(authored by Stephanie Lynn)
Being a fairly new member of Cowork Frederick, I had not had much interaction with Matt Johnston until I sat down with him for his feature member interview. As he told me a bit about his life, I quickly came to discover the seemingly quiet guy was fun to talk to.
Growing up in a Navy family, Matthew (“Matt”) Johnston has always appreciated the support community members give one another. “The Navy provided a lot of support for the sailors and in a lot of ways, the small business community does the same thing; it’s a community of support,” he explained. It’s no wonder he makes his living helping people in Frederick.
Matt is a small business lawyer for the Frederick area. Having an appreciation for the impact small businesses have on their communities, Matt had an interest in helping the owners. “They all live and work in the same place. I kinda like that,” he said.
Before diving into law, Matt grew up in Orange Park, Fl., a small town southwest of Jacksonville. His first job was at the age of 10, refereeing soccer games, a sport he is incredibly passionate about. Along with soccer games came typical teenage jobs of working in a grocery store and pizza joint. While dealing with the inevitable rude customer, working these jobs made an impact on how Matt interacts with his clients today. “You have to treat them with the same sort of respect that you would give others,” he said. “Just because I’m a lawyer doesn’t make me superior to others or make me immune to proper customer service.”
Shortly after graduating high school, Matt joined the Navy and was stationed in Washington DC for just over four years. From there, he went on to attend the University of Maryland College Park where he earned a degree in Government and Politics. He went to work as a lobbyist for the American Chemistry Council, and later the Health Insurance Association. “I guess I had a thing for lobbying for groups everyone hated,” he said with a laugh, recalling his first career choice.
But after a while, lobbying became frustrating for Matt. “It’s the same thing over and over again,” he said. It was time to find a different career path. Knowing he always had an interest in the law and helping people solve problems, Matt decided to enroll at the Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law in 2001. Keeping his regular 40-hour week job, Matt took his law classes at night. “I went to work from 8 am-4:30 pm, hopped on Metro, went to class from 6-9 pm, then did it all over again the next day,” he said.
After graduating from law school, Matt and his wife (who is from Walkersville, Md.) moved to Frederick where Matt began his legal practice, The Law Offices of Matthew S. Johnston, to help small business owners rather than join a national billion-dollar law firm. “I think small businesses tend to be underrepresented clientele,” he explained of his career choice. “They often can’t afford a lawyer until it becomes a problem.”
Matt is passionate about his work and enjoys getting to know the business owners, their business and what makes them happy in terms of working. “I try to work with owners in a proactive manner to avoid problems before they happen,” he explained.
What kind of problems do small business owners need to worry about? “It’s not so much what your business is doing right now but in six years, six months, the ‘what if’ contingencies,” Matt said. Because many people ignore an issue until it becomes a problem, they are often not prepared when a problem strikes. Using a quote from his wife that Matt often uses, he said, “If more people stopped and thought about it, business owners have a marketing plan, a business plan, but very few of them make a legal plan.”
While he considers law his career, Matt spent time in 2013 writing for the US Open Cup, an annual soccer tournament held in the United States that often features retired professional players. When he wasn’t at his office, Matt was watching these games, as well as interviewing coaches and players. “It’s fun to go out and watch these soccer games,” he said of his experience. “These guys go out because they love the game, not because they’re getting paid.” Unfortunately he won’t be writing about soccer again this year due to scheduling conflicts.
When asked what activities or interests he has outside of work, Matt said “soccer!” with a smile on his face, given we had just discussed his time as a soccer writer. He excitedly added there’s a little over 80 days until the World Cup kicks off in Brazil. In fact, Matt’s youngest daughter recently entered a sweepstakes at McDonald’s for the World Cup: if she wins, the family would go to Brazil and she would escort the players onto the field for one game.
Between work, soccer and family, Matt knew he needed to find a place outside of his house to work. The usual places like Starbucks and Panera weren’t an option because he doesn’t drink coffee. “That would drive me insane!” He began looking at flexible office space. Matt was drawn to Cowork Frederick, mostly because of the other people that work there and the relaxed atmosphere. “If I wanted to show up in shorts, I could and no one would look at me funny,” he joked about the laid back feeling of Cowork Frederick. “They’re just normal folks.”
At the end of the day, Matt just wants to help people, and Cowork Frederick has been just the place for him to do his work. “I don’t want to be what everybody thinks a lawyer should look like.” And he’s not. Besides, how many lawyers do you know that are such soccer enthusiasts? Well done, Matt.