Antitrust, Franchising and Trade Regulation - State Bar law section reaches out to Cooley students Attorneys promote benefits of membership in SBM section


By John Minnis

Legal News

Next to passing the bar, joining a State Bar of Michigan law section may be one of the most important things young attorneys can do to advance their careers.

That message came out loud and clear when the Executive Council of the Antitrust, Franchising and Trade Regulation Section of the State Bar of Michigan met Friday, March 4, for a pizza lunch and discussion at the Auburn Hills Campus of Thomas M. Cooley Law School. It was the first meeting of the section's law school education and outreach program.

Section Chairman Andrew J. Morganti, of Sutts Strosberg in Windsor, said the purpose of the outreach was to increase awareness of the State Bar section and to introduce students to a growing segment of the law.

"It's truly a growing area," he said of franchise, antitrust and trade regulation law. "A lot of students out there don't know it."

Section Secretary Howard Y. Lederman, of Norman Yatooma & Associates, told students that going to law school may not be enough to get the job they want.

"All of you at some point applied to undergraduate school and found out that studying, good grades and results of ACT and SAT tests did not necessarily get you into the school you wanted," Lederman said. "You needed something extra. State Bar sections are the other things you can do besides the straight and narrow. The fact that you come interested in other things, like State Bar sections, just might tip the scale."

Lederman and Morganti were joined by section Vice Chairman L. Pahl Zinn, of Dickinson Wright.

Lederman said that after a seven-year hiatus, the Antitrust, Franchising and Trade Regulation Section was reborn by Fred K. Hermann, of Kerr Russell & Weber.

"Since May of 2006," Lederman said, "we have been thriving and growing."

Today, the section has 276 members.

Section membership helps attorneys meet other attorneys in their field and provides educational and social opportunities. While Lederman and his colleagues were promoting their section, they pointed out that the benefits apply to all State Bar sections.

"Joining a section is a good way to accomplish what you want," Lederman said. "Don't let me minimize the social aspect. Practicing law can be a very lonely experience, even within a firm."

He asked the dozen law students attending the luncheon program how many planned to become solo practitioners. Joining a section will help solo practitioners meet and keep in touch with colleagues and provide social opportunities, he said.

"If you like to write," he said, "every section offers writing opportunities."

Students were asked why they were attending the luncheon. Some said they were interested in the section's areas of law; others said they were first- or second-year law students and did not know what area of law they wanted to go into.

"Whatever level you are at in law school," Lederman said, "it's OK to not know what you're going to do. You will get out in the world and figure out what you want to do."

Lederman's area was franchise law. Alluding to the attempts to limit public employee unions in Wisconsin and Ohio, Lederman pointed out that NFL owners are the only franchisees he knows who support their unions. "They are the only employers to rejoice in their unions," he said.

He recognized that the law students' main concerns were finding and getting a job. "In a sense," he said, "your lives will be beginning again."

One student asked if the State Bar section offers law student membership.

"No," Lederman said, "but we do have law school interns. We are certainly open to law student memberships."

Among the cited benefits of section membership were access to other lawyers and continuing education.

"We live in a world of continuing education," Lederman said. "If you don't continue to learn, you fall behind. And the world is pretty brutal on those individuals, or corporations, who fall behind."

Morganti noted that while antitrust, franchising and trade regulation were growing areas, there aren't that many attorneys in Michigan specializing in those areas.

"By networking with section members," he said, "you learn what big cases they're working on and get a chance to get a piece of that work."

He pointed out, too, that he receives some 10 resumes and calls a month from people asking to work on a case. Their chances are better, he said, if he knows them, such as by being members of his State Bar section.

"Generally, if I don't know them from somewhere, I don't consider them," he said. "I don't have the time to get to know them."

Zinn said he did not get into antitrust and franchise law out of law school. He actually got into it "by accident." He said he was working at a small firm when an attorney working on an antitrust case in Florida was subpoenaed by the Department of Justice and could not finish the case. Zinn was asked if he knew anything about that type of law. He said he had taken a class in law school.

"Before I could finish the sentence," he told the Cooley students, "I was on a plane to Florida."

The attorneys were asked to relate cases typical of their fields.

Zinn described a franchise case representing an RV manufacturer. "I didn't know this before," he said, "but northern Indiana is the RV capital of the world."

In this case, a large California RV dealer was undercutting smaller dealers nationwide be offering product via the Internet for less than the lowest advertised price. "The manufacturer wanted to know what we could do about that. If we set prices, how do we enforce it?"

He said 25 percent of his practice is consulting, 35 percent "rough and tumble" litigation and the balance responding to subpoenas, discovery, etc.

Morganti is involved in an international alleged price-fixing prosecution involving global polyurethane companies.

"All my cases are cartel type cases, alleged price fixing, cross-border cases," said Morganti, who practices out of Canada. He said polyurethane is a $12 billion global industry.

He said such cases involving filing a motion to dismiss, which is usually granted only in part. Then comes the electronic discovery during which attorneys are overloaded with document review.

Morganti travels the country looking for big discovery projects, "basically pitching my services," he said.

He offered one more bit of advice for students: "If you have a degree in chemistry or mathematics, don't pitch yourself as just your average lawyer."

Lederman described a franchise case involving the works of Thomas Kincaid, "the best-selling artist in North America if not the world."

He explained that between 1998 and 2001, the company saturated the country with Thomas Kincaid Signature Galleries that offered franchisees exclusivity. However, when the economy slumped in early 2001, followed by 9/11, the franchiser found itself financially strapped and began dumping art. More than half of the Signature Gallery stores closed or went bankrupt.

"Dealers couldn't afford discovery just to get to arbitration," Lederman said. "One case involved 42 days of arbitration over 2 1/2 years."

A case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the plaintiff prevailed.

"They (franchisers) just keep on until they (franchisees) run out of money," Lederman said. "Lo and behold, we won the case, but we had a bankrupt client."

Third-year law student Dwight Greene asked the attorneys if they "panic" due to the increasingly international complexity of their cases.

"I do track that," said Morganti. "I don't necessarily panic."

"I panic," said Zinn.

"It is important to keep on top of international developments," Zederman said.

One student asked what the best preparation was for success.

"There's no one path to success in the law or any field," Zederman said.

"Do something you enjoy," Morganti advised.

"I don't think there is a secret sauce, a secret recipe," said Zinn.

"I thought it was very informative," 3L student Greene said following the program.

First-year law student Kari Allender agreed. "I was pretty interested," she said, "in the areas discussed."

"It was nice to hear what actual practicing law was like," said Timothy Gibbons, a second-year student. "It's nice to realize that 'I could be that guy.'"

First-year student Jonathan May said it was fascinating hearing about actual cases. He said he would look into joining a State Bar section. "I probably will -- no I will -- go look up how to join one," he said.

Chris Schmidt, a first-year student and local business owner, is looking to do business in Canada. He found the session right on point for him. "I don't know to send my crews across the border," he said.

Section Chairman Morganti said reaching out to law students is an attempt to create awareness not only for his section but also to a growing area of law, which could use younger practitioners.

"I'm touching 40," he said, "and I'm the youngest member. I should have done it sooner."

Shari F. Lesnick, career and professional development coordinator at Cooley Auburn Hills, found the discussions very interesting and engaging.

"If I were a Cooley law student today," she said, "I definitely would pursue a career in one of these fields."

Published: Tue, Mar 8, 2011