Last month, I spoke on a panel about "Brewery Law" for the Bar Association of San Francisco's Barristers Club. The panel was held at Black Hammer Brewing in San Francisco, a new brewery started by Jim Furman, a former chemical engineer. The event was well-attended with more than 50 people, mostly attorneys, filling up the brewery's back room. Because this was a Barristers Club event, many of the attendees were young attorneys who were interested in representing craft breweries.. This was encouraging to see. They wanted to become craft beer attorneys.
Advice From a Curmudgeon
I first read The Curmudgeon's Guide while I was working at Steinhart & Falconer, a boutique firm in San Francisco (before we started calling small firms "boutique") that had merged into a larger firm in the mid-2000s when the book came out. We had a copy of the book in our law firm library perhaps because Herrmann himself had worked at Steinhart in the 1980s (we did not overlap). There, we each had the opportunity to work for a legal "curmudgeon," Neil Falconer. Neil was a lawyer's lawyer who continued working into his 80s (he passed away last year at 91). I worked on a pro bono matter with Neil, a trademark infringement dispute for a local chess club that Neil, an avid chess player, had supported. Although he didn't use a computer at the time (he dictated e-mails to his secretary), he was still sharp. A computer is just a tool after all, it can't substitute for years of experience. But back to the three tips to becoming a craft beer lawyer . . .
Three Tips To Becoming A Craft Beer Attorney
I think the best way to become this type of lawyer is to work with and learn from good lawyers. That is easier said than done in today's job market, but if possible try to get a job working with more senior lawyers even if they don't do any work for breweries -- you can be the one who builds the craft beer practice at the firm. Law school does not really prepare one to be a lawyer right away; you learn by doing in this field. In Canada, law students must work for about a year under the guidance of practicing attorneys before becoming licensed attorneys, this is called "articling." It seems like a worthwhile system, though not without its critics. Get some experience, develop your lawyering skills, and find mentors. In another article, Herrmann notes that there are no "mentors," there are just "decent human being[s] who respect the feelings of others, and work collegially with people to achieve your common goal." Find them. Work with them. That phrase could describe the craft beer community.
Second, related to the first tip, is to build your network particularly if you can't find a job at a law firm. As a craft beer attorney, you will be dealing with a wide variety of issues (entity formation, trademarks, leases, employment issues, ABC regulations, environmental issues, land use, etc.), and it is not really feasible as a young attorney to try to cover all of these areas. You will need a good referral network in order to get guidance or even to refer clients to other attorneys who have knowledge in those areas that you are just learning. See if other attorneys will co-counsel with you. As a young attorney, it is difficult being a "jack-of-all-trades" or general counsel in a highly regulated industry like brewing, when you do not have some solid experience under your belt. So a good network helps compensate for that as you build your skills and experience.
Third, be lucky. I say that tongue-in-cheek, but it is part of being successful. As Herrmann says about luck and business development in his more recent article:
"I saw, for example, remarkably inept lawyers inherit institutional clients. That inheritance turned the inept into heavy-hitters, . . . A single stroke of luck — inheriting a large institutional client — could turn the inept into rich, powerful, and well-respected lawyers. It’s hard to intentionally replicate that route, but it’ll probably work for a couple of readers of this column. More power to you, I suppose."
"Luck" is also recognizing and being open to opportunities when they present themselves. Ultimately luck may be more instrumental in your success than how many Facebook 'likes' you receive, how many years of experience you have, or even how good an attorney you are.
Seneca The Younger: Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity
Today I now represent many craft breweries at a mid-size firm, Wendel Rosen Black & Dean, in Oakland. What I liked most about that trademark matter and about my current work is the people and their passion. Good people, with good stories. I like the story about a home brewer (Richard G. Norgrove) working at a bicycle company, Salsa Bicycles, whose Red Rocket Ale starts as a homebrew and eventually leads to the creation of Bear Republic Brewing. And I like Jim Furman's story about "a chemical engineer beer head with the heart of a sand-drenched Burning Man raver" who teams up with his brother-in-law to found Black Hammer Brewing. See Liquid Bread article. It's those kind of stories that make this fun and worthwhile.
Yes, I did get lucky, not by inheriting a large institutional client; rather, I got lucky in that I get to do what I do for a living, helping creative and passionate people that I like and respect. That’s luck. Plus I get to drink a lot of good beers and call it "business development."