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What makes a Legal Eagle?

Skills, reputation and a winning edge

2008 Legal Eagles cover

Download the 2008 Legal Eagles here.

Hundreds upon hundreds of attorneys in the U.S. and Canada practice franchise law, and we can only assume that the vast majority of them are pretty good at their jobs. Yet it takes something special to be exceptional enough to make Franchise Times' annual list of Legal Eagles.

Specifically, it takes being a male from the East Coast (or Minneapolis) who handles transactions.

That, at least, is according to the numbers.

Men make up more than two-thirds of the Legal Eagles. But the number of women keeps rising: 23 women are on this year's list, up from the 17 who made it last year.

Meanwhile, 57 of our Legal Eagles practice their craft near the Atlantic, compared with 37 Midwesterners and nine on the West Coast. That makes sense, given the presence of cities like Washington D.C. (21 attorneys) and New York (6). Then again, it really helps to be in Minneapolis, where there are 27 Legal Eagles. Many of those are with the city's big franchise law firms, Gray Plant Mooty (7 lawyers), Krass Monroe (7) and Dady & Garner (5). Actually, Dady & Garner is not a large law firm. They just act that way when it comes to statistics. (The giant DLA Piper has the most attorneys on the list, 10.)

It helps to be a transactional lawyer (71), but there are plenty of litigators on the list (41) and a few (10) who hedge their bets and do both.In all seriousness, this year's Legal Eagles are truly the cream of the crop. We had by far a record number of nominations pour into our inbox in late December and early January. That ensures a comprehensive list of exceptional attorneys, even if it did make the job of choosing the winners that much tougher.

Those who did get nominated, and chosen, have strong reputations among their peers–it's notable, for instance, that a few attorneys were nominated by those who they regularly face in court. Most of the attorneys are active in the franchise community, and can frequently be found speaking at either the IFA's Legal Symposium or the American Bar Association Forum on Franchising. Others are involved with the American Association of Franchisees and Dealers' Legal Line. In fact, dozens of comments noted the nominees' involvement as a significant reason for their worthiness of inclusion in the Legal Eagles.

It certainly helps to have skills. And based on comments we received, the primary skill people want–not surprisingly–is knowledge, either of the law or, in at least one case, football. "He knows where the end zone is," one nominator wrote.

Business acumen is a trait a few people cited, especially with transactional lawyers. He "thinks like a businessman," one wrote of a nominee. Said another: "He takes a strategic approach to all situations, and given his great deal of his business experience and expertise, he helps to generate creative options and solutions in a workable manner."

Experience also matters. Numerous nominations listed the lawyer's experience or simply touted what they did. This comment was typical: "He has represented companies involved in distributing goods and services in transactions throughout the world and is a frequent speaker and author on legal and business issues of franchising and distribution."

Passion is another frequently cited virtue. So is tenacity. "She is a tenacious and a formidable opponent in the courtroom," one person wrote.Many of the people nominating candidates cited their lawyer's work ethic. "One of the smartest and most hard-working lawyers I've ever met," one wrote. Said another: "This gentleman works 24 hours a day, seven days a week and sleeps with a Blackberry under his pillow."

Perhaps one of the most underrated skills is one we can't imagine is taught in law school: kindness. Want to be a Legal Eagle? Be nice to your fellow lawyers and clients. People don't nominate jerks–even if they are good lawyers. "He is reasonable and easy to get along with," one wrote. "He has a good sense of humor," said another.

Another nominator wrote of an attorney that, "His skills do not end with his legal work. He also projects a warm, cheerful attitude to me. I have seen him resolve conflicts and handle other difficult situations with remarkable patience and admirable tact. I believe these characteristics represent all that is good, and I am pleased to nominate him for the honor of Legal Eagle Award."

Indeed, and we're pleased to be able to single out so many outstanding franchise attorneys. Congratulations to all of our Legal Eagles, and thanks to everybody who sent in nominations.

Franchise Times Legal Eagles archive (downloads)

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