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As homeowners across the United States continue to struggle to stay in their homes, lenders and investors have taken different approaches in response to the crisis. As of January 31, more than 1.3 million homeowners have received a permanent modification on their mortgage through the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). The U.S. Treasury Department reports these homeowners have saved an estimated $25.5 billion in their monthly mortgage payments since the program went into effect. Jorge Newbery’s view of the program’s accomplishments isn’t as rosy. “HAMP is (President) Obama’s plan to assist families,” says Newbery, founder and CEO of American Homeowner…
Businesses are familiar with the notion that written employment contracts can be a source of rights and liabilities in the event of a split with an executive employee. However, businesses are often not as familiar with other potential sources of employment liability in those situations, including the Wage Payment and Collections Act, sometimes called the Wage Payment Act. Smart Business spoke with John Haarlow Jr., an attorney at Novack and Macey LLP, to discuss the relationship between this statute and executive compensation. What is the act and why is it important? Generally speaking, the Wage Payment Act requires Illinois employers…
Thursday, 27 February 2014 05:18

How business owners can help identify expert witnesses

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An expert witness is a person knowledgeable in a particular subject area who can assist a jury or judge in understanding specialized, technical or scientific evidence presented in a court case. Experts are needed to explain what is reasonable in various industries, scientific or technical information, complicated financial data, and anything else that laypersons might have difficulty understanding on their own. That’s why having a good expert witness is critical to litigants. Smart Business spoke with Adam Waskowski, a partner at Novack and Macey LLP, about what to look for in an expert witness and what business owners can do…
Thursday, 27 February 2014 14:39

How to transition your small business to an ESOP

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Having a sound exit strategy in place with respect to departing shareholders is imperative for any company. This is especially true for small businesses in which the departing shareholder is a key cog in the company’s management and day-to-day operations. A departing shareholder also faces the issue of finding a market to be adequately compensated for his shares. “Companies and individuals are faced with the daunting task of finding a market for the shares being sold, the fear of a targeted acquisition in which the purchaser would drastically alter the landscape of the company, and the various costs and time…
The cost of business litigation is inherently uncertain because of unforeseen maneuvers by your opponent and unexpected rulings by the court. However, there are things that you — as the client — can do to reduce your litigation costs, including your attorneys’ fees. “Experienced clients know how to efficiently use their litigators,” says Monte L. Mann, a partner at Novack and Macey LLP. Smart Business spoke with Mann about how to reduce your business litigation expenses. How can you be sure your attorney has a clear understanding of your case? Introduce your litigator to your case efficiently. Before your first…
Expert witnesses are frequently used in the courtroom by attorneys. While many qualified experts exist, the “right” expert can greatly assist counsel and the litigation with his or her testimony. An expert witness can offer testimony about a scientific, technical or professional issue in a court case. Finding the right expert is often a difficult task, but attorneys generally look for several attributes when selecting expert witnesses. Smart Business spoke with John T. Alfonsi, managing director, Cendrowski Corporate Advisors LLC, about the qualities attorneys look for in an expert witness.What are the key attributes an expert witness should possess? Attorneys…
More legal disputes are being resolved through alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in an effort to sidestep the often high cost and long timeline of traditional litigation. ADR is often a mystery, however, because it doesn’t receive the same attention that typical courtroom proceedings do through traditional media. Parties considering ADR should know the differences between and benefits of arbitration and mediation. In addition to often being less expensive and quicker than litigation, arbitration and mediation both rely on a neutral third party to assist the parties. Both proceedings are usually confidential, and the record and resolution do not become a…
Ohio is now viewed as one of the leading states in the asset protection arena, thanks to the passage of the Ohio Legacy Trust Act, says Marcia Kendle, Senior Vice President and Chief Fiduciary Officer at FirstMerit Bank. The law, which went into effect March 27, 2013, as part of Ohio House Bill 479, allows for the creation of self-settled irrevocable trusts – also known as domestic asset protection trusts (DAPTs). These trusts permit the transferor of assets to also be the beneficiary of the trust. An Ohio DAPT provides a high level of protection from creditors dependent upon certain…
You spent hours working on a new contract for your business, negotiating terms and swapping drafts of the agreement. But time was of the essence and in your rush to get started on the real work, once the terms were set, you and the customer neglected to exchange signatures on the contract. The project started well enough, but then circumstances changed. The customer wants out of the deal and claims that there is no contract. You want to hold the customer to the agreement. That’s when you realize you don’t have a signed copy of the contract. What now? Smart…
In ruling that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional, the U.S. Supreme Court also created challenges for HR personnel in managing benefits related to employees in same-sex marriages. “It’s great that the decision ensures equality and there will no longer be a disparate impact on employees’ spouses,” says Stephanie Martinez, PHR, Director of HR Services at Benefitdecisions, Inc. “But it does present additional challenges for HR.” Smart Business spoke with Martinez about the ruling and its implications in administering employee benefits.What was the Supreme Court ruling? It struck down the DOMA definition of marriage as being between a…
The greatest impediment to the successful resolution of a commercial dispute is the failure of both clients and attorneys to understand and think adequately about the extent, nature and amount of damages at issue in the dispute, says Eric N. Macey, partner at Novack and Macey LLP. “While clients will invest huge amounts of time and money to focus on the merits of a case to prove they are ‘right,’ they either ignore or fail to give the same consideration to damages issues,” he says. Yet, in order to resolve the dispute, management needs to properly evaluate damages so they…
Sunday, 29 September 2013 14:05

Rona Borre - 6 tips to prevent bad hiring decisions

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Every firm has set processes in place to weed through potential candidates to get to “the one,” but finding the right match takes proficiency. According to a recent study, 68 percent of businesses have suffered from a bad hiring decision. While one bad hire might not be a disaster, it can certainly wreak havoc on daily operations. One wrong hire can lower a company’s productivity, affect worker morale and even lead to legal issues, all while costing the firm a substantial amount of time and money. The average cost of a bad hiring decision can equal 30 percent of the…
In 2012, more than 40,000 businesses filed for federal bankruptcy protection. When this happens, the bankrupt entity or the bankruptcy trustee will sometimes seek to recover certain payments previously made to the bankrupt entity’s creditors so that those funds can be redistributed in accordance with the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. One type of payment that the bankrupt entity or the trustee may seek to recover is called a preference. Smart Business spoke with Julie Johnston-Ahlen, of counsel at Novack and Macey LLP, about how to deal with being sued for preferential payments.What is a preference? A preference is a transfer or…
Is the confidential information on your network safe? That’s a question every organization should ask itself because network security breaches are common and becoming even more prevalent. Kristen Werries Collier, a partner with Novack and Macey LLP, says organizations must acknowledge this risk and vigilantly monitor and evaluate their cybersecurity safeguards and protocols to minimize it. Smart Business spoke with Collier about network security breaches and the steps companies can take to mitigate or eliminate them. How common are enterprise security breaches? Most large and midsize companies have confronted a cyberattack at some point. Network security attacks are a reality…
Everyone makes mistakes, including lawyers and businesspeople drafting contracts. Usually, a simple typographical or grammatical mistake will not change the meaning of the agreement in a significant way — but what if it does? “While Illinois courts protect the sanctity of the written word, they also recognize that people make mistakes, and they are willing to reform or rewrite the contract to conform to the parties’ agreement in certain circumstances,” says Rebekah Parker, an associate at Novack and Macey LLP. Smart Business spoke with Parker about what to do when writing fails to reflect the parties’ agreement. What is contract…
Sunday, 30 June 2013 21:48

How to draft an effective arbitration clause

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The purpose of an arbitration clause is to resolve disputes by means of a private proceeding that is generally perceived as quicker and less expensive than the court system. Yet many contracting parties do not fully analyze the arbitration clauses in their contracts, and so do not draft such provisions in a comprehensive and precise manner. These lapses can lead to costly and time-consuming disputes.“Any party entering into an arbitration agreement, therefore, would be wise to carefully analyze the arbitration clause thoroughly, with a view to ensuring that it will accomplish all of the party’s goals,” says Courtney D. Tedrowe,…
Parties often have lengthy negotiations before they enter into a final written contract. Various promises and representations are made and relied on during those negotiations.“Be sure to incorporate all important terms and promises into the final written contract,” says Shelby Drury, of counsel with Novack and Macey LLP. “Later, if there is a dispute that results in litigation about the contract, the court is unlikely to allow either party to introduce evidence of promises or representations that are not stated in the written contract.”Smart Business spoke with Drury about the admissibility of promises or agreements that are not stated in…
Although commercial leasing and rental rates are coming back in Chicago, new tenants are still able to negotiate certain benefits from their landlords. Among these benefits are exclusivity provisions, which limit a landlord’s ability to lease space to a tenant’s competitors.Smart Business spoke with Andrew D. Campbell, a partner at Novack and Macey LLP, about exclusivity provisions.What is an exclusivity provision?An exclusivity provision in a lease protects a tenant by prohibiting a landlord from leasing space to others engaged in the same line of business as the tenant. These provisions are especially common in leases for retail tenants, but they…
Since infiltrating the business world, the use of social media has increased at an incredible rate. Last year, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings caused considerable commotion in the financial community when he announced via Facebook that Netflix had exceeded 1 billion viewing hours in a month for the first time. There was heavy debate as to whether it was appropriate for a high-level executive to divulge material information regarding a public entity’s success through social media.Fast forward one year and the SEC just released a statement in April allowing companies to make announcements through social media outlets provided investors have the…
In a world where electronic data transfer is becoming the accepted norm, the definitions of such terms as “books of original entry” and “data set” are constantly changing. Check ledgers are being replaced by backup files and seven-column pads by accounting software. Some remote accounting and data storage systems, often referred to as cloud accounting, are virtual in nature.Smart Business spoke with Todd Jolicoeur, tax senior at Cendrowski Corporate Advisors LLC, to learn more about how technology has affected age-old accounting tools.What are books of original entry?When it comes to accounting that still utilizes column paper and a 10-key calculator,…
Sunday, 31 March 2013 22:45

How to expand your business into Asia

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Emerging markets in Asia present significant growth opportunities for businesses, but they also pose many challenges in terms of culture differences and government regulations.“One reason Hong Kong and Singapore have become popular as a first destination for companies expanding into Asia is because they have very good legal systems with good intellectual property protection,” says Mark Matuscak, President and CEO of Benefitdecisions, Inc. “Other key factors are a strong talent pool of local skilled labor, favorable tax rates and a central location that makes travel within the region easy. Companies may be targeting business in China but set up in…
When people consider intellectual property (IP) they most often think patent or copyright, which can be very valuable to a business. But, in fact, one form that’s often overlooked is trade secrets.What constitutes a protectable trade secret varies from state to state, but the gist of what trade-secret law protects is similar in almost every state. A trade secret is any sufficiently valuable, secret information that can be used in the operation of a business to afford an actual or potential economic advantage.“Given this broad definition, it should come as no surprise that a wide variety of things have been…
Most businesses have ‘comprehensive’ insurance policies that cover damage to the company’s physical assets and protect against third-party bodily injury or tangible property damage claims against the company. But this traditional coverage generally does not fully protect against losses related to intangible assets, like computer-stored data and intellectual property.“Businesses need to be aware of this exposure and consider specific coverage designed for their individual business needs and risks,” says Steven J. Ciszewski, a partner at Novack and Macey LLP.Smart Business spoke with Ciszewski about where comprehensive polices might fall short and how to plug the holes with additional coverage for…
Is the confidential information on your network safe? That’s a question every organization should ask itself because network security breaches are common and becoming even more prevalent.Kristen Werries Collier, a partner with Novack and Macey LLP, says organizations must acknowledge this risk and vigilantly monitor and evaluate their cyber-security safeguards and protocols to minimize it.Smart Business spoke with Collier about network security breaches and the steps companies can take to mitigate or eliminate them.How common are enterprise security breaches?Most large and mid-sized companies have confronted a cyber attack at some point. Network security attacks are a reality you must confront…
Thursday, 31 January 2013 19:02

How digitalization provides easy access to content

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Microfilm does the job of preserving your company’s documents and publications for up to 500 years. But content digitalization offers an archival-quality storage method that allows convenient, searchable access to these materials.“Digitalization allows you to unlock the potential of the content,” says Natraj Kumar, general manager of Business Process Outsourcing (BP0) Services at HTC Global. “The Financial Times, for example, already has the content and most is available in physical form. They wanted the content posted on their website so people can access it and they can make revenue from it.”Smart Business spoke with Kumar about the process of transferring…
The cornerstone rule of discovery in civil litigation is that parties to a lawsuit must preserve, gather and produce relevant documents.However, “it is becoming increasingly difficult and expensive to carry out this basic obligation, given the staggeringly high volume and informal nature of our electronic communications in the workplace,” says John Shonkwiler, a partner at Novack and Macey LLP.Smart Business spoke with Shonkwiler about the importance of forming better emailing habits.What are some ways to improve emailing habits?Stop ‘reflex’ emailing. Too often, we respond to email immediately. This is the texting culture invading the workplace, which is an environment that…
Our economic forecast for 2013 comes down to one simple phrase: "It all hinges on Washington." The President and Congress must decide whether tax rates rise or fall, whether fiscal stimulus or austerity rules the day, and whether the long term budget deficit issues (entitlements) will be addressed. The Federal Reserve has now promised to hold short term rates low until the unemployment rate falls to 6.5 percent, unless they determine inflation is likely to exceed 2.5 percent. Will the Fed's newest $85 billion monthly quantitative easing (bond buying) program continue to suppress longer maturity bond yields in 2013? To…
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