What Franchises Should Look for in a Law Firm

How to find a lawyer who will focus more on moving your business forward and less on billable hours.

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By Stephanie Schomer

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1. Get Specific, and Do Your Research!

From Lane Fisher, cofounder, Fisher Zucker

We've been in business for more than three decades. The bulk of our work is with franchisors, and we've always said: experience, expertise, results. If you're a franchisor, look for a lawyer with a good reputation in the industry, and seek representation from someone who works with like-minded entities. If you're an emerging brand, for example, find a lawyer who represents emerging brands, not a Burger King–size operation.

Franchisors need someone who can translate their brand's secret sauce into the Franchise Disclosure Document -- helping to explain how you stand out in a congested marketplace, how to price your opportunity, and how to award territories to prospective franchisees. Find a practice with someone who undertakes regulatory compliance, so they're responsible for the FDD. We do registration work for 180 brands, filing compliant documents and working with state examiners for nearly 30 years, which streamlines the registration process. A good law firm anticipates changes in the law and shares that information with clients.

Related: Franchise 500: Our Definitive Ranking of 2019's Strongest Franchises

On the franchisee side of things, I've seen plenty of people who think that the person who wrote their will or their lease can be their mentor through purchasing a franchise -- and that's a big mistake. Look for people who have experience with brands, and with your particular silo of an industry.

So where to start? Check out the American Bar Association's forum on franchising and the International Franchise Association's attorney listings. And google the people, for God's sake! Check their references, and get a sense of their passion. If the last thing an attorney argued was a zoning change for a condo, that might not be your person.

2. Things to Remember

From Matt Kelton, COO, Showhomes

Showhomes is a Nashville-­based home-staging franchise with 32 franchisees operating across 18 states. It needed a law firm with a bird's-eye view of the industry and hired Gray Plant Mooty to…

1. Stay compliant.

Kelton tries to keep abreast of law changes, but he relies on Gray Plant Mooty to catch them all. Recently, for example, the law firm advised Showhomes to update its website to comply with changes to the Americans with Disabilities Act. "All our websites need to work for people with vision or hearing issues," Kelton says. "If they don't, you're going to get a big fine."

Related: Five Ways to Finance a Franchise

2. Spend wisely.

Kelton has worked in franchising for more than 20 years, and has seen people hire attorneys simply because of their affordable rates. "They might have a low price, but they'll talk so much to run up your bill," he says. "Look beyond price, and find someone with great referrals who gets to the point."

3. Get tough.

"We had a situation where a franchise was underreporting, and we worked with Gray Plant Mooty in a lawsuit, which we won," Kelton says. "You have to enforce your business agreements -- and Gray Plant Mooty has created an environment where I can be blunt with them about what we need."

Related: 3 Things Franchises Should Know About Hiring a PR Firm

3. Unexpected Success

From Jason Mazzarone, founder and CEO, SoBol

What he expected / Mazzarone, the founder of East Coast acai bowl café SoBol, wants to sell more franchises -- so he needed his attorneys at Internicola Law Firm to help him update his FDD annually.

What he got / Instead of just laying the groundwork to find new franchisees, the law firm has helped SoBol work with its existing ones. "Internicola challenges us, has guided us on business practices, and helps our communication with our franchisees," Mazzarone says.

Stephanie Schomer

Entrepreneur Staff

Deputy Editor

Stephanie Schomer is Entrepreneur magazine's deputy editor. She previously worked at Entertainment WeeklyArchitectural Digest and Fast Company. Follow her on Twitter @stephschomer.

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