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Beer Law

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Ever wonder what a 'beer lawyer' does?

The following is from a UBC Law Alumni Profile and explains a fair bit about me and my practice.

They call you the beer guy? Why?

That’s probably because I’m the only lawyer in BC who specializes in representing clients in our province’s craft beer industry.  I also write about the industry and beer in general on my blog and in various publications. Plus, I’ve been known to enjoy a beer or two, now and then.

So what do you actually do?

My practice is pretty diverse, but the work really depends on where a brewery is at in its development. For start-ups, I do everything from licensing and distribution, to corporate structuring, commercial leasing and trademark registration.  For clients that are already established,  I might assist with commercial lending transactions, various types of agreements (private distribution, material supply, employment), issues with government regulators and municipal governments, or landlord-tenancy matters. The craft beer industry is experiencing incredible growth right now in our province, and like any other industry, BC’s craft brewers require legal expertise to navigate this process.  Fortunately, my broad corporate/commercial practice and my specialized understanding of BC’s craft beer industry allow me to assist my clients with nearly all of their legal needs.

What does your average day look like?

I’ll maybe review licensing application documents and architectural plans for a new brewery, walk a client though their options to structure their business, or negotiate a commercial lease. It really varies. I’m also involved with advocacy, am a regular contributor to BC Craft Beer News (a bi-monthly industry publication), and attend a number of craft beer events around town with clients and industry friends, so all in all, craft beer keeps me pretty busy.

How did you find yourself working in this field? Did you always know you would go along this path?

To be honest, my ‘beer law’ practice really developed organically. I’ve loved craft beer for years and have been attending cask nights, visiting breweries in BC, Washington State and Oregon, and keeping up with the industry by reading blogs, books and industry publications for years. After attending UBC Law, I was fortunate enough to get hired at a firm that represents clients in the industry, and I then had the opportunity to work on these files as a corporate solicitor.

As I developed a specialized understanding of the regulation of BC’s craft beer industry and the types of legal issues that our province’s craft brewers need assistance with, I began to notice that no other BC lawyers were writing about the regulation of this industry. That led me to start my blog, which has been a lot of work, but also a lot of fun. Over time, in between word-of-mouth advertising, my writing, and my advocacy work, I’ve somehow found myself with ‘beer law’ as a significant part of my practice, and being able to work with our province’s craft brewers and assist an industry that I feel so passionately about has been amazing.

What’s your favourite beer and why?

That’s a bit of a loaded question! To avoid upsetting any industry friends or clients, I’d have to say whatever is fresh in my growler. I get most of my beer fresh and direct from breweries, which I think is the best way to sample all the amazing beer that our province’s craft brewers are producing. Recently, with the hop harvest here in BC, I’ve really been enjoying fresh-hopped ales, and I’m starting to get back into stouts and porters as the fall starts setting in. 

What are the main skills and talents you need in your field?

Loving craft beer is essential! You also need to be able to walk a fine line when dealing with government regulators. Of all of the heavily regulated industries that I have represented, BC’s craft beer industry is governed by some of the most archaic and difficult to navigate regulations that I’ve come across.  Routine decisions by individual bureaucrats will often have huge impacts on a client’s business, so it’s really important to maintain good relationships with regulators (who are a key ally) while also advocating for your clients. Obviously (as with any field of law), keeping on top of legal and industry trends, a keen attention to detail, strong organizational skills, and an ability to relax and be a real person with clients (and not just a stiff in a suit) are all important too!

Do you have any advice for alumni who might be interested in developing a niche field for themselves?

I can’t see someone being able to develop a niche field without really caring about the industry they aim to represent, and being willing to put in long hours of non-billable time on evenings and weekends to build your practice. Also, as with any law practice, the work that you do will only take you so far - relationships are really critical. I’ve been fortunate to make a number of friends in the industry, and I’ve never been pushy or aggressive with clients and potential clients in marketing my services. Most businesses operate on tight budgets and don’t want to throw cash at legal issues unless they have to. My clients and friends in the industry know that I’m here when and if they need me and that’s all I could ever ask for. At the end of the day, my passion for craft beer and the relationships that I’ve built in the industry go well beyond my legal practice. If I stopped practicing law tomorrow, my attendance at beer events, my friendships, and my writing wouldn’t be affected.  I think that my clients and friends in the industry know that, and they really appreciate it.