Posts By: Chris Wielinski

33 Cokinos | Young Attorneys Honored in the 2023 Edition of Best Lawyers

20 Named Best Lawyers in America; 13 Named Ones to Watch

Cokinos | Young is pleased to announce that 33 lawyers are included in the 2023 edition of The Best Lawyers in America®. This year’s list recognizes 20 Cokinos | Young attorneys as Best Lawyers in America and 13 attorneys as Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America.

Since it was first published in 1983, Best Lawyers has become universally regarded as the definitive guide to legal excellence.

Best Lawyers has earned the respect of the profession, the media and the public as the most reliable, unbiased source of legal referrals. Its first international list was published in 2006 and since then has grown to provide lists in over 75 countries. For the 2023 edition of The Best Lawyers in America, more than 12.2 million votes were analyzed to identify the top legal talent, as identified by their peers.

Cokinos | Young would like to congratulate the following lawyers named to 2023 The Best Lawyers in America list:

Cokinos | Young like to congratulate the following lawyers recognized in the 2023 edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America:

2023 Best Lawyers in America

2023 Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America

About Cokinos | Young

Cokinos | Young has led Texas construction and real estate law for over three decades. And today, our 100+ dedicated professionals operate coast to coast and proudly handle all aspects of construction law for owner/developers, project managers, general contractors, design professionals, subcontractors, sureties, and lenders. We provide both dispute resolution and transactional services to clients through all phases of commercial, industrial, pipeline, offshore, civil, and residential construction. Our reputation was built on relentless commitment to client service and the industries we serve, and that remains our primary driver. Dedicated. Resilient. Expertise. That’s Cokinos | Young. Learn more at cokinoslaw.com.

Employment Law Updates

employment law updates

Employers in Texas are seeing some relief in 2022 from two years of pandemic-related shutdowns and other challenges from the nationwide spread of COVID-19. The easing of mandates and a return to normalcy included a few significant 2022 employment law changes in the state. Discover a few that attracted the attention of the employment law team at Cokinos | Young.

No Increases in Employer Tax Rates

In 2022, the Texas legislature took steps to provide employers with some degree of certainty in the cost of unemployment insurance. Under Senate Bill 8, signed by Gov. Greg Abbott, the Texas Workforce Commission kept unemployment tax rates level for the year, with no increase over 2021. Without funding support from S.B. 8, many employers expected to see significant increases this year because of COVID-19 closures in 2021. Employer taxes go into the Texas Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund as a source of temporary income for workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own.

New Options for Employees in Workplace Claims

With bipartisan support, Congress passed the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act, H.R. 4445, in March. This new legislation will impact employers and their use of blanket pre-dispute arbitration agreements or class action litigation waivers concerning sexual assault and sexual harassment claims. 

Under the terms of the act, employees can now renounce these agreements and take their cases to court instead. Employers and employees can agree to arbitration after a filed complaint. In a press release, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also reminds employers that despite the new legislation, they still may face inquiries from the EEOC, which remains unbound by arbitration agreements.

Revamped Sexual Harassment Laws

In 2022, Texas employers are in the first full year of compliance with stricter anti-sexual harassment laws. A series of bills passed in the 2021 term provided a new statutory definition of sexual harassment. They gave employees additional time to file a claim aligned with federal law. 

The bill also puts new requirements on employers regarding how they must respond to complaints and allows individuals to be responsible if they do not respond appropriately. Small businesses now also face possible liability under the bill. The relevant legislation from the 2021 term is S.B. 45, S.B. 282, and H.B. 21. Gov. Abbott signed the bills in December 2021, but they had already taken effect on Sept. 1, 2021.

Stay Abreast of Changes

The attorneys at Cokinos | Young provide employers with timely counsel in employment law to allow them to institute compliant policies and practices, limit future liability, and encourage success for all employees in the workplace. Our team will help you stay current when drafting employment manuals and policies, reviewing employment decisions, and supporting management in providing a healthy workplace. 

Other areas include the following:

  • Non-competition agreements. 
  • Confidentiality documents and protections.
  • Intellectual property security agreements.
  • Good employment practices.

Our attorneys support employers in four cities in Texas, California, and New Jersey. Contact the attorneys of Cokinos | Young online or call today to schedule a consultation.

Gregory Cokinos ’79 Receives Texas A&M University Distinguished Alumnus Award 2022

It is with great pleasure we announce our President and CEO, Gregory Cokinos, has been awarded the Texas A&M University Distinguished Alumnus Award 2022. The Distinguished Alumnus Award is the highest honor bestowed upon a former student of Texas A&M University. This honor has been awarded since 1962 to only 318 of Texas A&M’s more than 555,000 former students.

Gregory Cokinos TAMU Distinguished Alumni
Gregory accepts the Texas A&M University Distinguished Alumnus Award 2022

Presented jointly by the university and The Association of Former Students, this award recognizes Aggies who have achieved excellence in their chosen professions and made meaningful contributions to Texas A&M University and their local communities. The Distinguished Alumnus Award is reflective of Texas A&M University’s core values – Excellence, Integrity, Leadership, Loyalty, Respect and Selfless Service.

We are honored to call Gregory one of the founders of our Cokinos | Young Family and believe no one is more deserving of this award. Because of his leadership and dedication, these core values are reflected throughout the firm.

“The Cokinos family, starting with his Dad, General Mike Cokinos, started a family tradition of attendance at A&M that has become more than just a tradition, it is now a lifestyle…There is not a person you will ever meet that knows Gregory who is not aware of exactly where Gregory attended college. I can’t think of another person who is more deserving of the Distinguished Alumni Award than my good friend, Gregory Cokinos.”

Marc Young Founding Principal

“He is remarkable in every sense of the word. A tireless advocate, a fearless leader, a pillar of the Houston community, and very likely the proudest (and loudest) Former Student of Texas A&M University. His pride for the institution is unwavering and contagious. It is central to his being. He loves Texas A&M, and Texas A&M is lucky to have him.”

Russell Smith Principal

“Spend 5 minutes with Gregory and you quickly know his priorities in life are: 1. His family and his church and, 2. Texas A&M University…EVERYTHING about Texas A&M University; not just athletics, but academics to administration, the Dixie Chicken and everything in between. No detail about our university is too small for him to be interested in and, yes, brag about. The same love, dedication and commitment Gregory demonstrates toward his family and church are daily shown toward Texas A&M University in countless ways.”

John Grayson Principal

About Cokinos | Young

Cokinos | Young has led Texas construction and real estate law for over three decades. And today, our 100+ dedicated professionals operate coast to coast and proudly handle all aspects of construction law for owner/developers, project managers, general contractors, design professionals, subcontractors, sureties, and lenders. We provide both dispute resolution and transactional services to clients through all phases of commercial, industrial, pipeline, offshore, civil, and residential construction. Our reputation was built on relentless commitment to client service and the industries we serve, and that remains our primary driver. Dedicated. Resilient. Expertise. That’s Cokinos | Young. Learn more at cokinoslaw.com.

Fast-Track Arbitration: The Definitive Guide

fast track arbitration

Legal disputes vary significantly. It stands to reason, then, that there ought to be multiple ways of resolving these disputes. Not every case is suitable for the expensive, labor-intensive litigation process. 

This environment is where Alternative Dispute Resolution proceedings such as arbitration come into play — providing trusted methodologies for resolving disputes outside of court. And fast-track arbitration can make the process move even faster.

What is fast-track arbitration, and how does it work? The attorneys at Cokinos | Young have put together this definitive guide to help show you the way. 

What Is Fast-Track Arbitration?

Fast-track arbitration is an alternative form of dispute resolution governed by special rules designed to speed the path to an outcome. The process has different applications depending on the set of rules selected but generally involves setting strict deadlines and sharply limiting evidence submissions.

What Types of Cases Are Eligible?

Generally speaking, fast-track arbitration is used only for cases with smaller dollar demand. These amounts vary depending on the governing body and country. The American Arbitration Association, for example, sets the cutoff for fast-track arbitration cases at $100,000, while the International Chamber of Commerce sets it at $2 million. Parties can choose by prior agreement to follow fast-track rules for cases over $2 million.

Why Opt for Fast-Track Arbitration?

Over the years, traditional arbitration has gained a reputation for being anything but quick. Fast-track rules seek to deliver a decision with certainty within 60 to 90 days after case initiation. The goal is to get to an outcome in a faster, less costly way.

How Else do Fast-Track Rules Accelerate Cases?

Typically fast-track rules involve cases overseen by a single arbitrator rather than a traditional three-person tribunal. The sole arbitrator has more leeway to encourage the parties to settle their disputes based on written submissions and their experience.

Downsides of Fast-Track Arbitration

One of the concerns about fast-track arbitration is ensuring the process produces a result that follows the law and is enforceable. The case may continue in court if a decision leaves room for doubt. Some vulnerabilities include parties claiming that they did not have a chance to present their cases properly. Fast-track arbitration cases generally do not allow for the presentation of expert witnesses, so not all cases are appropriate for the accelerated set of rules.

Trusted Counsel for Your Fast-Track Arbitration

Cokinos | Young has extensive experience in all forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution, including fast-track arbitration methods. We have applied our Alternative Dispute Resolution capabilities in cases involving commercial, industrial (onshore and offshore), residential and highway construction, employment, real estate, lender liability, commercial fraud, deceptive trade practices, intellectual property, contract issues, personal injury, and insurance coverage. 

Whether searching to advance or defend a claim, to resolve a dispute as economically as possible, or adopt a policy involving methods of Alternative Dispute Resolution, the practical experience of Cokinos | Young adds significant value. Our team is also certified as arbiters by the American Arbitration Association. Call us at 713-535-5500 or contact us online for a consultation.

2022 Construction Law Updates

Economic growth in Texas and across the nation drives activity in the construction industry. Businesses exist to build offices, factories, homes, and other structures. Sometimes these projects end up in disputes that individuals can’t resolve except through legal remedies. 

Construction laws are constantly in flux, and parties must stay on top of the latest developments. Explore a few 2022 construction law changes in Texas.

New Notarization Requirements

The COVID-19 pandemic is creating a new kind of normal in validating essential documents required for construction projects. In the past, Texas law required the notarization of lien waivers. During the pandemic, however, parties to a transaction either couldn’t get together or didn’t want to — forcing the law to accommodate this temporary reality.  

Under House Bill (H.B.) 2237, passed in 2021, Texas has joined many other states to eliminate the notarization requirements for lien waivers. Important note: This new requirement only extends to contracts signed after Jan. 1, 2022.

Streamlined Statute of Limitations

Sometimes projects go wrong for many reasons, resulting in mechanic’s lien foreclosure actions. The statute of limitations on these actions has historically been one year for residential projects and two years for commercial developments. H.B. 2237 has created a single statute of limitations of one year for residential and commercial projects.

Revised Definitions

The Legislature used H.B. 2237 to clarify the law’s language — and for the construction industry, these changes are more than grammatical. For instance, the bill has broadly redefined the meaning of “improvement.” Existing law narrowly defined what constituted an improvement. The new bill expands the definition to include a “design, drawing, plan, plat, survey, or specification provided by a licensed architect, engineer, or surveyor.”

Standardized Notice Forms

H.B. 2237 creates a standardized claim form for mechanic’s lien cases. This claim form will likely make the filing process easier for lienholders. Previously, claimants had to review a long list of items and choose which they wanted to include in the notice of the intent to file a claim. The new form is one-size-fits-all and asks for new pieces of information previously not included. For example, the new form asks claimants to enter the type of labor engaged in the project and the material used.

Trusted Construction Counsel 

Laws and regulations change quickly, and it’s sometimes hard to keep up. The construction attorneys at Cokinos | Young provide timely legal counsel to help owners and developers, general contractors, project managers, design professionals, subcontractors, material and equipment suppliers, sureties, insurance companies, and lenders make informed decisions. Our team delivers both transaction and litigation counsel. But we also go beyond: We seek to help you avoid claims in the first place by instituting industry-best business and workplace practices.

Our team offers a depth of experience in construction-related matters and construction law updates, including contract drafting and negotiations, change order and scope claims, surety claims, and payment issues. Call us at 713-535-5500 to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys or contact us online today.

Construction Site Risk Management Guide

construction site risk management

Construction is a vital industry that contributes to the growth and revitalization of cities located across the globe. It’s also an inherently dangerous industry due to the risks placed on employees when performing work on-site. Understanding construction risk management and how to manage it can help a construction company mitigate its risk and respond to situations with compromised safety.

What Is Construction Risk Management?

Risk management is a process that involves determining the risks present in a particular industry or for a business. It also includes the assessment of the procedures in place that help minimize these risks. Since construction work involves heavy-duty machinery and potentially dangerous equipment, managing the risks in this industry can be more complex. 

Construction workers also work outdoors, exposing them to natural disasters and climate conditions. Understanding the risks involved with this type of work is the first step in creating a risk management plan.

Additional Risks to Consider in Construction

Along with the physical safety risks placed on workers in the construction industry, construction companies have other risks that they must understand and mitigate when possible. One example is the financial risk involved with taking on a construction project of any size or scope. Some factors impacting a company’s financial flow include economic downturns, cost increases in materials, and a decline in trust due to safety concerns. Failing to manage resources properly can also put an additional financial strain on a project.

Construction companies take on legal risk when performing work for a client, especially when the client isn’t happy with the finished product. As long as contracts allow for legal action, a client can sue the construction company responsible for building a structure on its property. Clients may also take legal action if they believe a company has failed to fulfill the terms of its contract.

Prioritizing Construction Risks

It’s essential to prioritize the risks on a particular job site to manage threats and reduce negative outcomes as much as possible. Some of the risks outlined above might affect other companies but not apply to a specific job site or other construction companies. 

Project managers should prioritize the risks on their job sites based on importance, focusing on the potential impact on the job’s progression and the odds that each risk will come to fruition. After prioritizing risks, a project manager or company leader can handle the risks that would cause the highest impact on the project and have the highest probability of occurring. For current project managers, one significant concern is material cost increases, which are highly likely to occur and have a severe financial impact on the project.

By taking a proactive approach to risk management, construction managers can mitigate some of the risks on job sites of all sizes. Working with a legal representative who understands the industry and its risks can also lessen some risks. Cokinos | Young is a trusted law firm specializing in construction law that can assist with risk management. Learn more by contacting the team of legal professionals today.

Women in Construction? That’s every week at Cokinos | Young

Principals Stephanie Cook, Stephanie L. O’Rourke, and Shelly Master’s recent feature in Construction News Magazine. In the article, “Women in Construction? That’s every week at Cokinos | Young”, they discuss how our firm celebrates women in construction daily and their thoughts on the evolving industry of construction. Read the full article here.

Copyright Trolls: Tips for Dealing with Them

copyright trolls
l

Copyright trolls aren’t a novel problem. In fact, the first high-profile instance of copyright trolling took place in 2003 when the recording industry filed “John Doe” lawsuits against peer-to-peer file sharers using their IP addresses. Once they subpoenaed the names behind the IP addresses they either demanded a settlement or amended the suit to include those names. That effort is where today’s copyright trolling originated. While these lawsuits have evolved and expanded, their objective has largely remained the same. Here are some things individuals and businesses can do when they fall prey to copyright trolls.

What Is a Copyright Troll?

A copyright troll is someone who makes a living through frivolous lawsuits alleging copyright infringement. These lawsuits may target one defendant or thousands. One of the most objectionable strategies of copyright trolling litigation is targeting infringers and noninfringers indiscriminately.  

Who Is Behind Trolling? 

The trolls behind these lawsuits usually own the copyright at issue, but not always. Often, they don’t use the copyright to license or distribute the work for pay. In other words, they own the copyright solely to troll. The goal is to scare infringers and noninfringers into expensive settlements.

Copyright Trolling: A Case Study

The Golden v. Michael Grecco Productions case came out of the Eastern District court of New York in 2021. A blogger who made no money from his work included a photo of an actress taken by a certain photographer in one of his blogs. The photo had yielded just $4 in revenue for the photographer over the years but he threatened to sue the blogger for infringement for $150,000 or settle for $25,000. The blogger countersued claiming fair use, and the judge awarded the photographer $750 in damages. 

Moral of the Golden v. Michael Grecco Case

The award in the case was the least amount statutorily possible but far less than each side likely spent on attorneys’ fees. It’s important to consult an intellectual property or corporate law attorney before deciding to engage in a lawsuit. 

5 Ways to Defeat Copyright Trolls

The secret to dealing with copyright trolls is to not fall prey to intimidation. These strategies can help defeat even the most nefarious copyright trolls: 

  1. Don’t ignore communication. Deadlines are important, and a copyright troll can prevail if one gets missed.
  2. Don’t communicate directly with a copyright troll. While silence between a plaintiff, or the troll, and the defendant isn’t ideal, a defendant should also have a buffer in the form of legal counsel.
  3. Make sure the troll actually owns the copyright to the item in question. The copyright troll should be able to provide proof of copyright registration. 
  4. Lawyer up. Trolls don’t like dealing with attorneys who understand the issues at play nor do they like having to communicate through an attorney. An attorney can also advise on whether to settle, countersue, and file motions. 
  5. Don’t settle without an attorney’s advice. Don’t rush into a settlement unless an attorney has advised it.

Trolls take advantage of people unrepresented by counsel. They can intimidate people into a settlement or initiate endless litigation. Have the peace of mind of one of America’s best law firms fighting them by getting in touch today.

Can You Receive Unemployment While on FMLA?

FMLA and unemployment

In April 2021, approximately 3.7 million Americans collected unemployment benefits according to the Department of Labor. By April 2022, that number had dropped to about 1.38 million. At the same time, 15% of United States employees reported taking leave for a valid Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) reason in the past 12 months.

So what’s the intersection between these two benefits? Can an employee collect unemployment while on family medical leave? Generally, the answer is no, but there are gray areas where exceptions may apply. Here are some more details about FMLA leave and unemployment.

What Is FMLA?

The Family and Medical Leave Act was signed into law in 1993 to protect eligible employees’ jobs. FMLA also continues their health insurance while they’re out on qualifying leave. The typical amount of allowable leave is 12 weeks, although it depends on the circumstances.

For instance, if an employee takes FMLA to care for a new baby, a sick spouse, or a serious medical condition, they receive 12 weeks of leave within a 12-month period. If employees are on FMLA leave to care for a military service family member, they receive up to 26 weeks of leave within a 12-month period.

Who Qualifies for FMLA?

The law looks to three areas to determine an employee’s eligibility for FMLA.

  • The employer
  • The employee
  • Nature of the leave.

For an employer to receive coverage, it must be a public agency, a school, or a private employer with 50 or more employees. The employee must have worked for at least 12 months for at least 1,250 hours in that time. The nature of the leave must also fall within the parameters outlined in the FMLA statute.

Definition of “Unemployed”

Whether you qualify for unemployment benefits, known as unemployment insurance, or unemployment while on family medical leave, both hinge on the definition of “unemployed.” For purposes of collecting unemployment, people are unemployed if they’re out of work or have had their hours reduced through no fault of their own. The exact definition of unemployment will depend on state labor laws.

Different Rules by State

Including someone on family medical leave under the definition of unemployed is the exception rather than the rule, but some states do provide benefits in these cases. For states that don’t, the sticking point is that people on family medical leave are technically still employed, despite the fact that they’re not working. In other words, when their leave ends, their job, by law, will still be there and always was.

Conversely, for states that consider some FMLA recipients unemployed, their rationale centers on the fact that the employee isn’t performing work or receiving a wage. Regardless, an employee can almost always apply for unemployment benefits if their leave ends and he or she is still unable to return to work.

While those on qualifying FMLA generally aren’t eligible for unemployment, states have different laws governing employees’ eligibility status. The only way to know for sure if you qualify is to consult with an experienced employment law attorney. Cokinos Young is a multistate law firm with years of experience in labor laws. Get in touch with the law firm to find out more about FMLA unemployment qualifications today.

What Is Fidelity and Surety Law?

fidelity and surety law

If a contractor fails to perform the work required by a construction contract, a surety bond can protect the client in the event of nonpayment. Alternatively, if a small business discovers an employee is skimming the books, a fidelity bond, commonly known as employee dishonesty insurance, can protect its bottom line. In both scenarios, fidelity and surety law are essential to finding a solution. Find out what these are and how an attorney can help. 

What Are Surety Bonds?

To understand surety law, one first needs to understand surety bonds. Three parties enter into surety bonds: the surety, the obligee, and the principal. The bond exists to make sure the principal, usually a contractor or business, either performs a task or pays a debt. The obligee is the party to which that obligation is owed, often a government agency, owner, or another client. The surety is the insurance company that issues the surety bond and that would be liable for the failure to perform or the failure to pay. 

What Are Fidelity Bonds?

Fidelity bonds are a form of business insurance, similar to a surety bond, that gives companies protection against dishonest employees. Modern fidelity bonds involve only two parties: the business and the surety. These parties are also sometimes known as the principal and the insurance company.

Examples of Surety Litigation 

Litigation can occur at any phase of the surety bond process. Here are some scenarios of what could happen: 

  • Contractor default. A contractor or business might not perform as agreed by contract or statute but a construction surety bond protects the obligee.
  • Fraud or misrepresentation. Commercial surety bonds safeguard consumers against misrepresentation, fraud, and other forms of financial risk.
  • Liens and privileges. This is a security interest in real or physical property and against a surety bond that can be enforced.

Examples of Fidelity Litigation

Fidelity litigation is equally common and can happen in the following situations: 

  • Fraud related to financial institutions. Financial institution bonds are a form of fidelity bonds that can result in legal disputes involving employee theft, forgery, fraudulent trading, and other things.
  • Commercial crime. Nonfinancial institutions recieve the same protections against burglary, dishonesty, theft, and computer fraud.
  • Fiduciary bonds. When fiduciaries in the court system, such as executors and trustees, don’t do their job, litigations can ensue when a bond applies.

How an Attorney Can Help With Fidelity and Surety Law Issues 

Remember that the matter doesn’t have to reach the courts to need attorney involvement. Wanting to negotiate, settle, or even just receive counsel can more than justify involving a fidelity and surety law attorney. An attorney with expertise in construction, corporate, and commercial litigation can help communicate with the other side to reach a settlement. Or, if the time comes, go to court for a judge or jury to decide. 

Whether the role involved is a principal, obligee, or surety in any of the above scenarios, Cokinos | Young has experience representing clients and reaching a resolution. Get in touch today for a free consultation with one of our experienced fidelity and surety law attorneys.

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