Summertime Suggestions for Small Law Firms

(Editor’s Note: What follows are some salient thoughts from Austin-based B2 Management & Consulting.)

For many small business owners, summertime is often a slower time and a good time to take a look at your business.  Even with half of the year gone, many business owners wait until year-end, or after the holidays, to assess their business’ needs.  Taking the time now to review and adjust can help you make the most of the remainder of the year and more likely to enjoy a stress-free holiday season.

  1. Review the first half of the year’s books and determine:

Am I keeping my business and personal accounts separate?  Doing so will help you maintain accurate and complete records of all business-related income and expenses.

Are my estimated tax payments on track to meet my projected tax liability for 2015?  Often, we pay enough in quarterly tax payments to avoid tax penalties yet do not remit or save enough to avoid a lump-sum payment on April 15.  Timely and accurate estimated tax payments will facilitate a more predictable cash flow.

  1. Update your business plan and any financially related policies:

Do I have a formal, written business plan and is it current?  Ideally, every small business should have a written business plan.  The process of putting your goals in writing and updating them mid-year and at year-end will help you focus on strategic planning, making key business decisions, and quickly adjusting to changes or shifts in your respective market or industry.

Are my financial related policies current and how might changes impact my business plan?  Often we forget that we have policies in place that greatly impact our business plan.  For example, the recent US Supreme Court ruling regarding recognition of same-sex marriage may impact your health care benefit policies, defined benefit pension and/or contribution plans, group life insurance, and dependent care flex spending accounts.  It’s important to look at your benefits policies, especially those related to eligibility, to ensure they’re compliant with the new rules.

  1. Evaluate your customer payment options:

Are my payment options current and appropriate for my business?  You may want to consider expanding or revising your customer payment options for improved cash flow.  Do you accept credit and debit cards, prepaid or gift cards, PayPal or other methods of online payments, or mobile and “digital wallet” methods of payments?  Now is a great time to evaluate your customer payment options and determine if they need to be updated.

Am I prepared for the fraud liability shift set to occur October 1, 2015?  The upcoming EMV (EuroPay, MasterCard, and Visa) technology initiative will likely require businesses to obtain new devices to read customers’ credit cards which will have embedded EMV chips.  This “liability shift” is an incentive for both businesses and card issuers to increase card security and reduce counterfeit fraud, but the shift in liability will be to the business if it has not implemented EMV-compliant devices.

  1. Consult with your CPA/tax advisor:

Am I being proactive in managing and filing my tax returns?  Summer is often a slower time for CPAs/tax advisors as well.  Making time now to meet with your tax professional can help you stay ahead of the game and stay organized and prepared on your business taxes.  Spending time now reviewing expenditures with taxable implications such as business/personal use of a vehicle, business mileage, business meals/entertainment, or ensuring the capture of all business expenses can lead to better documentation habits and more accurate bookkeeping for your business in general.

Am I doing everything I can to minimize my 2015 tax liability?  So you’ve been timely and accurate with your estimated tax payments mentioned above.  Maybe you can actually reduce that liability to truly lighten your tax burden.  Ask your tax professional about whether or not the following would work in your favor:   1) adopting a qualified retirement plan; 2) acquiring employee health coverage which may generate a tax credit; or 3) considering acquiring equipment.  The maximum Section 179 deduction is $25,000 for 2015 on new and used equipment as well as off-the-shelf software if financed/purchased and put into service by the end of the day, 12/31/15.

Whether summertime is your business’ “blues” time, or whether it’s your business’ non-stop, “rock-around-the-clock” time, it’s a great time to review, adjust, and plan for your business to make the rest of the year a success and move into the year-end holiday season virtually stress-free.

TCWLA Is Looking for Participants in Its Mentoring Program

The Travis County Womens Lawyers’ Association (TCWLA) is now accepting applications for the 2015-2016 Mentoring Program.

The program matches experienced Mentors with Mentees in the first five years of practice according to her background and legal interests. The Mentors and Mentees will develop a mentoring relationship throughout the year and will be able to discuss career and personal goals, improving legal skills, adjusting to challenges of law practice, or exploring a new legal career path.

The ten month program requires a commitment of about an hour a month and will consist of bi-monthly lunch CLE programs and one-on-one Mentor-Mentee meetings. The program begins in September 2015 and will conclude in July 2016.

If you are interested in participating as a Mentor that has been licensed for at least five years or as a Mentee that has been licensed fewer than five years, please email Jean Sullivan at jean.sullivan@traviscountytx.gov to request an application and additional information. Materials are due by August 31, 2015.

Local Attorney to Participate in Race & Policing Panel with Mayor Adler and City Leaders

Adam Loewy of the Loewy Law Firm will participate in a community conversation about race and policing issues in the Austin community on Monday, August 24th, from 7 – 9 PM.

The event, which is sponsored by the Travis County Democratic Party, includes the following panelists: Austin Mayor Steve Adler, Attorney Adam Loewy, Austin Police Monitor Margo Frasier, NAACP President Nelson Linder, and Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo. It will be held at 1156 Hargrove Street, Austin, TX 78702.adam-loewy

“Our firm dedicates an important part of our practice to civil rights cases, and we are honored to be a part of this historic panel,” said Loewy. “We are glad that the Austin community is coming together to discuss these important issues. It is a step in the right direction towards openness and cooperation, making our city a better place to live.”

For more on the event, visit Community Conversation on Race & Policing

Journalist Looking for Legal Experts

As many of  you know, this blog is published by Hackney Publications. We maintain strong relationships with journalists, who from time to time are looking for experts in a particular area. If you are attorney, or represent one, who is a recognized expert in an area of law, and would like to promote that expertise in a highly respected media outlet, let me know at hhackney(at)hackneypublications.com and I’ll be happy to provide the name of the outlet and some examples of what has appeared there in the past.

Littler to Open Office in Austin

Littler, an employment and labor law practice representing management, will expand its presence in Texas with a new Austin office, effective Sept. 1. Three attorneys from Littler’s Dallas location will establish the firm in Austin.

Shareholders Steve McCown, Allan King and Kevin Mullen, all board certified in the area of labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, will open the office, the firm’s third location in Texas with over 70 attorneys already in Houston and Dallas.

“Austin’s economy is extremely diversified and is poised for continued expansion,” said Tom Bender and Jeremy Roth, co-managing directors of Littler, in a joint statement. “Due to the recent Texas energy boom and Austin’s private sector growth, the area has seen tremendous development. We are excited to expand our Texas coverage to Austin, allowing us to serve clients throughout the greater state.”

McCown, co-founder and former office managing shareholder of Littler’s Dallas office, will be instrumental in leading the efforts for the Austin office. In addition to his leadership skills, McCown has been practicing law in the state for more than 35 years. He is currently chair of the firm’s Workplace Safety and Health Practice Group and represents employers in Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) matters within industries such as construction, oil and gas, telecommunication, manufacturing and restaurants.

McCown also has extensive experience in the areas of traditional labor law and employment litigation. He has defended a number of complex employment class actions and has successfully defended wage and hour collective actions, defeating class certification in several national collective actions. McCown received his J.D. from Southern Methodist University and earned his B.B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin.

“Steve has strong civic and business connections in Austin,” said Dallas Office Managing Shareholder Chip Jones. “His proven leadership skills, combined with his impressive legal background and ties to Austin’s major industry sectors, make him the natural choice to lead our efforts in Austin and to expand our footprint in the state’s burgeoning region.”

“We’ve assembled a great team with Allan and Kevin, and there is tremendous potential for Littler in Austin,” McCown said. “In the past two years, a number of our client’s corporate and regional headquarters have moved to the city, which has become a mecca for tech startups.”

King is a renowned class action lawyer and co-chair of Littler’s Class Actions Practice Group. He is a former economics professor at the University of Texas at Austin where he earned his J.D. In addition, he holds a Ph.D. from Cornell University. His practice combines deep knowledge in employment law with his prior experience as a labor economist to handle statistical issues that arise in class action and “pattern or practice” cases.

King works closely with testifying and consulting experts in economics and statistics, and his experience as a labor economist helps him identify the most knowledgeable authorities suited to a particular matter. He is known for his ability to effectively rebut opposing expert testimony.

Mullen, a native of central Texas, represents a broad range of clients in the construction, automotive, retail, health care, transportation, manufacturing, hospitality, technology, sales and other industries. A strong generalist, Mullen’s employment practice comprises litigation and counseling. As an experienced litigator, he has successfully tried matters in state and federal trial courts. He routinely counsels clients on pressing employment issues and has developed a niche for efficiently resolving claims brought against his hospitality and retail clients under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. He received his J.D. from Texas Wesleyan University and his B.A. and M.A. from the University of Texas at Dallas.

Travis County Commissioners Appease Local Legal Community by Lowering Cost of Civil and Family Courts Complex

The Community for Civil and Family Courts PAC “applauds” the Travis County Commissioners for “its creative problem solving in finding ways to reduce the cost of the much-needed Civil and Family Courts Complex (CFCC),” according to a press release distributed by the Austin Bar.

“Over the past several months, the Commissioner’s Court has developed several strategies to mitigate the tax burden that will be created by the proposed bond referendum for the CFCC. The original project budget of $291.600, 000 was approved on February 3, 2015.  Yesterday, the Commissioners reduced the budget to $287,275,000.

“This reduction comes from the sale of underutilized county property which brought $2.6 million dollars into the County’s coffers.  The additional budget reduction resulted from removing interim land use from the budget since the Commissioners are pursuing the development of a South Tower to be built alongside the CFCC.

“The Commissioners have five strategies which they are discussing to reduce the tax burden of the proposed CFCC:

  • Sale of underutilized county-owned property
  • Civil case filing fee
  • Parking revenue from after hours and weekend use of the CFCC garage
  • Lease revenue from the agreement for the construction of a South Tower on the CFCC block
  • Property tax revenue generated by the South Tower

“The Commissioners, knowing that the provision of safe, secure, accessible and functional facilities to house the Courts is one of their mandated obligations, are working hard for the citizens of Travis County to ensure that this mandate is carried out in a fiscally conservative and prudent manner.  The Travis County taxpayers should be proud of the work their Commissioners are doing on their behalf.”

Gardere Welcomes Litigator Who Will Work with Firm’s Government Affairs Team in Austin

Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP has announced that David Cabrales has been hired as a partner. Among his responsibilities is to work with members of the firm’s Government Affairs team in Austin.

Cabrales, who joins Gardere from Locke Lord LLP, has broad experience representing clients in government and commercial litigation matters. He frequently represents financial institutions, securities broker-dealers, retailers, and life and health insurance companies in traditional, class-action and multidistrict lawsuits, and arbitrations. Cabrales also counsels clients in matters before state government, and represents businesses in litigation matters initiated by state attorneys general.

From 2007 to 2009, Cabrales served as general counsel to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, leading a legal team that advised the governor and his staff on a variety of topics at the intersection of law and public policy. He served as principal economic development advisor for the governor and helped administer the Texas Enterprise Fund, the Texas Emerging Technology Fund, Texas One and other programs in the governor’s economic development portfolio.

In addition, Gov. Perry appointed Cabrales to the Texas Economic Development Corporation in 2010 and again in 2014, where he served as chairman from 2010 to 2012. He is a member of the bipartisan Federal Judicial Evaluation Committee, which is composed of leading Texas attorneys who screen and recommend nominees for vacancies on the federal bench and in U.S. attorney offices across Texas.

 

A graduate of Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law, Cabrales began his legal career as a briefing attorney to former Texas Supreme Court Justice Raul Gonzalez. He is a member of the United Way of Texas Board of Directors and United Way of Metropolitan Dallas Foundation, as well as a past member of the Texas Racing Commission.

UT System to launch the most comprehensive sexual assault study in higher education

Students returning to class at the University of Texas System’s campuses this fall will be participating in the nation’s most comprehensive study on sexual assaults ever conducted in higher education.

The University of Texas System has funded a $1.7-million multiyear study on sexual assaults, dating violence, stalking and sexual harassment at 13 of its college and medical campuses. The study, to be conducted by researchers at UT Austin’s School of Social Work for the UT System, will range from online questionnaires for students; surveys and focus groups of faculty, staff and campus law enforcement; and a 4-year cohort study of entering freshman to identify the psychological and economic impact of sexual violence.

“When Chancellor William McRaven took office in January, he felt a responsibility to the UT System’s 217,000 students to ensure their campuses are safe, and if they report crimes, they will be supported,” said Wanda Mercer, UT System’s associate vice chancellor for student affairs. “This study is a proactive approach to an important issue. We are not waiting for a high-profile incident to occur before we do it.”

Known as Cultivating Learning and Safe Environments (CLASE), the study will select a sample size of students who reflect the demographics of their institutions to anonymously answer questions about their on-campus sexual violence experiences to help researchers determine the prevalence of such incidents. The survey – which will gather data from self-identified victims – will commence this fall and be repeated two years later.

“The number of sexual assaults reported to college law enforcement is generally the tip of the iceberg,” said Noël Busch-Armendariz, director of UT Austin’s Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, who will lead the study. “Sexual assault and other forms of intimate and interpersonal violence are among the most underreported of all violent crimes. Determining the prevalence will help understand how many students face these traumatic events on our campuses and offer suggestions on how to respond to victims’ needs.”

Busch-Armendariz, who is also a professor and associate dean for research at UT Austin’s School of Social Work, recently conducted a prevalence study on sexual assault for the state of Texas. Her findings show that 6.3 million adults have been victims of sexual assaults in their lifetime. In 2014, 413,000 Texans experienced sexual assault, while only 9 percent reported the incidents to law enforcement.

In conjunction with the online questionnaires, the UT System will also launch a “deep dive” phase of the study at four of its campuses: UT El Paso, UT Arlington, UT Austin and UT Medical Branch at Galveston. This analysis will use focus groups and surveys to gather data from faculty, staff, law enforcement, administration and student leadership to determine how these crimes are reported, how the university responds, and the policies and procedures that initiate when crimes are reported.

Researchers will also examine the economic cost of intimate and interpersonal violence. Victims may change majors, delay graduation or drop out of school all together, costing them forgone income from a projected career. There are also institutional costs related to prevention and counseling, adjudication and addressing student safety.

In a 2011 study, Busch-Armendariz and Bruce Kellison, associate director of the Bureau for Business Research at UT Austin, determined that sexual assault crimes cost the state of Texas $8 billion annually. The costs related to addressing intimate and interpersonal violence on college campuses, however, are still unknown.

The researchers will interpret the data and refine the methodology in the first two years of the UT System project and eventually expand the deep dive phase to the eight other UT System campuses.

In the final phase of the UT System study, Busch-Armendariz and her team will conduct a 4-year study with a cohort of UT Austin students that will include victims and non-victims.

“The cohort study will help us understand students’ knowledge, attitudes and experiences over their college careers. More than a snapshot, it’s a careful study of college students’ ongoing experiences,” Busch-Armendariz said.

Results from the online questionnaire, the deep dive and cohort study will be used by each participating UT System campus to develop programs, policies and procedures that create a safe learning environment. The study was designed to be customized to each campus’s unique culture and environment.

“Sexual violence at colleges and universities has been a major focus nationally,” Mercer said. “The UT System wants to be a leader in safeguarding our students by understanding and improving our systems, and providing comprehensive and compassionate support network for victims.”

Other UT System institutions participating in the study include: UT Permian Basin, UT Dallas, UT San Antonio, UT Rio Grande Valley, UT Tyler, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, UT Southwestern Medical Center, UT Health Science Center at Houston and UT MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Do the Words ‘Human Resources’ Seem to Stop You Dead In Your Tracks?

(Editor’s Note: What follows are some salient thoughts from Austin-based B2 Management & Consulting.)

You’re an entrepreneur. A big-picture-oriented business professional with big dreams and big plans. And since this is where your strengths and skills lie, it’s no wonder the words “human resources” seem to stop you dead in your tracks.  Growth-driven business owners face a double-edged sword when it comes to expanding their operations. On the one hand, bringing on employees is a necessary part of growing  a company. But at the same time, hiring these new workers adds a layer of complexity that most entrepreneurs either don’t want to deal with or don’t know how to address.

5 Vital HR Tasks You Must Complete Before Hiring

Tackling each of the following five tasks before bringing on employees will put your growing company in the best possible position for sustainable success.

  1. Register for an employer identification number. Depending on the type of business structure you registered initially, you may already have an employer identification number (EIN). If you don’t, you can register quickly and easily through the IRS website. Once established, this number signifies that your business is legally allowed to hire employees in the eyes of the IRS.  As a side note, if this isn’t your first business – or if your current business is undergoing certain structural changes – you may be required to obtain a new EIN or multiple EINs.
  2. Understand tax and classification reporting requirements.Filing for your EIN is easy, but understanding your tax and classification reporting requirements may not be. Essentially, as a business owner,  you’re responsible for paying federal income tax, unemployment tax, Social Security tax, Medicare and state income tax (where applicable) for all eligible employees. This requires two separate processes.  First, you must determine whether the employees you’re hiring can be considered traditional employees or should be classified as independent contractors. Beyond establishing your workers’ classifications, you’ll need to put systems in place to ensure the tax payments you’re required to make for each of your workers are funneled to the right state or federal agency.
  3. Report new hires to your state. Yet another requirement startups will need to comply with as they bring on new workers is a provision of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, which specifies that all new hire data must be reported to the appropriate state agency within 20 days of each employee’s first day or by the first pay date following this 20-day window.
  4. Purchase workers’ compensation insurance. Next up, you’ll need to purchase workers’ compensation insurance to protect any employees that are injured while on the job. State requirements vary significantly regarding the purchase of this policy, and your premiums are likely to vary based on your industry, the age of your company and other factors.
  5. Verify candidate employment eligibility. One final requirement all business owners face when bringing on new employees is the responsibility of verifying that the people you’re hiring are eligible to work in the U.S.  Typically, this is done by requiring all new hires to complete an I-9 form, which requires documented proof of citizenship or valid work visas. While you aren’t required to submit this paperwork to the government, it’s a good idea to keep it on file at your office, along with copies of the documents your new hires provided.

Certainly, none of these tasks are as fun as brainstorming new product lines or mapping out new marketing campaigns. But if you’re going to expand by bringing on new workers, they’re just as vital to your success.

Former University of Texas President William Powers, Jr. Joins Jackson Walker

Jackson Walker L.L.P. has announced that former University of Texas at Austin president William Powers, Jr. has joined the firm’s Austin office as of counsel.

“A widely published legal scholar, nationally renowned academic leader, respected corporate governance authority, and sought-after consultant to domestic and foreign governments,” Powers brings a wealth of experience to his new role with the firm.

Powers will consult with the firm’s clients on a broad array of matters, particularly those involving appellate work, corporate governance, and special investigations. He will also play a key role in the development of legal talent and leadership skills among attorneys across the firm.

Powers received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of California at Berkeley and, after serving in the U.S. Navy on Bahrain Island in the Persian Gulf, graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, where he was managing editor of the Harvard Law Review.