A Day In the Life Of a Beer Lawyer

By John Szymankiewicz

Me: I’ve got the coolest job ever. I’m a beer lawyer.

Literally Anyone Else in the World: Wow! That is really cool. Uh, so, er, what do you do? DWIs?

Sorry, nope. Keep your “alleged” criminal charges to yourself. I don’t do “DWIs.” In fact, I try really hard not to do any litigation at all. My practice is almost entirely transactional and, as I tell my clients, my job is to keep you in compliance and out of the courtroom. So, what do I do? Well …

8.30a:       Review calendar for the day, 3 new potential client calls, two meetings with existing clients, and a few hours to do some actual, real work. (~15 min)

8.45a:       Form plan for the day. (~15 min)

9.00a:       Start answering emails from the last 12 hours (~50 or so). Completely scuttle plan for the day in order to deal with an emergency from a client that HAS to be done today because they ABSOLUTELY NEED to open their taproom tomorrow even though we’ve been asking for their documents for their application for the last 3 months and we got them all in the last 48 hrs. And they told us they wouldn’t be trying to open for another two weeks. AND they’ve already publicized tomorrow’s Grand Opening on social media. (~15 min before I get to the “emergency” email).

9.15a:       Assemble ABC application and final review of docs for “emergency” client. Paralegal leaves for ABC headquarters. (~45 min).

10.00a:    Potential client phone call. Good person. Wants to open a brewery in the Triad area. We spend an hour talking through the process, the steps, and the options. I promise to send him a Letter of Engagement that day. Send paralegal email asking her to send him a Letter of Engagement that day (~60 min).

11.00a:    Start answering emails again. (~5 min).

11.05a:    Law partner comes in. We have to talk about our new office lease. He practices criminal defense (and, yes, he handles DWIs). But, I get to review the lease as the only one in the office with contract/transactional experience. We argue about what one clause means. Ask another attorney in our office what the clause means. Three lawyers, no consensus. (~25 min).

11.30a:    Start answering emails again. (~5 min).

11.35a:    Existing client calls with a “quick question.” Asks a simple question with a complicated answer. We then talk about ABC law for the next 45 minutes. Paralegal returned from ABC, got the “emergency” permit and had already emailed it to the client.

12.20p:    Run downstairs to get a mediocre sandwich to have at my desk

12.35p:    Five minutes late for a call with an existing client because we’re right near the courthouse and jurors on lunch break are not quick on ordering at Subway. Apologize to the client for being late. Talk about strategy, requirements, and process for opening a second location for their brewery/taproom. Get notes on a couple documents that need drafting in the next 7 days. (~45 min).

1.20p:       Eat some sandwich, use the bathroom. Spend ~5 min talking with staff about why I haven’t had time to restock the office beer fridge. (~10 min total)

1.30p:       On time for a potential client phone call. Nutter. Wants to do something completely illegal in NC. “No, it doesn’t matter if you’re using GPS.” “Just so you know, saying the word ‘blockchain’ is not helpful in this discussion.” “Yes, you’ve explained your idea three times, it’s still not allowed in NC.” Still manages to suck 45 productive minutes out of my day. Did I mention we don’t charge for initial consultations?

2.15p:       Finish sandwich, less appetizing now as parts of it are starting to congeal at this point. (~5 min)

2.20p:       Go back to answering emails. In the last few hours, got another 20 emails. Two of which are asking why I hadn’t responded to their email earlier today. (~10 min)

2.30p:       Call with an existing client about their corporate structure and how the federal and state alcohol regulatory authorities treat certain situations. Talk about financing options and why private debt or equity is a Security. Get notes on 3 different questions I may need to research about advertising/sponsorship, health code requirements for a coffee machine (???), and whether or not I know anyone looking to sell a 10 BBL brewery (cheap, of course). (~60 min).

3.30p:       Call with a potential client in another part of the country that wants to open a distillery. “Yes, I can help you with some things. But some things, you’ll likely need a local attorney for.” Spend ~45 minutes talking about federal permitting, trademark, and special considerations as an alcohol producer. “Thanks for your time John, can you recommend an attorney in [my state], I think I’d rather just use someone close by.” Greaaat…. (~60 min). And, I have to go find a referral for that guy!

4.30p:       Start answering emails again. Existing client calls with a “quick question” – Hallelujah! It actually is a quick question – it only took 15 minutes. Go back to answering emails. Paralegal asks if I’ve reviewed the two Operating Agreements, three trademark opinion letters, and Purchase Agreement that were on my desk this morning. “Uh… not.. yet?” (~20min)

4.50p:       Start reviewing docs for tomorrow as most of the staff heads out the door at 5p. (~75 min).

~6.00p:    Worked on almost NOTHING that I had planned on. Look in the office beer fridge and remember the reasons I mentioned earlier for why I haven’t restocked it. Leave for the day with more unanswered emails than I started with …

So, based on that description, I guess I do what most other lawyers do. But, the difference, for my practice, is that it all revolves around federal and state regulation of alcohol and how small businesses can get started, grow, and make a difference. We handle everything from business formation, financing, construction, leasing, licensing and permitting, contracts, some employment law, trademark, and buying / selling an alcohol business. We’re sort of an Outside-Inhouse Counsel. We’re about as niche a practice as I’ve ever seen. And, while I love what I do, and I love the people that I get to work with, it’s not for everybody. Especially if you’d like to have a comfortable income or pay off your student loans in this lifetime, but I think there are lots of other types of practice that fit that disclaimer too…

I wonder what tomorrow at the office will be like?