Chick-fil-A legal department, Atlanta. Chick-fil-A legal department, Atlanta.

As Chick-fil-A has expanded from the Southeast to around the nation, the company’s legal department has faced challenges that prompted one of its law firms to nominate the company for the In-House Law Department of the Year recognition.

Michael Wall at Troutman Sanders makes a compelling case: ”Because of the pace at which Chick-fil-A continues to grow and the shifting legal landscape of restaurant franchising, each in-house lawyer gets pulled in a number of directions and wears many hats at any given time,” he wrote to the Daily Report. “Despite their busy schedules, they always welcome our visits to their corporate campus for lunch at their employee cafeteria to catch up on work and on a personal level. In many ways, the legal department operates with the same mindset as Chick-fil-A’s staff at one of their restaurants. They work tirelessly to make certain that their stores can operate at the most productive level without sacrificing quality or customer service. They emphasize the collective good over individual promotion. And, while they always want to achieve the best result for the company in a given situation, they always consider what is fair.”

The company’s general counsel, Lynn Chastain, has watched Chick-fil-A transform from a regional operation to a nationwide fast-casual chain with over 2,200 locations. “Through it all, Lynn has represented Chick-fil-A with humility, and this trait is pervasive in the company’s legal department as a result,” Wall concluded.

Here is our Q&A with Chastain:

What role does the legal department play in the company’s efforts to maintain a consistent customer experience across all Chick-fil-A’s restaurants?

We want our customers to have a consistent, “remarkable experience” in our restaurants, and we believe this is best achieved through individual, local franchise restaurant owners who strive to serve our customers with great food in a warm and friendly environment. From a legal perspective, our primary goal is the health of our franchisor-franchisee relationships. We are invested in local ownership and encourage our franchisees to attract and develop great people and to invest in their community.

Convenient locations, food safety and intellectual property are also critical to a great Chick-fil-A experience, and we work closely with our business partners across all areas of the business.

How does the company decide which matters it will handle in-house and those it will handle through outside counsel? 

Our legal team is here to select and manage access to the best outside counsel available for the scale and complexities of our business. Over many years, we have grown and developed long-term relationships with outside counsel who understand our business and serve as extensions of our in-house legal services. Federal, state and local laws and regulations are more complex than ever, and we find it extremely beneficial to associate with local and specialized counsel.

What have been the biggest legal challenges that have accompanied the company expanding into the Northeast and Upper Midwest?

The legal challenges we face in these territories are not dissimilar from the challenges we face in other new markets. To be sure, permitting and compliance with local laws and regulations are more onerous in the Northeast. Securing great restaurant locations is highly competitive, and the sites are more likely redevelopment opportunities, which can present numerous legal challenges.