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Wednesday, Jul 24, 2024

‘Far Too Many Clients on the Wrong End of These PAGA Claims’

Brian Koegle Firm: Poole Shaffery & Koegle Brian Koegle’s specialty focuses on statutory and case law at both the state and federal courts on employment codes. He has practiced law for 19 years. How law is changing: The proliferation of “Google lawyers” has been astounding. Many business owners think that spending 10 minutes on a search engine provides them with the necessary information to make fully informed business decisions. Unfortunately, there is a ridiculous amount of misinformation, or sometimes even worse, incomplete information out there that provides a false sense of security. The only way that a reputable firm can adapt is to stop the spread of misinformation by educating clients on the actual state of the law. One legal rule/practice that needs changing: The California Private Attorneys General Act, or PAGA. The California Labor Code authorizes aggrieved employees to file lawsuits to recover civil penalties on behalf of themselves, other employees and the State of California for Labor Code violations. Unfortunately, the law has been manipulated to circumvent the rules pertaining to class action lawsuits. Clever attorneys are able to turn one employee’s “harm” into a multi-plaintiff claim with very little evidence. All the while, the plaintiffs’ attorneys are usually the only folks making any money on these cases. … We have had far too many clients on the wrong end of these PAGA claims, some of which have been forced into bankruptcy proceedings based upon relatively minor violations of the onerous California employment laws. Role within the firm: Nearly 15 years ago, my partners, David Poole and John Shaffery, identified a growing need to provide a comprehensive “one stop shop” for business owners to obtain the legal advice necessary to protect and defend their businesses. As part of that counsel, we determined that employment law claims were extremely difficult for California business owners to self-manage. We quickly learned that this area of law requires an extensive understanding of the statutory and case law, so I volunteered to learn everything we needed to comprehensively cover both state and federal law requirements. We developed separate practice groups for employment counseling and advice, on the one hand, and employment litigation on the other. Fifteen years later, these practice groups continue to be two of our firm’s fastest areas of growth. For the last eight years, I have been a partner in the firm, serving as the head of our firm’s Labor & Employment Department, and in October 2019, I was added as a named partner – the first addition to the name in the firm’s 21-year history. Memorable experience: Nine years ago, a prospective client came to our office shocked and angered that he had been named as a defendant in a sexual harassment and wrongful termination lawsuit. The business owner was indignant and patently denied making any of the alleged harassing statements set forth in the civil complaint. The allegations in the complaint were surprisingly specific – using quotes which were unique and very graphic in nature. We asked the prospect whether he had ever texted or e-mailed his former employee, which he vehemently denied. Something just didn’t add up! We asked that he provide our IT experts with access to his computer system so that we could conduct some basic forensic auditing to confirm that the alleged communications were never sent from the business owner’s e-mail address. He seemed a bit taken aback that we would ask for such verification, and that we wouldn’t simply take him at his word. … We assured him that it was standard operating procedure for us to make such efforts to confirm, in order to put him into the best position to fight the lawsuit. Less than 24 hours later, over 220 pages of e-mails were delivered to our office, all of which corroborated the specific allegations made in the complaint. The e-mails were delivered – ironically – by the business owner’s wife! Needless to say, we settled that case very quickly. Personality traits of a power lawyer: Patience . . . lots of patience! The other important personality trait that all good attorneys possess is the ability to digest difficult topics and communicate them clearly, concisely and in “common language” to clients, opposing counsel or to a jury. In any given year, I will present between 20 and 40 seminars or lectures to various business groups and professionals in an effort to help educate our community on the pitfalls and perils associated with running a business in California. Biggest challenges with employment cases: (1) Staying current on the various changes to the state of the law each year; (2) setting realistic client expectations for outcomes – especially in litigation involving employment-related claims; and, (3) creating an easily-understandable explanation for the latest employment law changes, so that clients understand the “rules of the road.” Advice to prospective lawyers: The practice of law is tremendously rewarding, if you are able to find a passion and devote your life to being the best in that area. The career path requires a thick skin, perseverance and more hard work than anyone tells you. 

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