Attorney Spotlight: Nina Greene and Michael Joblove on Trends in Franchising Law and How Their Practice Has Evolved Since Joining Venable

6 min

Recently recognized by the Franchise Times among its Legal Eagles of 2024, Venable partners Nina Greene and Michael Joblove have been consistently ranked among the top franchising attorneys in the country. In this Q&A, Nina and Michael talk about recent developments in franchising law and what they enjoy most about their practice.

Q: You’re both litigators representing some of the largest franchisors in the world. What types of issues tend to end up in court?

Michael: Sometimes it’s as simple as money being owed and not paid, but what we’re often dealing with are compliance issues. For instance, if a franchisor decides to implement changes in their operating systems, such as updated digital menu boards or point-of-sale equipment, litigation or arbitration may be required to mandate compliance with evolving system standards. Or there can be issues over development agreements in international venues. We had a case recently involving a fitness franchise that enlisted a new franchisee in northern Mexico. But when the new franchise location didn’t do particularly well, the developers sued, claiming that providing development rights to another franchisee for the balance of Mexico impeded their ability to develop successfully. So, we see a lot of issues like that.

Q. Have you also handled consumer-driven litigation?

Nina: Some of the more typical consumer issues are where customers claim that they're not getting what they thought they were getting when they walk into a particular franchise location. It might be just that the bread wasn’t what they thought it should be. Or that the customer thought the veggie burger was not going to be cooked on the same grill as a meat burger. Things as simple as that can lead to a class action litigation.

Michael: A class action was in fact brought by vegans against a burger franchise, claiming there could be traces of beef in the veggie burger. But it was thrown out by the judge on a motion to dismiss. We’re defending against another class action brought by a consumer who said that the burgers in the restaurant chain don’t look as big as they look in the ads. Things like that come up all the time.

Q. Franchises operate under multiple jurisdictions. Have there been any major rule changes or legal developments at a state or federal level that are impacting your clients?

Michael: There have been changes to state privacy laws that clients need to know about, that are related to digital apps and marketing, among other things. And then there’s the joint employer rule, which relates to whether a franchisor can be deemed to be the employer of the franchisee’s employees. Franchisees are arguably independent businesspeople who have a license to use the franchisor’s brand. But if the franchisor is considered the employer of the franchisee’s employees, that would allow the employees to unionize at a system level as opposed to the franchisee level. Additionally, the franchisor could be held liable if an employee is injured or sexually harassed. So, the joint employer rule has big implications for franchisors, but it goes back and forth, depending on who’s in government.

Q: Where does the joint employer rule stand at the moment?

Nina: There was legislation coming out of Congress that overruled the National Labor Relations Board’s current form of the rule, which is quite broad in scope, but the president vetoed it. So, for now the argument is tilted toward the idea of a joint employer relationship. Although the circumstances of any particular case, the relationship between the franchisor and franchisee, and how much control the franchisor has exercised will always have to be considered. So, as lawyers representing franchisors, we can offer guidance on what they should and shouldn’t do in terms of governing the franchisor-franchisee relationship.

Q. Looking back over the body of cases you've worked on, what have you learned?

Nina: Because our clients often have franchises all over the world, we have to understand how the law works in a variety of countries. It’s been interesting getting to know all these different systems and how they apply to what a franchisor is trying to do or to what is going on in a particular case. Even here in the U.S., the laws vary so much state by state. For instance, if we’re representing a Florida-based franchisor, they may assume that Florida’s laws are going to apply. But if the franchisor is having an issue with a franchisee based in California or some other state, California’s laws and policies may come into play as well. Additionally, a lot of states have franchise-specific laws, so anyone working in this area has to understand when and how those state laws apply to a particular franchisee in a particular circumstance. 

Q: Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and technology are revolutionizing many industries. Is this an issue for your franchising clients?

Michael: It’s not a huge issue just yet, but it’s becoming one. We do have to talk to our clients about their policies concerning AI,  how to manage artificial intelligence, and how to deal with their franchisees around this issue. For instance, all franchise systems use operations manuals. If AI is used in the creation of those manuals, the question of who owns the manual or who owns the copyright arises. And that can have all sorts of potential implications for the franchise. So, it’s something we’re all watching.

Q. Nina, you’ve been leveraging your franchising experience to help Best Buddies, an organization that supports individuals with disabilities. Can you talk a little about how that came about?

Nina: I have a son with Down syndrome, who got involved with Best Buddies during high school. They have several programs to help people, including a jobs training program. The support they provided was so beneficial to my son that I decided I wanted to give something back. When I started volunteering for them, I realized that they had been working with some franchise systems to connect people from the Best Buddies program with job training opportunities. That was a natural area for me to help out. We recently put together a program where we connected Best Buddies with a number of South Florida–based franchisors and suppliers to talk about how they could work together to benefit the community further. It was a really great day for me, where all my passions came together. 

Q. Your previous firm joined Venable over a year ago. Has being part of a bigger law firm had any impact on your practice?

Michael: Venable has a great culture, and the leadership really takes pride in the personality of the place and the idea that we are a true partnership. In terms of our practice, we are working to expand it based on the resources we now have in other offices. Our Florida-based lawyers are helping other offices with litigation, and lawyers from other offices are helping us. Having that expansive network and range of expertise is invaluable.

Nina: Being able to provide additional services to our franchise clients has been great. As a small boutique firm, there was a limit to what we could offer. But now when a client comes to us looking for a new service, we can say, without skipping a beat, “Yes, we have someone who can do that.”  

Learn more about Venable’s franchising law practice.