The immediate impact of the rise in craft breweries means more bartenders, more wait staff, and opportunities for retailers and distributors. Beyond this, the rising craft brewing industry also offers opportunities for professionals (beyond just enjoying a good drink).
As an attorney that has advised craft breweries and gastropubs, I have observed a mismatch between the services offered by the legal community and the needs and perhaps, more significantly, the financial realities of craft breweries. To be blunt, lawyers have done a lousy job of packaging their services in a way that makes them a viable option for craft breweries. As a corollary, craft breweries have often chosen to forego legal advice and go it alone.
More than a few breweries have been sued for using trademarks that would likely never have been used if passed by legal counsel in advance.
In many ways this is understandable. A craft brewery, or any new business, has limited financing and wants to focus on barley, hops, fermentation tanks, kegs, social media, t-shirts — pretty much anything other than an attorney. Until recently, attorneys were also less than hospitable — coming up with unrealistic rates, providing little or no guidance on what services are most significant on a limited budget, and viewing the industry as a trend with limited upside. This view was short-sided and proven wrong.
The craft brewery industry has emerged as an economic powerhouse, albeit a wholly decentralized and often chaotic one. Its legal needs mimic those of any other new industry — needs such as corporate formation advice, an understanding of labor and employment laws, and an understanding of intellectual property laws. It also has unique legal needs, most notably licensing and regulatory compliance.
While brewers have done an admirable job in navigating the unnecessarily complex maze of laws and regulations, they have also been far from perfect. For at least some breweries the cost of this may be later litigation that could have been avoided had they received sound legal advice in the start. By way of example, more than a few breweries have been sued for using trademarks that would likely never have been used if passed by legal counsel in advance.
Fortunately, the legal community has started to recognize that the industry is here to stay and thrive. As a maturing industry, its legal needs have become more predictable and easier to service. And while the ability the pay for legal services upfront continues to be an issue, lawyers have come to recognize that the prospect of a long-term client may warrant an initial compromise on fees. And if your lawyer shows no flexibility in working within your budget, try again after sitting down over a few beers.
Dan Moar is Co-Chair of the Brewery and Distillery Practice Group at Goldberg Segalla, a law firm headquartered in Buffalo, NY. With more than 325 attorneys in 19 offices strategically located across nine U.S. states and in Europe, the firm advises and defends regional, national, and international clients from a wide range of industries in matters across the country and around the globe.