1851 Interviews the Highest Profile Attorneys in Franchising
Name: Bret Lowell
Firm: DLA Piper
About DLA Piper: With lawyers located in more than 30 countries and 76 offices throughout the Americas, Asia Pacific, Europe and the Middle East, DLA Piper is a global law firm positioned to help companies with their legal needs throughout the world. We have practiced franchising, distribution and related areas of law for more than 40 years. The 20 partners and senior lawyers in our franchising and distribution law group average in excess of 25 years of experience in those fields.
Our clients operate in most of the business sectors that have adopted franchising as a method of distribution. They represent a broad spectrum of size and experience, from entrepreneurs and startup companies to large franchisors, manufacturers and distributors, with networks ranging from dozens to thousands of outlets. We have worked for clients in more than 100 countries and are respected around the world for our experience. Chambers and Partners calls us “The most distinguished player in the franchising area” and “The world’s most recognizable force in franchising,” commenting that DLA Piper “stands in a class of its own.” The International Who’s Who of Franchise Lawyers singles out 17 of the group’s lawyers for recognition, more than double the number from any other practice. The Franchise Times names 17 of our lawyers among its “Legal Eagles” (more than any other firm)—the top franchise lawyers in the U.S. The publication calls them “super lawyers, the go-to guys and problem solvers who have earned the respect of their peers, clients and advisors.”
Additionally, we serve as General Counsel to the International Franchise Association. We practice franchise and distribution law from offices in Chicago (312-368-4000), Washington, DC (202-799-4000), Northern Virginia (703-773-4000), Atlanta (404-736-7800), San Francisco (415-836-2500), Houston (713-425-8400) and Palo Alto (650-833-2000).
1851: How did you fall into franchising?
Lowell: As a new Georgetown Law School graduate, I interviewed with a variety of Washington, DC.. law firms. The standout firm for me was Brownstein & Zeidman, a small shop with a specialty in franchising. It was also the leading law firm in the field, and the General Counsel to the International Franchise Association. And, for icing on the cake, I would be working with lawyers who had gotten their legal educations at Harvard and Yale.
The opportunity had other appeals as well. In this complex world, I had already learned that the best way to become a notable lawyer was to be a specialist, and, specializing in a field that I had focused on in law school – business and entrepreneurial transactions – made sense. I had some uncertainty, however, with accepting the position. My orientation was toward young and start-up entrepreneurs, and I strongly desired to use my legal skills to help them. Representing large franchisors was not my goal, until one of my interviewers convinced me that with small businesses often not having the economies of scale needed to survive, representation of franchisors was the “last hope for franchisees – the small businesspersons.”
To this day, I often think that I am good at solving franchisors’ problems largely because of my keen ability to care for, and to stand in the shoes of, the franchisee – the small businessperson. After all, the secret of franchisor success is franchisee success.
1851: What do you love most about franchising?
Lowell: I love two aspects of franchising. First, I love learning about different types of businesses. I have represented franchisors in businesses as diverse as restaurants, car rentals, hotels, children’s activities, automotive, and home services. There are commonalities among these businesses that I am able to draw upon for all of their benefits, while at the same time vast differences among them that are always fascinating to learn. Second, I am fond of saying that I “practice franchise law, even though there is almost no such thing.” Yes, there are a few franchise laws to know about, but the practice of franchise law is really the application to franchising of contract law, intellectual property law, privacy law, antitrust law, mergers and acquisitions law, securities law and much more. Overall, I love that I am always learning about both business and legal aspects of franchising.
1851: What makes a great client?
Lowell: A great client is one who has in-house counsel or executives that know how to manage outside counsel. These individuals need to either know, or work with us to identify, the legal problem. They then need to either effectively communicate the assistance they require from us with the problem, or understand and help to tailor our recommendations for dealing with the problem. And, the communications at all times need to be professional. The bottom line is a good client is an effective communicator, and good communication is the key to a great client relationship.
1851: What makes a great franchise attorney?
Lowell: A great franchise attorney (whether in-house or outside) has the ability to stand in the client’s shoes and to see the client’s perspective. This can only come with tremendous knowledge of what is possible in franchising, which itself comes from years of experience in dealing with franchise matters. It also comes from a tremendous service ethic – a willingness to self-sacrifice in order to achieve the client’s objectives. And, a great outside franchise attorney will not only help to solve the client’s problem, but will also make the in-house attorney or executive who presented the problem look absolutely great.