New trend: fewer business suits

This has nothing to do with casual Fridays or clothing shortages at your favorite tailor or department store.

This has everything to do with the declining involvement of U.S. businesses in litigation, both as defendants and plaintiffs, as reported in a survey released yesterday by the Houston-based, mega-international law firm of Fulbright & Jaworski.

For the first time since the firm began tracking such matters, major U.S. corporations have reported “a distinct drop in the number of lawsuits filed against them.”

In the firm’s “Fourth Annual Litigation Trends Survey Findings,” 17% of in-house counsel at 250 major U.S. corporations say they haven’t had to defend a new suit in the last year, compared with 11% in the 2005-06 reporting period.

They’ve also been a little less eager to sue. Sixty-five percent of the survey respondents reported filing at least one new suit, down from 70% in the prior reporting period and down more sharply still from 2004, when 88% said their company filed at least one new suit.

But there’s plenty of unfinished business. One-third of the companies say they have more than 25 suits in process at any one time, and 18% have over 100.

Governmental action against corporations continues to be a significant source of litigation. Almost half reported some type of regulatory proceedings brought against them in the last 12 months.

The survey notes a dip in securities and bankruptcy disputes and an up-tick in product liability and patent cases.

The survey also includes information about average settlements, use of outside counsel and attorney billing (including alternative fee structures) and company attitudes toward their outside lawyers, to name a few.

Download a copy here.

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Another form of bankruptcy

They pile up.

More and more keep coming every day.

You know you need to deal with them.

“But what I really need,” you think to yourself, “is a fresh start.”

We’re not talking about a big stack of bills. We’re talking about all of that stuff in your e-mail in-box.

We’re talking about declaring “e-mail bankruptcy.”

Michelle Kessler, in a USA Today article, says that some “prominent techies” are dealing with jam-packed in-boxes “by declaring ‘e-mail bankruptcy’ – deleting or archiving an entire in-box and starting over.”

One guy wiped out a three-year backlog that way.

Drastic stuff, but sometimes desperate situations call for desperate measures.

Kessler writes that Intel, the giant chipmaker, is taking a more measured approach to email overload by declaring “Zero E-mail Fridays.” Intel’s engineers are being encouraged to pick up the phone instead, or even meet face-to-face with colleagues.

But if a zero e-mail day (or even two) each week doesn’t solve your overload problem, the nuclear option of total e-mail bankruptcy may be the answer.

Unless, of course, you’re getting this blog fed to you via e-mail. There is such a thing as being overzealous.

We’d prefer that you think of us as an exempt asset, instead.

We’re not discretionary

What do cable or satellite television, sports and concert tickets, car repair, golf greens fees, marina fees, movies, and hair cuts have in common with legal fees?

These are among the services that won’t be subject to Michigan’s 6 percent sales tax.

The exemptions were part of some last-minute negotiations that helped push through a budget deal much earlier today to avoid a state shutdown.

But services such as bail bonding, bondspersons, consulting and lobbying, private investigators, couriers and messengers, and document preparation will get hit with the state sales tax.

According to an Associated Press report, state Treasurer Robert Kleine explained that “[e]xtending the sales tax to some services starting Dec. 1 would bring in an estimated $614 million for the 10 months remaining in the fiscal year at that point, or about $750 million annually.”

So, why were some services hit with the sales tax and not others?

A quick look at a partial list of what’s being taxed and what isn’t might leave you scratching your head.

The AP offered this explanation, attributable to Kleine: “The tax is designed to apply to services that people don’t have to use if they want to avoid the tax.”

The Detroit News had this take from Kleine: “lawmakers took care to skip services that are deemed unavoidable, such as plumbing and car repairs. ‘It’s discretionary only,’ he said.”

So, a lawyer’s services are considered just as essential as getting that leaky faucet fixed or that gummed-up carburetor overhauled.

Good news for law firms and their clients.

But having the untaxed services of an attorney, plumber or mechanic is apparently just as vital as being able to watch The Weather Channel or teeing one up and smacking it straight down the fairway without the state taking a cut of the action.

Governor Jennifer Granholm and state lawmakers are keeping mum about this for now.

But a lot of explaining will need to be done later.