The Benefits of Membership: A Franchisee Counsel’s Perspective

Vol. 17 No. 1

By

Robert Zarco, Zarco, Einhorn, Salkowski and Brito, P.A.

I have been attending the ABA Forum on Franchising for nearly a quarter of a century. I may have missed only one annual Forum meeting because of a trial conflict. Many may consider me to have a substantial amount of franchise experience and, therefore, less to gain by continuing to attend, compared to newer members. But the more Forums I attend, the more I believe I must continue to attend each year. As a franchisee lawyer greatly outnumbered by franchisor lawyers and executives at the Forum, I find it even more important to openly express to the bar the franchisee’s perspective on franchisor-franchisee relationship issues. The ultimate desire of our firm’s lawyers and of other franchisee lawyers is to establish and maintain a level playing field in this highly interdependent business relationship.

The Forum provides the perfect platform and vehicle for bringing to light aspects of the franchisor-franchisee relationship that need to be modified or enforced, depending on the specific circumstances at hand. Having that opportunity benefits both sides and permits counsel to better serve their clients by giving them greater understanding. Hearing and, more importantly, listening to the franchisee perspective may make franchisor counsel either more flexible or more rigid in their views on particular issues of fact or law. On the other hand, hearing and listening to the franchisor perspective may help franchisee counsel better understand why a franchisor can or cannot act as a franchisee would expect or accept a particular form of resolution for existing legal disputes.

Opportunities to Learn

The benefits of attending the seminars and lectures presented by well-known franchise counsel at the Forum are evident. But even highly experienced franchise counsel can benefit from the opportunities the Forum provides to learn from other franchisor and franchisee counsel irrespective of their level of experience. Indeed, even inexperienced franchise lawyers become involved in franchise disputes that are interesting and complex, both legally and factually.

The sea of new client opportunities at the Forum is smaller and less fruitful for franchisee lawyers than for franchisor lawyers, given that franchisees do not commonly attend. But the Forum offers unique benefits that are not available at other social or academic functions. No matter which side of the fence we are on, because we have a common interest in developing, enhancing, and learning franchise law, we have a lot to talk about. And although conversations may start out at an academic and professional level, they invariably and quickly become social and enjoyable – even when one person perceives the other as belonging to “the dark side.” This social interaction, together with a substantial increase in attendance and membership, has helped break down barriers previously created by conflicting views of what the franchisor-franchisee relationship should be. As a result, relationships that were previously riddled with tension have become highly welcoming, friendly, and gratifying.

More Discourse, Less Conflict

In my opinion, this higher level of congeniality has helped the development and enhancement of the franchisor-franchisee relationship. Each side’s understanding of the other side’s views has increased discourse and reduced conflicts between franchisors and franchisees. And when disputes do arise, for whatever reason, it is common to see lawyers representing each side sitting in a corner at the Forum trying to negotiate a resolution. I am confident that more legal disputes get resolved and more business transactions get conducted at the Forum than at any golf course or any other social or business event in the country. Without a doubt, the Forum has a way of defusing the tension and hostility that normally pervades courtrooms and conventional law firm environments. The Forum provides the perfect atmosphere for franchisor lawyers and franchisee lawyers to shed their hardened, aggressive attitudes – attitudes that may be the biggest roadblock to reaching mutually beneficial business solutions for their clients.

For these and many other reasons, the Forum is one of the most beneficial academic and social events available to a franchise lawyer. I look forward to seeing those of you I know, and meeting those I do not yet know, at the Forum’s next venue in Seattle.

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38th Annual Forum on Franchising
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