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Most people know that it is a good idea to hire an attorney when entering contracts, creating a will or trust, or engaging in litigation. What you may not know is that you can, and often should, hire an attorney for arbitrations. With increasing frequency contracts contain arbitration provisions that require you to resolve any dispute through arbitration rather than through litigation. For example, when you retain the services of a broker or sign a contract with your financial advisor, that contract likely contains a FINRA arbitration clause.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) is an independent regulator of security advisors and securities firms doing business in the United States. When an investor seeks securities sales advice or purchases a security, such as stock, equity, or corporate bonds, the investor and his advisor and/or the securities firm enter into a contract. Typically the contract will include a provision stipulating that any dispute arising under the contract will be subject to the rules of FINRA.

When a conflict arises under the contract, such as if an advisor recommends an unsuitable investment, FINRA has three dispute resolution options: (1) the investor can file a complaint with FINRA against the advisor or the broker company, this is not litigation but allows FINRA to look into your complaint; (2) the investor can proceed to mediation; or (3) the investor can decide to arbitrate the conflict.

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In a case handled by Atkinson, Conway & Gagnon attorney Pat Gilmore, the Alaska Supreme Court recently affirmed the award of a disputed Alaska North Slope oil field “overriding royalty interest” (ORRI) to Rutter and Wilbanks Corporation, a client of the firm. Both the Alaska Supreme Court and the Superior Court agreed that Rutter and Wilbanks retained its interest in the ORRI despite surrendering its interest in the underlying operating entity. The extensive contract documentation drafted by a different law firm did not address the status of the ORRI upon surrender of a party’s interest in the operating entity. The Superior Court and Alaska Supreme Court rejected arguments that the court could imply forfeiture of the ORRI based on the “reasonable expectations of the parties” and other legal theories. Renaissance Alaska, LLC v. Rutter and Wilbanks Corporation, Alaska Supreme Court Opinion No. 6613 (October 28, 2011) http://www.courts.alaska.gov/ops/sp-6613.pdf

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Atkinson, Conway & Gagnon attorney Neil O’Donnell recently successfully represented Luis Lopez – a 10-year Army service member – in his legal quest to become a U.S. citizen. Mr. Lopez was brought to the United States from Mexico by his parents as an eight-year-old child. After attending school in California, Mr. Lopez enlisted in the Army with a false birth abstract. He subsequently served three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and received numerous awards and medals. After he disclosed and attempted to remedy his illegal immigration status, the Army began discharge proceedings against him and an Army personnel manager characterized his military service for the purpose of his immigration application as “not honorable” because of the circumstances of his original enlistment. Mr. Lopez’s commanding officer, however, “strongly recommended that SSG Lopez [be] awarded United States Citizenship for his commitment and service to the United States of America.” Mr. Lopez’s naturalization application was ultimately approved and Mr. Lopez took the oath of citizenship on February 9, 2011. Mr. O’Donnell represented Mr. Lopez on a pro bono basis. The Wall Street Journal published an article about Mr. Lopez’s legal journey on February 10, 2011: “Soldier Finds Minefield on Road to Citizenship” http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704570104576124091336851306.html