Gavel to Gavel: Gender parity and the rise of women in the boardroom

Gavel to Gavel appears in The Journal Record. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on April 18, 2019.


Kendra Norman Web

Kendra M. Norman represents individuals and businesses in a broad range of transactional matters.

By Phillips Murrah Attorney Kendra M. Norman

It should come as no shock that, although women make up just over half of the U.S. population, they are underrepresented in corporate executive management, as well as in the boardrooms of public companies in the U.S. This is often due to stereotypes that characterize female leaders as abrasive, aggressive and emotional. This disparate societal perception rewards certain characteristics in men while condemning them in women, which damages women striving for leadership roles.

A 2016 Catalyst report found that in the U.S., women made up only 21.2% of the S&P 500 board seats.

A recent push for diversity on corporate boards of directors may change the gender lines of corporate culture. For example, California is the first state to statutorily require female representation on boards of directors.

In 2018, roughly 25% of California-based companies had no female directors on their board. In October, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law requiring all public companies having principal executive offices in the state to have at least one woman on the board by the end of 2019. By the end of 2021, any California public company with five directors must have a minimum of two female directors, and those with six or more directors must include at least three women. The law imposes a $100,000 fine for a first-time violation and a $300,000 fine for subsequent violations.

California follows several European countries, including Germany, France, Norway, and Sweden, which have implemented quotas and fines to increase female representation in the boardroom. Additionally, shareholder advisory firms such as Institutional Shareholder Services and Glass, Lewis & Co. are now using gender diversity as a factor for shareholder vote recommendations.

While a government-mandated requirement may not be the ultimate solution, it could accelerate the achievement of gender parity.

Such a change in gender representation is likely to benefit companies, as gender and culture diversity results in diverse perspectives, which is likely to improve a company’s performance. It will also create less gender discrimination in recruitment, promotion, and retention.

While Oklahoma continuously ranks in the bottom of states for women when it comes to the income gap, workplace environment, education, and health, Oklahoma ranks 20th with respect to the executive positions gap, according to a recent 2018 WalletHub study. While there is much room for improvement, there may be hope for Oklahoma in achieving executive gender parity.

NewsOK Q&A: Doing business by email can cause legal concerns

A. Michelle Campney

As a litigation attorney, A. Michelle Campney represents companies in a wide range of business litigation matters with an emphasis on the construction industry.

In this article, Oklahoma City Attorney A. Michelle Campney discusses email practices that could be considered in legal matters.

What are the general legal concerns regarding conducting business through email?

It is estimated that there will be almost 3 billion email users by the end of this year, with an average of 128 business emails sent and received per person, per day. Often, only passively mentioned in employee handbooks and with little to no training during onboarding, employers and employees adopt varied practices for email use. The sheer volume of emails creates logistical problems for businesses (e.g., server space, data protection), but it can also create legal issues when exchanges can bind companies or reveal confidential, privileged or personal information.

How can emails bind someone until they actually sign an agreement?

Does the party you are working with know that you require hard copy agreement with handwritten signatures? If not, and if the email contains all the material terms and the facts, and circumstances surrounding that show that you were conducting the transaction electronically, then you could have an enforceable agreement under the Oklahoma Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (“UETA”).

But no one actually signed the agreement, so how can it be enforceable?

Not all agreements have to be signed to be enforceable, and specifically under the UETA, a signature only need be “attributable to a person if it was the act of the person.” Furthermore, an electronic signature under the act is “determined from the context and surrounding circumstances at the time of its creation, execution, or adoption … .” While Oklahoma does not have any case law on the issue, a Texas court found a simple “Thank you, Clyde” typed above the signature block was sufficient for a signature. Parks v. Seybold (Tex. App.—Dallas, 2015). Additionally, some courts (including those in Texas) broadly interpret the signature requirement to include an automatically generated signature block.

What are other potential concerns for email?

Let’s say that your company is involved in litigation regarding a contractual dispute. Most attorneys ask that all communications, including email communications, regarding the issue be turned over during the discovery process. While the communication may not ultimately be admissible in court, if there are emails between employees discussing the dispute and the surrounding facts and circumstances, those will generally have to be turned over to the other side. Additionally, if certain individuals are involved then you may have to turn over all emails regarding that person. Thus, if any mentions of any disciplinary action regarding that person or even your own personal feelings about the person are on email those may have to be turned over. While the emails may not ultimately impact your case, they could embarrass your company.

Are there any practices or policies that would help alleviate the concerns surrounding email?

While policies and procedures will be specific to each type of business and its standard practices, at the most basic level, having a robust email use policy will set a good foundation and, if properly drafted, help educate your employees on what to do and not to do. One important thing to remember is that email will only continue to grow as a means of communication. Setting good groundwork for how it is to be used in your company may help prevent issues down the road.

 

Published: 4/11/19; by Paula Burkes
Original article: https://newsok.com/article/5628396/doing-business-by-email-can-cause-legal-concerns

Lopez: A bitter pill – medical malpractice liability for new resident physicians

attorney Martin J Lopez III

Martin J. Lopez III is a litigation attorney who represents individuals and both privately-held and public companies in a wide range of civil litigation matters.

Medical school residency match day. It’s a chaotic, stressful revelation at which fourth-year medical students find out where they will spend the next few years of their lives as residents – newly minted physicians becoming experts in their respective fields.

While becoming a resident physician is undoubtedly an exciting next step in the process, it inherently comes with daunting new realities – a plethora of health care regulatory compliance issues, constantly developing reimbursement requirements, and medical malpractice liability. This short article focuses on minimizing the risk of negligence-based malpractice lawsuits.

While no practicing physician is immune from being sued, common-sense measures have proven effective in avoiding malpractice claims. And, although a resident physician’s liability is generally covered by the residency program, there remains ample reason to mitigate liability risk – notably, to avoid the stress, time, and hassle that comes with litigation.

Most obviously, physicians should provide the best medical care to their patients they possibly can. Lawsuits for medical malpractice involve determining whether the physician has met the standard of care owed to the patient; if she provided the best care she could have, she has positioned herself well from the outset.

Essential to providing a high level of care to the patient is communication about that care to the patient. Medical malpractice lawsuits often involve allegations of poor communication that may be rooted in a failure to convey respect, inadequate listening skills, and the use of technical medical jargon rather than patient-friendly language.

In a fast-paced environment with numerous patients to attend to, it’s understandably easy to use verbal medical shortcuts for efficiency’s sake; however, using patient-friendly language creates a stronger connection with patients, makes for well-informed patients, and may also manage patient expectations about treatment, diagnosis, and prognosis.

When a patient is dissatisfied, the physician should carefully listen and try to understand the basis for the concern or frustration and engage in meaningful dialogue about the issue. By making this concerted effort to proactively communicate and resolve issues, physicians affirm their commitments both to the patients and to a quality practice where people are treated with respect.

Another important aspect of mitigating liability risk is thorough detailed documentation in the medical record. Careful documentation is the foundation for quality and coordinated patient care, defending malpractice claims, and even for reimbursement issues by government programs – such as Medicare and Medicaid – and commercial insurers.

Proper documentation should include, but certainly isn’t limited to: details of discussions with patients, the physician’s thought and decision-making processes, results of laboratory tests and other ancillary services, proposed courses of treatment (including the impact of doing nothing), the bases for any physician recommendations, and communication of alternatives to the patient. In so carefully documenting, the physician establishes medical necessity for her services and creates admissible evidence in the event litigation arises out of the treatment.

While it may create extra work for physicians, taking the steps outlined in this article offers the benefits of more meaningful communication with patients, increases patient satisfaction, facilitates coordinated care with other providers on the patient’s behalf, and reduces the risk of malpractice lawsuit liability. Establishing these habits early in a medical career will undoubtedly offer great long-term rewards.

Martin J. Lopez III is a litigation attorney with the Oklahoma City law firm of Phillips Murrah.

What happens when a general contractor files for bankruptcy?

Image for general contractor bankruptcy

If you are a subcontractor or owner on a project where the general contractor has declared bankruptcy, you should act quickly to ensure, to the extent possible, that your rights are protected.

First, whether you are a subcontractor or owner, examine your contract and realize that termination due to bankruptcy is likely unavailable. Once an individual or corporation files bankruptcy, a provision called the “automatic stay” comes into play, which allows the individual or corporation filing bankruptcy to avoid creditors’ demands while organizing for the coming proceedings. Thus, generally, a contract with a general contractor cannot be terminated unless the bankruptcy court lifts the automatic stay.

Second, if you are a subcontractor, you should contact the surety (if the project is bonded) or the owner (if it is a private, unbonded project) to make sure that the owner or surety has a formal written claim from you that shows what has been paid, what invoices were submitted but not yet paid, and the balance to finish. Make sure that the owner or surety, as the case may be, is also aware of any submitted changed orders that may be going through the approval process. Note that lien rights are unaffected by a general contractor’s bankruptcy, as liens are against the owner and not the general contractor.

Third, if you are a subcontractor, your automatic reaction may be to stop or slow work. However, simply pulling from the job may not be the best option in all circumstances. General contractors can still enforce their rights for performance under the subcontract, and you do not want to be dealing with a breach claim at the same time as trying to receive payment for work performed but unpaid. However, if a general contractor decides to enforce his or her rights to performance, the general contractor will have to pay you for that work. To ensure payment, joint checks from the owner may need to be negotiated. In either event, slowing work while working with the general contractor, owner, or surety may be the best option to preserve all rights and make sure you do not incur additional costs or obligations.

Fourth, if you are an owner and the project is bonded with a performance or payment bond, you will want to make sure you are in close communication with the bonding company. Additionally, you will want to make sure the surety is paying claims so you are not faced with lien claims by unpaid subcontractors or suppliers.

In conclusion, the key point is to communicate up and down the chain. Owners need to know what claims are outstanding and who was working on the projects so they can protect their rights and move forward with the project. Similarly, and for the same reasons, subcontractors need to let owners and the surety, if applicable, know that they have outstanding unpaid bills and receive guidance on how to proceed. While this article addresses certain considerations after bankruptcy is declared, owners and subcontractors should consider contacting legal counsel to make sure they are protected while moving the project forward and to protect their rights in the bankruptcy proceedings.


Sam Newton portrait

If you are concerned about how this issue affects your business, contact Samuel D. Newton, who represents and counsels clients in Oklahoma and Texas on construction law issues, including contract review and negotiation, bond and lien claims, and other construction matters. Sam can be reached at 405.606.4711 or at sdnewton@phillipsmurrah.com.

Click here to view Sam’s Attorney Profile page.

 

Data breach still compliance concern for health care providers

cyber breach artworkHIPAA concerns, established in 1996 and evolving ever since, continue to be a very real compliance concern for healthcare providers. As an example, last year HHS collected $28.7 million from providers of healthcare services and payors for responses to data breaches that HHS considered inadequate.

According to Modern Healthcare, this is $5.2 million over the prior high for settlement and penalties reported in 2016.  The data for 2018 may be skewed by the $16 million settlement by Anthem for a breach involving approximately 79 million people. That breach occurred in 2015, and the settlement was record-setting for the Office of Civil Rights.

Changes being discussed by HHS include the possibility of sharing a percentage of civil monetary penalties or monetary settlements with affected individuals; revisions to HIPAA rules that facilitate the additional information demanded by coordinated care, outcome-focused care and value-based payments; and reconciliation of behavioral health care’s 42 CFR Part 2 rules with HIPAA.


Mary Holloway Richard portrait

Mary Holloway Richard

If you are concerned about how this issue affects your business or practice, contact Mary Holloway Richard, who represents and counsels clients on issues including healthcare compliance, health services contracting, reimbursement audits and appeals, OIG investigations, and regulatory and corporate matters. 

Mary can be reached at 405.552.2403 or at mhrichard@phillipsmurrah.com.

Click here to view Mary’s Attorney Profile page.

Gavel to Gavel: The uphill battle faced by creditors in bankruptcy

Gavel to Gavel appears in The Journal Record. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on March 7, 2019.


Gretchen Latham Web

Gretchen M. Latham’s practice focuses on representing creditors in foreclosure, bankruptcy, collection and replevin cases.

By Phillips Murrah Attorney Gretchen M. Latham

Bankruptcy is a debtor’s remedy, meaning many of the rules and regulations are more favorable to debtors than to creditors. To even the playing field a bit, Congress enacted the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act in 2005.

Several of its provisions were put in place to provide assurances to creditors that the system is fair and impartial. Of note, those that file must now undergo credit counseling both prior to filing and prior to receiving a bankruptcy discharge.

Also of significance are the changes to the Bankruptcy Code regarding what chapter of case a debtor is eligible to file. Prior to enactment of BAPCPA, many creditors were missing out on substantial payments because most debtors elected to file a Chapter 7 case, which acts as a total liquidation of debts, other than debts that are reaffirmed. The result was that most unsecured creditors were losing out on repayment of their entire outstanding balance.

With BAPCPA, debtors are no longer free to decide what type of case to file. Rather, a complex mathematical computation is performed prior to filing, and if the results show a debtor has funds available to repay a portion of their unsecured debt, that debtor may be required to file a Chapter 13 case.

Chapter 13 is similar to debt consolidation, in that the debtor proposes a plan of repayment to all creditors, to include paying back a percentage of unsecured debt. The result is that unsecured creditors, such as credit card companies and medical providers, receive some payment.

A creditor is also permitted to file an objection to the proposed repayment plan. The most common objections are to the interest rate and value of secured claims. There are other bases for objecting, including that plan is not feasible or that the case was filed as a delay tactic.

Aside from having a statutory basis for objecting, a creditor must also adhere to the Bankruptcy Court’s local rules when objecting to avoid the risk of an improperly filed objection.

While bankruptcy is still a very viable option for those with overwhelming debt, the arena is now viewed as being much more equal. Creditors have many tools at their disposal when a consumer files bankruptcy and should take full advantage of those tools to maximize repayment where possible.

NewsOK Q&A: Some qualifications necessary to conduct businesses in other states

Travis Harrison

Travis E. Harrison is a transactional attorney who represents individuals and both privately-held and public companies in a wide range of transactional matters.

In this article, Oklahoma City Attorney Travis E. Harrison discusses practical legal issues related to out-of-state business practices.

When is a corporation, limited liability company or other registered legal entity “transacting business” in another jurisdiction?

A legal entity required to be registered under the laws of one state must be cognizant of whether its structure or business activities constitute “transacting business” in another state. For example, a corporation formed under the laws of Oklahoma might provide services or buy and sell real estate in Texas. If Texas law defines this activity as “transacting business,” then the corporation should take the required steps to qualify to do business in Texas — as the failure to do so may result in unforeseeable fines or other consequences. Each state establishes its own variations on what activities by a foreign (out-of-state) business constitute doing business in that state. As a practical matter, a business that has a strong presence or engages in successive transactions in another state is likely “transacting business” and will need to take the appropriate steps to qualify in that state.

What are the consequences of failing to qualify to do business in another state?

Similar to the issue of what activities constitute “transacting business” in another state, the ramifications for failing to qualify to do business are a creature of state statute and vary by jurisdiction. However, the most common legal consequences for failing to qualify are fines and the inability to utilize that state’s court system to bring a lawsuit. For example, assume the previously mentioned corporation formed under the laws of Oklahoma fails to qualify to do business in Texas even though it meets Texas’ criteria for “transacting business.” If the Oklahoma corporation files a breach of contract action in Texas, then its case may be dismissed because it failed to qualify to do business in Texas. This pitfall is especially problematic if the corporation is jurisdictionally restrained from bringing the lawsuit in Oklahoma because of other procedural issues.

How does a business qualify to do business in a state other than its state of formation?

As mentioned above, a business should be cognizant of whether its operations in other states require it to qualify to do business in those states. Generally, a business qualifies by filing a certificate with information about the business and its good standing and paying the respective filing fee with the state’s secretary of state (or other designated office). Additionally, a business should ensure that it complies with the other state’s applicable tax requirements for foreign businesses. In Oklahoma, for example, a foreign corporation’s failure to pay annual franchise taxes may subject it to unnecessary penalties.

 

Published: 2/21/19; by Paula Burkes
Original article: https://newsok.com/article/5623523/some-qualifications-necessary-to-conduct-businesses-in-other-states

Federal income tax challenges for medical marijuana businesses in Oklahoma

Attorney Jessica N. Cory

Jessica N. Cory advises clients regarding corporate and general business matters, including choice of entity, formation, tax-free reorganizations, acquisitions and dispositions, and tax planning.

By Phillips Murrah attorney Jessica N. Cory

On June 26, Oklahoma voters approved State Question 788, which legalizes the use, growth, and sale of marijuana in the state for medicinal purposes.  In addition to providing rules for individual use of medical marijuana, the approval of SQ 788 also created a number of opportunities for new related businesses, such as retailers or dispensaries, commercial growers and processors. However, although licensed medical marijuana businesses are now legal under Oklahoma state law, conflicting federal law creates a number of challenges for business owners, particularly with respect to federal income tax law.

Generally, the Internal Revenue Code allows a taxpayer to take a deduction for all “ordinary and necessary” business expenses paid or incurred during the taxable year.  Congress has created an exception to this rule in certain instances, however.  One such exception is Internal Revenue Code Section 280E, which prohibits a taxpayer engaged in the business of “trafficking in controlled substances” from taking a deduction for ordinary business expenses.  For purposes of this provision, a controlled substance is any Schedule I or Schedule II drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act, which includes marijuana.  Although taxpayers have argued that Code Section 280E should not apply to businesses operating legally under state law, courts have repeatedly rejected this argument, concluding that any business buying or selling marijuana regularly is subject to the restrictions of Code Section 280E until Congress chooses to amend the Internal Revenue Code.

Although Code Section 280E’s bar on deductions represents a significant obstacle for medical marijuana business owners, several exceptions help reduce the burden on these taxpayers.  For example, although a medical marijuana business cannot deduct expenses in the same way as other taxpayers, it is entitled to offset its gross receipts with its cost of goods sold (“COGS”), although the Internal Revenue Service has issued guidance strictly limiting what types of costs a taxpayer engaging in a marijuana business can allocate to COGS.  Caselaw supports this narrower interpretation of COGS, including prohibiting resellers of marijuana from including any indirect costs – costs other than the price paid for inventory plus any transportation or other necessary acquisition costs – in COGS.

Another important exception to Code Section 280E is the separate business rule recognized by the Tax Court in an early medical marijuana case.  Under this rule, although Section 280E may preclude a taxpayer from taking any deductions relating to its medical marijuana sales, it can still deduct its expenses for any separate, non-trafficking trade or business.  Accordingly, it is extremely important for a marijuana business to keep careful records of any other businesses it may also operate, unrelated to growing, processing, or selling marijuana.

Members of Congress have repeatedly introduced legislation to exempt marijuana businesses lawfully operating under state law from the parameters of Section 280E.  Until this type of legislation is enacted, however, federal tax law will remain a potential minefield for any unwary medical marijuana businesses.  It is therefore important for businesses opening under SQ 788 to seek out an experienced accountant or tax lawyer to discuss the best way to structure their business to comply with federal tax law while minimizing their tax burden.

NewsOK Q&A: Anyone can take part in utility rate cases

Eric Davis

Eric Davis is an attorney in the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group and the Government Relations and Compliance Practice Group. He represents clients in a range of regulatory and energy matters.

In this article, Oklahoma City Attorney C. Eric Davis discusses the process utility companies must go through to request rate increases and how different parties can participate.

Q: Oklahoma’s two largest electric utilities have rate cases ongoing at the Corporation Commission. How does the rate case process work?

A: In Oklahoma, investor-owned electric companies are “rate-regulated” by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. Regulating the rates of investor-owned utilities is necessary based on their monopoly status, i.e., customers generally can’t choose among other competing utilities for the same service. As a result, companies like Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. and Public Service of Oklahoma must seek approval from the three elected Corporation Commissioners before increasing rates. When a utility requests a rate increase, the resulting procedure is referred to as a “rate case.” A rate case is a formal, evidence-based, court-like process, open to the public. In a rate case, the commission determines the amount of revenue a company reasonably needs to operate, and then decides how best to allocate any increase (or decrease) among the company’s customers. This allocation process involves dividing customers into classes (such as residential, commercial, industrial, municipal, public schools), and even subclasses, and then, ideally, assigning rates across classes in an equitable manner.

Q: What types of issues exist in OG&E’s and PSO’s current rate cases?

A: Primary drivers in any rate case include the utility’s operational costs, costs associated with plant investments, and the utility’s right to earn a fair profit. On the generation side, national trends evidence a shift toward renewable and natural gas resources, and conflicts abound concerning how utilities should deal with their existing fleets, including coal plants. In its current rate case, OG&E has requested about $54 million annually to recover the cost of retrofitting its Sooner coal plant to reduce air pollution. Meanwhile, historically low load growth and other market trends are causing electric utilities to reconsider the manner in which they obtain rate increases from the commission. In PSO’s ongoing rate case, the company is proposing a “performance-based rate plan,” in which its earnings would be subject to more frequent, annual reviews, allowing for periodic rate adjustments. Such annual reviews, while occurring with more regularity, would be structured differently and allow for less in-depth analysis than a traditional rate case. However, PSO has proposed a backstop, stating it would file a full-blown rate case after three years.

Q: Who may participate in rate cases?

A: Anyone can take part in a rate case, whether by emailing public comment to the commission, or formally intervening as a party. Formal parties have the right to issue discovery, present witnesses, and cross-examine witnesses of other parties, including the utility’s witnesses. Common parties include the commission’s staff, the attorney general, large industrial customers, AARP, and the Department of Defense. Intervening parties may aim to influence utility policies, or ensure the utility’s costs are reasonable. Parties also may advocate on behalf of particular customer classes during the rate design process, ensuring costs are fairly apportioned among customers.

 

Published: 2/6/19; by Paula Burkes
Original article: https://newsok.com/article/5622090/qa-by-c-eric-davis-anyone-can-take-part-in-utility-rate-cases

NewsOK Q&A: IP assignment agreement is key to invention ownership

Phillips Murrah Patent Attorney Cody J. Cooper

Cody Cooper is a Patent Attorney in the Intellectual Property Practice Group and represents individuals and companies in a wide range of intellectual property, patent, trademark and copyright matters. His practice also includes commercial litigation.

In this article, Oklahoma City Patent Attorney Cody J. Cooper discusses the rights inventors have when inventing under the employment of someone else.

Q: When an employee invents something during the course of his or her employment, who owns the invention?

A: The employee owns the invention. Inventors’ exclusive right to their inventions is specifically written into the United States Constitution and, as such, courts have generally interpreted ownership of inventions to favor individuals, except in very narrow circumstances.

Q: How can an employer assure ownership when an employee conceives of an invention on the job?

A: The employer must have employees sign an intellectual property (IP) assignment agreement. Because the general rule is that an inventor owns the rights, courts strictly interpret IP assignment agreements. Recent case law has instructed employers that how you draft the assignment agreement is equally as important as having an agreement in the first place. In fact, the Federal Circuit recently determined, in Advance Video Technologies LLC v. HTC Corporation Inc., that an IP assignment must include language saying the employee “assigns” — present tense, not future tense — their employer all IP rights. The small difference in language had a tremendous impact on the employer’s ability to sue another company for patent infringement.

Q: Should IP assignment agreements only be used by businesses in manufacturing, research or product development?

A: No. I would suggest any company consider having its employees sign an IP assignment agreement if the company expects employees to create work or inventions to which the company would expect to have rights and expects to protect it through application for apply for a trademark, patent, copyright or other appropriate protection to keep others from using it without permission.

Q: What are some other employer considerations regarding IP assignment agreements?

A: Make sure that your employees sign IP assignments before they begin working for you, and make sure that you consult an attorney on the drafting of the IP assignment to ensure that it complies with current law and effectively assigns the IP rights you are seeking to protect.

Q: What if an employer has employees who’ve already created inventions that the employer presumed the company owned but doesn’t have an IP assignment in place? Can the company enter into an IP assignment agreement retroactively?

A: If this is the case, the invention is owned by the employee, and the employer likely has no rights to the invention. Nevertheless, the employer and employee can still enter into a IP assignment agreement, but there must be some sort of consideration (exchange in value) passed between the parties. The law makes clear that it is not enough for the employer to say that the consideration the employee is receiving is that they get to keep their job — there must be something more passing to the employee for their assignment of their invention (i.e. money, stock, etc.).

 

Published: 1/30/19; by Paula Burkes
Original article: https://newsok.com/article/5621521/qa-with-cody-j-cooper-ip-assignment-agreement-is-key-to-invention-ownership

 

Not a Trump Card? Shuttle Drivers are Independent Contractors Under NLRB Test Emphasizing Entrepreneurial Opportunity

By Janet A. Hendrick
January 28, 2019

Focusing on “entrepreneurial opportunity” available to shared-ride drivers, the Republican-majority National Labor Relations Board handed employers a victory on January 25, 2019 by holding that Dallas-Fort Worth area SuperShuttle drivers are independent contractors, rather than employees who may unionize. The decision, which overturns a 2014 decision that favored workers, will make it easier to classify workers as independent contractors, but has no effect on state or federal wage and hour laws.

In SuperShuttle DFW, Inc. and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1338 (Case 16–RC–010963), by a 3-1 party-line vote, the employer-friendly Board continued with its reversal of Obama-era decisions that favored employees.  The case arose when the union sought to represent a unit of shuttle drivers, including about 90 franchisees.  In August 2010, the Board’s Acting Regional Director found the franchisees were independent contractors, not employees, and dismissed the union’s petition for representation. The union appealed and last week’s decision was the final nail in the coffin for the union.

The decision is a good overview of how the NLRB analyzes whether a worker is an employee, who may unionize, or an independent contractor, who may not. The Board applies a 10-factor test (which differs from other agency tests, such as the IRS 20-factor test), none of which is controlling:

  1. Extent of control by the company over the detail of the work;
  2. Whether the worker is engaged in a distinct occupation or business;
  3. The kind of occupation and whether the work is usually performed with or without supervision;
  4. Required skill in the particular worker’s occupation;
  5. Whether the company or the worker supplies the tools and place of work for the worker;
  6. The worker’s length of tenure with the company;
  7. Whether the worker is paid by time or by job;
  8. Whether the work performed by the worker is part of the regular business of the company;
  9. Whether the parties believe they are in an employer-employee relationship; and
  10. Whether the principal is or is not in the business.

There is no “bright-line rule” and no “shorthand formula” for determining whether a worker is an employee or not, and the total factual context must be assessed and weighed.

The SuperShuttle Board returned to the traditional common-law test for determining independent contractor status and overruled the Obama Board’s 2014 decision in FedEx Home Delivery (361 NLRB 610) (“FedEx II”), which the federal court of appeals for the D.C. Circuit vacated.  In FedEx II, the NLRB held that FedEx drivers were employees, declining to adopt an earlier court decision that involved the same parties and held that the drivers were independent contractors.  That earlier decision viewed the common-law factors “through the lens of entrepreneurial opportunity,” rather than focusing on “an employer’s right to exercise control” over the workers’ job performance.  The Board in SuperShuttle found the FedEx Board “impermissibly altered the common-law test” to one of “economic dependency,” a test Congress specifically rejected.

Noting that the NLRB has long considered entrepreneurial opportunity as part of the independent contractor analysis, the SuperShuttle Board analyzed the common-law factors to find in favor of SuperShuttle, shutting down the union’s efforts to represent the drivers.  The key factors in the Board’s decision were:

  • The franchisees’ significant initial investment in their business by purchasing or leasing the primary instrumentalities for their work—a van (as well as gas, tolls, and repairs) and the dispatching system–and execution of an agreement with SuperShuttle (Unit Franchising Agreement), which states in bold capital letters “FRANCHISEE IS NOT AN EMPLOYEE OF EITHER SUPERSHUTTLE OR THE CITY LICENCEE”;
  • The franchisees’ almost unfettered opportunity to meet or exceed their overhead, as they have total control over how much they work, when, and where and they keep all fares they collect;
  • Analogy of the shuttle drivers to taxi drivers, whom Board precedent holds are independent contractors, largely because they retain all fares they collect and the cab companies lack control over the manner and means by which the drivers conduct business;
  • The franchisees’ agreement to indemnify SuperShuttle against all claims relating to their actions, greatly lessening SuperShuttle’s motivation to control the franchisees’ actions;
  • Although the franchisees are subject to several requirements, including dress and grooming standards and van inspections, these requirements are imposed by state-run DFW Airport, not SuperShuttle;
  • The franchisees’ near-absolute autonomy in performing their work;
  • SuperShuttle does not provide benefits, sick leave, vacation, or holiday pay to the franchisees, or withhold taxes or payroll deductions;
  • Five of the franchisees are corporations.

Although some of the factors indicated employee status (such as no particular skill/specialized training and the fact that the drivers’ work is an integral part of SuperShuttle’s business), the NLRB found that none of these outweighed the factors supporting independent contractor status.

The SuperShuttle Board explained that entrepreneurial opportunity is not “a trump card” in the independent contractor analysis, but rather a “prism” through which to evaluate the 10 common-law factors “when the specific factual circumstances of the case make such an evaluation appropriate.”  So, where a qualitative evaluation of common-law factors shows significant opportunity for economic gain and significant risk of loss, the worker is likely an independent contractor and not permitted to unionize.

Although the SuperShuttle decision is without doubt a victory for employers, employers should remember the decision is not binding on other agencies, such as the Department of Labor, which enforces federal wage and hour laws.


Janet Hendrick Profile portrait

Janet A. Hendrick

If you have questions about this decision, contact Janet Hendrick,who represents and counsels employers on issues including proper classification, in the Dallas office of Phillips Murrah at (214) 615-6391 or at jahendrick@phillipsmurrah.com.

ALERT: Colorado lawsuit asserts oil and gas forced pooling is unconstitutional

Broomfield News screengrab

Click image for source article.

January 25, 2019

A new case filed in federal court in Colorado challenges the process of force pooling certain mineral owners and working interest owners.

From a Broomfield News article:

  • The suit, dated Jan. 22, names Gov. Jared Polis and Jeffrey Robbins, acting director of the commission, as defendants. It seeks to temporarily halt the process and challenges the constitutionality of the forced pooling provision of the Colorado Oil and Gas Act.
  • The complaint, filed with U. S. District Court, challenges the statute on constitutional grounds, including arguments that the law violates mineral owners’ rights to contract, equal protection, freedom of association and due process, among others.

The outcome could have a substantial impact on oil and gas operators in Colorado and beyond.

Oil and gas companies will want to monitor this case moving forward and consider the potential impact it could have on their ongoing operations involving pooled acreage.

To discuss how this may affect your business, contact Zac Bradt at the contact information below:

Zachary K. Bradt, Director
Phillips Murrah P.C.
405.552.2447

Phillips Murrah

Gavel to Gavel: IP agreement is key to invention ownership

Gavel to Gavel appears in The Journal Record. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on Jan. 24, 2019.


Cody Cooper

Cody Cooper is a Patent Attorney in the Intellectual Property Practice Group and represents individuals and companies in a wide range of intellectual property, patent, trademark and copyright matters. His practice also includes commercial litigation.

By Phillips Murrah Attorney Cody J. Cooper

Let’s say an employee invents something during the course of his or her employment. Who owns the invention? There is a common misconception that the employer always owns the rights to the invention. However, that is incorrect. The correct answer is that typically the employee owns it.

Inventors’ exclusive right to their inventions is specifically written into the U.S. Constitution and, as such, courts have generally interpreted ownership of inventions to favor the inventors. While there are some narrow exceptions, the general rule is that an inventor owns the rights regardless of how that invention arose.

If an employer wants ownership of inventions created by employees, the employer must have employees sign an intellectual property assignment agreement. In such a scenario, employers should be aware that courts strictly interpret IP assignment agreements. Recent case law has instructed employers that how you draft the assignment agreement is equally as important as having an agreement in the first place.

For example, the Federal Circuit recently determined, in Advance Video Technologies v. HTC Corporation Inc., that the language “will assign” in an IP assignment is insufficient to actually assign an employee’s interest in an invention to the employer. The court opined that “will assign” is simply a promise to do something in the future.

Instead, the court inferred that an IP assignment must include language saying the employee “assigns” – present tense – their IP rights. The small difference in language had a tremendous impact on the employer’s standing to sue another company for patent infringement.

If employees have already created inventions that the employer presumed the company owns but doesn’t have an IP assignment in place, the invention is likely owned by the employee and the employer probably has no rights to the invention. Nevertheless, the employer and employee can still enter into an IP assignment agreement.

However, in this scenario there must be an exchange-of-value, i.e. consideration. The law makes clear that it is not enough for the employer to say that the consideration passed to the employee is the employee’s continued employment. There must be something more passing to the employees for their assignment of their invention, like money, stock or some other exchange of value, for it to be effective.

Supreme Court Holds Independent Contractor Drivers Subject to Exemption from Arbitration

In a unanimous opinion (except for Justice Kavanaugh, who was recused from the case) expected to have broad implications for the transportation industry, the Supreme Court delivered a blow to employers that seek to arbitrate claims filed by drivers and other transportation workers classified as independent contractors.

SCOTUS opinion link

CLICK IMAGE TO VIEW OPINION.

The high court affirmed a decision from the First Circuit Court of Appeals that an exemption in the Federal Arbitration Act for interstate transportation workers applies to all workers, whether classified as employees or independent contractors.  The employer, New Prime Inc., an interstate trucking company, sought to compel arbitration of claims by one of its drivers, Dominic Oliveira, who filed a class action in federal court alleging New Prime violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by denying its drivers lawful wages.

After the district court and the First Circuit sided with the driver, New Prime petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the First Circuit’s May 2017 ruling that the term “contracts of employment” in the Section 1 exemption of the FAA includes not only employees, but also independent contractors.  New Prime’s broad arbitration agreement included a “delegation clause” that gave an arbitrator authority to decide whether the parties’ dispute is subject to arbitration.

The Supreme Court nonetheless agreed with the First Circuit that a court, rather than an arbitrator, should determine whether the contract in question is within the coverage of the FAA, citing the Court’s 1967 Prima Paint decision. Turning to the interpretation of “contracts of employment” in the FAA exemption, the Court employed the “ordinary meaning” analysis of the statute’s language to conclude the term is not limited to employees because at the time Congress enacted the FAA in 1925, “contract of employment” described “any contract for the performance of work by workers.”  Justice Ginsburg filed a short concurring opinion.


Janet Hendrick Profile portrait

Janet A. Hendrick

If you have questions about this decision, contact Janet Hendrick, who regularly represents employers in court and arbitration, in the Dallas office of Phillips Murrah at (214) 615-6391 or at jahendrick@phillipsmurrah.com.

Religious accommodations at work

Gavel to Gavel appears in The Journal Record. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on December 13, 2018.


Janet Hendrick Profile portrait
Janet A. Hendrick

By Phillips Murrah Director Janet A. Hendrick

Disability is the most common and well-known basis for workplace accommodation. Although less common, requests for religious accommodations for an employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs or practices, required by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, are on the rise. Here is an overview of what employers should know about religious accommodations.

Under Title VII, “religion” is not limited to traditional, organized religions. Sincerely held religious beliefs are also included, even if not part of a formal church or sect, and even if held by a small number of people. One court found that a belief system known as Onionhead, the motto of which is “peel it-feel it-heal it,” is a religion, looking to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s definition, which includes “moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right and wrong.” In contrast, another court ruled that the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, members of which are known as Pastafarians, is not.

Upon request or notice, an employer must engage in an interactive process with the employee and accommodate the employee’s religious beliefs or practices unless it would pose an undue hardship on the employer. The burden is on the employee to prove notice was provided to the employer. Mere knowledge by the employer does not generally trigger an accommodation obligation.

To establish an undue hardship, an employer must provide specific and credible evidence of the expense or hardship the exception would cause. Hypothetical hardships without support will not suffice. A “slippery slope” argument – that accommodating one employee will encourage others to request a policy exception – rarely succeeds.

Although it is an easier standard to meet than the undue hardship exception to a disability accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act, there is no bright-line rule and each case will be different. Examples of burdens that are more than minimal are jeopardizing safety or health, more than a minimal cost, and violating a seniority system.

The two most common religious accommodations are schedule changes and exceptions to dress and grooming codes. Examples are an employee who is unable to work Saturdays because his religion prohibits working on his Sabbath, a female Muslim employee whose religion requires her to wear a hijab, or a male employee who is prohibited by his religion from shaving his beard.

Janet A. Hendrick is an employment attorney who works in Phillips Murrah’s Dallas office.

Texas Appeals Court Sends Noncompete Dispute to Arbitration

Non compete agreement

Reversing a decision that an employee’s lawsuit to declare her noncompete agreement void was not subject to arbitration, the First Court of Appeals in Houston held yesterday that the lawsuit fell within the scope of the parties’ arbitration agreement. Sue Ann Lopez was a sales representative for IPFS Corporation, which provides insurance premium financing, before she left to work for a competitor.

When IPFS threatened to sue her for breaching a non-solicitation agreement, Lopez filed a declaratory judgment action to have the non-solicitation covenant declared void.  Since Lopez had signed an arbitration agreement, IPFS filed a motion to move the lawsuit to arbitration.  Lopez opposed that motion, arguing that her claim was not a “legal claim” subject to arbitration, because she was seeking equitable relief.  The trial court sided with Lopez and denied IPFS’ motion to compel arbitration and IPFS appealed.

The issue on appeal was whether Lopez’s claim fell within the scope of the arbitration agreement. The appeals court emphasized that the arbitration agreement, which was governed by the Federal Arbitration Act, included a broad scope of covered claims and only three exclusions:  claims for workers’ compensation or unemployment benefits; claims for temporary equitable relief; and administrative proceedings before the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  Because Lopez did not bring any of these excluded claims, the Houston appeals court easily found in favor of arbitration, reversed the trial court, and remanded for dismissal and entry of an order moving the case to arbitration.

This Texas decision is another reminder of the strong policy in favor of enforcing arbitration agreements and finding claims subject to arbitration absent an express intention to exclude them.


Janet Hendrick Profile portrait

Janet A. Hendrick

If you have questions about this decision, contact Janet Hendrick, who regularly handles Texas noncompete matters in court and arbitration, in the Dallas office of Phillips Murrah at (214) 615-6391 or at jahendrick@phillipsmurrah.com.

Accidents, disagreements and liabilities – a festive sampling of holiday legal hazards

Gavel to Gavel appears in The Journal Record. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on November 21, 2018.


Phillips Murrah litigation attorney Hillary Clifton discusses holiday legal hazards.

Hilary Hudson Clifton is a litigation attorney who represents individuals and both privately-held and public companies in a wide range of civil litigation matters. Click photo to visit her attorney profile.

As we find ourselves in the midst of another holiday season, it’s a good time to contemplate the joys this time of year brings. For many, that list includes extra time with loved ones, hearty food and cozy pajamas.

Hopefully, holiday-specific “legal woes” are less likely to come to mind. Nevertheless, holidays often have their own unique histories of legal issues that few would equate with the brotherly love and fa-la-la-falderal we expect during this “most wonderful time of the year.”

By this time, those who opened their homes and businesses on Halloween hopefully avoided any incidents associated with the spookier part of the season, like haunted house trip-and-falls or home-made cotton-ball sheep costume fires (see Ferlito v. Johnson & Johnson Products, Inc.).

Premises liability, however, remains a major concern for retailers preparing for the onslaught of holiday shoppers. Though most Black Friday retail giants are now well-acquainted with the safety risks associated with enormous sales and even bigger crowds, smaller retailers should be sure to beef up their safety protocol and brush up on premises liability concepts to keep the shopping season incident-free.

In addition to civil liability, failure to adequately cope with Black Friday madness can result in a business being cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, whose “Crowd Management Safety Guidelines for Retailers” can be found online.

Less tangible injuries to intellectual property rights will often arise in connection with holiday-themed entertainment. One case that has been in the news recently involves the Netflix series The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (which puts a darker twist on Sabrina the Teenage Witch), and The Satanic Temple’s claim that a statue featured in the show of the goat-headed Baphomet infringes on the Temple’s copyright of its own monument.

There’s also a fair chance that your favorite Christmas carol continues to generate income as someone’s intellectual property – and that someone would like to keep it that way (think the listless bachelor played by Hugh Grant in About A Boy). Of course, many holiday favorites, like Deck the Halls and Silent Night, have become part of the public domain and are perfect for spreading Christmas cheer. Others, like Frosty the Snowman, are still protected by copyright and require a license for public performances.

Finally, if you have any particularly overzealous family members, you might turn the threat of intellectual property litigation to your advantage, by cautioning that their makeshift mistletoe hats infringe on the “mistletoe supporting headband” patented in 1983 or the “Kiss Me” holiday cap patented in 1999.

Though I wouldn’t recommend Grinch-ing up your holiday parties by casually chatting about all the ways one might get sued before the new year, we should all keep in mind that no season is immune from the unfortunate reality of accidents, disagreements and liabilities – no matter how sincere our sentiments of peace on earth and good will toward man.

Highly litigated common law marriage still recognized in Oklahoma

I heard a song the other day by Pistol Annies called “Got My Name Changed Back.” The lyrics include the line, “it takes a judge to get married, takes a judge to get divorced.”

Oklahoma family law attorney Robert K. Campbell discusses common law marriage.

Robert K. Campbell’s legal practice is focused in the area of family law, specifically concentrated in matters of divorce, legal separation and custody issues. Click photo to visit his attorney profile.

Well, if you live in Oklahoma, only half of these lyrics is correct. Oklahoma is one of only eleven states that currently recognize common law marriages.

Unlike a traditional marriage, entering into a common law marriage does not require a judge or minister, a marriage license or a marriage certificate. A common law marriage is formed when the minds of the parties meet in consent at the same time. The only requirements are that two people, who are capable of entering into a marriage, agree to become spouses and thereafter maintain the marital relationship.

People often tell me that they have been living with their significant other for so many years, and they ask if that makes them common law married. Typically, if you are simply living together, you probably are not common law married.

Elements of a common law marriage include:

  • An actual and mutual agreement to be spouses
  • A permanent relationship
  • An exclusive relationship
  • Cohabitation as spouses
  • Holding themselves out to the public as married

The concept of being common law married seems simple enough, yet it is a highly litigated area in divorce and probate matters. You never know what piece of evidence will convince a court that a couple is either common law married or not.

To establish the existence or non-existence of a common law marriage, the evidence can include, but is not limited to, tax returns, holiday and anniversary cards, deeds, insurance forms, rings, family holiday pictures, social media posts, name tags and estate planning documents.

Tax returns, in particular, are very helpful pieces of evidence, because whether the parties file as a married couple or as single persons, they are attesting to their marital status to the government under penalty of perjury.

Finally, it is important to know how to dissolve a common law marriage. While Oklahoma recognizes common law marriage, there is no such thing as a common law divorce. If you are common law married, then as the Pistol Annies’ song correctly states, “it takes a judge to get divorced.”


This article is also published as a Q&A in the Oklahoman, published on 11/21/18 by Paula Burkes
Original article: https://newsok.com/article/5615630/common-law-marriage-highly-litigated-in-divorce-probate-matters

 

ALERT: Austin Court of Appeals: Austin Paid Sick Leave Unconstitutional

November 16, 2018

Today, the Austin Court of Appeals held that the Austin paid sick leave ordinance, which would require private employers to provide an hour of paid sick leave to employees for every 30 hours worked beginning on the first day of employment, violates the Texas Constitution because it is preempted by the Texas Minimum Wage Act.

The City of Austin enacted the ordinance in February 2018.  A group of employers and business associations filed a declaratory judgment action seeking injunctive relief and the district court denied a temporary injunction.  The appeals court reversed and remanded to the district court to issue the requested temporary injunction, prohibiting the City from enforcing the ordinance, and for further proceedings.

Although there may be more paid leave legislation on the horizon, for now private Texas employers have no obligation to provide paid sick leave.

Janet A. Hendrick, Director
Phillips Murrah P.C. – Dallas
214.615.6391

Phillips Murrah

Lawyers know everything – almost

Gavel to Gavel appears in The Journal Record. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on October 25, 2018.


Dave Rhea

Dave Rhea is the Marketing Director for Phillips Murrah law firm.

By Phillips Murrah Marketing Director Dave Rhea

What is brand affinity? What is SEO? Many attorneys admittedly don’t know much marketing jargon. Historically speaking, marketing is a relatively new addition to the legal industry. Only 41 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized lawyers’ right to advertise.

From what I understand – as a non-attorney working in a large law firm – law schools don’t offer many, if any, classes about marketing methods. Thus, these activities can seem as impractical to lawyers as dancing does to steelworkers.

However, in today’s digital landscape, it’s reasonable for attorneys to consider adopting a marketing mindset. Technology, coupled with the growing inclination of law firms to onboard marketing professionals, allows attorneys to easily demonstrate their expertise to a much wider audience while sacrificing fewer billable hours.

What can attorneys do to develop more business in the digital age? There are numerous ways to leverage new media to effectively enhance one’s visibility and reputation in the community, but for this column I would like to concentrate on one such activity, in particular.

The biggest bang for the non-billable hour is thought-leadership authorship. Writing short-form articles on a consistent basis for publication on the firm’s website, or blogging, is an easy way to position oneself as an industry leader. Such articles can have a long shelf life and are versatile in how they can be disseminated. This activity also allows for exposure outside of the attorneys’ usual circles of influence while building a body of work that increases their digital footprint, which allows the attorney-authors and their firms to be found more easily on Internet search engines.

Savvy, marketing-minded author-lawyers can also use such articles to heighten awareness and demonstrate excellent customer service to their clients and prospects. Using direct outreach via one-to-one email, these attorneys can show proactive attention and demonstrate knowledge of the targets’ industries, thereby harnessing a proven way to nurture relationships and win new business.

Old-school rainmakers with existing books of business and established reputations may not view blogging as a beneficial use of their time. However, many of these key influencers still understand the benefit of developing a marketing-mindset culture within their firms and go the extra mile to promote buy-in from junior partners and associates.

Dave Rhea is marketing director at the law firm of Phillips Murrah in Oklahoma City.

NewsOK Q&A: Mineral owners should be informed about leasing, selling options

Zac Bradt

Zac Bradt is an attorney in the Energy & Natural Resources Practice Group. He represents both privately-owned and public companies in a wide variety of oil and gas matters, with a strong emphasis on oil and gas title examination.

In this article, Oklahoma City Oil and Gas Title attorney Zachary K. Bradt discusses the advantages mineral owners have when taking action with their mineral interests.

Q: What options are mineral owners faced with in today’s market?

A: As oil and gas activity in the state remains strong, mineral owners are seeing more opportunities related to their mineral interests. Some are being approached about signing new leases, while others are receiving calls and letters about selling their mineral interests. Whether leasing or selling, mineral owners are being presented with options that create certain advantages to an informed mineral owner.

Q: What advantages can leasing provide over selling?

A: The obvious answer is that the mineral owner will get to keep their mineral interest. By signing a new lease, the mineral owner will receive a bonus payment that is calculated based on the number of mineral acres owned, and a royalty on any production occurring during the term of the lease. The bonus and royalty can be negotiated with the lessee, but mineral owners should be aware of the inverse relationship between the two. A higher bonus will offer a lower royalty, whereas a lower bonus will provide for a higher royalty.

Q: What advantages can selling provide over leasing?

A: Selling mineral interests presents a financial advantage over leasing. If a mineral owner is financially incentivized, they may feel comfortable selling their interests away to a third party. Much like the bonus payment, mineral owners will receive a price per mineral acre offer to buy from third parties. The difference with selling is that there is a direct correlation between the royalty and purchase price. Minerals with a higher lease royalty will bring in a higher price per acre from potential buyers.

Q: How can a mineral owner decide what is the best option?

 

Published: 9/25/18; by Paula Burkes
Original article: https://newsok.com/article/5609461/qa-with-zac-k.-bradt-mineral-owners-should-be-informed-about-leasing-selling-options

Avoid a clawback

Gavel to Gavel appears in The Journal Record. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on September 13, 2018.


Clayton Ketter

Clayton D. Ketter is a Director and a litigator whose practice involves a wide range of business litigation in both federal and state court, including extensive experience in financial restructurings and bankruptcy matters.

By Phillips Murrah Director Clayton D. Ketter

A business owner learns that one of her customers has filed for bankruptcy. She rushes to check her books and breathes a sigh of relief after seeing that the customer paid all of their outstanding invoices just days before going bankrupt. Unbeknownst to the business owner, those payments may have to be paid back to the bankruptcy estate as a preference.

One of the principal policies underlying bankruptcy law is fairness to creditors, which attempts to ensure that similarly situated creditors are treated equally. To promote this goal, creditors in a bankruptcy are placed into classes, with members of each class sharing proportionally in distributions of a bankrupt debtor’s assets.

This policy can be hampered when a debtor pays a preferred creditor immediately before a bankruptcy, to the detriment of other creditors. To ensure that a debtor’s limited money does not disappear to creditors favored by the debtor, the Bankruptcy Code allows a bankruptcy trustee to claw back such payments.

A payment is considered a preference if it meets five criteria: It is made to a creditor; for a debt owed prior to the payment being made; while the debtor was insolvent; during either 90 days before the bankruptcy filing for ordinary creditors or one year for insiders of the debtor; which allowed the creditor to receive more than it would have received in distributions from the bankruptcy estate.

If a payment is a preference, it must be paid back to the trustee unless a valid defense can be established.

Several defenses are available to creditors, including for substantially contemporaneous exchanges. Typically, point-of-sale transactions and those that involve cash on delivery will meet this defense. Another common defense exists for payments made in the ordinary course of business, which analyzes the typical transactions between the parties and in the relevant industry. If it is common for a debtor to pay invoices within 60 days of delivery, for example, those payments may meet the ordinary course defense.

Businesses can take steps to shield payments received from financially troubled customers from being subject to preference liability. The most effective means is to require prepayment, COD, or point-of-sale transactions only. Businesses can also strategically apply payments to invoices in a manner designed to fit within preference defenses.

To recover a preference, the bankruptcy trustee must commence a lawsuit within the bankruptcy case, typically preceded by a demand letter. Any business that receives such a letter should consult with bankruptcy counsel to determine whether they have valid defenses to the claim. Consulting with a bankruptcy attorney is also advisable prior to entering into sizable business transactions with a financially troubled company to attempt to eliminate preference risk. Doing so can help reduce the risk that a business gets embroiled in a bankruptcy, and worse, has to repay money that it was owed.

Clayton D. Ketter is a litigation attorney at Phillips Murrah P.C. who specializes in financial restructuring.

An alternative to federal funding

Gavel to Gavel appears in The Journal Record. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on August 2, 2018.


Sam Newton

Samuel D. Newton is an attorney practicing in Oil and Gas, Construction, and Healthcare Law.

By Phillips Murrah Attorney Samuel D. Newton

Efforts made this year to move forward with a federal infrastructure bill have stalled. Now, with the state budget strained and federal dollars unlikely, the legislature, counties, and municipalities will likely need to look at alternative methods to deliver needed infrastructure enhancements and repairs without additional tax funding.

Public-private partnerships provide a viable alternative. Using a P3 structure, a state will turn over one of its essential services, such as highway construction, to a private developer.

When people think of P3s, they generally imagine large-scale infrastructure projects. However, bundling smaller projects has shown promise that allows benefits to flow to smaller projects or rural communities. For example, Pennsylvania awarded a multi-year contract for a developer to finance, design, construct, and maintain 558 bridges that otherwise would have had to wait until the budget constraints allowed for repair. P3s have also been used on other public works projects such as wastewater treatment centers, schools and hospitals.

In 2017, the Oklahoma Public and Private Facilities and Infrastructure Act was enacted, authorizing a governmental entity to enter into P3s. While the act appears to be more focused on utilizing the P3 scheme for non-highway infrastructure projects – it exempts the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority – it does allow for ODOT and the OTA to utilize its general scheme for awarding road infrastructure projects. Most importantly, it provides a ready framework for identification and implementation by examining, among other factors, the project’s ability to improve public operational efficiencies, promote public safety or attract private investment in the state and minimize governmental liabilities.

However, P3s aren’t a panacea. One of the oft-cited concerns of using P3s is turning over an essential government service to a private corporation that isn’t subject to the same oversight and accountability standards as a public agency. This concern is addressed in the contractual documents surrounding the P3 project, with the government generally having significant oversight rights. The agency that would generally be responsible and the partnership committee established under the act will need to engage in significant analysis prior to deciding on a P3, and both the parties have to be able to work together in the spirit of the project with awareness as to its respective rights and responsibilities.

Samuel D. Newton is an attorney with the law firm of Phillips Murrah, practicing in construction, oil and gas, and health care law.

NewsOK Q&A: U.S. businesses react to newly enforced EU privacy law

oklahoma city health care attorney mary richard

Mary Richard is recognized as one of pioneers in Oklahoma healthcare law. She has represented institutional and non-institutional providers of health services, as well as patients and their families. She also has significant experience in representing providers in regulatory matters.

In this article, Oklahoma City healthcare attorney Mary Holloway Richard discusses GDPR, a newly enforced EU privacy law.

Q: What is the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)?

A: It’s a law regulating data protection and privacy for all individuals within the European Union (EU). It gives control to individuals over their personally identifiable information. It both standardizes the requirements throughout the EU and bolsters protections available to individuals amid well-publicized, costly data breaches in Europe. It’s a regulation rather than a directive, which means national governments within the EU don’t have to pass enabling legislation for these requirements to be effective. Rather, the regulation is directly binding on the members of the EU. The spirit of the General Data Protection Regulation also is embodied in recent legislation in the United Kingdom, providing consistency across Europe even though the U.K. withdrew from the EU effective in March. The regulation, passed two years ago, became effective May 22. Because of the length of time between passage and enforcement, there’s no transitional or grace period before compliance is required.

Q: How is this relevant to American businesses?

A: In certain circumstances the General Data Protection Regulation also applies to organizations and other businesses based outside of the EU if they collect and/or process personally identifiable information located within the EU. For example, U.S. companies offering a website to market their products or services to individuals within the European Community or scientific concerns actively engaged in recruiting individuals within the European Community to be subjects in clinical trials are required to comply. It’s important for such commercial concerns to act quickly to determine if they are covered by the General Data Protection Regulation as processors of data or collectors of such data from individuals within the EU. Concerned about the potential burden of compliance on foreign businesses, some international websites have taken steps to block EU users on the effective date, thereby removing the need to comply and ensuring against potential liability under the regulation. USA Today’s international website redirected users to simplified sites limited in scope. Other U.S. newspapers with European editions made them temporarily unavailable to readers in the EU. In another example of responses by U.S. companies, Instapaper, a read-it-later app, temporarily shut off access to European users to allow sufficient time for compliance.

Q: What type of data is protected by the General Data Protection Regulation and how’s it protected?

A: Personally identifiable information is anything that allows a living person to be identified directly or indirectly. Such data elements include name, email and home addresses, medical information, bank or other financial information, computer IP address and photos. A data processing officer must be appointed by businesses involved in processing or collecting data who is similar to a compliance officer with special information technology proficiency in managing and securing personal and sensitive data as well as a local representative for the company. Individuals have the right to the portability (access) of their stored data, erasure of data in certain circumstances, the right to file complaints with the data processing authority and the right to contract automated decision-making made on a solely algorithmic basis. Data breaches must be reported in a manner similar to the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 and its amendments (HIPAA).

Q: You mentioned HIPAA. Is informed consent required for American businesses engaged in business in Europe similar to that required for HIPAA?

A: Personally identifiable information may be lawfully processed under the General Data Protection Regulation with informed consent or with a legal basis for doing so which ranges from legitimate interests of the entity collecting the data or a third party performing a task under official authority in the public’s interest, in compliance with the controller’s legal obligation, in fulfillment of a contract with a data subject, and to protect vital interests of a data subject or another person. There are some similarities to the HIPAA informed consent and the various exceptions to the consent requirement including the requirements of clarity and the opportunity to withdraw consent. As with HIPAA, individuals must be apprised of their privacy rights and their ability to withdraw consent at any time under the General Data Protection Regulation.

Q: Are there exceptions or limitations to an individual’s right of access to information?

A: Limitations to disclosure and the individual’s right of access to protected data exist for overriding interests such as national security. Further, in recognition of the importance of providing health care across country boundaries and clinical research to fight disease, the General Data Protection Regulation doesn’t apply to statistical and scientific analyses. A recognition of the need to maintain the integrity of clinical research resulted in the limitation of the erasure right of the individual. The strengthened data protections of the General Data Protection Regulation are limited in the face of requirements of good science although companies engaging in clinical research, including patient recruitment in the EU, will need to evaluate their data compliance plans considering the requirements of the newly enforced law. In addition, the General Data Protection Regulation doesn’t apply to data related to employer-employee relationships.

 

Published: 7/20/18; by Paula Burkes
Original article: https://newsok.com/article/5601938/qa-with-mary-holloway-richard-u.s.-businesses-react-to-newly-enforced-eu-privacy-law

Q&A: Medical Marijuana and the Construction Industry

Sam Newton

Samuel D. Newton is an attorney practicing in Construction, Health Care, and Oil and Gas Law.

In this article, attorney Samuel D. Newton discusses procedures Oklahoma construction industry employers need to develop with the legalization of medical marijuana.

With the passage of State Question 788 and the decision by the Governor not to call a special session, many of the ancillary questions regarding the impact of medical marijuana will remain unanswered until the next legislative session in 2019. But, in jobs where safety is key, such as construction, employers will need to develop procedures now to ensure that they are complying with safety rules and regulations as well as not stepping on an employee’s rights.

Q: How does the passage of State Question 788, medical marijuana, affect my safe work site and drug free policies?

A: The provisions of State Question 788 provide that an employer can take action against an employee who uses or possesses medical marijuana at the place of employment or during work hours. Thus, a contractor’s safe work site policy that prohibits the use of drugs or alcohol on the job is allowable under the law. However, unless an employer can show an imminent risk of losing a monetary or licensing benefit under federal law or regulation, an employer cannot refuse to hire, terminate, or otherwise discriminate against an employee simply because the employee has a medical marijuana card.

Q: If one of my employees with a medical marijuana card is “high” on the job can I still terminate him or her?

A: Maybe. Contractors will need to carefully differentiate between being impaired at work (ie, under the influence of marijuana and its attendant effects) and testing positive for marijuana although the employee may not be impaired. Unlike alcohol, scientific research has not been able to put a specific number on the THC levels (the compound in marijuana that makes one “high”) that impairs a person’s ability to drive or work safely—and THC may appear in a blood or urine screen well after it is consumed. So, unless the legislature choses a legal level of THC, the key will likely be whether, based on an objective observation, the employee was able to safely function.

Q: My company is working on federal projects, how can I mesh the state law requirements and federal law requirements?

A: Federal law still considers marijuana to be a Schedule I Narcotic under the Controlled Substances Act. Thus it is against federal law to consume or possess marijuana, medical or not. Additionally, most, if not all, federal projects are subject to the federal Drug Free Workplace Act which requires employers to have a drug free work place policy prohibiting the unlawful possession or use of drugs in the workplace and make an ongoing good faith effort to maintain a drug free workplace. These policies include requiring the employee to report to the employer and the employer to report to the contracting agency any workplace criminal drug conviction. However, the distinctions are fine and the interplay between federal law and the imminent risk of losing federal contracts or licensing has yet to be defined by Oklahoma or Federal courts and not by the federal or state government.

NewsOK Q&A: Oklahoma Medicaid plans offer solution for costly prescription drugs

oklahoma city health care attorney mary richard

Mary Richard is recognized as one of pioneers in Oklahoma healthcare law. She has represented institutional and non-institutional providers of health services, as well as patients and their families. She also has significant experience in representing providers in regulatory matters.

In this article, Oklahoma City healthcare attorney Mary Holloway Richard discusses steps Oklahoma has taken to lower prescription drug costs for consumers.

Q: Oklahoma recently has been recognized by Secretary Alex Azar, of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, for innovations in its Medicaid prescription drug program designed to lower drug costs to the state. How was the state able to accomplish this feat?

A: Medicaid is a federal program that’s administered by the states. In Oklahoma, it’s administered by the Oklahoma Health Care Authority. So, while the state receives some federal funding, a good portion of Medicaid funds are supplied by the state. In order to reduce costs related to prescription drugs, Oklahoma applied to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and was granted an amendment to the Oklahoma State Plan that facilitates prescription drug cost savings. The plan links the payment of a drug to its effectiveness and outcomes. This is essentially what we refer to as “value-based” prescription drug purchasing. CMS reports that “(t)he state plan amendment proposal submitted by Oklahoma will be the first state plan amendment permitting a state to pursue CMS-authorized supplemental rebate agreements involving value-based purchasing arrangements with drug manufacturers.” This program is part of the Trump administration’s “American Patients First” blueprint, designed to address rising drug prices.

Q: How will the amendment work in Oklahoma?

A: The amendment to the state plan, as approved by CMS, now allows Oklahoma to negotiate and enter into valued-based contracts with drug manufacturers. This means that, through identifying the most effective medications, the state can tailor its negotiations with manufacturers to drugs that have demonstrated the most success in treating patients, thereby achieving cost savings and efficiencies in treatment. Negotiating value-based contracts will supplement Oklahoma’s ability to control drug prices under its current participation in the Sovereign States Drug Consortium. The Consortium negotiates supplemental rebates on behalf of states. Oklahoma is free to accept or reject rebate offers.

Q: Are there other cost saving initiatives related to decreasing prescription drug costs?

A: Currently, certain drugs have a preferred status if they’re listed on the Medicaid State Supplemental Rebate Agreement. Almost every state Medicaid plan, including Oklahoma’s, gives the state the authority to negotiate supplemental rebate agreements with drug manufacturers. These agreements allow for rebates to be given to the state by manufacturers as least as large as those provided in the Medicaid national drug rebate agreement. Importantly, two other parts of the Trump administration’s plan to decrease drug costs include giving Medicare insurance plans greater ability to negotiate for the Medicare Program (Part B and prescription drugs) and to make drug prices transparent for consumers. The latter part of the president’s plan would require drugmakers to disclose list prices in public advertising.

 

Published: 7/10/18; by Paula Burkes
Original article: https://newsok.com/article/5600913/oklahoma-medicaid-plans-offer-solution-for-costly-prescription-drugs

NewsOK Q&A: SQ 788 also opens path for new medical marijuana businesses

Jason M. Kreth

Jason M. Kreth is a Director and a commercial litigator who represents financial institutions, handling matters such as foreclosures, bankruptcy and lender liability litigation. He also represents clients in a range of real property disputes.

In this article, Director Jason M. Kreth discusses requirements and allowances for medical marijuana distributors since Oklahoma voters approved State Question 788.

Q: What type of new business opportunities exist now that SQ 788 has passed?

A: The approval of SQ 788 enacted a series of new statutes that take effect July 26. Aside from provisions related to the acquisition of a medical marijuana license for individual use, the statutes also provide a framework for the approval of new medical marijuana businesses. These business are: retailers or dispensaries of medical marijuana; commercial growers of medical marijuana; processors of medical marijuana into concentrated, edible or other forms; and medical marijuana researchers. In addition, the Oklahoma State Department of Health has published its draft proposed Medical Marijuana Control Program regulations which, if implemented in their current form, would provide for the licensure of laboratories to test and approve various medical marijuana products. However, both the statutes implemented by SQ 788 and the regulations proposed by Department of Health are still subject to change.

Q: What are the main requirements that must be met in order to obtain a license as a dispensary, commercial grower, processor or researcher?

A: In each case, an individual or entity wishing to obtain a license to operate as a dispensary, commercial grower, or processor, must submit an application to the Oklahoma State Department of Health along with a $2,500 fee. The application must establish that the applicant: is 25 or older; is an Oklahoma resident, in the case of entities, that all members, managers and board members are Oklahoma residents and that no more than 25 percent of its ownership is out-of-state; is registered to conduct business in Oklahoma; and isn’t incarcerated and doesn’t have either a nonviolent felony conviction in the last two years or any other felony conviction in the last five years. In addition, the Department of Health’s proposed regulations also would require submission of a criminal background screening as well as proof of a $50,000 bond made payable to the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

Q: Where can these new medical marijuana businesses operate?

A: Virtually any location as other businesses. The only direct exception is a dispensary can’t operate within 1,000 feet of a school. To ensure this freedom to operate these businesses, the statutes specifically prohibit a city or municipality from restricting zoning for the purpose of preventing the opening of medical marijuana establishments, and landlords are prevented from refusing to execute a lease with such businesses unless, by doing so, they would lose a licensing or monetary benefit under federal law. However, the proposed regulations of the Department of Health would create several practical limitations on where these businesses could be located. For instance, a dispensary may not be housed in the same location as a physician who can prescribe medical marijuana and the location where medical marijuana may be grown or processed is subject to more exacting security and privacy standards than those of a simple dispensary, which may limit the options for potential locations.

Q: When can these businesses obtain their licenses?

A: The statutes set an ambitious timetable of applications being made available within 30 days of the passage of SQ 788 and the establishment of a regulatory office for processing these applications within 60 days of passage. Furthermore, the statutes require that all applications must be processed within two weeks. However, these timetables are subject to alteration by the legislature and may be extended.

 

Published: 7/3/18; by Paula Burkes
Original article: https://newsok.com/article/5600093/sq-788-also-opens-path-for-new-medical-marijuana-businesses

Forty one years ago today – SCOTUS: Advertising is attorneys’ First Amendment right

“Advertising, the traditional mechanism in a free market economy for a supplier to inform a potential purchaser of the availability and terms of exchange, may well benefit the administration of justice.” – U.S. Supreme Court holding in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350 (1977)

Bates and O'Steen ad in Arizona Republic

Bates and O’Steen ad in Arizona Republic

There was a time when, generally speaking, lawyers were not allowed to advertise. In my role as Marketing Director at Phillips Murrah, I refer to those days as “the dark ages.” This anachronistic tradition, a holdover from Great Britain, was a regulation enforced from within the legal industry via bar associations.

On this particular day in history, Jun 27, 1977 to be specific, the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Bates v. State Bar of Arizona marks an important development in the legal industry. The decision held that attorneys were to be permitted to inform the public about their legal practice through advertising.

The backstory of Bates began with two young lawyers, John Bates and Van O’Steen, who placed an advertisement in the Arizona Republic on February 22, 1976. In the ad, they informed the public that they offered “legal services at very reasonable fees,” and included fees for various routine legal services such as uncontested divorce, personal bankruptcy and legal change of name.

The motivation for this business model was to serve people of moderate income. The profit return was low for such cases, so they depended on increased volume to remain viable in their legal endeavor. After a couple of years, they concluded that their practice would not survive without the benefit of advertising their services and fees. This act put them in violation of the conduct rules of the State Bar of Arizona.

Eventually, (see the many, many details here), the U.S. Supreme Court, decided that such prohibitions of the free flow of commercial speech was a First Amendment violation. For the purpose of highlighting some of the Court’s opinion, delivered by Justice Harry Andrew Blackmun, I will copy excerpts below that I find to be personally valuable in finding satisfaction in my role at our modern, forward-thinking Firm:

  • The listener’s interest is substantial: the consumer’s concern for the free flow of commercial speech often may be far keener than his concern for urgent political dialogue. Moreover, significant societal interests are served by such speech. Advertising, though entirely commercial, may often carry information of import to significant issues of the day. And commercial speech serves to inform the public of the availability, nature, and prices of products and services, and thus performs an indispensable role in the allocation of resources in a free enterprise system.

  • The assertion that advertising will diminish the attorney’s reputation in the community is open to question. Bankers and engineers advertise, and yet these professions are not regarded as undignified. In fact, it has been suggested that the failure of lawyers to advertise creates public disillusionment with the profession. The absence of advertising may be seen to reflect the profession’s failure to reach out and serve the community: studies reveal that many persons do not obtain counsel, even when they perceive a need, because of the feared price of services or because of an inability to locate a competent attorney. Indeed, cynicism with regard to the profession may be created by the fact that it long has publicly eschewed advertising, while condoning the actions of the attorney who structures his social or civic associations so as to provide contacts with potential clients.

  • It appears that the ban on advertising originated as a rule of etiquette, and not as a rule of ethics. Early lawyers in Great Britain viewed the law as a form of public service, rather than as a means of earning a living, and they looked down on “trade” as unseemly. Eventually, the attitude toward advertising fostered by this view evolved into an aspect of the ethics of the profession. But habit and tradition are not, in themselves, an adequate answer to a constitutional challenge. In this day, we do not belittle the person who earns his living by the strength of his arm or the force of his mind. Since the belief that lawyers are somehow “above” trade has become an anachronism, the historical foundation for the advertising restraint has crumbled.

Dave Rhea is Marketing Director at Phillips Murrah P.C. He may be reached at 405.235.4100.

Monkey’s business?

Gavel to Gavel appears in The Journal Record. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on June 21, 2018.


Cody Cooper

Cody Cooper is a Patent Attorney in the Intellectual Property Practice Group and represents individuals and companies in a wide range of intellectual property, patent, trademark and copyright matters. His practice also includes commercial litigation.

By Phillips Murrah Attorney Cody J. Cooper

In 2011, a nature photographer in an Indonesian nature reserve left his camera unattended in the forest. A 7-year-old crested macaque monkey named Naruto, perhaps in an effort to increase its Instagram followers, decided to take several selfies using the camera. The photographer then, in 2014, published the monkey’s photographs in a book for sale online.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sued as next friend of Naruto seeking to enforce Naruto’s copyrights to the photographs and to recover profits from the sale of the book.

The question became whether Naruto had statutory standing to claim copyright infringement on what became referred to as Monkey Selfies. According to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the answer is no.

Humans, unlike monkeys, have a constitutional right to protect their works and inventions under Clause 8 of Section 8 contained within Article I of the Constitution, and those rights are further set out in the United States Copyright Act. These rights include the right to use, distribute, sell, duplicate, display and create derivative works. These rights are most commonly associated with books, magazines, plays, paintings and photographs, but can also apply to things like architecture and even graffiti.

The 9th Circuit, in Naruto, et al., v. Slater, et al., No. 16-15469 (9th Cir. April 23, 2018) affirmed the trial court’s ruling that, despite the fact that the monkey had standing under Article III of the U.S. Constitution, Naruto did not have standing under the Copyright Act to bring the lawsuit. In other words, monkeys (or any other animal) cannot bring copyright infringement claims because the Copyright Act does not expressly authorize it. So, Naruto’s case was dismissed.

Citing Cetacean Cmty. v. Bush, 386 F.3d 1169, 1175 (9th Cir. 2004) as precedent, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that “if an Act of Congress plainly states that animals have statutory standing, then animals have statutory standing. If the statute does not so plainly state, then animals do not have statutory standing.”

If Naruto teaches nothing else, it should be to remember that if you see your pet attempting to take a selfie with an abandoned camera, be sure to take the picture yourself, in case it becomes famous. Someone will be making money on it, and it might as well be you.

Cody J. Cooper is a patent attorney with the Oklahoma City law firm of Phillips Murrah.

Oklahoma healthcare law leader Mary Holloway Richard offers mentoring advice in AHLA magazine

The following Oklahoma healthcare law topic regarding mentoring was featured in the June 2018 issue of Connections, the official publication of the American Health Lawyers Association.

By Mary Holloway Richard


“Forewarned is forearmed.” I adopted that as one of my guides. Nowhere is that more true than in the mentor selection process within AHLA.

oklahoma city health care attorney mary richard

Mary Holloway Richard

I want to share some thoughts with you to make your selection more likely to lead to a meaningful mentor relationship to help you along your path in this broad, ever-changing field we have chosen.

I am passionate about many things, including mentoring and AHLA. While I mentor within my state and community, the focus there is often on facilitating connections for young lawyers looking for a job or a career change. Within AHLA, mentors additionally provide a safe place to discuss difficult issues – both legal and human relations – as well as inspiration and support to other lawyers. We have the opportunity to help other health lawyers along their career path, and to learn from those mentees.

Yet, while AHLA members may share similar passions and goals, that is not a strong basis for selection. Rather, there is a bit of magic to being selected. Obviously you need to be as transparent as possible about your goals, areas of interest (“Mentoring Topics”), and your member profile. As much information as you can share is important because you never know what it is that will draw a potential mentor to you. For example, in addition to substantive areas of health law of interest to me, I am interested in supporting young women balancing commitments to family, profession, and community. In reviewing recent mentee applications, I found that I connected with those who provided enough information so that I could connect with them., such as the young mother on the partnership track who still worked to contribute to her community and another who had moved from an in-house position to a private practice (as I did). Some of those who did not provide enough information in their profiles left me without a basis for connecting with them. I even suggested to some that they revise their profiles to tell their story and state their objectives more clearly.

In the spirit of wishing you the most satisfying, helpful, and inspiring mentor-mentee relationship, I will distill my thoughts down to the following messages of motivation:

Your story is interesting so tell enough of it – education, family, job path, current position. Let prospective mentors get to know you a bit.

Share your professional dreams, goals, objectives. Readers won’t know if they can be proper mentors without this information. Allow a prospective mentor to properly select you as his or her mentee based upon your objectives and common or complementary skill sets. You may also create a connection via disparate experiences and different skill sets, so pique the prospective mentor’s curiosity with sufficient information to determine if you two are a match.

If you want someone to provide feedback about a specific area, such as interfacing with the FBI or handling OIG investigations, or if you want your mentor to assist you in connecting within AHLA, be sure to mention those goals.

You must sell yourself truthfully, so don’t despair if it takes some time to connect with just the right mentor.

Finally, once connected to a Mentor, engage with that Mentor. AHLA recommends quarterly contact as a minimum. The responsibilities to create a meaningful relationship belong to both parties, as do the benefits of the relationship. Mentoring is a two-way street, and you will get out of it what you put into it, but it will be much less effective and satisfying – for both the mentor and mentee – if you fail to provide sufficient information upon which to base the relationship.


Mary H. Richard heads up the Health Care Practice Group at the law firm of Phillips Murrah, headquartered in Oklahoma City. Mary has a law degree from George Washington University and a master’s degree in public health administration from the Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. She began her career in ambulatory care, health services research, and health management consulting at the Texas Medical Center. She has practiced health law in private practice settings and as in-house counsel for the INTEGRIS Health system. While at INTEGRIS, she provided legal counsel on issues regarding behavioral health services, hospital operations, clinical research activities, and a variety of other topics in a number of facilities throughout the system. She is active in the AHLA and is a part of the AHLA Behavioral Task Force leadership. She served as subcommittee co-chair of the Providers/Clinicians subcommittee, Vice Chair of Publications, Vice Chair of Strategic Planning and Special Projects, and is currently Vice Chair of Membership. She continues to be active in the AHLA mentoring program by mentoring six young professionals and is an active mentor to lawyers in Oklahoma who are interested in health law. Mary is also a proud member if the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Her grandfather was one of the first lawyers in Indian Territory.