Niche Explorations: The Brewer's Barrister

John Szymankiewicz is a solo practitioner at the Law Office of John Szymankiewicz. 

Editor's Note: What do you love? What do you wish you could do for a salary? Do you love art? Painters, sculptors, gallery owners, and art advocacy groups all need lawyers. How do you turn your love into your business? What kind of legal services do your fellow enthusiasts need, and can they pay you? If you were a sculptor, wouldn’t you prefer a lawyer who genuinely shared your passion for creating beauty out of clay? If you can determine what it is you love, find others who also love it, identify those who create or do what you love, and figure out what legal services everyone needs, then you may have the makings of a valuable niche practice.

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I call myself a “Beer Lawyer.” I focus on the craft beer, winery, and craft distillery industries. My goal is to be the one-stop-shop for small and start-up breweries, wineries, and distilleries.

I call myself a “Beer Lawyer” because it captures my interest concisely and lends to easier marketing efforts. But my practice is really about bringing together the various aspects of the law that converge on the small business owner in the alcohol business. There are many legal nuances specific to the alcohol production and sales business that are unique. This niche regularly touches on all of these topics:

  • corporate formation and fund-raising
  • contracts and leases
  • employment issues
  • trademark and intellectual property
  • licensing and permitting (federal permits, local alcohol regulatory body, etc.)
  • franchise law aspects (governing distribution rights)
  • zoning and land use
  • labeling and food/health regulations

Those substantive areas are each interesting and challenging, but the complexity increases when you look at how they interact with one another.

For example, I have a client that’s starting a brewery. They want to serve their beer and local wine in a tap room and to sell beer to local restaurants. The checklist starts building in my mind: at least two different ABC permits, a federal brewing permit, maybe a distribution contract, label approval at the federal and state level, probably leased space with construction up-fit contracts, and ensuring that the business/beer name doesn’t violate the trademark rights of the more than 2,500 other small breweries in the United States.

Craft beer, breweries, and other alcohol beverage clients make up about 40 percent of my business. I aim to grow that over time with a marketing and branding strategy. To that end, I maintain a web and social media presence, participate with industry trade groups, advertise on industry-specific websites, and seek opportunities to present at industry seminars.

Sometimes the financial rewards aren’t that great. Nevertheless, because these are start-up operations, I enjoy the work by helping someone get his or her dream off the ground. Fringe benefits like that, and working in an industry I love more than make up for the financial issues. And, from time to time, I get to sample some really good beer.

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