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.
Tom Spadea, Founding Partner at Spadea Lignana, LLC: Before founding the firm 8 years ago, I spent close to a decade in non-legal franchise development roles for a few national franchisors. I was also a franchise and business broker. Not many attorneys, if any, can say they put themselves through law school at night selling franchises during the day. That real-world experience permeates the entire culture of our firm. One of our attorneys was a franchisee for 10 years prior to joining our firm and many held corporate positions at leading national brands. The focus of our dozen-attorney firm is to protect our clients while giving them advice that will help them grow. We try to keep things simple, and for most of our clients, we charge a fair flat monthly fee instead of the traditional billable hour model that creates a disincentive for clients to get quick simple advice on the myriad of issues that franchisors face.
1851: What are some must-ask questions when franchisors and franchisees are vetting potential franchise attorneys?
Spadea: Do the attorney and the law firm have experience and a focus on giving practical legal advice? Does the attorney truly understand franchising and have they dedicated their entire practice to it? Are they looking to build a long-term relationship? How long has their oldest client been with them? Can they point to satisfied clients through reviews or testimonials?
Just like prospective franchisees calling up existing franchisees to vet the franchisor, a potential client should hear from existing clients to get a sense of how good the law firm really is.
1851: In broad terms, do you have a particular case that stands out to you as an industry learning experience?
Spadea: Nothing stands out.
1851: What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?
Spadea: Helping entrepreneurs achieve their goals. We have had a handful of clients that came to us years ago with just an idea and a cobbled-together budget. Seeing those clients with companies that are now worth eight figures plus is extremely gratifying. It’s also rewarding having clients who are really thankful and appreciative of the work we do for them. To have a strong-willed entrepreneur with vision and passion stop and say thank you really makes the long hours, stress and work all worth it.
1851: What are your top concerns for the franchise industry in the next year?
Spadea: I think there are too many new franchisors that didn't spend the time and effort in getting their business model right and think franchising is a quick easy way to get rich. They don't hire the right professionals and don't go into franchising ready to support their franchisees. Too many are told—and end up thinking—the work ends when they get an FDD, which is actually when the real work begins. The companies launching these brands can hurt the entire industry and the reputation of franchising.
1851: What are you most optimistic about in the franchise industry in the next year?
Spadea: Franchising is getting more and more professional each and every year. Private equity money has made its way into large multi-unit franchisee deals and with it, a more professionally managed approach to franchising has come about. The fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach is slowly giving way to a more transparent, objectively based and a more sophisticated approach to growing both franchisors and franchisees. This is having a ripple effect throughout franchising. Franchisors who are not prepared to have sophisticated franchisees will suffer and those that embrace the change will thrive.