Ask a Lawyer // September 2017 // Odds and Ends (Or No Coherent Theme for this Month’s Column)

School starting back, lots of volunteer time, lots of work for clients, put all of this together and what do you get? An Odds and Ends column. Here we go…..

The Overtime Rule is Dead—Maybe. Last year the Department of Labor issued a rule that would have doubled the minimum salary for executive, administrative, and professional employees exempt from overtime pay. This rule would have affected the design community in our area particularly hard because the minimum salary would have been more than $50,000 per year. Design firms would have struggled with maintaining staffing and keeping junior designers to just 40 hours.

Fortunately, a judge in Texas issues a ruling last week that permanently barred the DOL from implementing the rule. I say the rule is only maybe dead because an appeals court will hear the case next month and they can overrule the district court, but I doubt they will.

A change in the salary level is coming. The last adjustment to the salary level was in 2004. But the minimum salary for white collar workers is likely to be set in the mid-$30,000 range, a much more palatable zone for the creative industries.

Time to Look at Your Contract Again. For those of you in Maryland, it may be time to re-examine your contract language thanks to the Maryland Court of Appeals. Many design firms, particularly those of you whose contracts I prepared, have a shortened timeframe for an upset client to bring a claim against you. The purpose of these shortened time frames is to make sure that clients with a problem are prompt in bringing the problem to your attention.

Under normal law, a person who has a breach of contract claim has three years to bring that claim to court. However, many contracts shorten that timeframe significantly. If you have a contract that says the client must bring a claim against you in less than three years, you should have an attorney review the contract. The Court of Appeals issued an opinion in a case a couple weeks ago that stated some of the factors to be considered to determine is shortening the time is fair. Some of the factors the Court of Appeals instructs courts (and lawyers) to consider are the length of the shortened time as compared to the three years, whether the parties have unequal bargaining power, and the overall circumstances of the contract and the relationship between the parties.

Always Be Learning. As business owners and professionals, it is important to always be learning something new. In addition to all the great programming that AIGA Blue Ridge does (you have gone to some of our events right?), a lot of local programs are available for folks to attend either free or for every low cost. Here is a list of events that might be helpful for those of us learning about the business of running a business, whether you own your firm or not:

September 12 10:00-11:30 a.m., I will be speaking about non-compete agreements for the Maryland Small Business Development Center. Free registration is here.
September 19 10:00-11:30 a.m., I will be speaking about legal risk management for the Maryland Small Business Development Center. Free registration is here.

The Maryland Small Business Development Center has dozens of programs each quarter on topics ranging from my legal talks to marketing (social media and “traditional”), accounting, insurance, getting started and a talk called “The Art of the Side Hustle” which will be held September 14. Check out SBDC’s calendar of events.

The Frederick Chamber of Commerce has several great events coming up ranging from business succession planning to networking. I love the Chamber and more than 90 percent of the more than 900 members are small businesses. One of their next events is probably my favorite because it applies to everyone, no matter how big or small your company is or how many employees you have. Federated Charities is hosting “You Said What to an Employee?,” a discussion of common human resources issues. The event is September 15 from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Registration is $25 (a real bargain) and you can register here.

Check out other great networking and educational events. Check out the Chamber’s calendar of events.

Personal Plug on a Proud Dad Moment. My oldest daughter Elena will be doing her first photography show at Cowork Frederick (122 E. Patrick Street in Frederick) on October 7 (in conjunction with First Saturday in Frederick). She will be showing her photos taken on our various family road trips. The reception is tentatively scheduled for 6:00 p.m. (Elena has a cross country meet for school during the afternoon). Elena has been interested in graphic design and photography from some time. Those of you who know me and my family know this is a huge step for Elena. I hope you can stop by on October 7.


BIO Disclaimer

MATT JOHNSTON IS A SOLO ATTORNEY WITH A FOCUS ON SMALL BUSINESS REPRESENTATION, COPYRIGHT AND TRADEMARK LAW, AND DISPUTE RESOLUTION. MANY OF MATT’S CLIENTS ARE DESIGNERS AND CREATIVE PROFESSIONALS WHOSE CONCERNS OVERLAPPING MATT’S PRACTICE AREAS. MATT CONCENTRATES ON DRAFTING CLEAR CONTRACTS OF ALL TYPES AND HELPING DESIGNERS WITH THE LEGAL SIDE OF THE DESIGN BUSINESS. AS A BENEFIT TO AIGA MEMBERS, MATT OFFERS A 10% DISCOUNT ON ALL CONSULTATION APPOINTMENTS, FLAT FEE PROJECTS, AND HOURLY FEES.

THE CONTENT OF THIS COLUMN IS FOR EDUCATIONAL AND INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY AND SHOULD NOT BE CONSTRUED AS LEGAL ADVICE APPLICABLE IN ANY SPECIFIC SITUATION. NO ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP IS CREATED THROUGH THIS COLUMN. IF YOU NEED CONFIDENTIAL LEGAL ADVICE, MATT IS AVAILABLE FOR PRIVATE AND PRIVILEGED CONSULTATIONS. CONTACT MATT IF YOU HAVE SPECIFIC CONCERNS.

By Matthew S. Johnston
Published September 7, 2017
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