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IFA’s 48th Annual Legal Symposium —Event Returns to Chicago

Expect to learn valuable information and insights that will benefit lawyers and franchise executives, and help continue to evolve and expand franchise systems.

By Amy Cheng



For almost half a century, lawyers and other legal professionals have attended the International Franchise Association’s annual Legal Symposium to stay current with legal developments affecting franchising. Attendees have gathered to engage, share, discuss and debate hot topics in the legal arena of franchising. Both in-house counsel and private attorneys have come to view the program as a must-attend event not just for the content it delivers, but also for the tremendous networking opportunities it affords.

More recently, many franchise business executives too have come to appreciate the benefits attending the Legal Symposium affords, and the number of non-lawyer attendees has grown each year. The symposium reflects IFA’s recognition of the critical impact legal developments can have on the industry as a whole.

Franchising Under Attack

Never has the business of franchising felt the impact of legal developments as it has recently. These legal developments that threaten franchising as we know it have not only drawn the attention of franchise lawyers, but command all franchisors’ C-Suite executives’ undivided attention as well. As IFA Pres. and CEO Steve Caldeira, CFE, recently said, the franchising business model has never been under such a multi-pronged attack. There has never been a more critical time than now for franchise lawyers and franchise business executives alike, regardless of their core discipline or responsibility, to understand and respond to the existential threats facing franchising as a method of distribution.

On the Front Lines

As is widely known by now, the National Labor Relations Board has taken the position that the franchisor should be treated as a joint employer of its franchisees’ employees.  In Massachusetts, the Wage Hour Law has been interpreted to mean that franchisees may be the employees of their franchisors — a de facto rewrite of the franchise agreements involved. These decisions overturn decades of legal precedent and represent a direct threat to the success and future of the franchise business model.

The 2015 IFA Legal Symposium will confront these developments head on. Sessions, panels and programming overall have been specifically designed to deliver timely and compelling content concerning these and similar trending topics to the broad range of participants whose collaboration is made mandatory by the threats these developments present.

While we, as legal counsel, are largely on the front lines of this battle, never before has it been so important for us to work hand-in-hand with the franchise business executives we represent and industry leaders to develop coordinated and effective responses to these developments. It is equally as important that franchise business executives understand these legal developments to effectively maintain and manage their franchise systems, much less grow them, in this increasingly challenging environment. There is no better opportunity than during the 2015 Legal Symposium for all of us to join in the discussion of these critical developments and to work together toward our common goal of protecting the independent franchise business relationship.

Navigating Challenges

The IFA Legal Symposium Task Force has worked hard to develop programming that will assist lawyers and franchise business executives alike to better understand the challenges confronting our industry to navigate the new legal challenges we all face.  We know these few days will offer valuable information and insights that will benefit both lawyers and franchise executives, and help them continue to evolve and expand their franchise systems.

This year, we will kick off the Legal Symposium with a plenary session that takes a multi-disciplinary look at the ongoing collision of labor and employment law with franchise law. We have cast our net widely by inviting a franchise economist, a labor relations expert and a labor/employment attorney to share their insights and perspectives on the forces at play in this debate. It’s sure to be a lively and informative discussion that represents differing views and perspectives.

Additionally, this year’s Legal Symposium will continue the traditional focus on the practical applications of the law to solve the real, everyday problems franchisors and franchisees encounter. This year’s breakout sessions will include timely panels addressing data security, crisis management, franchise renewals and financial performance representations. A panel of state examiners will provide updated insight and guidance on expediting franchise registrations.  We’ll also feature a session about how franchisors can revise franchise agreements and manuals to reflect an attitude of collaboration with franchisees.

It’s not all about work, however. While the symposium will undoubtedly be substantive and productive time well spent, the task force is determined to make sure attendees have plenty of opportunities to spend time with peers, to network and to enjoy all that Chicago it has to offer. For example, we’ll kick things off by throwing an authentic “Chi-Town” deep dish pizza party. No hotel ballroom reception for us! I also encourage attendees to arrive early or stay late to enjoy some of the Windy City’s wonderful attractions, be it a stroll down the Mag Mile, a visit to the Lakefront and Navy Pier, Improv at Second City or a visit to one of Chicago’s world-class museums. I am proud of my hometown and hope you will enjoy it while you’re here.

I look forward to seeing you in early May here in Chicago.  Review the Symposium Snapshot below for a more complete list of the planned programs. For additional information or to register for the Legal Symposium, visit

Amy Cheng is a co-founding partner of the Chicago law firm of Cheng Cohen LLC and represents franchisors on the structuring and operation of their franchise programs through all phases of development. She is chairwoman of the franchise industry’s premier legal event, IFA’s 2015 Legal Symposium. Find her at


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