Food Service & Agriculture and Law

Law firm launches craft brewery industry group

July 31, 2015
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Warner Norcross attorney Ian Kennedy has been spending a lot of time drinking beer at craft breweries.

No need for an intervention, though. Kennedy’s time spent at local bars has to do with the growth in brewery clients he’s experienced in the last few years, thanks to the burgeoning craft beer industry in Michigan, and particularly in West Michigan.

Kennedy, who practices out of Warner’s Kalamazoo office, isn’t alone. He said several of his colleagues across the state also have seen their client rosters grow to include brewery clients.

“I started talking with other attorneys doing work for breweries and sent around a general email asking, ‘How many of you are working with breweries and which ones?’ When the list came back, we found out we worked for 15 breweries in the state.”

It’s not all that surprising, given that Michigan ranks sixth in the nation for the number of craft breweries. Last year, 159 craft breweries called Michigan home.

Kennedy said craft brewers are directly responsible for more than 5,000 jobs in the state.

Nationwide, craft beer sales grew 22 percent last year..

Kennedy said breweries’ legal needs are vast and often require expertise from multiple attorneys. Those legal needs include capital formation, business succession planning, labor and employee benefits, financing and economic incentives, intellectual property, mergers and acquisitions, environmental issues, and working with the Michigan Liquor Control Commission.

Kennedy said the three biggest areas where he sees brewery clients requesting legal assistance are in the areas of tax incentives, intellectual property and trademark issues, and access to capital.

In order to best help brewery clients, Warner decided to launch its craft brewery industry group, which Kennedy now chairs. The group includes more than 20 attorneys and paralegals who provide a broad spectrum of legal support.

While practice groups focus on a specific area of law, industry groups provide an interdisciplinary approach to a specific industry. Other industry groups at Warner include higher education and the auto industry.

Kennedy said creating the craft brewery industry group is a way of formalizing what the firm is doing for that client group. It means holding regular meetings to stay abreast of issues facing clients and the industry at large.

Kennedy said the industry group also focuses on suppliers to the industry.

“We are not only doing work for breweries, but we are also doing work for their suppliers: aluminum companies that are making cans, suppliers that are providing ingredients like flavoring companies,” he said. “There is a whole supply chain in terms of equipment, cans and bottles, grain, hops. That is where I think this industry has a lot of fun potential.”

In addition to chairing the industry group, Kennedy provides breweries with assistance in the areas of expansions, corporate formation and employment issues. He also has acted as a general counsel for a good number of entities.

Kennedy said it is “fun to be involved in an industry where we are seeing an establishment of a local supply chain for these brewers. I think we’ve learned it’s very important to have a diversified economy in Michigan and it’s fun to see another economic engine being created.”

The beer isn’t bad either.

Kennedy said right now you are most likely to find him enjoying a lighter beer like Cheap Date from Arcadia, All Day IPA from Founders, or one of Short’s Brewing Co.’s offerings. In the fall, he said he’ll switch over to his favorite dark beers.

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