Alcohol attorney Marbet Lewis of LewisFox Law has specialized in the law surrounding production, importation and sale of the hard stuff since 2004, and she has a misconception to clear up.
“When we go out with clients they’ll look to us to pick the bottle, or recommend what everyone should drink at the table,” Lewis said. “And I’m like, ‘Listen, I’m going to have one glass of wine and probably be asleep, and if you poured that out of a box I probably wouldn’t know the difference.’”
Lewis shares a Miami office with her husband, Rob, who’s “normally a club-soda-with-lime-and-nothing-else-in-it kind of guy.”
“If you’re looking at alcohol law because you think it’s all glitz, glamour and entertainment, going to openings and premieres, you’re going to be sadly disappointed in that area,” Lewis said. “Because even when those opportunities do come up, you’re often so tired that you don’t go.”
That said, Lewis’ clients have taught her a thing or two about letting loose.
‘Are we Skyping?’
One client, the ANSA McAL Group in Trinidad and Tobago, bought a beer company in Cape Canaveral, so Lewis helped to prepare for closing.
“Here in the U.S. we’ve become very informal, I think, in terms of the practice of law, and we forget that it’s not like that everywhere else,” Lewis said. “For them, it really was a huge accomplishment to be able to acquire this brewery. But you can get lost in the paperwork and what needs to be done, and you can lose touch with the emotional aspect that your client is going through and how exciting that could be for them.”
The closing almost realized Lewis’ worst fear — becoming a law robot.
“I’ll always remember,” Lewis said. “We were on the phone with the client a couple of days before and they said, ‘Okay, great, we’ll see you at the closing.’ And I thought, ‘See us at the closing? Are we Skyping?’ And to them it was, ‘No, we’re coming to the States and we’re going to meet at the brewery.’ To them it was really a celebration. We were just looking at it as a transaction.”
After that, Lewis adopted a “let’s make this happen” attitude. With her team, she planned an in-person closing for the client, and out came the champagne for a celebration afterward.
“I think that since then we’ve carried that with us,” Lewis said. “Whenever our clients accomplish something, we try to make that extra effort now to remind ourselves and remind the client that this isn’t just a paper transaction, let’s move onto the next. We need to celebrate those big accomplishments.”
The greatest thing about alcohol law, according to Lewis, is its ability to evolve.
“Every practice has a bit of that, but our practice, it morphs completely. It really is a roller coaster,” Lewis said.
Opportunities and Collaborations
When the market crashed in 2008, Lewis’ client base became foreign manufacturers and importers. As the economy boosted, bars, nightclubs, hotels and restaurants came calling. Now, she’s seeing a “good mix” of the two.
Lewis’ ”roller coaster” niche takes her to hotels, nightclubs, movie theaters, restaurants, supermarkets, distilleries, wineries and suppliers — from the U.S. and beyond.
“There’s a strong connection, especially with our producer clients, because you’re going through this journey with them, from inception of a project to the grand opening date,” Lewis said.
Lewis also does consulting work in the cannabis industry, which she anticipates will eventually merge with the world of alcohol law.
“We do get a lot more questions now about cannabis and cannabis-infused alcohol, how that’s going to affect the industry and whether it’s something that’s even going to be legal at any point,” Lewis said.
Lewis has noticed a spark of collaboration between large alcohol producers and Canadian cannabis companies, which have been negotiating investments.
“Let’s see how these industries can work together,” Lewis said.
Lewis and her husband have made a point of teaching their young children about alcohol, cannabis, tobacco and guns, all from under the umbrella of their practice.
“We bring them to the office when we can,” Lewis said. “We’ve even taken them on some trips with us so that they understand that what mom and dad do is regulate these products, and that we’re not pushing the use, we’re pushing compliant use and compliant sales of these products.”
Lewis’ 7-year-old daughter ”doesn’t quite get it yet,” but her 10-year-old son is already “looking forward” to joining the practice one day.
“For him in particular, it really helps him approach all of those topics and products in a much more mature way. He understands the regulation behind them, Prohibition and why it happened,” Lewis said. “The whole mystique and the sexiness of these regulated products is kind of lost on him. He just sees them as products that you buy and have to use responsibly.”
Lewis’ parents were children when they arrived in Miami to “start from scratch” with their mom and dad, political refugees from Cuba.
“They really made the best of it,” Lewis said. “Seeing that struggle encouraged me to value education and really see it through, and the opportunities that having a degree and a professional career could have, not just for myself but for my entire family.”
Lewis fell into alcohol law by chance while an associate at Holland & Knight, when her future husband needed help translating his client’s Spanish into English and decided to ask a stranger in an elevator.
“I’m so grateful for that one day I ran into Rob,” she said. “What would I be doing if I wasn’t doing this?”
Born: 1978, Miami Beach
Spouse: Robert Lewis
Children: Morgan Lewis, Marion Lewis
Education: Florida International University, B.S. Political Science & International Relations, 2000; St. Thomas University School of Law, J.D., 2004
Experience: Partner and owner, LewisFox Law, 2017-present; Shareholder, Greenspoon Marder, 2015-2017; Shareholder, Akerman, 2013-2015; Partner, GrayRobinson, 2005-2013; Associate, Holland & Knight, 2003-2005.