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legal basics for architectural practice

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Don’t believe that incorporating your firm will shield your personal assets in case of litigation. Never make a promise about a building—such as “Your roof will never leak”—unless it’s covered by your liability insurance. Always put a copyright symbol on your drawings. So advised Charles R. Heuer, FAIA, Esq., in his Thursday session at the AIA 2012 National Convention in Washington, D.C., “Did You Get the Owner’s Manual for Your Practice?”

Trained as both an architect and an attorney, Heuer heads a legal firm that represents design professionals, and he filled a 90-minute session with the kind of information architects need “to design happily, without being in legal jeopardy and financial jeopardy.” And despite a distinct lack of eye candy, his presentation kept a healthy crowd of attendees scribbling notes and asking questions.

Heuer covered the types and relative advantages of different types of business organization (the superiority of an LLC over an S corporation is “an urban myth,” he said) and presented capsule primers on contract, copyright, and labor law. In the mix he sprinkled nuggets of wisdom, any one of which could save an architect a world of trouble. Make sure your contracts include a time limit. Pay your interns at least minimum wage. Given the choice of litigation or arbitration, seriously consider the latter (“You get an informed arbitrator,” not a judge who may have no knowledge of architectural practice). Don’t think you can get away with calling your office staff independent contractors.

And about putting that copyright symbol on your drawings: It’s not to establish your intellectual property rights--you automatically have copyright on all the work you or your employees produce--it’s to assert those rights. “I like notice on the drawings,” Heuer said, and better in the body of the drawing than in the title block. “An owner who isn’t above stealing your drawings isn’t above cutting off your title block.” –b.d.s.

 
 

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