How franchising commitment paid off for Melbourne firm

What does it take to win a national industry award? MST Lawyers, a mid-size law firm based in Melbourne, was the 2017 recipient of the MYOB FCA Excellence in Franchising Supplier of the Year award – recognition of long term-planning, commitment and engagement for a legal firm with more than 35 years’ experience servicing the franchising sector.

So how did they get here?

Back in the mid-80s, three principals at MST Lawyers, John Sier, Philip Colman and John Turnbull caught wind of the emerging franchising trend, then still a developing business model in Australia. They invested time and resources into developing expertise in franchising regulation, which was at that time governed by corporate laws, and understanding best practice franchising models.

In the mid-90s, following the government’s announcement that franchising would be more formally regulated, they became pioneers in promoting and advising their clients about the new Franchising Code of Conduct.

According to Philip Colman, “This is when MST Lawyers’ franchising practice really took off. For all of us, it was an exciting initiative.”

Today MST Lawyers has a full-service offering for franchisors covering not only franchising law but intellectual property, leasing, workplace relations and dispute resolution.

John Sier says that it doesn’t stop there, “We not only understand the ins and outs of our clients’ franchise networks, but we’re also taking a global perspective, leveraging our relationships from the international Law Firm Network and International Franchise Association.

“This allows us to give strategic advice on both inbound and outbound expansion. We’re also looking at new technologies to not only improve the efficiency of our service delivery but to help our clients achieve their goals.”

Another key driver of the firm’s success is its determination to develop innovative products addressing key regulatory changes. Herbert Fischbacher, head of the firm’s employment law team, pioneered franchise-wide enterprise bargaining agreement making in the early 1990s.

The employment law team has introduced into many franchise systems a range of online and help desk solutions to better educate and assist franchisees in all aspects of workplace law compliance.

Most recently, Fischbacher’s team developed a comprehensive workplace law audit program which has been rolled out to a number of franchise systems following the Protecting Vulnerable Workers Bill.

“It has allowed franchisors to take stock of their network’s understanding of workplace laws and design better educational programs to ensure franchisees understand their obligations,” says Fischbacher. “We have found that franchisees are welcoming the opportunity to learn more about what is really a complex set of laws for a small business to comply with.”

The firm also keeps its finger on the pulse by its involvement in local, national and international industry associations and bodies. “It’s all about openly sharing knowledge, knowing that this will ultimately benefit all parties,” says senior associate Louise Wolf, member of the 2017 organising committee of the Franchise Council of Australia’s Legal Symposium.

The firm boasts many other important postings: dispute resolution and litigation principal, Alicia Hill, is a member of the ACCC’s Consultative Committee for Small Business and Franchising; Philip Colman is a contributor to international legal publications and a panel mediator with the Franchise Mediation Adviser, and franchising principal, Raynia Theodore, sits on the FCA’s legal committee.

Theodore believes that the firm’s long-term expertise in all things franchising enables it to provide a complete suite of legal services to clients.

“We also make it a priority to learn about our franchising clients, and with this knowledge, we tailor innovative solutions and fee structures aimed at taking the stress out of franchising. We were very proud to take out the Supplier of the Year award, as this confirms our commitment to the franchising sector,” she says.