 1, 2020, $13.50 on July 1, 2020, $14.00 on July 1, 2022 and $14.50 on July 1, 2023.

Notably, the rates of increases  is considerably slower than in the neighboring District of Columbia, which is already at $12.50 and will reach $15.00 on July 1, 2020 for all private sector employers.

In addition, the bill includes an “opportunity wage” that allows payment of a wage equal to 85% of the County minimum wage to an employee under the age of 20 for the first six months of employment.

The bill further adopts provisions to automatically adjust the minimum wage rate (1) for large employers annually starting July 1, 2022 to reflect average increases in the CPI-W for Washington-Baltimore for the previous year, and (2) for mid-sized and small employers starting July 1, 2024 and 2025, respectively, to reflect the same CPI-W increase for the previous year, plus one percent of the previous year’s required minimum wage, up to a total increase of $0.50, until the rate is equal to the amount for large employers. An employer’s size is calculated as of the time it first becomes subject to the law, and it remains subject to the applicable schedule regardless of the number of employees employed in subsequent years.

In addition, the Director of Finance must make certifications by January 31 of each year from 2018 through 2022 regarding certain reductions in county private employment, negative growth in the gross domestic product, or whether the U.S. economy is in recession. If certain targets are for that year, for no more than two times.

The bill specifically addresses concerns the County Executive expressed in vetoing a prior version of the bill that passed by a narrow majority in January 2017, by postponing the prior effective dates for large and small employers by one and two years, respectively; increasing from 26 to 51 the number of employees required to be a larger employer; creating a new mid-size employer category of 11 to 50 employees and defining a small employer as one with ten or fewer employees; and adding non-profits and Medicaid funded home health and home health services providers with more than ten employees to the extended schedule for mid-size employers. The County Executive has stated that he will sign the bill.

Notably, it is likely that an effort will be made in the upcoming state legislative session to further increase the state minimum wage, already at $9.25 and set to go to $10.10 on July 1, 2018.

This post was written by Brian W. Steinbach of Epstein Becker & Green, P.C. All rights reserved.,©2017

For more Labor & Employment legal analysis, go to The National Law Review

Can They Really Do That?

Effective October 18, 2017, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Index, and National File Tracking System of Records, implemented new or modified uses of information maintained on individuals as they pass through the immigration process.

The new regulation updates the categories of individuals covered, to include: individuals acting as legal guardians or designated representatives in immigration proceedings involving an individual who is physically or developmentally disabled or severely mentally impaired (when authorized); Civil Surgeons who conduct and certify medical examinations for immigration benefits; law enforcement officers who certify a benefit requestor’s cooperation in the investigation or prosecution of a criminal activity; and interpreters.

It also expands the categories of records to include: country of nationality; country of residence; the USCIS Online Account Number; social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results; and EOIR and BIA proceedings information.

The new regulation also includes updated record source categories to include: publicly available information obtained from the internet; public records; public institutions; interviewees; commercial data providers; and information With this latest expansion of data allowed to be collected, it begs the question: How does one protect sensitive data housed on electronic devices? In addition to inspecting all persons, baggage and merchandise at a port-of-entry, CBP does indeed have the authority to search electronic devices too. CBP’s stance is that consent is not required for such a search. This position is supported by the U.S. Supreme Court, which has determined that such border searches constitute reasonable searches; and therefore, do not run afoul of the Fourth Amendment.

Despite this broad license afforded CBP at the port-of-entry, CBP’s authority is checked somewhat in that such searches do not include information located solely in the cloud. Information subject to search must be physically stored on the device in order to be accessible at the port-of-entry. Additionally, examination of attorney-client privileged communications contained on electronic devices first requires CBP’s consultation with Associate/Assistant Chief Counsel of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

So what may one do to prevent seizure of an electronic device or avoid disclosure of confidential data to CBP during a border search? The New York and Canadian Bar Associations have compiled the following recommendations:

  • Consider carrying a temporary or travel laptop cleansed of sensitive local documents and information. Access data through a VPN connection or cloud-based warehousing.
  • Consider carrying temporary mobile devices stripped of contacts and other confidential information. Have calls forwarded from your office number to the unpublished mobile number when traveling.
  • Back up data and shut down your electronic device well before reaching the inspection area to eliminate access to Random Access Memory.

  • Use an alternate account to hold sensitive information. Apply strong encryption and complex passwords.

  • Partition and encrypt the hard drive.

  • Protect the data port.
  • Clean your electronic device(s) following return.
  • Wipe smartphones remotely.

This post was written by Jennifer Cory of Womble Bond Dickinson (US) LLP All Rights Reserved.,Copyright © 2017
For more Immigration legal analysis, go to The National Law Review

EU Adopts New Sanctions on North Korea

On 16 October, the Foreign Affairs Council adopted new EU autonomous measures reinforcing the sanctions on North Korea imposed by the UN Security Council, effective immediately. They include a total ban on EU investment in North Korea across all sectors, whereas previously the ban related to certain sectors, such as the arms industry and chemical industries. Also, there is a total ban on the sale of refined petroleum products and crude oil. The amount of personal remittances to North Korea has been lowered from €15,000 to €5,000 in light of suspicions that they are being used in support of nuclear and ballistic missile programmes. In addition, three persons and six entities were added to the list of those subject to an asset freeze and travel restrictions.

This post was written by International Trade Practice at Squire Patton Boggs of Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP., © Copyright 2017
For more Antitrust Law legal analysis, go to The National Law Review

Death and Taxes: House Bill Eliminates “Death” Tax in 2024

On November 2, 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Ways and Means Committee released its proposal for tax reform via the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The House’s draft legislation contains a number of provisions that, if enacted, would significantly change the wealth transfer landscape, including the total repeal of the estate and generation-skipping transfer taxes as of January 1, 2024.

Under the proposal, commencing on January 1, 2018, the individual lifetime gift and estate tax exemption amount will be doubled to $10 million ($20 million for married couples), indexed for inflation—$11.2 million per person in 2018 ($22.4 million for married couples). This increase in the exemption amount also applies to the generation-skipping transfer tax.

The draft legislation calls for a total repeal of the estate and generation-skipping transfer taxes as of January 1, 2024, while preserving the ability of beneficiaries to obtain a basis adjustment as to inherited property. Although the gift tax is set to remain in place, a reduction in the rate from 40% to 35% is provided for. Similarly, the annual exclusion—scheduled to increase to $15,000 per individual in 2018 ($30,000 for married couples who elect to split their gifts)—looks certain to survive.

This post was written by the Tax, Estate Planning & Administration  of Jones Walker LLP., © 2017
For more Family, Estates & Trusts legal analysis, go to The National Law Review

Time to Think About Holiday Bonuses

Halloween has passed and we are now squarely approaching the holiday season. While this time of year brings many good things, it can also bring unwanted headaches for employers wanting to spread some “holiday cheer,” especially those who forget how bonuses may affect payment of overtime. So, while we recently discussed bonuses in general, now is a good time for a refresher on bonuses and overtime pay in the context of holiday payments.

First, don’t forget the general rule for non-exempt employees is that all compensation is to be included in the calculation of the “regular rate.” Bonuses must be included within the regular rate unless specifically excluded by law or regulation. Bonuses which do not qualify for exclusion from the regular rate must be totaled in with other earnings to determine the regular rate on which overtime is based. However, certain things are excluded from compensation used to calculate the regular rate.

The first of these is the traditional “Christmas bonus,” or more precisely, “sums paid as gifts; payment in the nature of gifts made at Christmas time or other special occasions, as a reward for service, the amounts of which are not measured by or dependent on hours worked, production or efficiency.” To not be included as compensation used for calculating the regular rate, the “bonus must actually be a gift or be in the nature of a gift.” The bonus cannot be measured by the hours worked, production or efficiency. Nor can it be so substantial that it can be assumed that employees consider it as part of wages for which they work. The bonus may, however, vary between employees based on length of service. Finally, it cannot be paid pursuant to some contract. Bottom line – true Christmas gifts or holiday bonuses do not have to be included in the regular rate for purposes of computing the regular rate.

The second, and more challenging, scenario is a bonus that while paid at year-end is not necessarily a true holiday gift. As we recently addressed, the question is whether such bonuses truly are discretionary. Again, the exclusion is narrow. To be excluded from computation of the regular rate, the “sum paid in recognition of services performed in a given period” (i.e. bonus) must fall in one of two categories. One, the fact that the payment is to be made and the amount to be paid must be in the sole discretion of the employer. Further, the decision must be made at or near the end of the period in which payment is to be made and not be based on any promise, contract or agreement which causes the employee to regularly expect such payments. Or two, the compensation may be excluded from the regular rate if the payments are made pursuant to a bona fide profit-sharing plan or trust or bona fide thrift or savings plan.

Employers looking to spread holiday cheer in the form of end-of-the-year bonuses must therefore address the primary question of whether the bonus truly is discretionary. In making this determination, consider the following facts that may destroy the discretionary aspect of a bonus:

(1) If the employer promises in advance to pay a bonus

(2) If the amount of the bonus is conditioned on allocating a percentage of sales to the “bonus pool”

(3) If the bonus is promised at the time of hire

(4) If the bonus is to induce employees to work more efficiently or to remain with the employer

As examples, attendance bonuses, individual or group production bonuses, bonuses for quantity or quality of work, or retention bonuses are not discretionary and must be included in the regular rate.

So, celebrate the holidays and reward your employees, but be careful to consider whether bonuses must be included in computing the regular rate for non-exempt employees.

This post was written by Kevin E Hyde of Foley & Lardner LLP., © 2017
For more Labor & Employment legal analysis, go to The National Law Review