Northern Nevada Business Weekly In His Own Words: Austin Sweet

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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.

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Five Tips for Commercial Landlords

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Courtney

By Courtney G. Forster

In my time representing commercial landlords, tenants, and property managers, I’ve seen every side of a commercial real estate lease. Although the vast majority of these landlord / tenant relationships end well, far too often I see the same problems crop up again and again when they don’t. These tips will help you avoid some of the biggest – and costliest – mistakes that can occur when leasing your property to commercial tenants.

1. Read Your Contracts Carefully Before You Sign.

This cardinal rule applies to every contract you sign as a property owner, from a property management agreement to the lease itself. What powers and responsibilities does your property manager have? If your tenant makes improvements to your property, which of those improvements must stay and which can the tenant take with her? Is there a personal guarantee on the lease? What specific actions create a default in the lease? Unfortunately, owners frequently don’t realize there are holes in their contract until a problem comes up.

2. Keep Negotiations in Writing.

Landlord-tenant disputes can often devolve into a he-said / she-said mess. If your negotiations with the tenant mostly happened over the phone or during in-person meetings, you might not be able to prove that you never promised all the things the tenant now claims. Try to keep negotiations entirely over email or in writing if possible. When meeting in person or on the phone, take detailed notes during the conversation (not afterwards – courts require these notes to have been taken during the meeting itself) and keep them in your file with the lease. If a problem comes up later, you will have very strong evidence of what exactly happened.

3. Protect Your Security Interest.

Lease agreements often give a landlord a security interest in their tenant’s furnishings, fixtures, and equipment in case the tenant stops paying rent. Unfortunately, landlords almost never “perfect” this security interest by filing a UCC-1 Financing Statement. Filing this UCC statement is relatively simple and will better protect your interest in that equipment if the tenant later defaults, especially if that tenant also used that same equipment as security to subsequent lenders. Talk to your lawyer about how to protect your security with a UCC filing.

4. Track Problems as They Occur.

This rule is simple, but critical: if your tenant is consistently late with rent payments, bounces checks, or otherwise violates their lease, make sure to keep a written record of every problem as it occurs. Far too often I meet with landlords who have had problems with their tenants for years, but they can’t prove it because of poor recordkeeping.

5. Follow Your Lease.

A typical commercial lease has certain requirements a landlord must meet before a tenant can be considered in default of its lease. Even if a tenant has stopped paying rent entirely or is otherwise in breach, a lease commonly requires a landlord to send written notice of the default (often by certified mail) and give the tenant a certain amount of time to cure. Until that written notice is sent, courts may not consider a tenant to be in default of the lease. This led to a very strange situation for a client of mine a few years ago: because he started eviction proceedings on the non-paying tenant before sending the formal written notice (and before I got involved in the dispute), the court found that my client breached the lease first. Although we ultimately won at trial, there is no reason to put yourself at this kind of disadvantage.

Courtney Forster is an Associate at Gunderson Law Firm. She earned her Juris Doctorate from Notre Dame Law School, and can be contacted directly at cforster@gundersonlaw.com or 775-829-1222.