The IC Top 20: The most important news stories of 2012

A roundup of 20 headline-making stories from the past year that in-house counsel couldn’t afford to miss

A lot happened in the legal industry in 2012. Companies and law firms alike struggled in the face of the still-difficult economy, and not all of them came out on top. Political turmoil reached a tipping point, new regulations came into effect, cases were won, lost and settled, criminals were jailed.

But through all the ups and downs, these 20 stories stayed with us. They're the ones we feel will have lasting impact, the historic decisions, the game-changing regulations and shocking scandals. As 2012 winds to a close, we hope that reviewing these stories will help in-house counsel prepare for the new challenges 2013 will bring.

1. Election Ended

The presidential election wasn’t just the top story of 2012, considering that candidates deluged Americans with a sea of polls, punditry and political ads as early as spring 2011. But all that came to an end on Tuesday, Nov. 6, as President Barack Obama bested Republican challenger Mitt Romney to win a second term in the Oval Office.

2. Suing Schools

It’s hardly a secret that now is not exactly the best time to be graduating from law school. Employment is slowly improving, but it’s still not great, and many law school grads who found themselves disappointed by the harsh environment of the legal jobs market are lashing out at their alma maters.  

Since February, the angry graduates have sued more than 30 law schools, including U.S. News & World Report Top 50 members American University Washington College of Law and Pepperdine University School of Law. The suits accuse the schools of misrepresenting their job placement data and, as a result, misleading students about the job opportunities for which they’re going into massive debt. 

3. Device Dispute

Apple Inc. emerged victorious in its widely watched multi- billion-dollar patent case against Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.

Last year, Apple sued Samsung for purportedly copying elements of its iPhone and iPad. Samsung countersued, and the international battle over mobile devices began, spawning several national and international lawsuits. Experts noted that Apple’s fight with Samsung was essentially a proxy battle against Google Inc. because Samsung’s products run on Google’s Android operating system. 

4. Shameful Shipwreck

Just shy of the 100-year anniversary of the infamous Titanic shipwreck, history seemed to eerily repeat itself.

On Jan. 13, Captain Francesco Schettino of the Carnival Corp.-owned Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia steered his vessel too close to the shore of an Italian island and tore a hole in the hull of the ship, causing it to capsize. Amidst an unclear evacuation procedure, panic ensued. Many of the 4,200 people onboard fought to get onto lifeboats, and others opted to jump into the sea. The disaster left 32 people dead. Italian authorities charged Schettino with manslaughter, causing a shipwreck, abandoning ship, failing to report an accident to the coast guard and destroying a natural habitat. A trial was ongoing at press time.

5. Devious Doug

The story sounds like a Hollywood crime thriller.

Thirty-three-year-old real-estate lawyer Douglas Arntsen lived in a modest, Staten Island, N.Y., home with his wife and young daughter. Since 2007, he had been working at Crowell & Moring and had a reputation for being quiet, friendly and hardworking. 

6. Caring Criminal

Rajat Gupta was an unlikely corporate criminal. He grew up poor in India and was orphaned as a teenager, but he later found success on Wall Street as head of the global management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. and as a board member of Goldman Sachs Inc. and Procter & Gamble (P&G). He was a devoted family man and philanthropist.

7. Super Settlement

The largest antitrust settlement ever is on the fast-track to making history.

8. Social Media Snafus

Corporate social media policies designed to protect proprietary and confidential information from turning up on Facebook or Twitter became a source of friction between employers and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

9. Claiming Domains

The Internet is an ever-changing, everevolving beast, and companies can be hard-pressed to keep up with new developments. The latest facelift affecting companies is the expansion of generic top-level domains (gTLDs), the end portions of website names—.com, .net and .org being the most prominent.

10. Promoting Predictive Coding 

The tidal wave of digital data that companies have to preserve and review when faced with litigation can be daunting. Technology-assisted review software can aid exhausted attorneys in sifting through the data deluge. One such software is predictive coding, which takes a human-sorted sample of relevant documents and uses it to predict relevancy across the entire collection of files. 

11. Immigration Preemption

When the Supreme Court reaffirmed the federal government’s right to control immigration policy and enforcement on June 25, it was welcome news for multistate employers. The decision put an end to many state efforts to regulate immigration, thereby precluding the need for employers to comply with a patchwork of differing laws.

12. Gay Rights Gains

For lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals fighting for their rights, 2012 was a banner year.

13. Settled Up

Summer 2012 was a high season for big settlements in the pharmaceutical industry.

14. Bribery Bust

In April, the New York Times dropped a bomb on Wal-Mart when it published an article not only accusing the company’s Mexican unit of breaking the law, but also accusing Wal-Mart of making a valiant effort to cover it up.

15. Dewey's Demise

The bankruptcy of storied New York law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf made legal headlines for much of the year. Public rumblings of trouble began in early 2012, when individual partners and entire teams of attorneys began to defect from the firm. The departures were reportedly motivated by financial problems, including a compensation system that provided substantial guaranteed bonuses to rainmakers at the expense of more junior partners.

16. Obamacare Upheld

In a decision with major implications for employers, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 on June 28 to uphold the key provisions of President Obama’s controversial health care law, saying its requirement that most Americans obtain insurance or pay a penalty was authorized by Congress’ power to levy taxes. Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s four more liberal members in allowing the overhaul of America’s health care system outlined in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) to proceed.

17. Sorry State

For the Pennsylvania State University, 2012 will long be remembered as the year the once highly respected school fell from grace.

18. On the Move

Every year brings news of high-profile general counsel leaving for other positions or retiring, but the past year saw some especially notable moves.

19. Whistleblower Windfall

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in August issued the first payment under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act whistleblower program, which took effect one year earlier amid concerns it would spark a firestorm of whistleblower reports.

20. Patent Problems

To patent or not to patent: That is the question several courts have been going back and forth on for the past two years—particularly with regard to the patentability of genes.

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