Whether you’re converting your independent business into a franchise network or thinking about investing in an existing company, consulting a specialist legal advisor is a sensible choice. But knowing how to find a franchise lawyer with the right level of experience can be tricky. Our checklist should help you find your ideal consultant.
As the popularity of franchising grows, more and more lawyers have the opportunity to work on projects with franchise businesses. Although this helps legal professionals build up an understanding of the model, it can muddy the waters when it comes to identifying specialist advisors.
Many lawyers can now throw about the names of recognisable franchises they’ve worked with briefly, but have limited knowledge of the system. Luckily, there are several ways to identify the best franchise lawyers.
Factors to look out for in a franchise lawyer
1. A proven specialism in franchising
Many legal professionals can say they’ve worked with franchises in the past, but you can ascertain their actual level of expertise by checking their website and other online profiles.
Do they have a ‘franchise law’ section on their website and do they publish content about franchising issues and trends? Also, have they worked or partnered with other franchise professionals?
2. Industry-specific knowledge
Depending on your industry, this factor may or may not be a deal-breaker. But if your business operates in the medical or financial sectors, for instance, you’ll want to make sure your lawyer has a thorough understanding of the complex regulations you’ll face.
3. Expertise in certain types of tasks
You might hire a franchise lawyer to carry out a simple task like reviewing a franchise agreement document. Alternatively, you might need them to guide you through the entire process of setting up a franchise network. It’s worth thinking about the specific jobs you need help with and making sure the lawyer you choose has the relevant skills.
For example, legal professionals can specialise in areas such as litigation, data protection, competition law and corporate finance. Some will have a ‘transactional’ focus, skilled at preparing legal documents, while others cover litigation issues and have the ability to represent you in court.
No one will be an expert in every aspect of franchise law, so you should aim to select someone who has lots of experience in the areas relevant to you.
4. Their history of working with franchisees and franchisors
Your ideal franchise lawyer might be different depending on whether you’re a franchisee or a franchisor. You may think one experienced legal professional would bring the same value as another. But if your chosen individual has worked primarily with franchise investors, for example, they may not naturally have a franchisor’s best interests in mind.
5. Knowledge of different franchise systems
When it comes to international expansion, there are various ways to grow your business. From master and regional franchise models to area development arrangements and direct franchising opportunities, you’ll have a variety of options to choose from.
Your advisor should be knowledgeable about the legal opportunities and obligations associated with each model and be able to help you move forward.
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6. Knowledge of international franchise law
If you’re going to expand your franchise into different international territories, you need to operate under the laws governing them. You must be able to adhere to individual countries’ tax and intellectual property laws, to name just two examples.
Make sure your chosen franchise lawyer has a thorough understanding of the local laws in the territories you’d like to target in the future.
7. An interest in learning about industry changes
Even the most knowledgeable and experienced lawyers need to stay up to date with the latest industry developments. Aim to hire someone who works to understand any new changes, not only in the franchising world, but also in their sector specialism.
One way to find out whether a legal professional prioritises learning is to check whether they regularly attend industry events.
8. British Franchise Association accreditation
The British Franchise Association (BFA) is the regulatory body for franchising in the UK and it aims to promote ethical business practices. As part of its service, the BFA accredits reliable franchise lawyers, so its website is a great place to start if you’re looking for legal support.
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9. Positive testimonials
As with any product or service, reviews and referrals from previous customers can provide a lot of insight. If a franchise lawyer doesn’t display any testimonials on their website, you could do some digging to see how others have rated their service. You may be able to find more information on social media profiles they’ve set up.
10. Awards and acknowledgements
If a franchise lawyer has won awards for their work, you can be fairly sure they offer a high-quality service. Keep a lookout for honours highlighting their expertise within the franchise sector, or any acknowledgements in franchise-related publications.
11. Willingness to go the extra mile
Launching a franchise business is a huge undertaking for anyone, so you’ll want to know you have the full support of your legal advisor as you get started. A good lawyer will be prepared to spend time answering your questions and attending industry events and conferences with you.
If their previous clients have commented on their busy schedules or slow response times, this could be a red flag.
12. The right payment scheme
Some franchise lawyers charge clients a flat fee, while others have an hourly rate - and some will vary their approach depending on the job. If your project provides the chance to choose between a flat-fee and hourly-rate lawyer, you may want to think about which option suits you best.
Fixed fees can help you plan your finances, but they may end up being more expensive than an hourly rate total.
13. The ability to nurture effective relationships
Your franchise lawyer should have the skills to not only establish a good working relationship with their clients, but also to support the connection between franchisor and franchisee. Their unwillingness to help you develop the knowledge you need to work well with your business partner could have a significant impact on your franchise journey.
So, aim to hire an advisor who understands the value of effective professional relationships.
14. An agreeable personality
Once you’ve weighed up a franchise lawyer’s professional attributes, it’s worth thinking about their individual personality. You may end up working with them for years, so you should be able to get on well together. If you don’t click on a personal level, it might be wise to walk away.
More information on running a franchise business
Alice Tuffery, Point Franchise ©