How useful a lawyer can be to your business depends on how you use them. The common view is that lawyers are expensive annoyances that are a “necessary evil” in doing business. However, in this guide, we will show you how to best utilize a business lawyer and the top five reasons why they are particularly important in the brewery business.
How to Best Use a Lawyer
Lawyers are most effective as a proactive tool. Therefore, consulting a lawyer to discuss and anticipate future issues before they happen is best because that is when the most creative options are available. Once an event has occurred, your choices to solve problems that arose have significantly narrowed. Good business judgment includes retaining a brewery lawyer before you have an issue. Hand in glove with being proactive in hiring a lawyer is establishing a good relationship with them, and establishing a good relationship takes a bit of time. Lawyers are most effective when they know you, your business, and the marketplace. They are less effective after a crisis arises.
Then comes the question of timing. When should you start this relationship? Below we go through the top five issues that should prompt you to hire a craft beer lawyer.
#1: Regulatory Compliance and Licensing
The federal and state governments carefully regulate all commercial activity involving alcohol (whether beer, wine, or liquor). When a business is highly regulated, it means that the state and federal governments are granting you the privilege to participate in this line of commerce. Because it is a privilege and not a right, the government can revoke it if you do not meet all of the requirements. Therefore, as a brewery business, you need to comply with all government mandates or risk being fined or shut down. At the federal level, this means that you need to comply with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). At the Florida level, this means you need to comply with the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco (ATB). Such regulatory compliance includes licensing, production and distribution practices, and general trade practices throughout Florida. Thus, it is best to consult a brewery lawyer now to review your regulatory compliance and prevent future issues.
#2: Distribution, Supply Chain, and Marketing Relationships
Small business ventures are rarely self-contained. They do not supply all their own equipment, raw materials, packaging, expertise, etc. Virtually all businesses rely on third-party relationships to supplement operations, material, and the know-how to conduct business. Written contracts structure commercial relationships properly and are core in doing so in third-party relationships. Contrary to common belief, a well-written contract prevents many more problems than it causes. Indeed, poorly written contracts bleed businesses through lost opportunities and spent cash reserves. As a single example, a poorly written contract can be unclear on the scope of services. This can then lead to a dispute on whether what was paid for was delivered. Therefore, investing in a craft beer attorney to structure all of your commercial relationships will save you time and money in the future and lay the foundation for efficient business relationships with all of your commercial partners.
#3: Trademarks and Copyrights
As a brewery, vintner, or distiller, you have probably developed recipes and processes through which you create and sell your offerings. Naturally arising from this activity is the creation of product names, labels, slogans, and logos. This work product is intellectual property, and it needs to be protected. For instance, the name of your business and any logo should be trademarked. Beer, wine, or liquor recipes should be copyrighted as well. By working with a brewery lawyer, you can develop a plan to protect your current and future intellectual property. Being proactive is critical to protecting your intellectual property. It is expensive and difficult to reclaim stolen intellectual property.
#4: Growth and Investment
Hopefully, at some point, your business will enter a new phase of growth. When that happens, two general matters arise. First, your general business structure may need to change to accommodate growth. That change could take the form of adding a subsidiary company, offering a franchise, or complying with another state’s regulations. Second, you may need an investment of capital. That need could take the form of private investment or a loan from a bank. Hiring a business lawyer is necessary to navigate both these points of growth and investment safely.
#5: Employment and Employees
If you have employees, then you should consider developing an employee handbook and internal human resource policies and procedures. Indeed, we recommend providing anti-hostile work environment training to all employers after reaching a certain number of employees. Developing and maintaining a safe work environment—from anti-harassment to warehouse safety—is a fundamentally sound business practice. In addition, having these policies and procedures in place before a negative event happens is extremely helpful in resolving any issue that arises successfully.
Finally, as your business grows, the retention of key employees through the use of employment agreements may be ideal. These agreements can outline performance benchmarks and address separation matters such as confidentiality and non-competition. To be most effective, it is best that policies, procedures, and employment contracts are in place before a negative event or the separation of a key employee arises. If they are not in place, playing catch up or mitigating the damage can be very costly and disruptive to business operations.
BrewerLong Brewery Specialists
BrewerLong’s craft beer attorneys are highly skilled in counseling clients in the brewery industry.
Through years of practice, we have identified pitfalls and honed our skills to help you operate your business in a way that maximizes growth and minimizes disruptions. Contact us today to schedule an initial consultation. We look forward to discussing how we can best serve you and help you realize your business goals.
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