In Their Own Words
The following audio clips have appeared on Money Radio WPSE, also known as WP$E.
Tom Tupitza on Knox Law's offices, geographical reach and affiliation with LAW:
Most of our clients’ businesses/non-profit organizations now operates outside of the immediate area, so we have the ability to serve them in other geographical locations. Apart from our historic base in Northwestern Pennsylvania, we now have an office in Pittsburgh and are able to serve our growing client base in that area. Our Jamestown office enables us to serve clients in New York State, and we also have attorneys who are admitted to practice in other neighboring jurisdictions. For those clients who operate around the world or around the country, we have a unique relationship with an organization called Lawyers Associated Worldwide, which allows us to connect our clients with lawyers who we know share our practice philosophy literally around the world and enables them to get responsive service in those markets.
Knox Law President Tom Tupitza on our firm's mission:
The Knox Firm has been serving businesses, governmental entities, nonprofit organizations, insurance companies, financial institutions and individuals and families for over 60 years. Our mission as a firm is to achieve our client’s objectives, to invest in people who will best serve our clients and to be leaders in our profession and the community; but the principal goal is to achieve our clients' objectives. The main way we do that is in making certain that we have lawyers who have the experience and focus in specific disciplines of the law, but also have a holistic perspective so that they know when to bring in other members of the team and to make sure our clients get the best possible service. Our clients operate in many arenas these days, and so we have a number of industries in which we have a great deal of experience. Whatever a client's industry, we want them to know we are eager to learn about their industries from the inside so that we can serve them in the best way possible.
Jerry Wegley on working with businesses and supporting community & nonprofit organizations:
I am privileged to see how business owners make decisions and what they consider in those decisions, and many times there are intangibles dealing with their employees and what is morally and ethically obligated to be done as opposed to what is just legally obligated to be done. It’s also very rewarding to know that you are working with somebody that’s thinking beyond the minimum required of them and trying to do the right thing for the right people. And, we see that not only with our clients but we see it when we are in negotiations with other firms and with other parties that there are a lot of good people in this community, and they are looking out for the best for their people as well as for the community. We are encouraged at all levels in the firm to be involved in the community. A lot of our attorneys and staff participate on nonprofit boards as well as committees, and other functions, and groups in the city and in the county that benefit the communities from education, to religion, to anything that is in the nonprofit realm. We take a lot of pride in that because we have a high percentage of participation among the attorneys and staff, to the extent that some attorneys sit on several boards and give that time freely with the idea that we all benefit if the community can remain strong and help everyone.
Mark Wassell on Knox Law's Labor & Employment Group:
The Labor & Employment Group of the Knox Law Firm is the largest in the region. Our attorneys represent a variety of private companies ranging from those who employ in excess of 500 employees to those who have a staff of only a handful of employees. We also represent numerous public entities including cities, townships, bureaus, municipal authorities and school districts. Some of the employees of our clients are represented by labor unions, while many do not have union representation. Regardless of the size or type of the employer, the attorneys of the Labor & Employment Group of the Knox Law Firm are committed to providing effective and timely advice and service. Much of what we do involves assisting employers in handling day-to-day personnel matters that arise in their workplace. Certainly, our focus is to provide guidance to the employers in order to avoid legal issues before they arise. Typical examples of this type of council might be answering questions about whether an employee’s conduct justifies termination, drafting personnel policies and employee handbooks, or providing in-house training to managers and supervisors on employment topics. However, even in those cases where a dispute may arise, our attorneys have many years of experience in handling matters before the National Labor Relations Board, the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), OSHA, and other Federal and State Administrative Agencies. We also have the capabilities to handle employment matters if they find their way into either state or federal court.
Neal Devlin on Knox Law's litigation services:
I often tell my clients: the unfortunate part of my job is that most people come to me when the problem is already there, and we try to figure out the best way to resolve the problem. Sometimes, that is through very aggressive litigation in which you simply put all your efforts into winning the case and there is no chance for resolution. However, most of the time what we try to do is position our clients in an aggressive and appropriate posture in litigation and then are always analyzing the most economical way to resolve it, to achieve the absolute best result for the client. If that includes mediation or alternative dispute resolution, we can do those types of things. If it involves just going in and taking depositions and aggressively bringing a case through to trial, we do that all the time as well. That’s really our goal, is to provide a full range of litigation services to our clients. One of the other nice things about practicing here at the Knox Firm is the fact that for many of the litigation clients I have, they have already worked with a Knox Firm attorney on the business end of the transaction, or on the tax end of the transaction. If one of our business attorneys sees a shareholder dispute on the horizon, they will often consult with us [the litigation department] and attempt to get our input as to how to best craft the transaction, how to best craft an agreement, how to best set up the client so that in the event litigation arises, they come into it prepared with the absolute best position.
Guy Fustine on Chapter 11 bankruptcy and the Automatic Stay:
If you happen to be a business owner and you’re having trouble either making ends meet, paying your bills on time, or you are looking down the road and seeing trouble on the horizon, then you might want to consider for your own business a Chapter 11 filing. One of the major advantages is the Automatic Stay, which goes into effect as soon as the petition is filed. A Stay is like a stop sign. If someone is suing you, they have to stop. Whatever action they might be taking because of an obligation that you have or a debt that you owe, they have to stop immediately upon being notified of a Chapter 11 filing (or any type of bankruptcy for that matter). It gives the debtor a chance to repose, a chance to think about what the next step should be.
Guy Fustine offers advice on Chapter 11 bankruptcy:
Even if you are in default under the terms of a loan with the bank and you file a Chapter 11, one of the main advantages is that you can still use the money in your bank account, which is the banks cash collateral, notwithstanding the default, if you go into the bankruptcy court and prove to the bankruptcy court that the bank is adequately protected. Like, being able to tread water in the meantime. The bank is not getting worse off. If that is the case, then the court will authorize the company to continue to use cash collateral notwithstanding those pre-petition defaults. That is really important because it gives you leverage with the bank to negotiation some type of a restructuring or at least an interim peace, so that you can try to reorganize. Of course, when you make that peace treaty or you get an order of court after an adversary proceeding, then I always use that with my other creditors to show: Hey the company is strong, we were able to either survive this fight with the bank or enter into a stipulation with the bank to continue to use the bank’s cash collateral. So, we can continue to do business in the ordinary course and please continue to give us orders and we are going to continue pay our suppliers. So that’s really an important part of a successful case, is to show that you can get the right to use the bank’s cash collateral so you can continue to operate.
I am an independent neutral evaluator in the U.S. District Court. We have a number of mediators in our firm, and it is something I would recommend to any business person – that if you get into a legal dispute, you should really consider Alternative Dispute Resolution as a possible avenue to make sure that your result is cost effective. It’s not as expensive, it’s a more expeditious time table, and you have a chance to do some discovery through the process. You sit down with the mediator sometimes privately, sometimes in a group and try to hammer out a result. When you can achieve a result, that’s almost always more cost effective than going to court. So, I would encourage everyone to do that. [ADR is] one of the things we are emphasize more now than we have in the past, and it’s really worked out well for us. We plan continue to do that both here in Erie and our office in Pittsburgh.
We are working on an interesting project. We concentrate our practice in business succession planning, and we found that a number of our clients have rejected the typical transitioning of the company to key employees, and in particular have rejected selling the company to third parties, including potentially a vertical integration sale or a sale to a private equity company. The clients are resisting those options because they’ve decided that they don’t like the results. They don’t like what happens to the community, to their employees, and individuals they care about. They also lose the philanthropy of those companies in the region. So, clients have been pushing us and we have been helping them with finding outside resources to run their companies. And it turns out that we’ve developed a formula – we work closely with Decision Associates – and find that Decision Associates can help them find human resource that will allow a business owner to hire a CEO and step back away from the company. It gives the opportunity for the company to expand and grow with new human resource, while at the same time alleviating the urge or the need to sell the company, which includes sometimes moving the company out of the region, reducing benefits to the employees, and losing the philanthropy in the region. See also: The Family Private Equity Model: A New Solution for a New Generation of Family-Owned Businesses
Tom Hoffman on the Family Private Equity Model as a business succession option:
The Family Private Equity Model allows our clients to have more time away from their company without the detriment and remorse that may come from selling the business. It gives the opportunity for the family to retain a significant portion of the value of the company as the family’s private equity. So, we oftentimes ask our clients: if a private equity company is willing to buy your business, why do you want to sell the business if it’s good enough for a private equity company. If it’s good enough for that private equity company, it’s good enough for your family. That is why I came up with the Family Private Equity Model name. The Family Private Equity Model isn’t for every business, but it is an option that we feel every owner should consider before making a choice on how they want to transition the company. Most owners struggle with how to deal with their employees and the family and we find that when we add the option of the Family Private Equity Model, everybody involved – the owner, the family, and the employees – benefits from at least considering that option. If anybody has any questions regarding how the Family Private Equity Model could be implemented for their business, please feel free to contact us at the Knox Law Firm. We would be happy to sit down and talk with you about how the Family Private Equity Model could benefit your company.
Tom Hoffman on the MaxProtect Plan®:
One of the most interesting things that we do is assisting our clients transition their closely-held family business to the next generation. One of the primary goals that most business owners have is to protect their family, which often includes the business. They want to protect both. Creatively using trusts and estate planning techniques to assist with the transition of the business to children or key employees is very important. We have the ability to protect assets from unwanted creditors for the next generation, and do that in a cost-effective manner with the lowest possible tax and risk to the succession plan and to the next generation who will inherit those assets. I created the MaxProtect Plan® to assist my son with the transition of his business. My goal was to protect the assets of my son from unwanted creditors, including potentially even a future former spouse. The goal is protect the assets and have the highest tax efficiency as possible, avoiding all creditors in the future that my son might have. The MaxProtect Plan® gives the maximum protection to those who are going to own the family business and the flexibility to do what’s necessary and manage the business for success.
Jeff Scibetta on Elder Law & long-term care planning to preserve assets:
With our growing population and with our state having a relatively older demographic, clients are increasingly concerned about the cost of nursing and long-term care either for themselves, or for a love one such as a parent. For a lot of families, particularly those in the middle range of wealth, long-term care costs can have a much greater impact on how much an individual is able to successfully pass on to their children or other loved ones. Not all clients are aware that the adverse financial impact of a client’s long-term care needs can in some cases can be minimized or ameliorated through a variety of different planning techniques. Some of these techniques include: identifying and utilizing various exemption classifications, creating and funding certain types of trusts, retitling assets, and utilizing annuities and other types of financial products. It’s always the case that you can get a little bit better results if you plan further in advance. But, we have to address clients not only from the stand point of long range planning but also in crisis planning. Even in those [crisis] situations we can often get them a better result. See also: Elder Law FAQs
Jeff Scibetta on transferring home to children:
Clients will frequently ask whether they should transfer their home into the names of their children. While in some instances that is a perfectly fine resolution of problem, in many cases, there is a better way to get to the same result. We’ll often recommend that clients consider putting [the home] into a trust that could be advantageous for a variety of different reasons. It centralizes decision making so that they can choose the best person to control the assets that are placed into the trust, as well as retain more flexibility should circumstances change. Additionally, the trust has the benefit of protecting those assets during the time that the assets are in the trust. So, if bad circumstances befall a particular child, the assets are protected from those adverse circumstances. We’ve found that by utilizing various techniques, families can often greatly augment the amount that they are able to pass down to their children and other loved ones, which for many families is tremendously gratifying and reassuring to them.
Tim Zieziula on Knox Law's commercial real estate services:
Our Real Estate Group provides a full array of services for commercial real estate development projects. Our clients are typically very busy people, and we take care of really everything for them. From the start of entity selection to tax planning, financing, contract negotiations, easements and rights of way. We have vast experience in all of those things. We find that our clients put their faith in us and we do a good job for them. Much of our practice is based in Western Pennsylvania and Western New York, but we really have a national practice when it comes to commercial real estate. We are fortunate to represent developers that do business in all regions of the country, and we are therefore able to provide legal services wherever their commercial developments may be. We provide simple solutions for complex problems. Real estate transactions are all very unique and challenging and the depth and the breadth of our experience allows us to offer creative alternatives to solve problems to get to the finish line, which is the goal of the buyer and the seller in real estate development.
Tim Zieziula on Knox Law's real estate group serving clients, including as title insurance agents:
Our Real Estate group consists of seven lawyers and four full-time real estate paralegals. And what I mean by that is that all they do is real estate. So, when you engage the Knox Firm on a real estate project, you’re going to get expert advice at every level of the engagement. That’s from the administrative assistant that answers the phone, to the paralegal that works the file, to the lawyer that is ultimately responsible for the project. One of the ways we solve clients’ problems is to focus on the entirety of the client. What I mean by that is to understand the client and the client’s needs, what their concerns are, what their culture is, what their goals are, what their historic practices have been, and that helps us to provide what they need in a way that they understand. We are title insurance agents here at the Knox Firm. We are expertly trained and skilled in spotting title issues that could come up in title search. So, I always explain to clients, that you get more bang for your buck using a lawyer title insurance agent because you’re going to pay us the same amount of money, but we have the background and the experience and expertise of being a lawyer in addition to a title insurance agent.
Tim Zieziula on Knox Law's real estate group's other services: residential, municipal services, zoning and land use, eminent domain, oil & gas law, environmental law and more:
We provide a full range of legal services to buyers and sellers of residential homes. We currently are the solicitors for various municipal zoning hearing boards, and we have a real niche in that area: zoning and land use. We also are very knowledgeable about eminent domain proceedings and condemnation proceedings. We represent landowners and sometimes we are on the government side of it. We also represent condominium developers, know oil and gas law, and we provide environmental counseling to clients who are buying environmentally sensitive sites or sites that have had some environmental history. At the Knox Firm, we pride ourselves in providing practical solutions to very complex problems.
Tim Wachter on Knox Law's Public Strategies service:
The Knox Law Firm has been around for over 50 years and during that time we have established important relationships throughout the region and the commonwealth. We are able to take those relationships and use them to help businesses obtain their goals. Whether it be through government relations, or whether it be through just knowing who the right person to contact is, to ask the right questions, to be able to frame the issue in a manner in which government is going to understand the needs of business. Recently, I was involved in a situation where state government had come in with a proposal that from an engineering standpoint looked sound, but we were able to help the businesses express to the government that while from an engineering standpoint it’s a sound decision, from a business standpoint its going to have huge negative effects. We are working toward achieving a positive result for the businesses so that they can work together with government and obtain a common goal. We all agree that we want to have success. We all agree that we want to have economic growth. Government can’t do it alone, and business can’t do it alone. We need to make sure that these two groups are working together so that we can achieve that goal, and that’s what we do at Public Strategies. We can help those groups work together: we speak business, we speak government, and we can make sure that those parties are working together to the best extent possible to achieve common goals.
Tim Wachter on strategic communications plans & Knox Law's Public Strategies service:
The need to communicate with the appropriate constituencies is often overlooked by businesses and by government. We have the experience in developing communications and actions plans that not only speak to what we are going to communicate, but to whom we are going to communicate, how we are going to do it, and what steps we need to go through so that people have the right information when they are making decisions.
Opportunity Zones provide a federal tax incentive that allow investors with capital gains to defer and reduce the payment of federal capital gains tax, as well as to grow an investment in real estate or businesses federal capital gain tax free. This is a federal tax incentive that is designed to spur investment in communities like Erie that have not seen an economic resurgence since the last recession. Erie’s downtown, waterfront port, industrial parks and neighborhoods east and west of downtown have been designated as Flagship Opportunity Zones. Because of the work of Knox Law Public Strategies, the Erie Downtown Development Corporation, Erie Insurance, the [Erie Regional] Chamber and our other community partners, Erie is well-positioned to see significant economic development activity within the Flagship Opportunity Zone. The President recently signed an executive order requiring that federal spending be directed into opportunity zones. This presents us with an opportunity to leverage the nearly $700 million dollars’ worth of private investment already occurring in our opportunity zones – to obtain as much of that federal money as possible. Utilized properly, this pairing of federal and private money can help us close deals that may not have otherwise been possible. We are poised to see significant economic activity in Erie, and Knox Law is pleased to partner with our clients in helping them make that happen.
Julia Herzing on the complicated legal landscape for employers:
The legal landscape for employers is so complicated. There are state and federal regulations as well as local regulations, and employers are really looking for assistance on how to navigate that. Especially small employers aren’t as familiar with those laws or regulations and some apply to them [the small employers] and some don’t. So, we can help employers figure out what laws they have to comply with, how they can set that up in their work place and how they can move forward with some confidence that they are meeting the regulations that they have to follow. With each change in administration, whether it is federal or state, the laws can change and more often the interpretation of laws can change. We do our best to walk the employer through that process, but ideally the employer is prepared for that event ahead of time. One area that employers can look at is their handbook, their policies, the things that they put out there for their employees to know what is expected in the workplace. Those policies are good to have in place but they do need to be reviewed and updated on a fairly regular basis. So, I would encourage employers to consider how long it has been since they put together a handbook, a social media policy, etc. and really consider whether those things are up-to-date and in compliance with today’s regulations.
Julia Herzing on her work representing employers for our Labor & Employment Group:
I’m with the firm’s Labor and Employment Group as well as the Litigation Group. My practice involves representing employers in all types of labor and employment disputes including litigation. Often I negotiate with Unions and assist employees with meeting collective bargaining obligations. I also handle defense of employment litigation claims both at the administrative level and through the courts system, and assist employers with other workplace investigations and claims including unemployment compensation, wage and hour, and OSHA. Most often my job involves advising clients who are looking for guidance. They are looking for a sounding board on how to handle issues arising in the workplace, and we do that too. If I can help a client avoid litigation, that is my first and primary goal in all instances.
Julia Herzing on how our Labor & Employment Group represents public entities:
In addition to serving privately owned businesses, we serve public clients of all sizes, ranging from small townships and boroughs to larger municipalities and public school districts. We often counsel employers at the base level of HR issues when they arise in the workplace, and then we are able to continue our representation of them if that turns into a charge or litigation in the future. Together with the attorneys in our government practices group as well as litigation, special education, bond work and other focuses, we’re able to offer our government groups a full-service experience.
Matt Lasher on how our Labor & Employment Group serves our client as a team:
The clients that we work with include both public-sector and private-sector clients. That includes government entities, as well as your local mom-and-pop shops, as well as large businesses in the region. The Labor & Employment Group has decades of experience in dealing with labor and employment issues. So if an issue comes, up there is a good chance we’ve dealt with it before, and if not we know how to handle it or at least get to that point to help you to handle it. We all really enjoy working together on a professional and personal level, which makes the end product for our clients great. It’s never too early to start discussing things with a legal team to preempt any issues that may come along, but already if there is an issue that arises we would be willing to help out at any stage.
Nadia Havard on tax implications of IRAs and Annuities:
IRA stands for Individual Retirement Account. Individual Retirement Accounts are set up outside your employer. It’s one of the vehicles where individuals set money aside for their future retirement. Congress allows for individuals to start withdrawing money at the age of 73 [as of 2023]. That sounds like a fantastic idea, except that some of the individuals who might not need those withdrawals right away might wait until the point where they pass away and the retirement account (IRA) goes to the next beneficiary. Unfortunately, Individual Retirement Accounts are filled with income tax implications. So for an individual who has other assets in addition to an individual retirement account, it’s very important to think about what account or what asset really will benefit the beneficiaries. Annuities can be different kinds – they can be differed annuities, qualified, and non-qualified. An annuity is similar to a retirement plan except that an annuity provides for a fixed amount that you will receive over a period of time. Usually, it’s measured by your life expectancy.
Nadia Havard on why employers should focus on retirement plans for their employees:
There are many reasons why employers need to focus on their retirement plans: (1) To attract employees. In the current environment, that’s one of the things that at least they can add to the benefits that they can offer to their employees. (2) Provide for retirement down the road for the owners, as well as the employees. (3) Tax compliance as well as tax planning. When retirement plans are in place and employees make contributions to the plans, the employer itself can save money on the income that is earned by the business. So there are a lot of different reasons – tax and non-tax – that might be of interest to the employers. We are a full-service firm that definitely strives for excellence.
Nadia Havard on the IRS self-correction program for retirement plans:
Our department that works with retirement plans has substantial experience in helping business owners to correct mistakes. The IRS already set up this program a long time ago that allows employers and administrators to correct mistakes. It can be done through self-correction, voluntary compliance, or audit program. Of course, self-correction is the best one because you can correct the mistake that you have identified, and you can correct it in a prompt manner. For example, you have loans that you gave to employees and you did not follow through the procedures: you can correct it if you catch this mistake without actually going to the IRS and paying penalties and fines. But in order to do that, you have to have procedures and practices in place. That’s where we can help a lot of employers to put in place the structure that will allow you to correct mistakes in the most efficient way. We definitely strive to stay within the budget, make sure we provide high-quality work in a very efficient way, mindful of additional expenses that employers might incur by engaging professionals.