With our blog and our Facebook page (please check us out there!) constantly gaining readers, and as our own cannabis clients expand into states in which our law firm has no licensed lawyers, our cannabis lawyers regularly get asked who to hire as attorneys in various states. Just this week we were asked about Massachusetts, Louisiana, Texas, and Pennsylvania. Since we do not have lawyers licensed in any of these states, we have absolutely no dog in these hunts.
For our existing clients, we provide actual attorney names, usually consisting of those lawyers we know to be good from having been on the same side or the other side of a cannabis matter. But we are reluctant to name names for non-clients (for a whole host of reasons). So for those people, we usually very briefly give them a super-quick dose of advice on what the “right” cannabis law firm should look like. This post is intended to do the same thing: provide you with guidelines for choosing the right law firm for your cannabis business.
Below are the criteria we suggest you consider when searching for your own cannabis business lawyer:
1. We almost always favor small law firms over solo practitioners because one lawyer cannot possibly be in all of the things required to represent a cannabis business, which includes the following:
- Cannabis licensing
- Cannabis regulations
- Corporate law as it applies to the cannabis industry
- Contract law as it applies to the cannabis industry
- Intellectual property law for cannabis trademarks, patents, trade secrets, copyrights and IP licensing
- Real estate law as it applies to the cannabis industry (especially leases)
- Administrative law
- Cannabis compliance
- Employment law as it applies to the cannabis industry
- Litigation and arbitration, which too have their own cannabis components
- Tax, as it applies to the cannabis industry
- International law, customs and trade law (especially as it relates to making products in China and importing ancillary products from overseas)
2. We do not recommend law firms that do only cannabis law. How good can a law firm be if it does only one thing and that thing only recently came into existence? If they do nothing but cannabis law, you have to wonder how much work they had before cannabis. We believe it important you choose a law firm with lawyers who were doing deals and licensing work before cannabis was legalized.
3. We never recommend law firms made up of lobbyists and/or criminal lawyers for anything other than lobbying or criminal law. Lobbying lawyers are great for lobbying and criminal lawyers are great if you are facing jail time, but cannabis businesses are legal businesses and they need lawyers who know business law and work exclusively in that realm. We never recommend a lawyer who has his or her own investments in the cannabis industry as we view that lawyer as having an inherent conflict with his or her own clients.
4. We use various other factors to judge a law firm, including its clients (though many firms, including ours, do not list clients so as to protect client privacy), the schools its lawyers attended, the rankings of its lawyers on various lawyer ranking sites, its lawyers’ speaking engagements and publications, and its reputation among the lawyers we know in that city. These last two are critical and we would urge you to talk to lawyers in your city as they are likely to know. The top cannabis lawyers speak on cannabis at non-cannabis events.
5. Finally, we believe it is important that you like and trust your lawyer. Most people don’t “like” lawyers, but when you find yourself looking for one to assist you with your cannabis business law needs, it is critical that you find someone who is a good fit for you. You should try to meet with (or at least speak over the phone with) an attorney before deciding whether to hire him or her. If you don’t get a good vibe, if you feel the attorney is too stuffy, or if you are just not satisfied with the attorney’s answers to your questions, move on. If you have followed the advice above, there is nothing wrong with going with your gut here. Your attorney-client relationship should be built on trust and compatibility, and this is even more important when wading into the murky waters of legalized marijuana.