As a business attorney, I try to understand my clients’ businesses and keep up with trends that may help my clients address problems they may encounter as their business grows. Three of my favorite podcasts that help me do that include Mac Power Users, which helps you get the most out of your technology, Cortex, which features business and productivity tips from independent content creators, and Free Agents, which discusses the trials and tribulations of starting your own business. On all three shows, the hosts have mentioned that they have hired virtual assistants to help them with various aspects of their growing businesses.

While browsing LinkedIn, I noticed that Frances Annis, a connection I met through the Southern Lancaster County Chamber of Commerce, had recently moved to a Lancaster-based virtual administrative support company called My Reliable Admin. Fran put me in touch with My Reliable Admin founder, Angie Mobarak, who explained that the company provides virtual administrative support to busy professionals and business across the country, utilizing technology and flexible plans and pricing to suit the needs of their clients.

Angie described My Reliable Admin’s approach to providing a positive client experience: “The VA (Virtual Assistant)/Client relationship hinges greatly on trust and communication. The highly responsive nature of our Assistants creates an in-person feel even though clients may reside in a different time-zone from their VA. Full transparency is also critical in building trust as our clients can always know how their Assistant’s time is being spent by viewing a task tracking portal we provide.” Continue Reading Need Administrative Help? Consider Hiring a Virtual Assistant

Our favorite coworking space, The Candy Factory, and Ben Franklin Technology Partners has officially announced that they are teaming up to create a technology incubator in Lancaster City. The formal announcement can be seen in this Lancaster Online article: State-backed incubator for small, new tech businesses in Lancaster County to open March 29.

Last month, Brandon Harter and I attended a sneak preview headlined by Steve Fafel, Director of Business Development and Portfolio Manager for Ben Franklin Technology Partners (BFTP). He introduced BFTP’s role as a state-funded economic development group helping early-stage technology and technology-related companies in Pennsylvania. It does this by providing direct financial resources along with indirect resources like mentoring, facilitating connections, and professional support. Mr. Fafel emphasized that encouraging and helping these entrepreneurs is better for all residents of Lancaster County, as it helps combat issues such as an aging population leading to decreased tax revenue over time, and a population that, for the seventh year in a row, has seen more households leave Lancaster County than move in. Continue Reading The Candy Factory Teams up with Ben Franklin Technology Partners in Lancaster City recent homeowners association case pitted the association’s board against Tigger.  Yes, that Tigger – the trusty friend of Winnie the Pooh, Christopher Robin and the rest of the Hundred Acre Woods.  Actually, the problem was a mailbox that was shaped like Tigger.  In this case, the Association’s Architectural Guidelines bounced the Tigger mailbox right of the neighborhood.

The community in question had fairly typical Architectural Guidelines.  The Declaration of the community provided that the Board needed to approve all installation, construction or alterations of any “decks, fences, permanent play equipment, ledges, pools, storage tanks, accessory buildings, or any other structures on the lot.”  The Guidelines also provided that any proposed modifications need to be compatible with the architectural character and design of the community.  The list of items specifically requiring approval did not include “mailboxes.”

One of the unit owners replaced their standard mailbox with a new mailbox that looked like Tigger. The Association determined the mailbox violated the Architectural Review Guidelines and instructed the unit owners to remove it.  The unit owners refused, and five years of litigation ensued. Continue Reading Disney Character Mailbox Gets Bounced from Homeowners Association

Last week, I had the honor and privilege of being admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States. The trip is organized on an annual basis by the Lancaster Bar Association. Since we were allowed one guest, I invited my mom to attend with me.

The admission ceremony occurred prior to two oral arguments before Court. After going through security to enter the building and spending some time in a conference room waiting for the next step, we were ushered into the Courtroom. My first reaction was surprise at how small the Courtroom actually is. This was immediately followed by nervousness – I was sitting about 15 feet from the bench where the nine justices of the Supreme Court would soon be seated. Continue Reading A Trip to the Supreme Court of the United States

Even though winter is (hopefully) almost over, it is a good time to talk about snow and plan ahead for next year.  Every winter, condominium and homeowner association boards all over Pennsylvania face the same question:  When do we need to call our snow removal contractors?  This is a divisive topic in the community.  Some people believe that no matter what the snow amount, the grounds crew should be there around the clock to remove the snow.  They may threaten to sue the Board if there are any slips and falls on Association property.  Board members want to know what is their legal duty to remove snow and ice from the Association’s roads, sidewalks, driveways, etc.?

The Association’s potential liability for slips and falls on an ice or snow-covered surface is covered by the “Hills and Ridges Doctrine.”  This says that the Association has to remove snow and ice within a reasonable time after the accumulation in order to prevent a dangerous condition.  An Association cannot allow snow and ice to accumulate in hills and ridges, if the accumulation is a danger to pedestrians.

The key to the Association’s responsibility is that it needs to act “reasonably.”  That does not mean immediately after the last snowflake falls.  In fact, Courts have found a landowner not liable for injury when snow fell overnight and the parking lot was not cleared by 7:45 the next morning.  The Courts have also said that the Association does not have to pre-treat sidewalks before a storm, or to salt or sand a parking lot during or immediately after an ice storm.  If there is snow everywhere, people are supposed to know that there may be slippery conditions.  Continue Reading When to Call the Snow Plows

Photo credit: JCT(Loves)Streisand* on Visual hunt / CC BY-NDWhen you think of Barbra Streisand, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Is it a career spanning six decades, including ten Grammy Awards, five Emmy Awards, a Special Tony Award, and more? The unique spelling of her first name? Is it her first album, titled (you guessed it!) The Barbra Streisand Album? Who could forget about her role in Meet the Fockers as Roz Focker. For me, the first thing that comes to mind is actually none of those things. And I’ll stop summarizing Barbra’s Wikipedia page now.

I would argue that no matter which of Barbra’s many talents you are most impressed with, as a business owner, the top association with Barbra Streisand should be the Streisand Effect. The Streisand Effect is “the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet.” It stems from an incident where Barbra Streisand attempted to stop photographs of her house in Malibu, California, from being posted online, which unintentionally drew more attention to the photograph. You can read more about the Streisand Effect here.

Understanding the Streisand Effect is important when evaluating how to publicly respond to negative information about you or your business because it’s possible that taking certain actions could actually make the problem worse. It is inevitable that you will encounter conflict, whether it be with unhappy customers, competitors, disgruntled employees, or maybe you inadvertently get caught up in a conspiracy theory, such as Pizzagate. Negative information about your business may be posted online, or you could hear through the grapevine that so-and-so has been talking about you out in the community. Continue Reading What Would Barbra Do? A Business Lesson from Barbra Streisand

In Part I, we discussed what the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is, when it applies, and the consequences of failure to comply with the law. Below, we’ll discuss further questions and answers regarding an overview of what’s required when COPPA applies to your website, app or online service. Continue Reading Your Website and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act – Part II – Compliance Overview

Whenever a farmer needs zoning approval for an agricultural project, they cannot leave any detail to chance.  If anyone opposes the project – be it the Zoning Hearing Board, the Board of Supervisors or a group of neighbors – anytime the farmer misses even the smallest detail, it could be grounds for getting the project denied.

In Berner v. Montour Township Zoning Hearing Board, the Zoning Hearing Board (twice) and the County Court of Common Pleas (twice) approved the farmer’s zoning application for a swine nursery barn.  The Zoning Hearing Board in particular put a lot of faith in the work of Todd Rush from my friends at TeamAg. Unfortunately, there was an organized group of neighbors that opposed the application.  The Commonwealth Court eventually ruled that the Zoning Hearing Board was wrong, and that the farmer should not have received the approval for the swine barn.

Most of the Commonwealth Court’s denial dealt with very small differences between the language of the Zoning Ordinance and the Nutrient Management Act.  The Zoning Ordinance required the applicant to “submit facility designs and legally binding assurances with performance guaranties” to ensure that the operations will be “conducted without adverse impact upon adjacent properties.”  Since this sentence appears to deal with the design of manure storage facilities and manure and waste water management, the Zoning Hearing Board decided that these requirements were preempted by the Nutrient Management Act. After all, the NMA does not allow a municipality to regulate practices related to storage or application of manure or the construction or operation of manure storage facilities.

On a closer look, however, the Court decided that the preemption only applies to operations where a Nutrient Management Plan is required.  A NMP is only required for a concentrated animal operation or a concentrated animal feeding operation – a CAO or a CAFO. In this case, the use was neither a CAO nor a CAFO, so the farm only needed a Manure Management Plan, and not a NMP.  Because a NMP was not required, the preemption in the Nutrient Management Act did  not apply, and the Zoning Ordinance could require anything that it wanted. Continue Reading Zoning for Agricultural Projects: Every Detail Matters

Ever run across an idea so good you cannot imagine why you didn’t come up with it before? I found one of those last Friday when reading Lancaster Newspaper’s article Northwest Regional Police Department sets up safe zone for face-to-face exchanges.

When I read the article’s title, it sounded like a middle school dispute resolution plan for two classmates to meet face-to-face and talk through their differences. The reality is much cooler. The safe zone is a publicly maintained safe space with 24-hour video recording for two (or more) people who may not have complete trust in each other to meet. When would that happen? Well, one situation is if you are dropping off your child to your ex-spouse per a custody arrangement. But how about if you just arranged a deal on craigslist? Now you have a secure space to exchange money for that TV stand (and just in time for the big game!).

Kudos to the Manheim Borough Police Department and the Northwest Regional Police Department for setting up such spaces. It provides another example of the marriage between 21st century technology and practical thinking that makes me love Lancaster County. Now excuse me while I go off to think about the next great idea so obvious I didn’t think of yet…

Brandon Harter is an attorney and technology guru at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from William & Mary Law School and advises clients on issues of Business LawCivil Litigation & Dispute ResolutionMunicipal Law, and Information Technology & Internet Law.

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, known as COPPA, is a federal law that gives parents and legal guardians control over the collection, use and disclosure of children’s personal information. The goal of COPPA is to protect children’s online interactions and to make sure that parents consent to the collection and use of such data, since children under 13 are considered incapable of understanding the potential consequences of sharing such information.

Here are a few frequently asked questions and answers regarding COPPA, its application and consequences for failure to comply.

What information is considered personal information under COPPA?

 As defined under COPPA, personal information is information that is collected online and identifies an individual, including but not limited to:

  • First and last name
  • Physical address that includes street and town or city name
  • Email address
  • Online identifier that permits an individual to be contacted directly (for example, a username)
  • Telephone number
  • Social security number
  • Image, video or audio containing an individual’s image or voice
  • Information sufficient to identify the home or other physical address of an individual
  • A persistent identifier such as a cookie number, IP address, unique device number
  • Any other information collected from a child that is either about a child that can be used in combination with other personal information to identify the child

When does COPPA apply to a website, app, or online service? Continue Reading Your Website and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act – Part I – Does It Apply?