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Meet Our Summer Associate

Jun. 03, 2019

Blethen Berens is honored to welcome Macy Anderson to our firm as a Summer Associate. Macy is going to be a third-year law student in the fall at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota. Originally from the area, Macy was raised in Eagle Lake and graduated from Mankato East High School. Macy obtained a Bachelor’s of Accountancy from the University of North Dakota before beginning law school. During her time in law school, Macy has been a member of the Legal Association of Women Students, the Business Law Society, and she volunteers with the Minnesota Justice Foundation. In her free time, Macy enjoys spending time with her family and dogs; attending various festivals, fairs, and concerts; and watching sports.

 

 

How I Sustained My Legal Career and Avoided Burnout

May. 09, 2019

By Beth Serrill

Shared with the Official Journal of Minnesota Women Lawyers

I’ve been practicing close to 14 years, and I love being an attorney. I can’t say that when I started my career I had a grand plan to sustain it and avoid burnout, but, looking back, there are a few things that seem to have put me in a good position to do so.

Joining the Right Firm

My husband and I didn’t have any connections to Mankato when we accepted our jobs. We weren’t sure where we wanted to move after I graduated and I signed up for an on-campus interview with Blethen because we thought maybe we wanted to be in Minnesota and the size of the firm, about 12 attorneys at the time, seemed nice. If I’m totally honest, as an Iowan with very little familiarity with Minnesota, I was also confusing Mankato with Minnetonka. I hate to admit that now because I have a lot of Mankato pride, but it’s the truth – and it ended up being a very happy geographical miscue!

I was lucky that Blethen had (and still has) a truly fantastic mentoring program that helped to make Mankato my home, both professionally and personally. I was assigned two mentors who guided me through a two-year program that gave me opportunities to work within all the firm’s practice areas and with all the firm’s partners. I wasn’t pushed into a role that the firm needed to fill, but, instead, felt supported and valued and that the partners truly wanted me to find practice areas that were the best fit for me. Being a partner now, I know my perception was correct because that’s our approach with every new hire. Having practice areas I’m passionate about has helped me stay excited about my job. I have genuine interest in the areas I work and enjoy going to CLEs and keeping up to date on changes and trends. Had I been pigeon-holed into a practice area based solely on the firm’s needs, I don’t think I’d have the same motivation and satisfaction.

Finding the Right Community – and Getting Involved

Mankato is a great fit for my family. It’s a wonderful community that’s growing in strategic and exciting ways. One thing I learned quickly is that non-profit boards are always looking for attorneys and accepting opportunities has brought a wonderful balance to my life. Mankato is the perfect size: it’s big enough to have a wide variety of amazing nonprofit organizations doing phenomenal work, but small enough that opportunities to be involved in really incredible things were plentiful, even as a newcomer.

I was invited to join the founding board of Feeding Our Communities Partners , an organization that’s first initiative was a backpack food program for elementary school children to help combat hunger. My mom is a retired elementary school teacher and knows firsthand the impact hunger can have on students, so helping to fight that problem was particularly fulfilling.

I also had the opportunity to join the board of the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota and help to establish its permanent location in Mankato. I feel a great sense of pride every time I walk my daughter through the doors and experience the joy that is created in that phenomenal place.

I’m currently the vice president of the board of the Mankato Family YMCA, and the board is exploring the possibility of building a second location to serve community needs. The opportunity to be involved in a project that could have such an expansive, lasting impact on our community is inspiring.

Having connections to non-profit organizations and projects has given me a sense of belonging in the community. I may not have grown up in Mankato but I’m so thrilled to call it my home.

Being Thankful

The law is a wonderful profession and I’m thankful every day to be a part of it. One of my first clients was a woman in crisis. The county had taken custody of her child and she had pending criminal charges. In our initial meeting we realized we were the same age, born just a couple months apart. As we talked it struck me how many things outside of my control impacted the side of the table I sat on. I was born into a fantastic, supportive family, got a great education, and married a man who is a true partner. A change in any of those circumstances could have drastically impacted my life, and I do my best to appreciate and give thanks for all the things that put me in the position I’m in today.

As attorneys we have the privilege of being invited into people’s lives and that’s an extraordinary thing. Frequent reflection on that helps me stay engaged and enthusiastic. I’m thankful every day to be a part of this profession.

Estate Planning: Five Reasons Not To Use Free Online Resources

May. 02, 2019

Will. Codicil. Living trust. Living Will.  Probate. Avoid probate. Durable power of attorney. Power of attorney for health. Nursing home protection. Executor. Heirs. Beneficiaries. Estate taxes. Life estate. 

Estate planning can be overwhelming!  A quick Google search of these terms and concepts will give you a lot of information—some good (like this article!) and some bad. That search will also undoubtedly point you toward free or inexpensive “Will Kits”, “Estate Planning Forms”, “Online Wills” and the like.  Here are five good reasons to do estate planning with a competent attorney instead of using free or inexpensive online resources. 

  1. You are Unique. Every Minnesotan and every Minnesota family is unique.  Do you or one of your children have a blended family? What about the child who owes you money?  Or your grandchild who receives government benefits for a disability?  What if your daughter is a great financial manager, but an emotional mess under pressure? How do you let your son take over the family farm but also treat your other children fairly? What is the best tax-wise way to benefit the charities you care about? And what about grandchildren? Are step-grandchildren included? Or children born out of wedlock? How about the cabin? Online resources won’t give you options for addressing any of these situations or other things that make your family unique.     
  2. Minnesota is Unique. Free or inexpensive online resources are “one size fits all” tools geared toward the legal environment where most Americans live.  If you live in Minnesota, you do not live where most Americans live.  Online resources are geared toward the legal environments in California and New York—the places where most Americans live. The probate courts in Minnesota are very different from the probate courts in California and New York.  The laws are different.  The procedures are different.  And the attorneys are different too.  Even resources that allow you to “check the box” to get Minnesota forms do not take into account Minnesota’s unique non-probate options.  Estate planning with an attorney is particularly good bang for the buck for Minnesotans who own their home but otherwise have small or modest estates—the exact kind of people who might be tempted to use online resources. Minnesota’s unique probate and non-probate real estate planning options can be very powerful and comparatively inexpensive tools for these Minnesotans.
  3. Estate Planning With an Attorney Will Save Money. True, online resources are free or inexpensive. But the poor quality estate plans produced by free or inexpensive resources can cost your family and your estate more money in the future.  It costs infinitely less money to do estate planning with an attorney than to fix poorly planned estates or solve family fights down the road.  By spending a little money on estate planning on the front end you can spare your family and your estate the larger attorneys’ fees, time and heartache caused by poor planning. Think of estate planning with an attorney as preventive medicine.  If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of care, an ounce of attorney’s fees for estate planning is worth a pound of attorney’s fees for future probate and litigation over a poorly planned estate.  
  4. Estate Planning With an Attorney is Comprehensive Planning. Wills are an important component of estate planning, but they are never the only component.  Similarly, Wills govern disposition of your assets after death but Wills do nothing to help you manage your assets or your health during your lifetime, even if you lose the capacity to manage your affairs yourself. If you complete an online Will form, your estate planning is not complete.  Estate planning with an attorney is so much more than just doing a Will!  Estate planning with an attorney is comprehensive planning to cover a variety of present and future scenarios, tailored to your unique family and circumstances.      
  5. Your Family is Worth It. Think about the reasons you want to do estate planning in the first place. Along with other important reasons, you probably want to make things simple and easy for your family when you are gone.  You want them to be taken care of and not burdened with legal or financial headaches.  A little time with a competent estate planning attorney is worth the cost to make this happen.  You are worth it.  Your family is worth it.

If you have not done estate planning with an attorney, or if it has been a while since you reviewed your estate plan with an attorney, call me or any of our estate planning attorneys. I will listen to what makes you and your family unique and I will recommend Minnesota estate planning options to best address your needs.  At the end of the estate planning process, you will feel relieved and confident with your comprehensive estate plan. You and your family are worth it.

Written by Mary Kay Mages

Corbett Obtains Successful Court of Appeals Decision in Family Law Case

Apr. 15, 2019

On behalf of her divorce client, Julia Ketcham Corbett obtained a successful decision regarding marital and non-marital property claims, spousal maintenance and attorneys fees in September, 2017 after a two-day trial in Blue Earth County.  The other party appealed the District Court’s decision on four grounds and Ms. Corbett defended that appeal.  In its opinion issued on April 15, 2019, the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court’s decision on all grounds and upheld the outcome obtained by Ms. Corbett for her client.

Don’t Forget: National Healthcare Decisions Day is April 16th

Apr. 05, 2019

DEPARTMENT OF LABOR ISSUES PROPOSAL TO UPDATE FLSA’S REGULAR RATE REGULATIONS

Mar. 28, 2019

This morning the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) announced that it is considering a modification to its overtime regulations. Under the current federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), most employers are required to pay nonexempt employees at least “time and one-half” for all hours worked over 40 hours in a work week.[1] Overtime compensation is based on an employee’s “regular rate of pay.” When an employee’s compensation is strictly an hourly wage, finding the employee’s regular rate of pay is usually a straightforward calculation.  For example, an employee that earns $10.00 per hour has a regular rate of pay of $10.00 per hour resulting in $15.00 per hour for overtime work.

When an employer offers compensation beyond an hourly rate, the overtime calculation becomes less clear and more complex. This complexity and the potential consequences of incorrectly calculating an employee’s regular rate of pay has discouraged employers from offering more perks to their nonexempt employees. To respond to this unintended consequence, the DOL proposes to clarify its current regulations and confirm that an employer may exclude the following from an employee’s regular rate of pay calculation:

  • the cost of providing wellness programs, onsite specialist treatment, gym access and fitness classes, and employee discounts on retail goods and services;
  • payments for unused paid leave, including paid sick leave;
  • reimbursed expenses, even if not incurred “solely” for the employer’s benefit;
  • reimbursed travel expenses that do not exceed the maximum travel reimbursement permitted under the Federal Travel Regulation System regulations and that satisfy other regulatory requirements;
  • discretionary bonuses;
  • benefit plans, including accident, unemployment, and legal services; and
  • tuition programs, such as reimbursement programs or repayment of educational debt.

The proposed rule will also provide clarity on how to classify other forms of compensation such as pay for meal periods, “call back” pay and others.

The proposed rule is only a proposal. It will be published in the Federal Register tomorrow (March 29, 2019) and then open for comments through May 28, 2019. Once the rule is published, comments can be submitted at www.regulations.gov (rulemaking docket RIN 1235-AA24). Once the comment period closes, the DOL will consider a Final Rule. It is unknown how long this will take.

If you have questions about this or any employment law issue, or would like assistance in analyzing the application of this proposed rule to your business, please contact any of the Blethen Berens employment-law attorneys.

[1] Some jobs are governed by a different FLSA overtime threshold.

McAninch Secures Favorable Jury Verdict at Trial

Mar. 22, 2019

On behalf of a local Co-op, Ben McAninch successfully sued a trucking company and its driver to recover more than $225,000, the cost to repair a Terragator involved in a collision with a semi. Following the third day of trial, a Sibley County jury returned a verdict finding that the semi driver was at fault for the collision and awarding the full cost of repair of the Terragator.

DEPARTMENT OF LABOR PROPOSES NEW OVERTIME RULE

Mar. 08, 2019

Under the current federal  Fair Labor Standards Act, employees with a salary below $455 per week ($23,660 annually) must be paid overtime if they work more than 40 hours per week.  Workers making at least this salary level and whose job duties fit within an exemption are ineligible for overtime.  This salary level was set in 2004. 

Previously, under the Obama administration, the rule was changed to increase the salary level to $922 per week (about $47,000 annually).  This new rule was met with a lot of concern by employers due to the significant increase in the salary level, and additional increases thereafter.  That rule was enjoined by a U.S. District Court in November, 2016 and the appeal has not moved forward, with the expectation that the Department would propose a new rule with a revised salary threshold. 

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Labor  (“DOL”) announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding this much-anticipated issue.  This new proposed rule would update the salary threshold from $455 to $679 per week (equivalent to $35,308 per year).   Under the proposed rule, employers are allowed to use nondiscretionary bonuses and incentive payments (including commissions) that are paid annually or more frequently to satisfy up to 10 percent of the salary level. For the highly compensated employee exemption, the annual salary increases from $100,000 to $147,414 per year.  The new rule does not provide for automatic adjustments to the salary threshold, as the 2016 rule did, but does indicate a commitment to  periodically review the salary threshold.  The new rule also does not make any changes to the job duties test.

So, what is next?

The proposed rule is only a proposal.  The rule will be published in the Federal Register and then will be open for public comment for 60 days . Comments can be submitted here once the rule is published:  www.regulations.gov (rulemaking docket RIN 1235-AA20). The rule will likely face further review and legal challenges.  If you are concerned about the proposed rule, you are encouraged to submit your comments.

The DOL will receive and review the comments and then a Final Rule will be issued. The DOL will likely give employers plenty of lead time to prepare for the changes.  It is likely that it will be at least a year before changes need to be implemented.  However, those employers with employees who are currently classified as exempt, but earning less than $35,308 per year, should begin to review those positions to determine how they might respond to these proposed changes.

If you have questions about this or any employment law issue, or would like assistance in analyzing the application of this proposed rule to your business, please contact any of the Blethen Berens employment-law attorneys.

 

Legal Necessities for Startups and Small Businesses

Mar. 01, 2019

Written by Jared Koch

When entrepreneurs start a new business, money is tight. Precious funds need to be spent on technology, designing logos and websites, insurance, marketing, and much more. With little cash to spare, new business owners often put off discussions with a lawyer about how to protect their new company.

That’s when things can go wrong. For example, maybe Sarah and Brittany thought they had the time to invest in a new daycare, but now Brittany wants out. Without entity documents in place, there are no clear rules about whether Sarah can (or has to) buy out Brittany and at what price.

Or perhaps Ashley put in a lot of capital for a restaurant and Michael runs the day-to-day operations, but Ashley is upset about some decisions that Michael is making. Without an operating agreement, it might not be clear who has to sign off on which decisions and lead to further problems down the road.

Or imagine that Jacob invented a great new workout app but some of its users got injured while exercising and now they are suing Jacob. If Jacob doesn’t have a business entity and his insurance won’t pay enough to cover the lawsuit, Jacob could be held personally responsible to pay damages to his customers.

All of these headaches can be avoided with a few conversations with an attorney. Proactive legal planning is relatively inexpensive and can protect business owners when problems arise in a startup or small business.

The most popular way to achieve this is through a limited liability company (an “LLC”). An LLC has many advantages for a business. The first is the most important—an LLC protects the business owners from personal responsibility for business debts and other liabilities. This means that if the LLC is struggling financially or an accident leads to a lawsuit against the company, the owners’ homes, retirement funds, and other assets are not at risk. Entrepreneurs don’t get any of these protections when they operate a business without a formal business structure like an LLC or corporation.

LLCs are also simple to maintain. They allow business owners to take advantage of “pass through” taxation, so they are taxed in the same way as without an entity in place. LLCs also don’t require much formality to maintain and are very flexible in how the business can be structured. After an LLC is formed in Minnesota, maintaining the LLC is free and only requires a single renewal filing every year.

In addition, at some point in businesses with multiple owners, one owner is going to want to leave the business. Whether that is because the business is doing poorly or extremely well, the LLC structure lays out the path to buy out a co-owner in advance so that someone leaving the business doesn’t lead to costly legal battles.

Having an LLC or other entity in place can also signal to investors that you are serious about the new business. Having an LLC or corporation structure already established shows that you believe in this business and are taking steps to get up and running. This may convince potential investors that this is more than just a hobby that you are interested in but rather that you truly want to make this business a success and are willing to do the work to get there.

All-in-all, legal planning is much more important than you might think when operating a startup or small business. When it’s time to start your next business, don’t wait until it’s too late to create a business entity. An LLC or another type of entity might be the right fit to protect you and your company. Contact Blethen Berens at 507-345-1166 to schedule a consultation.

Name Change for Merged Firms

Jul. 12, 2018

Blethen, Gage & Krause and Berens, Rodenberg & O’Connor merged effective July 1, 2018. The new firm name is Blethen Berens. 

This is a merger of two highly compatible, well-respected law firms.  Both firms have a significant historical footprint in the region.  Blethen, Gage & Krause has been providing high quality legal services in the Greater Mankato area for over 120 years while Berens, Rodenberg & O’Connor has provided equally valuable services in the New Ulm area for over 90 years.  We hold similar values and philosophies on doing business: providing excellent service to clients with an emphasis on quality and integrity while supporting the community. 

Our respective addresses have not changed.  You may call us at 507-345-1166 for both locations.

As always, we will continue to serve our clients with the same dedication and quality which they have come to expect from us.