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Northern Nevada Business Weekly In His Own Words: Austin Sweet

September 15th, 2015

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Austin headshotNorthern Nevada Business Weekly: Tell us about Gunderson Law Firm and the duties of your position.

Austin Sweet: We do general business law, so we represent a lot of businesses in town for any issue that might come up. Our primary focus is litigation, so we do trial work, contract disputes and things like that. We also help form and dissolve businesses, advise business owners on potential issues that might come up, lease disputes — it’s a pretty wide range of business-type issues. I get the opportunity to handle my own cases, but with bigger cases Mark Gunderson will be more involved and is there to advise and oversee a lot of the bigger decisions. My role includes everything that can be done on a case, which is why I came to this firm. It’s not common starting out of law school that you’ll get that opportunity. I take depositions,argue cases, handle trails and arbitrations by myself, which I really enjoy.

NNBW: How did you get into this profession?

Sweet: I originally wanted to do engineering and in school I was a math and science guy. I wasn’t entirely convinced I wanted to do engineering, so my backup was business, and Washington had a great program for business. I was in the electrical engineering program at UDUB, and it just bored the hell out of me. I took at basic business law class, and at the same time I was taking a logic class. I really saw a big correlation between the thought processes of math and logic and the law. To me, it’s the exact same thought process — instead of taking numbers and plugging them into formulas you are taking facts and plugging them into laws and you need to figure out variables equations to reach a logical conclusion.

NNBW: In your five years of working as an attorney, what’s the most important thing you have learned in that time that helps you succeed?

Sweet: Realizing what I consider an interesting legal problem and what is the best interest of my client. Sometimes you have a fascinating legal dispute, but there’s no reason to charge your client thousands of dollars to go to trial and litigate it. It’s important to keep the focus on what’s in the best interest of your client.

NNBW: What’s been your most challenging case and why?

Sweet: Probably the one I am handling now. We have a major lawsuit that’s spread out over several states, and we are going up against a notorious litigant. It’s really helped me learn the global scope of practicing law and litigation. It’s like a game of chess — you always have to think six or 10 steps ahead and see what they are planning six to 10 steps ahead.

NNBW: What do you like most about your job?

Sweet: The challenging logical work and the variety. Every day is something different and new. There’s always a new challenge and twist to every case and issue and it keeps me on my toes and thinking actively. The second part of it is the people I get to meet. We do a lot of business law, and I get to learn about business, what people do and their passion for it. I really enjoy getting to meet those people and see into their world.

NNBW: What was your first job?

Sweet: My dad was a contractor, so it was working for him. I was doing that when I was five, since I was old enough to know the alphabet and put things in the right order.

NNBW: Tell us about your dream job. Why aren’t you working it?

Sweet: Honestly, I think it’s this. I think if I wanted to do something else I would do it.

NNBW: Have any advice for someone who wants to enter your profession?

Sweet: Try it out first. Get your foot in the door at a law firm, even if you are just working as a runner. Experience the profession first. I went to a pretty pricey law school and I knew a handful of people there in about their third year, after they had done their intensive summer internships that realized they didn’t want to be lawyers. But they were $100,000 in the hole and had wasted years getting a degree they didn’t want. It was hard to see that happen. If you are thinking about becoming a lawyer I recommend going to work at a law firm first.

NNBW: What are your favorite hobbies or pastimes? How do you spend your time away from work?

Sweet: Outdoors with my family. We play a lot of soccer, go rock climbing, skiing, hiking, backpacking.

NNBW: What did you dream of becoming when you were a kid?

Sweet: Probably a professional athlete, a soccer player or skier.

NNBW: If you had enough money to retire right now, would you? Why or why not?

Sweet: I would work less, definitely. I would travel more and spend time with my family.

NNBW: What’s the last concert or sporting event you attended?

Sweet: I went to an Aces game.

NNBW: Where’s your perfect vacation spot?

Sweet: Going somewhere new with my family.

NNBW: Why did you choose a career in northern Nevada? What do you like most about working/living here?

Sweet: I grew up here, and when you leave I don’t think I realized how good Reno is. I got to see Seattle and Boston, and that made me appreciate the culture of Reno and the outdoor activities we have to offer. A lot of my friends work for big firms in Boston, Seattle, Chicago and New York, and they are working 80- to 100-hour weeks. When you come back to Reno, there really aren’t firms like that; I have a good work-life balance that is hard to find other places. I really like the small legal community; you get to know the judges, they get to know you, and it’s a place where you can really build a reputation that can help you with your practice.

See the original story here

Does Your Client Have Enough Licenses?

June 1st, 2015

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View the original article from Nevada Lawyer Magazine here

Like many lawyers, I’m faced with an unfortunate number of clients who call me to help them solve their legal problems rather than to prevent them before they happen. A recurring issue involves entrepreneurs who start new businesses: they know that they need “a business license,” but they often don’t know exactly which licenses they are required to obtain. So they head down to city hall, apply for a business license, pay the fee and leave with the erroneous belief that they are now fully compliant with all licensing requirements. After all, if there was something else they were supposed to do, wouldn’t the person behind the counter have told them? Unfortunately, the answer is “no.”

Businesses Need State, County and Municipal Business Licenses In Nevada.

Entrepreneurs typically need a business license from every state, county and municipality in which they plan to conduct business. Although this article only addresses Nevada business licenses, it is important to remind your clients that they may need to register their businesses and obtain even more business licenses in other states where they perform services.

The general rule is that any person who engages in a business or trade for profit in Nevada is required to obtain a business license from the State of Nevada. As always, there are several exceptions, most notably nonprofit entities and religious entities. Most exceptions still require the person to file a request for exemption. If you think your client may be exempt, be sure to consult the statutes to determine whether or not such a request needs to be filed. In addition to the state business license, counties and municipalities may require their own business license. Not all counties and cities have elected to do so, but most cities and municipalities require an additional business license for anyone conducting business in their jurisdictions. Each county and city has discretion to set its own guidelines for business licenses, so the fact that your client is exempt from obtaining a state business license does not necessarily mean he or she is exempt from obtaining a local license. For example, a natural person whose sole business is the rental of four or fewer dwelling units is exempt from obtaining a state business license, but a natural person whose sole business is the rental of three or more residential dwelling units on one parcel of land in Reno is required to obtain a business license from the City of Reno. You should therefore review the rules for each jurisdiction in which your clients are conducting business in order to determine whether they need a business license for that jurisdiction. Each jurisdiction requires licenses from businesses actually conducting business within the jurisdiction. A brick-and-mortar retail store would, therefore, need a business license based only upon the location of the store. However, a business that provides services in various places, such as a landscaper, needs a business license in each jurisdiction in which the business performs services. In areas like Reno, Sparks and Tahoe, a landscaping business might need business licenses from the state of Nevada, Washoe County, Carson City, the City of Reno and the City of Sparks, depending on their clients’ locations. A landscaping business in the south might need business licenses from the state of Nevada, Clark County, the City of Las Vegas, the City of North Las Vegas and the City of Henderson. Entrepreneurs are typically less than thrilled to learn this. Luckily, businesses can obtain multi-jurisdictional business licenses for Reno, Sparks and Washoe County or for Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Henderson and Clark County.

Check Nevada Licensing Boards

Entrepreneurs may also need additional licenses due to the nature of their businesses. Many such licenses are obvious: you are unlikely to encounter an entrepreneur looking to open a doctor’s office without realizing he needs a license to practice medicine. However, as Uber can attest, the licensing requirements for other professions and businesses can be more ambiguous. Be sure to determine whether or not your client needs any additional licensing based upon the nature of his business, and don’t assume that your client will already know his professional licensing requirements.

A Business License is Not a Business Approval

It is important to ensure that your clients are aware that all these licenses do not constitute broad governmental approval of their businesses. Entrepreneurs sometimes believe the various government agencies that they have paid for business licenses have conducted thorough compliance reviews prior to granting those licenses.This mistake can lead to very costly consequences.

For example, a barber might assume that, since he applied for a business license for a barber shop and listed the intended address of the barber shop on the application, the city, county and/or state must have confirmed that the listed location was actually zoned for a barber shop, and that the barber has all the licenses required. So when the barber receives his business license, he assumes that his barber shop is “government approved” and that there’s nothing else he needs to worry about from a regulatory standpoint. Unfortunately, as we know, his is not the case; the well-intentioned barber could be shut down by the Nevada Barbers’ Health and Sanitation Board for working without a license and charged with a misdemeanor and an administrative fine. This error can easily be avoided by taking the time to explain to your client what a business license is and what it means for their business. When working with entrepreneurs, especially when helping them start their business, always remember to explain to your clients that they might need a number of different licenses, and tell them what those different licenses do, and do not, allow them to do.

Do You Know What Your Bylaws Say?

March 20th, 2015

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Austin headshotBy Austin K. Sweet.
If you own a business, you probably have a business entity. Maybe you heard that business entities provide some sort of liability protection, and someone mentioned that you should form an LLC, so you wen online, or better yet, to a lawyer, and formed and LLC. A few weeks later, you got a fancy looking book with your company’s name embossed in gold lettering. You played with the neat little company seal thingy for a few minutes, patted yourself on the back for being a responsible business owner with such an official looking book and seal, and then put to book on a shelf never to be touched again.

That is, of course, until your lawyer asked you to bring that book to his office because its contents will dramatically impact the outcome of the dispute you’ve recently entered into with your partner. Are you sure that book says what you want it to say? Do you even know what it says? How will this impact your business?

Read the full article featured in Northern Nevada Business Weekly Business Law Guide Here (page 7)

Legal Elite 2014: Nevada’s Top Attorneys

June 17th, 2014

Congratulations to Catherine Anne Reichenberg, Esq. for making the 2014 Legal Elite and the publication cover! Read the whole list here.

Legal Elite 2014 II

So Your Client has a Judgment; Now What?

June 4th, 2014

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Compensation for your client does not end with a judgment; it only ends when your client has successfully executed on that judgment by realizing a monetary return. Many attorneys consider a successful jury verdict, or the granting of a motion for summary judgment, to be the victory for their client. However, most clients have a sense of lasting victory only after they are actually paid what they are owed. Thus, the question becomes: so your client has a judgment; now what?

Read the full article at Nevada Lawyer Magazine.

My New Business: Do I Really Need a Lawyer?

March 27th, 2014

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Starting a new business can be daunting. You already have a great idea, but now you’re making that idea a reality. You’re meeting with financial backers, signing a lease, hiring employees – and everywhere you turn, you’re spending more money. With so many expenses to juggle, many new entrepreneurs ask themselves: Do I really need a lawyer?

Although many people dread hiring a lawyer, investing a small amount of time with a lawyer at the beginning can help save you a huge amount of money and difficulty later on. There are several ways a lawyer can help your new business succeed:

Forming Your Business Entity

Corporation, partnership, LLC – what do they all mean, and how do I go about setting one up? A lawyer can help you navigate the intricacies of Nevada business formation and make sure that you are protecting yourself from personal liability. Do you have partners or investors? A lawyer will make sure your corporate documents clearly reflect exactly what your agreement with those partners or investors is so there’s no question about who is responsible for what. Even better, a lawyer can also help you anticipate the problems you never considered – so if those problems arise down the road, you’re already covered. Hiring a lawyer to form your company generally costs about the same as getting the documents from an online source, but with a lawyer you’ll know that you are getting a customized business entity designed just for you.

Negotiating and Reviewing Contracts:

Starting a new business involves a huge amount of paperwork. Everyone wants you to sign a contract, from your investors to your vendors and your new landlord. Are these terms normal, or are they asking you to sign something totally over-the-top? Which terms are negotiable, and what does all this legalese really mean? A lawyer can help make sense of these contracts and can step in to negotiate on your behalf if you’d prefer to stay out of it. Need a release for your customers to sign? How about a non-compete agreement with your new employees? Your lawyer can draw up these contracts for you to make sure they say exactly what you need them to say – and that they comply with Nevada law.

Everyday Business Needs

Can I ask my employees to wear a specific uniform? What kind of work can I have an intern perform? Should I trademark my company name? Once your business is up and running, there are plenty of small questions that will pop up from time to time. Trying to research these questions on your own can be tricky, but hiring a new lawyer just to ask a small question can seem like overkill. This is where having a relationship with a lawyer can be a huge asset. Since she already helped set up your business, your lawyer knows you and your business’s needs. With only a quick call or email, your lawyer will be able to answer any questions that may come up. This will let you focus on running your business without having to worry about these minor legal issues.

 

For additional information and to learn more about Gunderson Law Firm www.gundersonlaw.com or call (775) 829-1222

Article published in the Reno Tahoe YPN newsletter. 

Happy Nevada Day From Gunderson Law Firm

October 24th, 2013

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This Nevada Day, we’d like to extend our appreciation to our clients, peers and friends. We feel fortunate to live and work in a place with great people, beautiful landscapes and amazing opportunities.

Cheers to the land we love the best!

From all of us at Gunderson Law Firm

Following Through With a Judgment: Working Towards a Successful Debt Collection

May 1st, 2013

Nevada Business Magazine

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By John R. Funk

When your business sells goods or services, you expect to be paid.  However, payment is not always the reality.  If your business is not getting paid, you can seek repayment either informally or formally.  If your informal methods of trying to convince the debtor to pay have been unsuccessful; consider formally seeking payment by filing a lawsuit.  This article focuses on the realities of using the judicial system to collect amounts owed to your business.

Once you file a lawsuit, the debtor has the opportunity to defend the action.  The debtor may assert defenses that it does not owe as much as you think, that the goods were defective, or the services subpar.  Fast forward—the judge has decided the debtor’s defenses are without merit and has awarded you a monetary judgment for the full amount you sought.  Hey, you just won your lawsuit!  Congratulations are in order, right?

Wrong, merely winning a lawsuit and obtaining a judgment does not mean you automatically receive a deposit in your business’s bank account.  Rather, that judgment only allows you to use the courts and sheriff’s office to enforce your judgment.

Satisfying Your Judgment

In Nevada, those who have monetary judgments against another (“judgment creditors”) have a variety of statutory tools at their disposal to compel those who owe them money (“judgment debtors”) to satisfy the judgment.  At its most basic level, Nevada’s debt collection statutes allow judgment creditors to satisfy their judgments by having the sheriff’s office seize property belonging to the judgment debtor.  The sheriff’s office will then sell that seized property and give the proceeds of the sale to the judgment creditor.  The judgment creditor can have this process repeated until the judgment is paid in full.  Thus, judgments are only as good as the judgment debtor’s quality and quantity of assets.

Locating the Judgment Debtor’s Assets

The question then becomes, how do you know what property to have the sheriff seize.  Nevada allows a judgment creditor to obtain information directly from the judgment debtor, or any other person, concerning the judgment debtor’s property.  For instance, judgment creditors may subpoena the judgment debtor’s accountants, managers, or any person when seeking information concerning the judgment debtor’s property.  If that person refuses or fails to answer, they may become responsible for paying the amounts owed to your business.

Sometimes, by the time the judgment creditor obtains its judgment, the judgment debtor has transferred all of its assets to a separate entity or to the entity’s principals in hopes of avoiding the judgment.  Once again, the judicial process has a solution for the judgment creditor.

Discovery of Nonparties’ Assets

The Nevada Supreme Court recently permitted a judgment creditor to obtain information concerning the assets of a non-debtor.  Rock Bay, LLC v. Dist. Ct., 129 Nev. Adv. Op. 21 (Nev. Apr. 4, 2013).  In that recent case, the Nevada Supreme Court allowed the judgment creditor to ascertain information concerning the assets of an entity that was not a debtor, but who participated in various financial transfers with the judgment debtor after a lawsuit was filed.  This third-party was formed by one of the judgment debtors and it appeared to be used as a vehicle to hide money from the judgment creditor.

The Nevada Supreme Court explained that allowing discovery into the assets of non-debtors is permissible if it will lead to the discovery of hidden or concealed assets of the judgment debtor.  To convince a court to allow such discovery, the judgment creditor may show that transfers to the third party took place and that the relationship between the judgment debtor and the nonparty is sufficient to raise a reasonable suspicion concerning the propriety and permissibility of the transfers.

When your business is owed money, you have various options available to you to seek payment.  Typically, you should start by informally seeking to convince the debtor to pay your bill without having to hire a debt collector or without having to file a lawsuit.  However, when that debtor refuses to pay, even though it has the apparent ability or assets to do so, your business should consider filing a lawsuit.

John R. Funk is an Associate at Gunderson Law Firm, and can be contacted directly at jfunk@gundersonlaw.com or by calling (775) 829-1222.

Electronic Service – Three Days for Emailing?

May 1st, 2013

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By Austin K. Sweet

The law is often slow to catch up with technology, but thankfully courts moved quickly to adopt electronic filing.  Most members of the Young Lawyers Section living in Washoe County or Clark County have spent our entire careers with electronic filing and can hardly bear the thought of actually leaving the office and go stand in line at the courthouse to file a document.  But the quick adoption of electronic filing left some oddities – namely, the handling of electronic service.

Before electronic filing, documents could be served by hand or by first class mail.  Because service by mail takes longer, the rules provide that a responding party shall have three extra days to respond when a document is served by mail.  NRCP 6(e).  This rule makes perfect sense.

Then fax machines came along, creating a new method of service.  Facsimile service is only acceptable if the parties consent, and still allows for three extra days to respond.  NRCP 5(b)(2)(D); NRCP 6(e).  As technology advanced, service by email became acceptable and was lumped into the rules with service by fax.  Again, three days are added to the prescribed period to respond.  Id.  That’s where the logic starts to get fuzzy.

Things became more convoluted when electronic filing was introduced.  The Nevada Electronic Filing and Conversion Rules (“NEFCR”) were adopted by the Supreme Court and became effective on March 1, 2007.  Second Judicial (Washoe County) has adopted the NEFCR.  NEFCR 9(b) provides that the court’s electronic service provider must send an email to all registered users that a document has been filed.  NEFCR 9(f) provides that electronic service is complete at the time of transmission of the NEFCR 9(b) email.

Eighth Judicial (Clark County) has not adopted the NEFCR, instead adopting its own electronic filing rules.  EDCR 8.05(a) provides that documents electronically served through that court’s electronic filing process are subject to NRCP 5(b)(2)(D) and, by proxy, NRCP 6(e).

So what does all this mean?  When documents are electronically served through the court’s filing system in the Nevada Supreme Court or in Washoe County, three days are not added to the prescribed period to respond.  When documents are electronically served through the court’s filing system in Clark County, three days are added.  Likewise, when documents are electronically served in accordance with an agreement between the parties, three days are added.

Not surprisingly, this has created confusion.  Practitioners in Washoe County regularly misinterpret the relationship between NEFCR 9(f) and NRCP 6(e) and mistakenly believe that they are entitled to an additional three days when documents are served through eFlex.  This confusion is so widespread that the rules are rarely enforced as written and the Second Judicial judges are discussing revisions to the rules.

There is an easy solution to this problem – stop adding three days for emailing.  In today’s world of computers and smart phones, most attorneys check their email constantly.  It is likely that the average attorney reads the automated notifications from eFlex / Wiznet within minutes of receiving them.  By contrast, documents served by hand must be driven (or biked) from one office to another, processed through the firm, and eventually delivered to the attorney handling the case.

Chances are, attorneys are able to access and read electronically-served documents hours, or even days, before they are able to access and read hand-served documents.  Why then are attorneys granted three extra days to respond to documents served electronically?  If logic ever existed for this rule, it does not exist today.

The state and local rules throughout Nevada should be amended to reflect the realities of today’s electronic world.  Adding three days for electronic service is counterintuitive and unduly dilatory.  The rules should be modified and clarified to plainly provide that documents served electronically are deemed received the day they are served without adding three days.

Austin K. Sweet is an Associate at Gunderson Law Firm. He earned his Juris Doctorate from Boston University School of Law and can be contacted directly at asweet@gundersonlaw.com or 775-829-1222.

Creating Certainty with Clear Contracts

February 4th, 2013

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By Catherine Anne Riechenberg

Honesty and excellent communication are the hallmarks of successful people and businesses.  As the saying goes, “say what you mean and mean what you say.”  The contracts you use to solidify your business deals should be no different.  It is commonly believed that lawyers make their money inserting excessive legalese, subparts and other confusing language into otherwise intelligible agreements. The truth is that confusing contracts lead to litigation.  A good attorney will work with you to draft precise, clear and succinct contracts to help your business succeed.

So, you’ve reached an agreement with another person or business.  What do you do now?  Use the steps below as a guideline to make certain your written agreement is helping you and your business.

1.     Make Sure You Have An Agreement

All contracts require that the parties have reached a “meeting of the minds” on the essential terms in order to be valid.  There must be a fundamental agreement as to who is entering into the contract, what they are each promising to do, and when they promise to perform.  From time to time the parties may think they have reached an agreement up until they begin to reduce it to writing.  Further, separate parties may have an understanding or belief that is not properly reflected in the contract itself.  Remember: If it isn’t in the contract, your understanding or belief may be incorrect or not shared by the other party.  Make sure that you have reached a precise agreement and that the agreement reached is specifically reflected in the contract as drafted.

2.     Use Clear Language

If you one day must enforce your contract in the courts, the judge will look to the contract as drafted to determine the parties rights.  Therefore, it is imperative that the contract be clear on its face.  Look for holes and fill them.  Define terms used.  Any ambiguity could be interpreted against you, so at the outset read through your contract critically to make sure a third party would understand the specific understanding and promises made by the contracting parties.

Remember though, the clarity of a contract is not reflected by its length.  It is important that the language used be precise and understood by the contracting parties, but it doesn’t mean that over-drafting will help you should things go side-ways.  As such, avoid using contracts with words like “insofar,” “whereas,” “hereby,” etc. or unnecessary boilerplate phrases. Generally, legalese terms and boilerplate language can be simply removed to make the contract more understandable and clear.

3.     Balancing Act

A good contract both reflects the parties mutual understanding of what is expected of both of them while providing the proper protections should anything go awry.  The more clear the expectations of each are laid out in the contract, the better.  Addressing concerns, questions and specifics up front will save you time and money later.

A more experienced lawyer once told me “when people enter into contracts, everybody is in love and they don’t think through what will happen when everything falls apart.”  Learn from other’s mistakes and think ahead to what you’ve agreed will happen when and if the other side doesn’t perform.  What penalties are there, if any?  Where have you agreed to handle your dispute (city, state, court, arbitration, etc.)?  What law will apply?  If there is a dispute, is the prevailing party entitled to attorney fees and costs?  Make sure you negotiate, understand and agree to these terms in the beginning as they may very well help you in the end.

4.     Review, Question, and Revise

Have an attorney review your contracts, ask questions and revise your agreement as necessary.  A well-drafted contract will save you money in the long run.  It also helps the parties communicate their expectations and understanding so that when they do perform, they’re doing what they agreed, not what they thought they agreed to.

5.      If It Doesn’t Come Together, It’s Ok

You can’t make good deals with bad people, and litigation is never a good business venture.  If you can’t agree on contract terms, in some instances it’s a sign of issues downstream.  Take the time to ensure everyone is in agreement, that everyone understands the contract, and that you are comfortable with its terms so you can move forward in a positive direction.  Also take the time to have both sides seek the advice of separate legal counsel.  In the long run, you and your business will be more successful because you took the time to do it right.

Catherine Reichenberg is a Senior Associate at Gunderson Law Firm, and represents a variety of local, regional and national clients from business owners, commercial and residential real estate brokers and agents, homeowners, professionals, developers, contractors and others. She can be contacted directly at creichenberg@gundersonlaw.com or 775-829-1222.