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Sunday, 12 April 2015 22:00

Q&A: Robert Alvarez, co-founder, Avanti Law Group PLLC

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Robert Alvarez, Avanti Law Group PLLC Robert Alvarez, Avanti Law Group PLLC COURTESY PHOTO

Wyoming-based Avanti Law Group PLLC turns five-years-old next month and to celebrate, the firm is expanding, having recently acquired the practice of Nohemi Jimenez in Holland. The former Jimenez Legal PLC at 720 East Eighth Street is now branded as Avanti Law, and Jimenez has joined the firm as an associate. Robert Alvarez and fellow co-founder Raquel Salas started the firm after working as opposing counsel on a number of cases.

The two decided to join forces and have grown Avanti to include six attorneys, 12 staff, and now two offices. The firm has also been bolstering its labor practice, particularly in the areas of wage and hour laws. Alvarez spoke with MiBiz about the firm’s expansion and its growing roster of international clients.

How did the Jimenez acquisition come about?

We actually had been working with her for a couple of years already on a couple of things. She had been co-counsel, and we referred cases back and forth. We decided that working together would make the most sense since we were looking to expand out to the lakeshore anyway. She was looking to have the benefits of additional attorneys that could provide backup for scheduling conflicts, … to bounce ideas off of and to expand her practice as well.

What drew Avanti to consider a Holland location?

When the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program went into effect, we got pretty swamped out in Wyoming. We couldn’t have someone in Holland as often as we would have liked. But then we started looking to expand out to the lakeshore again, mainly because we have a lot of clients that travel from as far south as Niles for our services. There are a lot of our clientele that are from the Fennville and St. Joseph areas. I’m originally from Holland so I know there is a need here.

Was it a matter of the right deal at the right time?

We figured this was the right time, going on our five years in May. With this relationship we had built with Nohemi, who has a strong background in criminal defense, we figured this was a great time to do it.

What are the dominant areas of your practice right now?

I think a lot of people think we are just a local firm practicing criminal defense, family law and, of course, immigration. But we actually are a nationwide firm. We actually practice all over the country. We have had cases in Las Vegas, Louisiana, Missouri and New York. We have a pretty diverse practice. We also handle nationwide class action litigation.

How about internationally?

We represent several businesses across the world. I believe that Raquel has a client based in South Africa. I know we have several clients in the Dominican Republic. We are constantly building our international practice.

Within the labor practice, what trends are you noticing these days?

We have seen an increase in a lot of employment litigation, especially with wage and hour law. That is one area I focus on a lot. I’ve been seeing a big growth in wage and hour violation cases that have been getting filed. With the upcoming changes to the regulations regarding the exemptions for overtime, we anticipate that will be a big area for us as well. We typically represent plaintiffs — or at least I do. But we do have a number of business clients that we advise on how to avoid finding themselves on the wrong side of that kind of litigation.

Are most of the businesses you represent trying to be proactive and stay ahead of these changes?

It definitely is a good idea for employers to be on top of what changes are coming so they can make sure to adapt to those changes before they go into effect and find themselves on the wrong side of that kind of litigation. It can be very costly.

What are the trends you’re seeing with this litigation?

(In some cases,) general laborers at manufacturing companies are not getting paid for the time they are preparing their equipment prior to the start of their shift. Even executives or managers could be found to be non-exempt and entitled to overtime. One of the problems many employers find themselves in when attempting to classify someone as exempt under the executive exemption from the Fair Labor Standards Act is the authority to hire or fire.

Are there particular types of sectors or industries that are specifically affected by this type of litigation?

It’s pretty across the board. I guess one of the key takeaways (is) it’s not just a matter of calling someone exempt and paying someone a salary. You have to look at each of the enumerated requirements for the exemption to make sure those are being met. The case law typically tends to lean toward the employee.

Interview conducted and condensed by Nick Manes. 


Read 3145 times Last modified on Sunday, 12 April 2015 22:22

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