As part of its annual Franchise Legal Players issue, 1851 profiled the top franchise attorneys in the field to shine a spotlight on the work they do for the franchise industry.
1851: Tell us about your background and your firm.
Alexander Tuneski, Of Counsel at DLA Piper LLP: I have practiced franchise law for 16 years, representing domestic and international franchisors of all sizes, from start-ups to mature publicly traded companies, in a wide variety of industries. I moved my practice to DLA Piper nearly five years ago, joining the largest and most acclaimed franchise practice in the world. Our franchise group represents many of the most recognizable franchise brands, as well as some of the most intriguing emerging franchise brands. With lawyers in over 25 cities in the United States and over 40 countries, DLA Piper is uniquely positioned to help franchise clients with all of their legal needs around the world.
1851: What are some must-ask questions when franchisors and franchisees are vetting potential franchise attorneys?
Tuneski: How much of your practice is dedicated to practicing franchise law? I highly recommend choosing a lawyer that dedicates most, if not all, of their time to franchising, because so much of the advice that we give comes from our experience serving and learning from other franchisors.
What are some of your representative clients? You should look for a lawyer that is experienced in representing both emerging brands and well-established brands, as it’s important for your lawyer to have experience advising clients during all stages of the life cycle of a franchisor.
What do you like to do for fun? As you’re going to work with your attorney a lot, you need to find someone that you actually like!
1851: In broad terms, do you have a particular case that stands out to you as an industry learning experience?
Tuneski: The reality is that I learn something from every client and every project. While the legal issues are often the same, every franchisor is a little different and has its own nuances, such as corporate culture, that must be accounted for when providing advice or even drafting agreements. Some of the most interesting and challenging projects that I have worked on have involved adapting international franchise concepts to the U.S. market, overcoming cultural differences to help a successful international concept succeed in what can often be a tough market to crack.
1851: What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?
Tuneski: Watching a franchise concept take off from a few units—or even an idea on the back of a napkin—to a significant chain. Unlike a lot of other legal fields, the product of our work is tangible, as you get to see the restaurants opening or the trucks on the road. We get to play a role in helping to build businesses that can have a significant impact on their communities and on the lives of many people.
1851: What are your top concerns for the franchise industry in the next year?
Tuneski: The biggest wild card in the upcoming year is what new regulations or enforcement actions will be launched at the local or state level. In the last year, we saw the Attorney General of the State of Washington single-handedly lead an effort to remove anti-poaching clauses from franchise agreements across the country, which was an issue that was barely on anyone’s radar a year ago.
Now, you have municipalities, such as New York City, considering legislation that could codify franchisors as joint employers under local employment ordinances. While efforts to stop regulations that could harm franchising at the federal level have been successful (at least for now), it is possible that local legislators and regulators may take actions that could cause fundamental changes to the franchisor-franchisee relationship in their jurisdictions, which may prompt similar actions across the country.
1851: What are you most optimistic about in the franchise industry in the next year?
Tuneski: There is a lot to be optimistic about, as most franchisors seem to be doing quite well. So far this year, we have seen continued strong demand from private equity firms seeking franchise investments. Large multi-unit franchisees continue to grow aggressively. Emerging brands are successfully finding new franchisees and avenues for growth. As long as the economy continues on its current course, I expect that this will be a great year for franchising.