When I initially went to law school, I had some vague ideas about what I wanted to practice. I wanted to help people or animals or both. I took classes in those subjects as much as possible. But, when I graduated during the recession, job prospects were hard to come by, and I took a job at a small firm handling mostly real estate law.
During my early law career, I started a little home bakery on the side, really as a hobby. I loved to bake and decorate cakes and cupcakes and figured I might as well earn some money from my hobby. I also loved to go to food stores, especially unique natural food stores. And, I was constantly watching food shows in my free time.
If only I had known in law school about restaurant law, the whole trajectory of my career could have been vastly different.
Restaurant law is a relatively new area of law. It involves a huge range of legal issues including employment law, food safety, property law, tax law, intellectual property, contracts and more.
Read on to learn if restaurant law might be your calling.
What Is Restaurant Law
Like most areas of law, restaurant law involves tons of areas of legal practice that affect the restaurant industry.
The restaurant industry is unique from other industries, because it involves products that are made for human consumption, which is a public safety issue. As such, there are a fair amount of regulations that restaurants must abide by at both the state and federal levels.
These regulations dictate everything a restaurant does, owns, and uses. Certain pieces of equipment must be present and must be located in certain places. For example, there usually must be two sinks, one for washing hands and one for washing dishes. And, those sinks cannot necessarily be together.
When a potential new restaurant owner is looking at property (whether to rent or own), it’s important to keep all of these issues in mind.
Restaurants also must consider regulations around entertainment. If a venue plans to host live music, there may be zoning restrictions that affect the restaurant’s plans.
As you can see, restaurant law runs the gamut of the legal practice.
How To Get Into Restaurant Law
In the last several years, classes in restaurant law have begun to crop up in law schools across the country. There are trade organizations for restaurant law and even institutions at various law schools on food law including restaurant law specifically.
If you are really serious about restaurant law, it might be a good idea to try to get into one of those programs. But, if it’s not possible to enroll in one of the schools with a restaurant or food law program, you can still practice food law.
First, all areas of law, every single one of them, involves the same goal: solving problems. Restaurant law is no exception. Read magazines geared toward the restaurant industry to learn what kinds of problems restaurateurs face.
Second, study. Just because there might not be a restaurant law class offered at your school doesn’t mean you can’t study restaurant law. There are plenty of books out there on starting a restaurant that would be a good resource. There are webinars and even Continuing Legal Education courses you could take to learn about restaurant law.
Third, network. Reach out to restaurant lawyers and ask about their experiences. Apply for internships or propose an internship in restaurant law to a local firm. You may be surprised at what opportunities arise when you inquire even if the opportunity isn’t advertised.
Is Restaurant Law For You?
There are many reasons why lawyers choose the fields in which they work. Sometimes they feel it’s an easier area of law than others. Sometimes it’s a matter of work-life balance or an attempt to avoid having to litigate.
Generally, though, there are some areas of law someone should probably consider only if they have a passion for clients in that field. Restaurant law is probably one of those.
If you’re a homebody that hates going out and steps foot inside a restaurant maybe twice a year, then restaurant law may not be for you. How can you help your client identify potential pitfalls if you don’t understand their business, at least a little bit?
But, if you love to go out and explore new venues and if you enjoy being challenged by legal problems in a variety of fields, then restaurant law might be a great fit.
Only by studying restaurant law and trying your hand at it through an internship or even volunteering can you really learn if the field is right for you.
Exciting Time For Restaurant Law
With new classes being offered in restaurant law at more law schools, it is an exciting time to be part of the growing industry. If restaurant law piques your interest, then give it a try and see of it’s a fit for you.
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