Four takeaways from the International Franchise Association Legal Symposium

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In early May 2018 I attended the 52nd Annual International Franchise Association Legal Symposium.  While virtually all attendees were attorneys (both in-house and outside) and topics legalistic, my top takeaways were not “legal” in nature.  So, not necessarily in order of importance, here are four key points to consider.

1.Take the time to know your client.  Yes, many of our daily tasks are routine, but unless you really take the time to get to know your client or potential client, you cannot provide accurate or efficient representation.

Although this sounds obvious, it can be very challenging to get to know your client.  It’s even more difficult to get to know a potential client. From the lawyer’s point of view, your firm must recognize that there are real costs to both obtaining and maintaining lasting client relationships.

From the client or in-house perspective, sometimes new relationships can be beneficial and make life easier and save on your budget. You might consider giving new counsel a try by starting with a small project.

From both sides of the aisle, ask to visit and ask for a visit.  Perhaps it’s useful for the lawyer to spend a day or two shadowing the client or potential contact. Don’t just meet for dinner or a drink. 

2. Joint employment issues continue to be worrisome. Certain states continue to press joint employer status on franchisors. It is therefore imperative that franchise agreements, policy manuals and actual day to day procedures stress the maintenance of independent lines between franchisee and franchisor. The risk of the blurring of the lines falls mainly on the franchisor as the “deep pocket”.

However, while it appears the trend of finding joint employer status appears to be easing, it won’t truly be eased until legislation is passed.

3. Great culture creates great organizations. Great culture is difficult to create on a “for-profit” enterprise.  While both franchisees and franchisors have common profit goals, making profit the over-riding theme turns off employees and customers alike.  Happy and satisfied employees (happy and satisfied culture) often results in excellent profitability. 

Changing culture is possible but takes time. Culture change starts with advising all in the organization of the changes intended, requiring all employees at all levels to participate and support the new culture.

4. “Old and venerable is not always considered better.” This one hit home particularly hard for me on multiple levels. First, I work for what many consider to be a large law firm that will soon celebrate its 90th year.  Second, I must face the fact that I’m no kid. Third, those choosing lawyers and law firms will often  be younger than me and certainly younger than my law firm.  So, rather than trading on age and experience, I must remember and emphasize that old and venerable (experience) when combined with young and nimble is in fact a benefit.  For those choosing a law firm, don’t automatically exclude old and venerable. Remember, knowledge and experience are important; counsel’s anticipation of your needs and reactions of your adversaries will save you money.  Also, many law firms work in departments or teams so that clients get the best of both worlds.

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