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What makes a lawyer a Legal Eagle?

Glad you asked...

2011 Legal Eagles cover

Download the 2011 Legal Eagles here.

When Franchise Times chose the moniker, Legal Eagles in April 2004, we didn’t select it because “legal” and “eagle” rhymed. Although that was a bonus. Our first choice was “Super Lawyers,” but, alas, another publication had already laid claim to that name. But we soon found that Legal Eagles perfectly reflects who is on the list. In fact, we are so confident of the name’s value that we had it trademarked—a move we’re sure trademark attorneys on our list applaud.

Over the years, we've discovered our Legal Eagles really do resemble the majestic bird we've come to associate them with. For instance, according to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (don't judge our resources, some of us can't bill by the hour), there are more than 60 species of eagles, including Golden Eagles and Bald Eagles.

Franchise Times' list may only have two species represented - litigators and transactional - but we have multitude Golden Eagles, those whose hourly rates exceeds the deficit of developing countries, and Bald Eagles, who have been practicing law longer than there's been franchise law. We also have hunted down several Canadian Eagles, a northern variety known to fly into the U.S. for legal events and client meetings - in addition to dealing with Canadian law and free healthcare.

And while another similarity is that the Legal Eagles habitats tend to be at the top of tall buildings, that's as far as we're willing to take the analogy.

A feather in one's cap

OK, now that we've had a little fun with our lawyers, the reality is that our list represents the movers and shakers of the franchise bar - and we're talking about the professional association, not the watering hole where Legal Eagles are sometimes drawn to after professional dinners.

Twenty years ago, you would have been hard-pressed to find a “franchise attorney.” Franchising was still in its so-called infancy, and many of the attorneys were called over from their law school-trained specialties to help franchisor clients.

Franchising is a complicated way of doing business, and law firms need highly skilled professionals to do the work. Today, good attorneys don't just need to know the law, they need to know business - here, and in some cases, abroad.

Who knew 20 years ago, or even 10, that franchise agreements would need to deal with social media issues or make adjustments for franchisees who were larger than the franchisor?

The American Bar Association Forum on Franchising stepped up to supply the education and the peer-to-peer relationship building every professional needs. The International Franchise Association also hosts an annual legal symposium to help keep attorneys informed of the latest cases and best practices.

While not every franchise lawyer belongs to the Forum on Franchising, it currently boasts 2,056 members. That number has steadily grown since its creation in 1976, according to the Forum's liaison Kelly Rodenberg.

More than 753 members attended the annual legal symposium in San Diego in 2010, and more than 800 are expected at this October's Forum in Baltimore, Rodenberg said.

Majestic eagle

The majestic eagle likes to occupy high spaces, just like our Legal Eagles.

About 200, or 10 percent, of the ABA Forum's members are in-house counsels. And as one can imagine, that 10 percent never has an empty dance card at franchise gatherings.

The Forum on Franchising may be one of the smallest segments in the ABA, but the programs draw significantly higher percentage of members to its annual meetings, according to a former Forum chair.

Other evidence that franchise law has gone mainstream is that the Forum is in the process of beta-testing a textbook on franchise law for law schools.

Them and us

Another trend that has evolved over the years has been the number of attorneys who represent just franchisees. Just as the franchisees have gotten more sophisticated, so have their attorneys. (The attorneys who solely represent franchisees may still be do-gooders, but they're sophisticated do-gooders.)

Attorneys are also leaving law firms to join large franchisee companies, something rare just a few years ago.

And more attorneys who once considered themselves franchisor-only counsels are representing both. A cynic could say that's because there's no longer a conflict of interest because all the contracts have been sewn up tight in the franchisor's favor, but we choose to be optimistic and attribute this to the fact that many of the issues that affect franchisors also affect multi-unit, multi-concept franchisees.

More female lawyers are showing up at legal symposiums and serving on committees and speaking at industry events. The ABA Forum's executive committee has made a conscious effort to include more women and minorities to its leadership ranks.

Little-known facts about lawyers

The earliest lawyers were orators in ancient Athens, around the third century, according to Wikipedia. However, the law was that people had to plead their own cases. When the rule was amended so that orators (good speakers) could plead their friends' cases, they were to do so without any compensation. As one could imagine, this was not a popular rule.

Technically, while no current lawyer asks to be addressed by the title, “Dr.,” this used to be the case in other societies when a lawyer earned a J.D. distinction or Juris Doctor.

And now we all understand why those facts are little-known.

What is known, however, is why the lawyers on our list are there. The record-number of nominations we received this year were accompanied by glowing reports on what makes a lawyer a Legal Eagle.

Nominators cited their attorneys “high aptitudes” and “instincts” as well as their “unique styles” as reasons why they stand out

Some were cited for the more ancillary aspects of their service, such as “walking through a snowstorm just so he could answer some questions” - and in other cases, for actual super powers - such as having “a keen knack for cutting through the noise.”

Another comment: “He comes with exceptional credentials necessary to qualify, but in addition he possesses other unique qualities making him a stand-out above the vast majority. These qualities include strong work ethic, practical approach to issues, attention to detail, personal involvement, and most importantly, practicing law with personal consideration to the outcome as if he were the client.”

“Her eagerness to understand and engage with our company established an unprecedented level of trust. She got to know our CEO and the culture of our franchise, which allows her to perfectly balance her authority and knowledge with deference and sensitivity. We are confident she genuinely wants us to succeed.”

And that's just a few.

So congratulations, once again, to this year's “winners.” Hold your head high, you're lawyers who are both super and far from extinct.

Franchise Times Legal Eagles archive (downloads)

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