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.
Jason M. Murray, Shareholder, Franchise & Distribution Group Leader at Gunster, Yoakley & Stewart, P.A.: I practice in the area of franchise and distribution law and provide counsel and assistance with creating, managing, licensing, protecting and enforcing franchised business relationships, product distribution systems and dealership networks. Additionally, I practice in the areas of general commercial litigation in state and federal courts including intellectual property, real property, trade secrets and non-compete litigation as well as business litigation and trade regulation matters.
I work for Gunster, Florida’s law firm for business, providing full-service legal counsel to leading organizations and individuals from its 13 offices statewide. The franchise and distribution law practice specifically relates to licensing and development, regulation and compliance, and dispute resolution through mediation, arbitration and litigation.
1851: What are some must-ask questions when franchisors and franchisees are vetting potential franchise attorneys?
Murray: Prospective franchisor/franchisee clients should ask or determine how much of the attorney’s law practice is devoted to franchise law. As Aristotle once remarked, “One swallow does not a summer make...” Similarly, one franchise case or matter does not make a lawyer a “franchise attorney.” A good franchise attorney should have experience representing franchisors and/or franchisees. If the franchise attorney has represented both franchisors and franchisees, then the franchise attorney is a tremendous asset. Prospective franchisor/franchisee clients should look for an attorney committed to understanding many different points of view within franchise and distribution systems. Commitment to understanding different viewpoints fosters creative solutions that have the potential to result in a win-win approach to problem-solving, deal-making and dispute resolution.
1851: In broad terms, do you have a particular case that stands out to you as an industry learning experience?
Murray: There are a number of vicarious liability cases against franchisors as well as the ongoing “joint employer” litigation directed at franchisors and franchisees that provide valuable instruction and present an industry learning experience about franchisor over-reach and control-related liability of franchisors.
1851: What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?
Murray: The most rewarding and enjoyable aspect of my work is serving as a key business advisor and problem solver that assists clients in achieving their business goals.
1851: What are your top concerns for the franchise industry in the next year?
Murray: My top concerns for the franchise industry involve immigration, labor and employment. The current political climate is calling for a more restrictive immigration policy. These policies may adversely affect several sectors in the franchise industry such as lodging and hospitality, quick service restaurants, table/full-service restaurants and personal services to name a few. Many of these sectors have relied on new arrivals for their labor force and the labor force for their supply chains. Additionally, several of these sectors have served as pathways to business ownership for new arrivals using immigration visa programs such as E-2 and EB-5. In addition to immigration policy impacting the sale of franchises and the labor force for many sectors, the franchise industry also is still facing uncertainty concerning possible findings from the National Labor Relations Board that franchisors can be held liable for labor mistakes from franchisees if the NLRB embrace a “joint employer” view and interpretation of certain employment laws.
1851: What are you most optimistic about in the franchise industry in the next year?
Murray: I am optimistic about continued economic growth in the franchise industry. Several of my franchisee clients are acquiring additional business locations or franchise units in order to enjoy the benefits of being a multi-unit operator. In addition, I have seen an uptick in startup franchisors wanting to expand their concepts through area development and multi-unit sales. We also are seeing a number of franchise systems being purchased by new owners who have expressed a commitment to growing their franchise system. It appears that “growth“ is the word for the franchise industry for 2019!