This blog and our Facebook page (which is nearing 175,000 likes) have given our law firm a national and even a global reach. On top of this, our cannabis attorneys have spoken on cutting edge cannabis legal issues in around half of our states. But we do not have a national cannabis practice. No firm does. To practice law in any given state, the lawyer should be licensed in that state. And though our lawyers are frequently retained by lawyers in states in which we are not licensed, the bulk of our cannabis work is in California, Oregon and Washington, where we have our offices and multiple lawyers with a host of specialized cannabis law expertise.
Yet cannabis businesses constantly contact us for legal help in states where we do not usually practice. We are not the right law firm for a cannabis dispensary in Maryland that needs a lawyer to tell it what must do to operate legally there. We are not the right law firm for a marijuana grower in Alaska that wants to make sure it is complying with local zoning laws. We are not the right law firm for a group that wants legal help in structuring a cannabis investment fund for Nevada. And yet we constantly get calls like these due to the dearth of established cannabis business law firms in most newly legalized states.
When one of our existing clients is seeking the right law firm to represent them in states we don’t cover we help them track down the best firm for them. But when a non-client asks us what law firm they should use in one of those states, we are reluctant to provide names. So we instead usually ask them a few questions about their situation and then we suggest a few things they should consider in choosing the best law firm for their company. This post is intended to answer the question of how to choose the right cannabis law firm for your cannabis business. How should you go about choosing a cannabis business lawyer who is both a good business lawyer and the right lawyer for you?
1. Unless you are a really big company for whom money is almost no object, we recommend you avoid “nationwide” legal behemoths with 100+ attorneys. These firms typically have all sorts of minimum fee requirements and all sorts of hourly billing requirements for their attorneys and these things conspire to drive their legal bills into the stratosphere. Why pay for nationwide legal coverage if you have no plans to operate in Massachusetts, Michigan, Texas and Alaska? But if you know that you will be taking your business into both Michigan and Ohio, it might be a good idea to retain a law firm that covers both states.
2. We recommend you avoid solo practitioners and micro-firms (5 or fewer attorneys) as your only source for all your legal advice because they cannot sufficiently cover and address all of the things required to represent a cannabis business, including the following:
- Corporate law
- Contract law
- Intellectual property law
- State licensing
- Local zoning issues
- Real estate law
- Intellectual property law
- Government relations
- Administrative law
- Compliance law
- Employment law
3. Avoid 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 are now nothing but cannabis law, what were they doing before cannabis became legal? How much experience do they really have with representing companies on complicated business transactions or bet your company litigation matters?
4. Avoid law firms essentially made up of lobbyists and/or criminal defense lawyers. Lobbying lawyers are great for lobbying and criminal lawyers are great if you are facing jail time. But if cannabis is legal in your state and you are looking for a law firm to represent you on your cannabis business or your cannabis litigation matters, you need a law firm with experience handling business and civil (not criminal) litigation matters. You need lawyers who above all else know business law and work exclusively in that realm and lobbyists and criminal lawyers need not apply. Whenever we say this, we get a slew of complaints from lobbyists and criminal lawyers who are trying to make the transition to doing business law.
5. Closely review the credentials of the lawyers at the law firms you are considering. Did they go to top tier law schools? Do they have lawyers from a variety of law schools, not just those local to the law firm? Do their lawyers get plum speaking engagements on cutting edge legal issues? Do their lawyers speak before other lawyers (sorry, but speaking at cannabis conventions and teaching at cannabis “schools” should not count for anything but a demerit)? Do their lawyers speak and write on legal issues relevant to your cannabis business? How do their lawyers rank on various lawyer ranking sites? These sites are not definitive, but they can be a good indicator of the law firm’s reputation among the legal community.
6. Speaking of the legal community, if you know and trust any lawyers in the community in which you are seeking cannabis law help, ask them what lawyer they suggest you use.
7. Make sure you like your lawyer. We know most people don’t “like” lawyers, but because the lawyer you choose now may be your lawyer ten years from now, you really should choose someone who is a good fit for you. This means that before choosing the person or law firm that will be representing your business you should be sure you are comfortable communicating with them. If your gut is telling you not to hire a particular lawyer or law firm, you shouldn’t. If their views on cannabis make you uncomfortable because they are too “corporate” or too zealous or too much or too little anything for you on something important to you, move on. The 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.