Before the pandemic, Peter Loh and his colleagues at Foley & Lardner were constantly hopping on flights and spending nights in hotels on their way to a 20-minute status meeting or to take testimony from witnesses. Now, the majority of preliminary legal work can be done remotely via a Zoom call or Microsoft Teams.
“This technology was available to us, but the legal industry is sometimes slow to adapt to today’s business environment,” said Loh, commercial litigation lawyer and vice president of the firm’s distribution and franchise practice. “Necessity is motherhood of invention, and when you have to do something, then it happens.”
For example, he and his company represent a franchisor in an ongoing litigation with a third party in federal court, and they must take 18 witness statements. Before the pandemic, it would have cost “hundreds of thousands of dollars with teams of lawyers flying across the country and lugging around documents,” Loh said. “We don’t have to leave the office now.”
The cost and time savings apply to franchisors as well as franchisees. Loh moderated a panel at this year’s International Franchise Association Legal Symposium, and he said that one of the panelists, an independent franchise mediator named Adele Vespa, “said from a franchisee perspective, it helps franchisees who may not have as many resources as a franchisor or some other party they are in a dispute with, ”Loh recalled.
“This allows for more participation because it is easy, cheap and profitable for people to make a Zoom call,” he added, “… parties, whether franchisors or large This advantage is, I think, diminished in this new environment.
At any given time, Loh and his practice group are working with six to 12 national franchisors. Recently, they’ve helped work on changes to franchise agreements and with advice on how to navigate loan cancellation requests for the Small Business Association’s Paycheck Protection Program.
“We’ve worked with franchisors to keep franchisees in the system and not breach their franchise agreements, and we’ve had a very public public litigation – you can go to our website and find it – against the SBA in this regard. which is about PPP loan applications, not remission, just enforcement, in the name of a major franchise system and affiliate rules, ”Loh added, reference when three members of the Jani-King commercial cleaning franchise system filed a complaint in April 2020 in federal court alleging that the SBA discriminated against franchise businesses in general and commercial cleaning franchises by specifically limiting eligibility for PPP loans.
“In 24-48 hours, we wrote a lawsuit and filed it in Washington, DC on a really big issue, which had a huge impact on backing up our customers’ systems and other systems,” he said. said Loh. “… I think we have to be prepared for anything.
If franchisors or franchisees are struggling with something, the biggest advice Loh gives is to start having “conversations early, don’t wait to be underwater or at fault or to default on someone.” ‘one,’ he said. “Pick up the phone and have a conversation, talk about what’s going on and if there is a commercial solution to the problem, because the litigation, and I make my living by litigating, from a practical or commercial point of view is the last place where you want to be. “