Legal Arts Continues To Showcase Creative Arts In Tampa Bay


Executive Reporting Service To Showcase Local Pastel Artist, Barry Rothstein, March 8

Amsterdam - WebshotTampa Bay, Fla., March 1, 2014 – Clearwater, Fla. based Executive Reporting Service (ERS) is known for decorating their Clearwater headquarters and satellite offices with local art, followed by periodic receptions to showcase these artists. That tradition has continued over the years and is currently featuring pastel artist Barry Rothstein. Rothstein’s paintings are on display in ERSs offices and will be featured in an free, open to the public, reception on March 8.

ERS president, Diane Emery, believes in supporting local artists and is proud to display the art and host receptions celebrating the artists. Emery feels that this “is a win-win situation for everyone. We get to decorate our offices with fresh new art and change it out periodically. This creates an ever-changing look to our offices and makes our reception areas and deposition rooms warm and inviting.” She adds that “supporting local artists and providing a unique venue for them to showcase their art is very important to all of us at ERS.”

Local pastel artist, Barry Rothstein, is the focus of the upcoming March 8 reception. Always challenging himself, color-blind Rothstein, an accomplished artist in pen and ink, decided to “test” the waters in pastels over 20 years ago. His pastels have become locally well known and have been showcased frequently over the years. According to Rothstein, “My art is a reflection of my travels and the local people I have encountered. I feel my art tells a story that everyone can identify with.

The “Legal Arts Meets Creative Arts” reception with Barry Rothstein is open to the public and free of charge:

Date: Saturday, March 8

Time: 5:00pm – 9:00pm

Place: Executive Report Service, 111 2nd Ave. NE, Suite 354

RSVP: alix@executivereporting.com; 727.823.4155

-ERS- 

About Executive Reporting Service: Executive Reporting Service (ERS) is an award- winning court reporting service, headquartered in Clearwater, Fla., with seven locations throughout five Florida counties. The company was founded in 1981 by Diane Emery and relies heavily on savvy technologies and certified staff to give its clients the best service available. ERS was named Outstanding Business of the Year in 2006 by the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce and was voted one of the Top 75 Woman Owned Businesses in Tampa Bay by the Tampa Bay Business Journal. ERS’ convenient legal services include videoconferencing, real-time reporting, transcriptions of depositions, administrative hearings, court tapes and lectures. For more information, go to www.exectutivereporting.com or call 727.823.4155.

About Barry Rothstein: A native of New York City, Barry has made St. Petersburg FL his home for more than 20 years. He is a contributing artist to several magazines and his work has been widely exhibited at numerous galleries and art shows in New York, Atlanta and Florida. Winner of multiple awards, Rothstein’s art can be found in numerous private collections worldwide as well as in local Tampa Bay galleries. For more information, go to www.artbyrothstein.com.

Posted in Legal Arts Meet Creative Arts

Ethics and Gift Giving

free_3645421It’s the Holidays and everyone wants to show appreciation to those who have helped them throughout the year. But, beware – in our profession gift giving can be considered unethical and can place you in an awkward situation with your clients.

We feel that the more information we all have on this can only be of benefit. So, along those lines, following is a link to a YouTube vide “Ethics & Gift Giving – What Attorneys Need To Know” posted by the National Court Reporters Association.

For more information on ethics and gift giving, go to http://www.irs.gov/uac/Gift-Bag-Questions-and-Answers

We also thought you would be interested in a memorandum dealing with taxation of incentives given by court and deposition reporting. This memo originated with Hanson Bridgett and was sent to the Deposition Reporters Association of California, California Court Reporters Association.

I.          Issue Presented.

Deposition and court reporting firms (“Reporting Firms”) often provide incentives to legal assistants, attorneys, and others in exchange for booking the Reporting Firm‟s services. These incentives can have significant value, such as bottles of champagne, video game systems, department store gift cards, and points to be earned toward vacations. This memo will analyze the tax consequences to both Reporting Firms and recipients of such incentives.

II.          Tax Consequences to Recipients.

The IRS has recently become more attuned to the issue of treating so-called “gifts” as income. In 2006, the IRS reached a settlement with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences involving the value of gift bags distributed to presenters and performers of its Academy Award shows. 1   The IRS stated that the recipients of these gift bags generally must report the fair market value of the bag and its contents as income.2   While the gift bags are called “gifts,” they are not gifts for income tax purposes because they are not given “solely out of affection, respect, or similar impulses for the recipients of the gift bags.”3   Instead, they were provided in exchange for the artist performing or presenting at the Awards show. 4   The settlement between the IRS and the Academy involved the Academy’s promise that it would distribute tax information to recipients of the gift bags notifying them of their responsibility to satisfy their tax obligations. 5   The IRS news release regarding the settlement stated that the IRS would continue to focus on compliance by recipients to ensure that the fair market value of the gifts is reported as income.6   The IRS also stated it would continue to monitor compliance by the providers of gift bags to ensure that Form 1099s are issued to recipients.7   The Academy has since discontinued the practice.8   The Reporting Firm incentives are very similar to the awards shows gift bags — they are things of value in exchange for a benefit conferred — and should be treated similarly to ensure compliance with tax rules.

A.        Gift or Payment for Services?

The tax consequences to the recipient depends on whether the incentive is a gift or payment for a service.  True gifts are not included in the gross income of the recipient.9 Whether or not a transfer is a gift is determined by examining the intent of the transferor.10   The absence of a legal or moral obligation to make the transfer does not make the transfer a gift.11 An incentive will be treated as a taxable payment for services unless the motive for the transfer is “detached and disinterested generosity” made out of “affection, respect, admiration, charity or like impulses.”12   This is true even if the transferor receives no economic benefit from the transfer.13

Incentives given by Reporting Firms in exchange for bookings will not be treated as gifts for tax purposes because there is a clear relationship between the incentive and the performance of a service by the recipient. The quid pro quo nature of the transaction removes any possibility that the incentive is given out of disinterested generosity. Further, even if the incentive were characterized as a prize or award, the IRC specifically includes amounts received as prizes and awards in gross income unless the prize or award is transferred directly to a charity.14

Given that the incentives provided by Reporting Firms in exchange for business are payments for services rather than gifts, the IRC requires the recipients of those payments to treat the value of the incentives as gross income.15   This means that recipients must report the value of the incentives they receive as income on their tax returns.  Failure to do so could result in the assessment of additional taxes, interest and penalties by the Internal Revenue Service.

B.         Can the Income Be Excluded by the Individual Recipient?

1.         Incentive Given by Reporting Firm to Individual.

Where the incentive is given directly by the Reporting Firm to an individual attorney or law firm employee, it is unlikely that an individual attorney or law firm employee

could exclude the value of the incentives from income. Given the “payment for services” nature of the incentives, the fair market value of the incentives must be reported by these recipients as taxable income.

2.         Incentive Given by Reporting Firm to Law Firm.

Similarly, an incentive given by the Reporting Firm to a law firm, which then transfers the incentive to its employee, may also be includible in the employee’s taxable income. Gifts by an employer to an employee may not be excluded from being considered income of the employee.16   However, the IRC does permit the exclusion from income of certain fringe benefits.17   Thus, whether the law firm must impute income to the employee for the value of any incentives the law firm receives from a Reporting Firm and then passes on to an employee depends on whether the incentive falls under any of the exceptions in the fringe benefit rules.

The only fringe benefit exception which could apply to incentives is the “de minimis fringe.”  A de minimis fringe benefit is one which is so small as to make accounting for it unreasonable or administratively impracticable.18   While de minimis fringe benefits can be deducted as business expenses, they will not be included in the recipient‟s gross income.19   The Treasury Regulations give examples of benefits which do and do not qualify as de minimis.  For example, occasional typing of personal letters by a company secretary, occasional cocktail parties, traditional birthday or holiday gifts of property with a low fair market value (but not cash), and flowers provided on account of illness are all de minimis fringe benefits and may be excluded from gross income.20   By contrast, season tickets to sporting or theater events, membership dues to a country club or gym, or even use of an employer-provided vehicle more than once a month are not de minimis fringe benefits and must be included in income.21 Further, no cash or cash equivalent (such as a gift certificate or gift card) will qualify as a de minimis fringe benefit.22

The value of the incentive provided to the law firm by the Reporting firm, and then passed onto the employee, may or may not be excludible from the employee‟s income under the de minimis fringe benefit exception depending on the nature and value of the incentive.  A department store gift card will never be excludible because it is a cash equivalent. Items like theater tickets or group meals may be excludible assuming they are given so infrequently both to the employees as a whole and to individual employees as to make accounting for them unreasonable or impracticable.23   Of course, determining how frequently or infrequently these items are distributed, and to whom, requires some degree of administrative tracking, which necessarily hinders an argument that such tracking is unreasonable or impracticable.

If the law firm determines that the fringe benefit is not excludible as a de minimis fringe, it must include the fair market value of the benefit in the employee‟s wages and withhold the appropriate employment taxes.  Failure to do so could subject the law firm to additional taxes, penalties and interest.  Further, the employer could be required to issue amended W-2s to affected employees who would then be required to file amended tax returns and possibly pay additional tax, interest and penalties.

3.         Similarity of Some Kind of Incentives to Tips.

Alternatively, a law firm may be required to withhold and pay employment taxes based on the kind of the incentive received by the employee because of the similarity of incentives to tips.  Similar to tips, incentives are paid by Reporting firms to a law firm’s employees and are payments made in the course of the employee’s employment.  Employees are required to report to their employer cash tips received in amounts over $20 in one month.24 Employers are then obligated to withhold employment taxes from those amounts.  “Cash”  tips for these purposes includes “monetary media of exchange.”25   Tips paid in the forms of passes, tickets and other goods or commodities are not included in the employee’s wages.26   Thus, where incentives are paid in the form of things like pre-paid charge cards, or other cash- equivalents, an analogy can be drawn to the reporting and withholding requirements which apply to tips, leaving the employee potentially obligated to report the value of the cash- equivalent incentives to the employer and the employer potentially obligated to withhold employment taxes on those amounts.

4.         Tax Liability of Law Firm for Incentives Paid To Their Employees Acting Within the Scope Of Their Employment.

When an incentive is provided to, say, a paralegal or a secretary for booking a deposition at the instruction of a member or another employee of the firm, the question arises: who is the recipient of the incentive, the law firm or the employee? No authority found conclusively determines the answer.  Law firms therefore cannot with precision predict how the Internal Revenue Service will treat the matter and, in fact, the issue may turn on the specific facts of each case.  As discussed in the Conclusion, law firms may want seriously to weigh the pros and cons of permitting their employees to receive such incentive gifts, for this and all of the other reasons just discussed.

III.         Tax Consequences to Reporting Firms.

A.        Treatment of Incentives as “Kickbacks.”

IRC Section 162(c)(2) disallows business expense deductions for payment of illegal “kickbacks.”  Kickbacks are defined as payments that could subject the payor to criminal penalty or the loss of license or privilege to engage in a trade or business.27   Under the California Code of Regulations, the Court Reporters Board of California may suspend, revoke or deny certification of a shorthand reporter for directly or indirectly giving any gift, incentive, reward or anything with a value exceeding $100 in aggregate during a calendar year to any person or entity associated with a proceeding being reported.28   This rule also applies to Reporting Firms which are corporations and thus under the jurisdiction of the Court Reporters Board of California.29  While Reporting Firms that qualify as “professional corporations” under California Corporations Code section 13401(b) themselves are not required to be licensed, they are nevertheless in the view of the California Court Reporters Board subject to the statutes and regulations governing licensees.30   California Business & Professions Code section 8019 makes any violation of the statutes regulating the profession a misdemeanor. Thus, if a Reporting Firm provides an incentive that violates the statutes in the Business & Professions Code, it also commits a misdemeanor, making application of  IRC Section 162(c)(2) a possibility.

B.         Treatment of Incentives as Gifts.

Reporting Firms may be incorrectly treating the incentives given to specific individuals in exchange for business as “gifts” and deducting some or all of the cost of the incentive as a business expense. The IRC allows a business expense deduction for gifts to an individual which do not exceed $25 in one year.31   However, to be deductible under this rule, the gift must be an item which is not included in the recipient‟s gross income.  For these purposes, “gifts” include packaged food to be consumed later and tickets to a place for entertainment as long as the transferor does not accompany the recipient.32   As discussed in Section II above, Tax Consequences to Recipients, these incentives do not qualify as gifts for this purpose and may not be deducted as a business expense under this rule.

The IRC also allows a business expense deduction for incentives given to a recipient other than an employee of the transferor, as long as the value of the incentive is includible in the

recipient’s gross income.33   This section is an exception to the rule disallowing deductions for

entertainment expenses. If the incentive is something in the nature of “entertainment,” it will

only be deductible if specific requirements are met.  For these purposes, entertainment includes things like vacations given out in exchange for services performed.34   However, to be deductible under this rule, the Reporting Firm must issue a Form 1099 to the recipient if the total value of the incentives in one year exceeds $600.35

C.         Gifts to Law Firms.

As discussed above, IRC Section 274(b) limits the deductibility of gifts to individuals to

$25.  However, because the section refers to a gift to an individual, gifts to law firms in amounts over $25 may be deductible.  To be deductible, the Reporting Firm must make the gift with no

intention that it will be enjoyed by any particular person and the Reporting Firm must not reasonably be able to ascertain the ultimate recipient of the gift.36   This means that, to qualify for this exception from the $25 limit, the law firm must be large enough that the Reporting Firm can reasonably claim it did not know who the ultimate recipient would be.  Recalling that this deals

only with whether the Reporting Firm may deduct the cost of the incentive, not to whether the incentive is income to someone or something else, the likelihood of this argument succeeding when, as here, the incentive is provided in exchange for booking identifiable business is unclear.

The deduction available for gifts to business entities seems to conflict with the Section

102 requirements that “gifts” must be made out of disinterested generosity. The deduction is aimed clearly at transfers where the transferor believes there is some business advantage to be gained, rather than pure generosity.  However, the Treasury Regulations regarding these gifts refer to items like theater tickets, books and “several” baseball tickets.37   It is arguable that gifts to law firms that exceed an as-yet undefined threshold, would no longer qualify as “gifts” and would not be deductible.

An additional complication is that, until recently, only payments made to law firms which operated as partnerships triggered the issuance of a Form 1099; payments made to law firms operating as corporations were exempt from the requirement.38   However, a recent change in

 

the law has eliminated the exemption for payments of more than $600 made to corporations after December 31, 2011.39   Thus, for incentives over $600 paid in any year after December 31,

2011, Reporting Firms will be required to issue Form 1099s to both corporate law firms and partnerships.  Reporting Firms unaware of this change who fail to issue Form 1099s to sole practitioners who practice law as corporations, could be subject to tax penalties.40   Of course, as mentioned, even if the value of the incentive is less than $600 and the recipient doesn‟t receive a Form 1099, the recipient must still report the income unless it can be otherwise excluded. 41

D.         Substantiation Requirements.

Business expenses are not deductible unless the taxpayer properly substantiates the expense.  This often means detailed recordkeeping about the nature of the expense including the recipient of the gift, the amount, and the purpose.  A more thorough discussion of the substantiation rules is beyond the scope of this memo.  However, failure to meet the requirements can have serious tax impacts to the Reporting Firm that improperly deducts incentive expenses without proper substantiation.

IV.        Other Issues.

Incentive payments may also implicate state income tax rules and ethical issues.  National and state court reporting associations and regulatory boards promulgate limits on the value of incentives which can be distributed per recipient on the grounds that such payments may taint the impartiality of the reporter with regard to the parties to the action.42   Further, incentive payments by large Reporting Firms may violate the unfair competition rules of the California Business and Professions Code. These issues are not addressed in this memorandum, but we would be happy to do additional research if that would be useful.

V.        Conclusion.

Incentives distributed to employees of law firms by Reporting Firms in exchange for bookings are not gifts. These incentives clearly represent income and must be reported by somebody, depending upon who the IRS deems the recipient to be.  Aside from the ethical and professional prohibitions against these incentives, both recipients and the Reporting Firms risk potentially serious tax consequences, depending on the value of the incentives.

For attorneys and law firm employees, failing to report the value of the benefits received as income, and paying tax on that income, could result in the imposition of tax and penalties. Where law firms have policies in place prohibiting employees from accepting incentives, serious tax issues may still arise to the extent these policies are not enforced.  Similarly, if a law firm receives the incentive and passes it along to an employee, there could be both income and employment tax consequences for the employee and the law firm.

Finally, a Reporting Firm that improperly deducts the cost of the incentives (for example where the incentives are actually kickbacks, the deduction exceeds the allowable amounts, or the Incentives are not properly substantiated) could also result in the imposition of additional tax and penalties on the Reporting Firm.

Overall, incentives provided in exchange for business present significant risks for both the Reporting Firms and the law firms and law firm employees who receive them.

To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the IRS, we inform you that any tax advice contained in this communication (including any attachments) was not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code or (ii) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any transaction or matter addressed herein.

_________________________

1 IRS News Release IR-2006-128.

2 IRS “Gift Bag Questions and Answers”. (2006)

Id.

http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-utl/academyawards.pdf.

5 IRS News Release IR-2006-128.

Id.

Id.

8 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences “Academy and IRS Reach Gift Basket Accord” (2006), http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-utl/academyawards.pdf.

9 IRC Section 102.

10 See Commissioner v. Duberstein, 363 U.S. 278 (1960) (“Gift” to taxpayer of automobile in recognition of business referrals made to business friend was payment for services despite taxpayer‟s reluctance to accept gift).

11 See Old Colony Trust Co. v. Commissioner, 279 U.S. 716, 730 (1929) (Payment by employer of employee‟s income taxes was not a gift despite lack of obligation on employer‟s part for such payment).

12 See Commissioner v. LoBue, 351 U.S. 243, 246 (1956) (Transfer of stock options to employee not made “with the kind of detached and disinterested generosity which might evidence a „gift‟ in the statutory sense.”); Robertson v. United States, 343 U.S. 711, 714 (1952) (Taxpayer‟s receipt of prize money for a winning symphonic composition constituted taxable income rather than a gift).

13 See Robertson, 343 U.S. at 714.

14 IRC Section 74; Treas. Regs. Section 1.74-1(a)(1).

15 IRC Section 61(a). (Stating gross income means income from whatever source derived, including compensation for services, including fees, commissions, fringe benefits, and similar items.)

16 IRC Section 102(c).

17 IRC Section 132(a).

18 IRC Section 132(e).

19 See, e.g., IRS Field Service Advice 200219005 (December 31, 2001).

20 Treas. Reg. Section 1.132-6(e)(1).

21 Treas. Reg. Section 1.132-6(e)(2).

22 Treas. Reg. Section 1.132-6(c).

23 Treas. Reg. Section 1.132-6(b).

24 IRC Section 6053(a).

25 Treas. Reg. § 31.3121(a)(12)-1.

26 Id.

27 IRC Section  162(c)(2).

28 California Code of Regulations section 2475(a) and (b).

29 California Business and Professions Code Section 8046; California Code of Regulations Section 2468(a).

30 On October 26, 2010 the California Court Reporters Board issues an administrative citation and fine against U.S. Legal for violating Business & Professions Code section 8046 and the Board’s regulation regulating gifts.

31 IRC Section 274(b)(1). (“No deduction shall be allowed under section 162 or sections 212 for any expense for gifts made directly or indirectly to any individual to the extent that such expense, when added to prior expenses of the taxpayer for gifts made to such individual during the same taxable year, exceeds $25.”)

32 Treas. Reg. Section 1.274-2 (b)(1)(iii)(b).

33 IRC Section 274(e)(9) (Allows deduction of expenses “includible in the gross income of a recipient . . . who is not an employee of the taxpayer as compensation for services rendered or as a prize or award . ..”)

34 Treas. Reg. Section 1.274-2(c)(5) (“[I]f a manufacturer of products provides a vacation trip for retailers of his products who exceed sales quotas, as a prize or award includible in gross income, the expenditure will be considered directly related to the active conduct of the taxpayer’s trade or business.”); Treas. Reg. Section 1.274-2(b)(1)(iii)(a) (“[A]ny expenditure which might generally be considered either for a gift or entertainment, or considered either for travel or entertainment, shall be considered an expenditure for entertainment rather than for a gift or travel.”)

35 IRC Section 274(e)(9).

36 Treas. Reg. Section. 1.274-3(e)(2).

37 Id.

38 The exemption does not extend to payments for legal services, which must be reported on Form 1099 whether or not the law firm is a partnership or a corporation. IRC Section 6045(f).

39 IRC Section 6041(i); Act Sec. 9006(c) of Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) (P.L. 111-148).

40 IRC Section 6721. Failure to file penalties have been increased beginning with Form 1099s due after December 31, 2010. Penalties range from $30 per return for returns filed with correct information and no more than 30 days late to a minimum penalty of $250 per return for failing to file due to intentional disregard of the law.

41 IRC Section 1.

42 See, e.g., National Court Reporters Association Code of Professional Ethics limiting incentives to $100 per recipient per year (http://www.ncra.org/About/content.cfm?ItemNumber=9430); see also California Code of Regulations Section 2475(b)(8) limiting incentives to $100 per recipient per year.

 

Posted in Need to Know

Bluebook 101 – A Primer

51vwQZEH5dL._SY300_The Bluebook is such an important legal tool, that even though most of us are very familiar with it, we thought it would be worthwhile to go do a general review and point out some valuable features.

First of all, if you’re not familiar with the Bluebook, here’s some background information. The Bluebook is now in its 19th edition. In 2012, the book underwent some major revisions and upgrades to bring it up to date and is now available in three versions: 1) A pdf version that can be printed and used with hyperlinks on iPads, computers and other tablets; 2) Kindle version that is also usable on readers using the Mobipocket. And, the good news is that since the Bluebook is now available online, the content can be continually updated.

Originally, the Bluebook was a pamphlet, written by editor Erwin Griswold and used for articles in the Harvard Law Review. In 1939, the cover was changed from brown to blue to show patriotism for the United States (blue) and to avoid comparison with Nazi Germany (brown).

What exactly is the Bluebook? It’s the style manual that illustrates how American legal documents are cited in briefs, court documents and law journals. Published by the editors of the law journals at Columbia University, Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University, it is not the only legal citation manual currently available. Other manuals include the ALWD Citation Manual: A Professional System of Citation (The Association of Legal Writing Directors) and the University of Chicago Manual of Legal Citation (University of Chicago). However, the Bluebook, currently at over 500 pages, continues to keep its place as the number one citation authority.

Governing the style and formatting of documents, the Bluebook contains:

-       Structure and Use of Citations

-       Typefaces for Law Review

-       Subdivisions

-       Short Citation Forms

-       Quotations

-       Abbreviations, Numerals and Symbols

-       Italicization for Style and in Unique Circumstances

-       Capitalization

-       Titles of Judges, Officials and Terms of Court

-       Cases

-       Constitutions

-       Statues

-       Legislative Materials

-       Administration and Executive Materials

-       Books, Reports and Other Non-periodic Materials

-       Periodical Materials

-       Unpublished and Forthcoming Sources

-       Electronic Media and Other Non-periodic Materials

-       Services

-       Foreign Materials

-       International Materials

The online version of the Bluebook was launched in 2008 while the mobile version first appeared in 2012. These electronic versions now make it possible for anyone involved in the legal profession to reference federal and state court rules, codes and style manuals on iPads and other mobile devices.

Next issue we’ll get into some of the particulars of the Bluebook, like “underlining” – what’s the rule and when do or when don’t you underline. We’ll also discuss the rules surrounding “citing other resources”

 

Posted in Articles of Interest

Executive Reporting Service Receives 2012 Best of Business Award

PHOENIX, May, 27th 2013, Executive Reporting Service has been selected for the 2012 Best of Business Award by the Small Business Community.

Being in business sets people apart from most ordinary people and the Small Business Community is dedicated to helping others understand that running a business is an obtainable goal and that everyone should try their best at living their dreams.

The Small Business Community recognizes and awards business owners because they often do not receive the recognition they deserve. Business owners are role models for everyone whether they know it or not. Small Business Community 2012 Best of Business Award winners are a valuable asset to their community and exemplify what makes small businesses great.

About

For over thirty years, ERS has grown by word of mouth through referrals. Once clients experience the quality and attention to detail delivered by ERS, they just keep coming back. For good reason. ERS founder, Diane T. Emery, CMRS, is closely involved in the day-to-day operations of the agency, meeting with clients and monitoring the quality and excellence of transcripts, facilities, and service. The ERS team lives by the motto, “We work hard to make your job easier.”

About Small Business Community

The Small Business Community Association is dedicated to collecting and organizing information, training, and services that are vital to small business owners, entrepreneurs, and anyone else that needs help running a business, operating a business, or wants to know how to start a business.

The mission of the Small Business Community is to promote a vibrant and growing small business community, support education that will preserve and extend the future of small business and use our gifts within the small business community to serve others for the betterment of our world.

The Small Business Community vision is to enthusiastically advance small businesses in three key areas:

  1. Growth– To assure a vibrant and growing small business community, our goal is to introduce, engage and mature the next generation of small business owners.
  2. Advocacy–We feel it is fundamental to support education and action outside the small business community that will preserve and extend the future of small businesses.
  3. Compassion–We believe it is essential that we use our gifts within the small business community to serve others for the betterment of our communities and world.
Posted in Info

Meet The Sixth Judicial Circuit

sixth-jud-bannerPinellas and Pasco Counties are fortunate to be under the jurisdiction of the Sixth Judicial Circuit. It’s Florida’s third largest trial court and recognized as one of the most efficient trial courts in the country. And efficiency includes it being nationally recognized for its automation leadership as well.

According to their website (www.jud6.org), there are a total of 69 judges – 45 at the circuit level and 24 in the county courts. That volume of judges shows just how active and busy the Sixth Judicial Circuit is. And, on the chance that some of you weren’t aware of how many amenities the Circuit offers, we thought we’d do a brief overview.

For instance, Law Libraries. Were you aware of how conveniently located and extensive these libraries are? The libraries can be found in the courthouses in Dade City, New Port Richey and downtown Clearwater, some with over 20,000 volumes and electronic products. These public Law Libraries were created by a special act of the Florida Legislature in 1937 to make legal information readily accessible to the community, from attorneys to the general public.

Another part of what has made this Circuit so efficient is its available technology – technology that every one of us can use as needed. The Technology Office has a staff of 15 who evaluate new technology to purchase, train the staff, develop custom applications, conduct or oversee repairs, installations and relocation of equipment. All of this includes computers, communication, applications, video and audio, Internet and Intranet support.

Some of the technological amenities available in the courts are:

-       Audio/Visual Equipment. A/V  is available at all locations within the circuit and  includes projectors, screens, plasma displays, document cameras and VCR/DVD players. All of this allows the presentation of multimedia evidence and/or documentation. Training prior to use is available if needed but must be arranged in advance.

-       Videoconference. The ability to use videoconferencing technologies saves the community thousands of dollars in transportation cost while reducing security risks at the same time.

-       Internet & Intranet servers. The Sixth Judicial Circuit was one of the first in Florida to create and maintain a website. The website is very active and new information is being uploaded continually, including general Court News and specific news for attorneys, vendors and service contractors.

For a complete list of the equipment available at each Courtroom location, go to www.jud6.org/contactinformation/technologyoffice.html.

Posted in Profiles

It’s A New Year… And A New You!

1408768_2013_1

Ok, we’ve all done it. We’ve made New Year Resolutions and started with a ton of enthusiasm only to be astonished at how quickly we’ve discarded the “new resolutions” and quietly fallen back into our old habits. Don’t you agree?

We think it’s time for a different approach to New Year Resolutions and instead of a list of energetic (and often time consuming) new approaches, how about we agree to open ourselves up to some “tips” and integrate these unassuming routines into our lifestyle!

Here’s our first entry into our new series of “2013 Tips For A Better You” – Relieving Stress. Let’s face it – the Holiday’s can be stressful. Factor in our stressful profession and well, you get the picture – we’re all just a big bundle of stress!

Here are some easy stress-relieving quick fixes you can do right at your desk.

     Chocolate. (Yes, we started with our favorite quick fix!) Small amounts of chocolate are known to release “feel good” chemicals to your brain which gives you time to reflect on whatever it is that is stressing you out. Chances are, those things aren’t as bad as they seemed just a few moments ago. Remember, don’t overdo it! Save them for when you need them!

- Keep some miniature-sized chocolates stashed away in your desk.

- For extra health benefits, stash dark chocolate.

Exercises:

Chair Exercises: Don’t laugh… they work! They increase blood flow and relax the body, thus reducing stress. Do some leg raises, roll your neck and shoulders and stretch your arms above your head for a few seconds. Do some wrist exercises by rotating your wrists and stretching out your fingers as wide as you can. All of these will make you breathe easier.

Neck Stretches:  Relax your shoulders and let your head roll forward, then slowly rotate your head to one side and then the other. Repeat gently four times.

Leg Lifts:  Sit with your back straight and your arms at your sides, then lift one leg straight out in front of you and rotate your foot in a circular pattern. Switch legs and repeat four times.

Shoulders: Shrug your shoulders, hold for a few seconds and then return your shoulders to their normal position while keeping your back straight and breathing normally.

Bun Squeeze: Tighten up those buns by squeezing them together for 10 seconds, release for 10 seconds, repeat.

Wrist Exercises:  Make a loose fist and rotate each hand outward from the wrist. Do 10 circles and then reverse the direction of the circle and do 10 more.

Laughter:  It’s still the best medicine. Recall a funny joke, or story, anything to bring a smile to your face and make you chuckle.

     Start a Humor Journal. They’re easy and fun to do. Every time you hear something funny, write it in your journal to refer to “when you need it” or to share with friends.

What do you do to relieve stress? Please share with us – so that we can share your ideas with others. Let’s all help each other have a healthy and productive 2013!

Posted in Info

‘Tis The Season to Give… Or Is it?

Gift giving. Wasn’t life easier when you could give and accept gifts without any repercussions? Remember when you could say “Thank You for your business” with a small gift and no one questioned the reason behind the gift? Well, that was then and this is now. Those days are gone, sadly forever. Gifts and the legal profession do NOT get along, so don’t even go there.

You’ve seen it – someone makes an offer of a gift or gas card to choose their agency over a competitor’s agency to use for their deposition. It’s been known to happen frequently. Did you ever stop and wonder who actually got the gift card? Was it the scheduling secretary? The attorney? It really doesn’t matter who ended up with the gift. It’s the fact that a gift was accepted that presents the long-range problem. And remember, gifts can be anything – from a gift card, to tickets to an event or meals or even a nice pen… anything.

Think of it this way: What’s the difference between gifts and bribes? A gift is something you give because you want to and you don’t expect anything in return. A bribe is the same thing except there is an underlying hope on the giver’s part that the gift will influence or benefit someone. The line between them is really thin and easily misconstrued. And how can the thought behind the gift be proven?

It can be impossible to tell them apart and the rules differ for all types of businesses. In some industries, gifts are allowed if the value remains below a specified limit. In other cases, the value is not important so long as the gift is reported. And in other cases, they are not allowed at all.  It is critically important that you know not only your state’s rules on the subject, but also your association or firm’s rules.

Remember the old saying “There’s no such thing as a free lunch”? It’s true, especially these days when any excuse to find fault or point a finger is being utilized to sway the outcome of a proceeding. According to the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA), “The giving of gifts by reporters to attorneys has been a hot topic for reporters for years. NCRA first tackled these questions in 1993 when it amended the Code of Professional Ethics to include, as Provision 8, language prohibiting ‘…giving, directly or indirectly, any gift, incentive, reward or anything of value to attorneys, clients, witnesses, insurance companies or any other persons or entities associated with the litigation, or to the representatives or agents of any of the foregoing, except for items that do not exceed $100 in the aggregate per recipient each year…’ The Association held that the practice of giving valuable items to attorneys, their staffs, or their clients undermined the integrity of the reporting profession by raising questions about reporters’ neutrality.”

It goes on to state that “Last March, in response to member requests, the Board of Directors asked the Committee on Professional Ethics to consider these matters and determine if Provision 8 is still relevant. Following extensive discussion at the Committee and Board levels, NCRA has issued a new COPE advisory opinion, No. 45, to provide additional guidance on the subject of gift giving. Although the $100 limit remains in place, this new document provides additional clarity to this longstanding policy.”

These codes and issues exist to protect the reporter and the lawyer in regards to the costs for the case. For instance, if an attorney turns in a $100 bill for his use of a court reporter, and he has received a gift card for $10, then in reality he can only turn in a request for reimbursement of $90 for the reporter. If he submits documentation for $100, he is in reality lying and can be held liable.

All of this is literally a question of ethics. We are officers of the court and our job is no less important than the attorney or the judge – we all have to be fair, impartial and held to the highest degree of ethics. Decisions need to be made on the points presented, not on the receipt of a gift. And remember, even if the recipient of a gift isn’t influenced by it, the mere fact that they accepted a gift opens up the question of the validity of their choice even if it isn’t true. And unfortunately we see it happening all too frequently.

The bottom line is that your actions may affect all parties involved in litigation. It’s just not worth the risk.

Next we’ll go into more detail about “Ethics First”.

Posted in Need to Know