Articles By Melissa Green

Privacy Policies and Legal Compliance

If you are a business owner in the year 2019 chances are you have a website, and regardless of whether you use your website to sell products or market services you likely collect some personally identifiable information (“PII”) from those who visit your site.  PII may include a person’s name, email or home address, phone number, or even financial information used to make purchases; essentially, any information that may identify a person is considered PII.  A privacy policy details how PII is collected, stored, and distributed.  Though privacy policies are not required by federal law in the United States, there are several states who do require them.  Additionally, many federal laws dictate the use and collection of PII and should be considered when drafting a privacy policy. 

Depending on the type of business that you run you may need to consider federal law when writing your privacy policy.  Relevant federal laws include the: Americans With Disabilities Act; Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984; Children’s Internet Protection Act of 2001 (updated in 2013); Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986; Computer Security Act of 1997; Consumer Credit Reporting Control Act; and Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.  (International law, such as the EU Data Protection Regulation is not discussed in this blog but should also be considered if your website has a global reach.)  State laws regarding PII range in scope from the very specific (i.e. Arizona’s e-reader law which requires that a public library not disclose the PII of patrons including materials obtained from the library electronically or otherwise), to the very broad (i.e. California’s law discussed below). 

The most prominent and far reaching state law regarding privacy policies in the United States is the California Online Privacy Protection Act (“CAOPPA”).  It is important to note that regardless of where your business is physically located, if the website reaches users in California and potentially collects PII from such users then you must comply with CAOPPA.  CAOPPA requires a privacy policy to contain the following information: the type of personal data collected; affiliated organizations data may be shared with; a list of any third parties who collect PII through the website; information regarding how users can request amendments to PII collected; the company’s process for informing users of changes to the Privacy Policy; and the effective date of the Privacy Policy.  CAOPPA also requires a Privacy Policy to detail what happens if a user makes a “Do Not Track” request.  Website owners are not required to comply with such a request, but the privacy policy must be clear on how a request will be handled.

A privacy policy should be written in plain English and be simple enough for the typical user to understand its contents.  At a minimum, it should include:

  • Name of the business;
  • Contact information for the business;
  • Type of PII collected, the reason why it is collected, and how it will be used (by the company or third-party affiliates);
  • Reason why PII is collected;
  • Type of PII, if any, shared with third party affiliates; and
  • How a user may opt out of the collection of their PII. 

More importantly, a company must practice what it preaches when it comes to use of PII.  In other words, it is imperative that PII is only collected, stored, and used in the manner described in the privacy policy.

Model privacy policies are available all over the web these days, but there is no substitution for solid legal advice and research when it comes to compliance with the law.  Further, established privacy policies should be reviewed regularly to ensure compliance with the ever-changing laws regarding PII and data collection.  For help with drafting a privacy policy, or reviewing an existing policy, contact The Wladis Law Firm.


Employment Contracts in New York

In recent years the use of employment contracts has come under scrutiny in many states, including New York.  But an employment contract may be necessary in order to prevent disclosure of trade secrets, unnecessary competition, or solicitation of clients or other employees.  When creating an employment contract, it is important to ensure the contract is legally binding for both parties.  Here in New York employment contracts must be supported by consideration, protect a legitimate business interest, and be reasonable in duration and geographic scope.  Accordingly, there are three primary factors for employers in New York to consider when determining if an employment contract is appropriate: 1) is the other party a potential new hire or a current employee; 2) what is the employee’s role within the business; 3) what is the employee’s geographic reach?

First, is the employee a new hire or a current employee?  All employment contracts must be supported by consideration.  (This means there must be something of value exchanged for the employee’s promise to uphold the contract.)  For new employees conditioning their employment on entering into the employment contract is sufficient consideration, because the employee is being offered something of value (a job) in exchange for entering into the contract.  For current employees, however, consideration must include something more than just continued employment, such as a raise or promotion. 

Second, consider the employee’s role within the business.  In New York there is a growing trend amongst courts to not enforce employment contracts, especially contracts where an employee agrees not to work for a competitor, between employers and low-level employees.  In other words, protecting the labor of low-level employees is generally not considered a legitimate business interest.  On the other hand, preventing the disclosure of trade secrets, client lists, or other confidential information, are all considered legitimate business interests.  Unfortunately, New York Law does not directly define low-level employee.  However, New York courts will examine all the facts when determining if the contract is enforceable; such facts might include the amount an employee earns, the employee’s duties, and the employee’s access to sensitive company information.  Further, legislation was recently introduced in New York to limit the enforcement of employment contracts to employees earning greater than $75,000.00 per year.  Accordingly, employers should consider the employee’s role within the company and the impact on the company in the event an employee leaves when deciding if an employment contract is necessary.

Finally, consider the employee’s geographic reach.  In order to be reasonable in geographic scope the employment contract should be limited to the geographic region where the employee works and/or interacts with clients.  For example, an international corporation with an employee who has clients around the globe may request that employee enter a contract that is global in scale.  Generally, however, the scope of any employment contract should be limited to the area where the employee does business.  Further, the contract should be limited in duration.  In New York courts have generally found that six months is a reasonable time frame, but courts have also upheld contracts that require employees not to compete for up to three years after they leave the company.

Regardless of whether you are an employee or an employer, you should seek legal advice before entering into an employment contract.  This will help ensure that the contract is legally binding for both parties and can save the time and frustration of litigating the enforceability of the contract down the road.


Hiring an Attorney for Your Real Estate Purchase

If you are a transplant to New York it may come as a surprise to you to learn that real estate transactions involve not only real estate agents, but also attorneys to represent the buyer, seller,and (in some instances) lender.  This is because New York law mandates that only attorneys can practice law and specifies that the important aspects of a real estate deal are included under that umbrella.  However, hiring an attorney is also in your best interest, regardless of whether you are buying or selling property, since the attorney performs so many important functions during a real estate transaction. Specifically, a real estate attorney is there to review the contract for sale, review title, prepare (or review) the deed and other important legal documents involved in the transaction, and represent your interest during the closing.

Your attorney will first become involved in your real estate transaction after you have selected a property to purchase (or someone has elected to purchase the property you have for sale) in order to review the Sales Contract.  During this phase your attorney ensures the contract is in your best interests, that you understand what you are committing to, and that the contract is legally correct. 

Once the Sales Contract is approved by the attorneys for the buyer and the seller it’s time to review the title documents.  Reviewing the title documents is especially important for a buyer since this process ensures that the seller owns the property (and thus can legally sell it) and that there are no undisclosed liens attached to the property.  Further, the attorney will review the chain of title (the people who owned the property before the seller) to ensure that the property was legally passed from person to person in previous transactions.

Once the attorney determines that the title documents are sufficient, she will also review the other legal documents including the Deed, the tax documents, any necessary affidavits, etc.  During this process the attorney’s job is to ensure that the documents are correct, and that title will pass from the seller to the buy in a legally binding fashion.  If you are purchasing a property with another person, such as your spouse, your attorney will also discuss how you will take title to the property.  For example, a couple may take title to a property as joint tenants with right of survivorship, which means that in the event one spouse dies the title to the property will pass to the surviving spouse.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, your attorney will represent your interests during a closing.  For example, during a purchase of a home with a mortgage, the attorney would help the buyer understand the legal commitments involved in loan documents.   Or, if there was some issue with the property during the final walk-through, the attorney would help you understand your legal rights and negotiate a favorable solution. 

If you are new to the State of New York it may seem unusual to hire an attorney to purchase (or sell) property but choosing an attorney who will diligently represent your interests throughout the process is one of the best investments you can make.    


Look for the Helpers

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me,

‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” ~Fred Rogers


It has been a tumultuous start to fall in America. Whether you are a diehard law-nerd following the confirmation hearings of the proposed Supreme Court Justice like a hawk, or a passive spectator watching everyone in your social media feeds argue over the impact of the hearings, you have likely witnessed a lot of heated debates about the selection process for the vacancy on the court.  Sadly, it’s often debilitating to be a law-nerd, because as constitutional scholars we are all too aware that the selection process is left up to our elected representatives.  In times like this I try to remember my childhood.  My parents did not appreciate the act of commiseration.  Action, they explained, empowers you.  Complaining does not.  In times like this it is easy to feel like a lost voice among a sea of screaming people.  It is even easier still to be complacent, to forget to be grateful for what we have, and to forget that we too have the power to become helpers.

The holidays are just around the corner, and with them come another season of giving.  If you are a frequent holiday volunteer who doesn’t spend much time in the community the rest of the year perhaps its time to take some of the passion you have felt toward the current political climate and turn it into action.  Below are some traditional and not so traditional ways to give back.

If none of those ideas spark your interest you may try something closer to home.  Many local schools look for volunteers in the classroom to listen to children read or help with other activities.  If political discourse is more up your alley consider volunteering with the local chapter of your political party, or volunteering to assist ensure voters are registered or can get to the poles on time.  Looking for something even more informal?  Try committing yourself to a few random acts of kindness per month (or week, or day).

I appreciate that Mr. Rogers’ mother taught him that helpers would always be near, as a child that must have been a great comfort for him, but it is also important to remember that if we want our children to see a community of helpers we must be helpful. It doesn’t matter if your version of help is raking the leaves for your elderly neighbor, or building houses for the less fortunate, or being an ear for a victim in a time of crisis.  What matters is that you do what you can to give back.  What matters is that our children see us acting as often as they see us arguing or complaining.  What matters is that we give them helpers to look for.

  • Volunteer CNY (A United Way Initiative) – The United Way’s Volunteer CNY offers a myriad of volunteer opportunities and is currently seeking assistance for: weekend meal prep; the Syracuse Film Festival; the care package project; and more!
  • Habitat for Humanity – In addition to help building houses (near and far) Habitat for Humanity seeks volunteers to work in their “Re-Store” and the local office.
  • Vera House – Vera House seeks volunteers to assist domestic violence victims with a variety of services from crisis hotlines to family court assistance.
  • Salvation Army – If you are into something more traditional consider volunteering for the Salvation Army, of course you could ring the bell and collect donations for the holidays, but the Salvation Army offers volunteer opportunities year-round.
  • Rosamond Gifford Zoo – Working with animals doesn’t have to mean a trip to the animal shelter. Consider volunteering at the zoo for a unique experience that is sure to warm your heart.





More Than Pomp and Circumstance


For many the month of May means graduation season. Whether eagerly awaiting a graduation ceremony, or fondly remembering a ceremony from days gone by, the images of long robes, and graduation marches are sure to fill your mind.  From the classic “Pomp and Circumstance” to graduation regalia (or as my children like to call them wizard’s robes) the roots of American graduation ceremonies are steeped in European traditions but adapted to fit the unique nature of American universities.   Below is a fun historical prospective detailing how some of these traditions came about.

Pomp and Circumstance

If you’ve been to an American graduation ceremony, or seen one on TV or in the movies, chances are you watched students march in to “Pomp and Circumstance.” How did the song become a staple in American graduation ceremonies?  “Pomp and Circumstance” was composed by Edward Elgar in 1901.  In 1902 the song was used during the coronation of Brittan’s Edward VII.  Four years later, Elgar was awarded an honorary doctorate from Yale University, and the song was played as he left the stage.  Over the next couple of years many Ivy League Universities used the song during their ceremonies forming the long-standing tradition.  Over the years the tradition evolved, and the song is now used as a processional rather than a recessional during graduation ceremonies.  Although Elgar likely did not mean to write an iconic piece linked to matriculation ceremonies he probably knew it was perfect for the occasion since he described the song as “a tune that comes once in a lifetime.”


Graduation regalia is easy to spot, but the site of a robed student often raises the question why all the pomp and circumstance? The tradition of wearing robes for graduation also comes from Europe.  Unlike “Pomp and Circumstance,” however, it was a tradition borne out of necessity.  Members of the clergy in Europe first sported the robes to keep warm in poorly heated brick buildings in the 12th and 13th centuries.  The use of robes evolved over the years to eventually be associated strictly with academia.  Once used as an academic uniform, robes today are used exclusively for graduation ceremonies.  In 1894 the American Intercollegiate Commission met at Columbia University to standardize graduation regalia for American universities.  Today graduation regalia is unique to each university, but the American Counsel on Education continues to release recommendations.

Graduation regalia is also unique to the degree being honored. Traditionally, students being honored for receiving their bachelor’s degrees wear closed gowns with pointed sleeves; those receiving master’s degrees sport robes with oblong sleeves which may be worn closed or open; doctoral students wear closed robes with bell sleeves often characterized by velvet bands on the front and sleeves.  The iconic mortarboard can be seen on bachelor’s degree candidates, and is also used in high school graduation ceremonies.  Whereas, master and doctoral candidates wear a four, six, or eight sided tam.

Black is the recommended color for graduation robes, but many institutions prefer robes in school colors. The color of the trimmings of doctors’ gowns, edging of hoods, and tassels of caps are often associated with the discipline of the degree.  For example, purple is associated with the study of law, and green with the study of medicine.

Regardless of the regalia worn or the songs played the symbol is the same. The traditions of graduation ceremonies signify to the world the academic achievements that bring together a group of people who may otherwise be very diverse. Take the time to congratulate a graduate this spring, they’ve earned it.





Email Etiquette


The average U.S. employee spends approximately one-quarter of their week sending or reading emails. As the recent corruption trials in New York City gain traction we are once again reminded that emails are forever.  For example, emails have been entered into evidence during the corruption trial of Joseph Percoco (and others) not just between Percoco and his co-defendants, but also between support staff at the governor’s office commenting on Percoco’s attitude and behavior. In one instance a state worker forwarded an angry email from Percoco to a colleague stating: “We aren’t f-in mindreaders.” Another employee reacted in an email, “WTF?” These emails are now part of the record of the trial. (

Whether it is an inter-office email or an email chain regarding a serious business matter a good rule of thumb is to never send anything in an email that you would not want to see as an exhibit in court. Here are some other email etiquette tips.

Setting Up the Email

  • Do not use your professional email account to send personal emails.
  • Add the recipient last to ensure your email is fully proofed and complete before sending.
  • Keep the subject line short, to the point, and current with the content of the email (change the subject if necessary in a long email chain or begin a new email).
  • Structure – each email should include a greeting, the body of the email, and a signoff or salutation.
  • Include a signature line, and privacy warning notice.

The Body of the Email

  • Avoid the use of profanity.
  • Try to keep your emails brief and on subject.
  • Avoid jokes, sarcasm, and other colloquy’s that must be read in context to be understood. Do not criticize or mock people in emails
  • Select professional font; the text should be black; keep the font size between 10 and 12 point.
  • Proofread! (And then proofread again, and finally proofread a third time.)

General Tips

  • Respond to your emails within twenty-four hours. Even if it is just to let the recipient know when to expect a more detailed response.
  • Avoid sending emails at odd hours. Instead, use the delayed send feature in Outlook to ensure your email is sent at the start of the next business day.
  • Avoid sending unnecessary emails. Every email represents an interruption to the recipient’s already busy workday, use that interruption wisely and for a purpose.
  • For important information stick with formal correspondence by mail.



Planning Ahead in Case of an Emergency



Keeping up with passwords and usernames in an increasingly electronic world
can be overwhelming at best. For many people even bank statements are now delivered
neatly to electronic inboxes, but have you ever stopped to think who else may need
access to all those usernames and passwords? If something were to happen to you, do
your loved ones know how to access your accounts electronically? While the mechanics
of estate planning are best left to a legal professional, preparing a list of account access
information can give both you and your loved ones piece of mind in times of emergency.

When determining what information to include you should consider who would
manage your affairs if you were unable to do so. For example, if you pay your bills
electronically, does someone know how to access the accounts? Would you like your
loved ones to have access to your email? Next, discuss the list with your loved one; they
may have additional suggestions for information to include. After you have determined
what information to include you should consider how you would like to store the

When making a list of account access information it is important to keep security
in mind. There are various “In Case of Emergency” (I.C.E.) workbooks and resources
available for those who prefer to keep a hard copy of the information. Such books should
be filled out completely and kept in a safe or other secure location. Loved ones should be
informed of the book’s contents and location so that it is easily accessible in times of
emergency. Another option is to keep private information on an encrypted USB flash
drive. Password protected drives can be paired with password protected PDF documents
to give an extra layer of security. As with hardcopies of the materials, it is best to keep
the drive in a safe or other secure location. Finally, there are websites where companies
will electronically store such information for you, though some charge a monthly fee.
(This last solution may be especially helpful if you are someone who has trouble keeping
track of your usernames and passwords for your own use.)

Planning for an emergency is rarely at the top of any to do list, but ensuring that
your loved ones have the ability to manage your affairs in case of a short term illness or
other emergency can save time and ease stress. Creating a list of electronic usernames
and passwords is just one way to ensure that your loved ones have time to focus on what



How to Think Like a Lawyer

Law School

“If you wish to be a lawyer, attach no consequence to the place you are in, or the person you are with; but get books, sit down anywhere, and go to reading for yourself. That will make a lawyer of you quicker than any other way.” ~Abraham Lincoln, Letter to William H. Grigsby, August 3, 1958

As May turns to June law students all over the country are starting their summer jobs. For many, this is their first exposure to a job in the legal field, and the differences between learning the law and practicing the law are rapidly becoming apparent.  So what do law schools teach students, and how is it different from what attorneys do in practice?  More importantly, if the study and the practice of law are so different why do students spend three years in school before entering the workforce, only to begin their education anew?  The answer is simple, law school teaches a student “how to think like a lawyer,” and the ability to grasp this foundational concept is paramount to the practice of law.

Initially, the study of law in America was trade based.  The process involved finding a mentor and working as an apprentice for up to seven years.  There was no formal education involved, but the mentor was expected to provide the apprentice with “assignments,” such as reading relevant legal precedent and writing legal briefs.  As formal education evolved, however, so too did legal education.  Beginning in the mid-1800’s students began attending universities to learn legal theory.  After completing their education students turned to their employers to learn the practical skills necessary to be successful attorneys.  While law schools today offer more practical curriculum (such as clinics, externships, and legal writing classes) than ever before, the focus of legal education remains the same: teaching students how to think like lawyers.

Learning “how to think like a lawyer” is rough work.  To begin, it requires reading piles and piles (and piles and piles and piles) of cases.  Law students, especially first year law students, routinely spend up to 40 hours per week preparing for classes.  When they are not reading, law students attend classes.  Most law school classes are taught using the Socratic Method.  (A process which involves a professor asking a student a series of questions about increasingly complex and ever changing fact patterns in order assist the student in applying the law they have learned.  If you have never heard of the Socratic Method you can learn more from watching classic law school thrillers like The Paper Chase.)  Fortunately, most modern professors use a modified version of the Socratic Method which includes some lecture and some time for questions from students.  Nevertheless, it is understood that at any given time the professor may turn to a student and begin grilling her on what she learned from the reading.  Each class concludes with a final exam.  The classic final exam asks students to respond to hypothetical fact patterns in essay form.  The goal is to read the fact pattern, spot the legal issues, and apply the law learned throughout the semester to the facts.  Thus, at the conclusion of law school a student understands how to “think like a lawyer,” because she has learned: how to read the law; how to discuss the law; and how to apply the law to a set of facts.

Learning to think like a lawyer provides the foundation to practice law in three ways.  First, having spent three years studying the law a new lawyer knows how to dive into a legal text without feeling intimidated and without taking two hours to read a seven page case.  Second, in light of all their time spent discussing the law (in a highly stressful environment), a new attorney knows a great deal about communicating regarding legal issues; attorneys refer to this type of communication as advocacy.  Finally, by learning how the law applies differently depending on the facts a new attorney has developed the logic and reasoning skills imperative to the practice of law.  However, these things are simply the foundation of practicing law.  In practice, (most) attorneys don’t spend hours reading cases and discussing them, and they certainly do not have time to assess hypothetical situations in order to reveal the minute differences in a given area of law.  This is where law firm training comes into play.

After a student has learned how to think like a lawyer in law school she learns how to practice law at a law firm. In practice an attorney’s day to day tasks vary greatly depending on the type of law they practice.  There are so many different types of law that it would be impossible to learn the ins and outs of each particularized area of practice in school.  Accordingly, new attorneys entering private practice learn these skills from the attorneys they work with.  This process is strikingly similar to the mentor process that predates American legal education.  For example, as an intern at The Wladis Law Firm this summer I have read a variety of contracts and observed numerous real estate transactions.  The training is meant to help me learn how to write contracts and participate in real estate transactions, but it is important that I observe seasoned attorneys first because, despite having completed two years of law school, I have not yet learned how to practice the law.

For a number of years there has been a great deal of debate regarding whether law students learn enough practical skills in law school. Part of this debate stems from the fact that new lawyers are not very productive; in fact, it can take a year or more of training at a firm before a lawyer begins to generate a work product that is profitable.  However, learning how to think like a lawyer has to come first.  It is this training that prepares an attorney to enter the legal world with a basic understanding of the logic and reasoning skills required to practice law.  Further, it is only through the rigor of legal education that a student learns the answer to every legal question imaginable, “it depends.”


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