If you’re a gay employee and have a domestic partner who receives health benefits through your employer, you have to pay more in federal income tax — about $1,000 a year, on average. This is because federal law, thanks to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages. As a result, the feds treat employer-provided health benefits for domestic partners as a form of taxable income (if the partner is not considered a dependent).
(Note, however, that this could change. A federal judge in Boston recently struck down part of DOMA. Stay tuned to find out what happens on appeal.)
Earlier this month, we wrote about a perk that Google extends to its gay employees who find themselves in this situation. As reported by the New York Times, Google “essentially [covers] those costs, putting same-sex couples on an even footing with heterosexual employees whose spouses and families receive health benefits.” Google makes an extra payment to gay employees to make up for the increased tax burden — a perk that we dubbed “Google’s gay gross-up.”
We asked you, our readers, if any legal employers also offer this benefit. As it turns out, several do.
Find out which employers provide this perk — and vote in a poll on its fairness, which was hotly debated in the comments to our prior post — after the jump.
[Last] Thursday, Google [began] covering a cost that gay and lesbian employees must pay when their partners receive domestic partner health benefits, largely to compensate them for an extra tax that heterosexual married couples do not pay. The increase will be retroactive to the beginning of the year.
“It’s a fairly cutting edge thing to do,” said Todd A. Solomon, a partner in the employee benefits department of McDermott Will & Emery, a law firm in Chicago, and author of “Domestic Partner Benefits: An Employer’s Guide.”
Why do gay and lesbian employees pay more in taxes to begin with?
Ed. note: Law Shucks focuses on life in, and after, BigLaw, including by tracking layoffs, bonuses, and laterals. Above the Law is pleased to bring you this weekly column, which analyzes news at the world’s top law firms.
One of the many interesting features of BigLaw is the comings and goings of its denizens. Whether it’s looking for the bigger, better deal, jumping off a sinking ship, or departing for the greener pastures of inhouse or government life, every move has a story.
There has been plenty of speculation recently about which firm is wrapped up in an Inspector General investigation of the firm’s practice of hiring former SEC lawyers, who then turn around and advocate for clients at the agency they just left. The Senate Finance Committee is none too happy about the "revolving door," claiming that in at least one instance, the SEC was unduly lenient because of the firm’s close ties with the commission. Usually lateral hires aren’t contentious (examples like Jeremy Pitcock notwithstanding), so this could put a damper on hiring some of the most-coveted free agents.
So which law firm or lawyer(s) might be facing Senate scrutiny?
Google has stepped in the privacy sh*t again. The Google cars collecting data for Google Maps’s nifty Street View service have also been inadvertently collecting information off of people’s unsecured wireless networks. If someone’s Wi-Fi account lacked a password and encryption, the cars had the ability to snatch some data.
Google claims the Wi-Fi sniffing was inadvertent, that this was a programming error, and that it didn’t realize it was stockpiling the personal info. It was discovered by German investigators and now has EU regulators up in arms, says Ashby Jones at the WSJ Law Blog. It’s unclear how much data exactly was sniffed during brief drive-bys of houses. It’s also unclear why anyone would set up a Wi-Fi account without password protection these days. But there’s no law banning stupid/lazy people from filing invasion of privacy lawsuits.
Two West Coast plaintiffs filed a class action suit in Oregon on Monday, asking Google to “pay up to $10,000 for each time it snatched data from unprotected hotspots.” It includes a TRO preventing Google from deleting the data, which the company otherwise had planned to do. (Irony alert.)
The news led ABC 7 in Washington, D.C. to go around and ask people on the street how they felt about Google snooping on their Wi-Fi accounts. One person they asked was a federal judge; if Google comes around his house, it better be packing…
Google launched its version of a social networking site last week with Buzz. Many people were royally pissed dismayed by the privacy flaws in the initial launch. Google took the list of people that users emailed most frequently and created a public “friend list.”
As TechCrunch pointed out, “merging something designed for public broadcasting (Buzz) with something inherently private (Gmail) was just looking for trouble.”
The trouble has arrived. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has filed a privacy complaint with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. And today, Harvard Law 2L Eva Hibnick filed a class action lawsuit in California, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
A tipster has pointed out an interesting Google trend to us:
A sign of the times in the legal industry that I thought you might find interesting: if you have Google’s search suggestion turned on, and begin to type in virtually any law firm’s name, one of the top suggestions that comes up is that firm’s name followed by “layoffs.”
Indeed, type in “law firm” and this is what Google suggests you might be searching for:
We played the “Google game” with a bunch of law firm names. Only one of the firms we tried was free of layoff association in Google search results.
* Change you can believe in? It looks like Obama has recruited a few “washington insiders”: 8 of the 10 top lawyers he has hired for his transition team are veterans of the Clinton administration. [Bloomberg.com]
* After his hunt yesterday, Justice Antonin Scalia told a room full of big-time Texas lawyers that he disagreed with judges who used foreign law to interpret the constitution. [Houston Chronicle]
* “Protesters galvanized by a dragging death that has stirred memories of the notorious James Byrd case rallied twice outside an eastern Texas courthouse to speak out against a judicial system they consider racist.” [Associated Press]
* Are you ready for your close-up Mr. Rehnquist? The Hoover institution released files documenting Rehnquist’s first three years on the Court, years filled with land-mark cases like Roe v. Wade and United States vs. Nixon. [New York Times]
* California Attorney general is pushing the Supreme Court to decide the legality of Prop. 8. The Court could begin to act as soon as Wednesday, when they have their weekly conference. [San Jose Mercury News]
* Say it ain’t so! Washington regulators have finally opened up the doors on Belgian-based beer company InBev’s acquisition of Anheuser Busch, which monopolizes
50% of the US beer market. The merger will make InBev the largest beer company in the world. [Courthouse News Service]
* Sorry Ohio…President-elect Obama is probably going to wait a while before overhauling NAFTA. [Bloomberg.com]
As we mentioned in Morning Docket, Google reached a settlement with publishers and authors to finally bring the Dewey Decimal System into the digital age.
Most lay people think that lawyers serve an annoying, anti-common sense role in society. But every now and again lawyers perform the important function of keeping “the law” safe from the forces of the free market and human progress.
Google wants to digitize the collections of the world’s greatest libraries in order to make them searchable. This is called “progress” and desperately needs to happen. But authors and publishers also need to protect their works — and make money off of them, if possible.
This issue demanded an out of court settlement, and lawyers from Keker, Debevoise, and other firms got the job done.
Authors and publishers will get 63 percent of revenue generated by Google’s electronic book database from the sale of online books and advertising. As part of the $125 million, Google will pay $34.5 million to set up the Book Rights Registry, which will collect the money and give it to the copyright owners. Another $45 million will go to authors and publishers that had their books uploaded without permission. Plaintiffs lawyers will take home $30 million.
Mmmm … fairness: the kind of fairness that cannot often be achieved through trial. Authors and publishers get 63% of the revenue (which, when you break it down will probably come out to 2 Lincolns per title). But, much more importantly, they will get the publicity that comes when people can actually read their book that is no longer popular enough to print. Google can then go about the business of bringing the entire digital world under their imperial control. And the lawyers got paid off too.
And nobody had to come up with a ridiculous “fair use” precedent that could have crippled the rights of authors for years to come.
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past six years. You can reach them by email: [email protected].
Since late last year, things have been booming in Hong Kong / China in cap markets, especially Hong Kong IPOs. M&A deal flow has recently been getting a bit stronger as well. Although one can’t predict such things with any certainty, all signs are pointing to a banner entire 2014 for the top end US corporate and cap markets practices in Hong Kong / China. This is not really new news, as its been the feeling most in the market have had for a few months now and things continue to look good.
The head of our Asia practice, Evan Jowers, has been in Hong Kong for about 10 days a month (with trips every other month to both Shanghai and Bejing) for the past 7 months (Robert Kinney and Evan Jowers will be in Hong Kong again March 15 to 23), and spending most of his time there meeting with senior US hiring partners at just about all the major US and UK firms there, as well as prospective candidates at all associate levels and partner levels, and when in the US, Evan works Asia hours and is regularly on the phone with such persons, as our the other members of our Asia team. Our Yuliya Vinokurova is in Hong Kong every other month and Robert is there about 5 times a year as well. While we have a solid Asia team of recruiters, Evan Jowers will spend at least some time with all of our candidates for Asia position. We have had long standing relationships, and good friendships in some cases, with hiring partners and other senior US partners in Asia for 8 years now.
Are you challenged by the costs and logistics of maintaining your office, distracting you from the practice of law?
Many small firms are successfully moving part—or even all—of their practice to a virtual setting. This even includes multi-jurisdictional practice spanning several states and practice areas, although solo and small partnerships are still the largest adopters of virtual law.
Can you do the same? The new article Mobile in Practice, Virtual by Design from author Jared Correia, Esq., explores how mobile technology bring real-life benefits to a small law firm. Read this new article—the next in Thomson Reuters’ Independent Thinking series for small firms—to explore how a mobile practice:
Everyone is talking about the importance of Social Media in Corporate America. But it is relatively safe to say that most law firms and lawyers are slightly behind the social curve. Most lawyers, at minimum, use LinkedIn, for networking. Some even use Twitter for pushing out short, pithy content, while many have Blogs, where they write their little hearts out. The adage “it is better to give than to receive” is not always true though in the world of Social. In the Social World – it is best to listen, give back and engage.
Social Media is a communications tool that can deeply educate you about the needs and wants of your clients and prospects when used in conjunction social media monitoring and sharing tools.
Take this quick quiz and see if you know how to use Social to help you engage more with your clients or to better service the ones you have.