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Still the one

DLA Piper remains tough to beat in franchising


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It can be difficult to look at the 800-pound gorilla and remember that it was once a small infant.

The same can be said for the giant law firm DLA Piper's franchise division - which Chambers USA once called the "1,000-pound gorilla of franchising."

 

DLA Piper's franchise law division continues to have a huge, well-regarded presence in the franchise community, despite the loss of some top-notch attorneys in recent years.

The division has its roots as a small firm going back 40 years, when Philip Zeidman - who now heads the division - helped start a boutique firm called Brownstein Zeidman.

It has since grown into that big gorilla, or more specifically a 50-attorney gorilla with the backing of more than 3,600 other attorneys, plus paralegals, in offices around the world.

The division's presence has been undiminished despite the departure of a few high-profile attorneys in recent years. The division's role in franchising has been underscored by its continued strong showing on various rankings of lawyers and law firms, including Chambers USA's annual franchise law rankings and Franchise Times' own Legal Eagles.

"There certainly has not been any change in our position in the industry," Zeidman said. "This firm is considered synonymous with the area of franchising."

Zeidman's boutique firm for years had competed with another firm, Chicago's Rudnick Wolfe, for the title of the country's largest franchise firm. In 1996 the two firms ended the debate by merging. The bigger firm has been part of two mergers since then, including the merger of the U.S. firm Piper Rudnick with the UK firm DLA, creating a global giant with 67 offices around the world and more than 3,700 lawyers.

Some well-regarded attorneys have recently left DLA Piper's franchise division for much smaller firms, claiming a need to improve their lifestyles and reduce rates. Zeidman called them "good lawyers who decided to practice in a different way. It's a different model, and I understand why they did it."

But Zeidman said DLA Piper's reputation gives the firm an advantage in the franchise market over smaller, more focused firms.

For one thing, the firm has 67 offices worldwide - including offices in Europe and the Far East where franchising continues to boom. Franchises are growing at a much faster clip overseas than they are in the U.S., where franchising is expected to contract in the next year. DLA Piper's presence in many of those markets, a growing number of which are passing their own franchise regulations, makes it much easier for a U.S. franchise to find an attorney. "They don't have to look at a phone book in a language they don't understand," Zeidman said.

A bigger consideration is the sheer number of attorneys in the firm, one of the world's largest. A typical franchise needs legal help not just with franchise matters, but also with real estate, trademark, tax law, litigation and other needs. DLA Piper has specialists in all of those areas.

Attorneys with boutique firms say they can refer their clients to specialists themselves without worrying about what firm they're from, but Zeidman said companies are using fewer law firms to perform legal work. In so doing, he said, they can take advantage of "economies of scale," because having one firm do all or most of the work is less expensive than having several firms perform those tasks. He said using several different law firms "is an enormously inefficient way to operate."

Large firms have attorneys on many different levels, from paralegals to partners with decades of work in the legal arena - Zeidman calls it "bench strength." By using attorneys whose experience matches the specific legal needs of the customer, Zeidman said the firm can save a company money.

"If you have a firm that has 43 to 50 lawyers doing franchising, you have people at each level of expertise," Zeidman said. "You don't have someone overqualified or underqualified to do the work."

Still, many of the attorneys at the firm count their experience not in years but in decades - including Dennis Wieczorek, who has been practicing for more than three decades. "We have seen just about everything in franchise law and related business issues," Wieczorek said.

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