Restaurants and Legal: How can I mix the two?
Accepting my internship with Union Square Hospitality Group as a Front-of-House intern went a little something like this:
Me: “Ah, yessss!! Founders of Shake Shack, owners of 17 different foodservice concepts, winner of 4 Michelin stars, and entrepreneur hero CEO Danny Meyers??
Me to Me: Wowza, restaurants! That’s cool! But wait Lydia, aren’t you studying business, not hospitality?
Me: Well yes, but…
Me to Me: Hold on. Aren’t you concentrating in Legal Studies TOO?!!
Me: You’re not wrong, but let’s just take a second…
So yes, I’m attending an undergraduate business school with a hefty price tag, I’m concentrating in Legal Studies and I’m interning within an industry in which a college degree is not necessary. There are times I’ve thought that perhaps I’m just using Law as a back-up for the no mercy industry that is restaurants, something I’ll go back to when my fairy tale dream of thinking, learning and working with restaurants has died. But then there are other times, particularly the ones where I’m sitting in Petty’s class excitedly reading over our newest case, or in Ehrlich’s class constructing our collaborative employee contract, that I know that it would be wrong to ignore how much I actually look forward to studying (gasp!) law. But how would I ever combine the two?
Luckily for me, during the first few days of our intern orientation at USHG’s home office, the company hosted a panel of full-time employees from a diverse array of departments ranging from Information Technology, Business Investments, Human Resources, Talent Acquisition, Marketing, Management and Legal! The woman representing USHG’s legal team was Sarah Rosen, the Assistant General Counsel. Prior to the panel, I had no idea what a General Counsel was and had equally to no idea as to what an Assistant General Counsel does. But as she confidently spoke on the panel about her day-to-day and long-term responsibilities, my eyes probably molded into the shape of hearts. I knew I wanted to know more than 3-minutes worth of what she actually does within her job.
A couple weeks later and I’m sitting in a breakfast joint called “Coffee” that sits across from the home office, ten minutes before our scheduled meet-up time. I give one last look at my notebook that lists questions, broken down to two sections of “The Important Ones” and “The Ones When Things Get Awkward.” To be quite honest, I was pretty nervous when she suggested to have coffee because 1.) More disastrous things can happen in the morning like bad breath, lack of strong coffee, and A.M. sleepiness, and 2.) When things get too awkward you can easily skedaddle over a cup of coffee, but not so much when you’re in the middle of an eggs benedict!
The questions were brainstormed from my own curiosity and the specifics I learned from her LinkedIn profile, google search results of “restaurant lawyers NYC” and my notes from the last time I spoke to a restaurant lawyer, just a year before.
She arrived, the coffee was strong, I didn’t make a mess of myself and best of all the conversation flowed perfectly! She answered all the questions I had, and elaborated even more by giving me information on topics I hadn’t even thought about! She asked me questions too so it didn’t feel like an interrogation, so I could really go in depth about my long term and short term goals, and where I see myself in the future. She told me that I was really on track for making a future for myself in restaurant law (which felt uh-mazing to hear) and she gave me suggestions on what my next steps should be.
After breakfast I was pumped that there really was a space in the industry in which I could pursue my passion for the foodservice industry, while also utilizing my academics. It solidified my plans of working in restaurants for the next few years so that when I assist my future clients on restaurant contracts, I can have a better understanding of where they’re coming from. My ability to recognize the legal issues that restaurants clash with will allow me to understand what’s best for my client, reassuring them that I am on their side; a strong value for both law and hospitality.
However the only disappointing part of the conversation was finding out how few lawyers are actually fully employed by restaurant groups. Many times restaurant lawyers are freelancing and will handle other types of contracts in different industries, but will help individual restaurants that approach them. In fact, there are only twelve lawyers within all of New York City that are employed by restaurant groups. But as discouraging as that was to hear, Sarah told me to remain positive because the restaurant industry is in a big time of change when there is more restaurant failure and more restaurant openings, so there is a steady rise of clients. She also told me to possibly consider more corporate and national foodservice groups like Applebee’s and Domino’s too because although these companies are working at a much larger-scale, they also run into the legal issues that any restaurant encounters.
Continuing to pursue a career field that does not carry much professional recognition is a challenge I’m willing to face. I’m already anticipating the confused responses of peers when I return to hospitality post-graduation. It’s hard to explain how my short term goals play out in the grand scheme of my career, but as an entrepreneur you have to remember that you shouldn’t choose your path by what other people say, because at the end of the day who’s doing the work: them, or you?