The addition of 11 LeClairRyan lawyers weeks ago has done more than boost Connell Foley’s head count—it has also allowed the firm to launch a franchise and distribution practice group.
Of the seven-member group, five are new additions to the firm working in the Newark office: partner Bryan Couch; of counsel Patrick During; and associates Kelly Krug, Joseph Megariotis and Justin Vogel. Two others, partner Thomas Scuderi and of counsel Noel Humphreys, were already with the firm and practice in the Roseland headquarters.
“Transitions are always tough, moving teams and files, but we are back to doing full-time legal work,” said Couch, who is heading the litigation-focused practice.
Couch, along with many others in the LeClairRyan group, are returning Connell Foley alums.
Franchise law “touches a lot of different sectors,” and “more and more, companies are employing the franchise model,” Couch said in an interview, naming restaurants and real estate brokerages as franchisor clients the group brought over to Connell Foley. “Even in an improving economy, some brands are going to succeed, some are going to fail.”
Couch said the LeClairRyan contingent litigates—often contract disputes between franchisors and franchisees, and the “occasional interbrand dispute”—while Scuderi handles the transactional side of franchise law, and Humphreys, the trademark aspect.
Before the February move, Connell Foley “didn’t really have enough of a presence in this sector” to form a dedicated practice group. Couch said the practice group’s roster of lawyers is a true billing: Each person in the group devotes half or more of his or her practice to franchise and distribution law.
“I’ve never been a fan of these [practice] groups who identify every single person in the firm,” added Couch, who was co-chairman of the franchise and retail and hospitality groups at LeClairRyan.
Couch declined to name clients, but this year in the District of New Jersey alone he has filed federal suits on behalf of Wyndham, Days Inn Worldwide and Ramada Worldwide, among others, according to electronic court documents on PACER.
It’s a litigation-heavy practice, and one that typically leads to arbitration, mediation and bench trials, he said. It’s also one that’s seen developments in recent months, chiefly in the National Labor Relations Board’s upending late last year of the joint-employer standard from the 2015 Browning-Ferris Industries decision.
“Looking forward, what I see a lot of is … large franchises growing out internationally,” which hasn’t yet, but likely will, result in litigation, Couch added.
The February move brought 11 from LeClairRyan’s Newark office to Connell Foley. It was led by trial attorney Jeffrey O’Hara. Several, including O’Hara and Couch, had launched their careers at Connell Foley before departing in 2010, when O’Hara led his then-six-attorney team to London-based Clyde & Co., which at the time was seeking to build a U.S. practice. In January 2014, O’Hara’s group, by then 10 attorneys, left for LeClairRyan’s Newark office, seeking a firm with a bigger U.S. footprint.
Couch first came to Connell Foley in 2000, after graduating from Seton Hall University School of Law.