Today we are launching a new series at the Health and Fitness Law Blog: The General Counsel’s Corner. In this series, we will interview general counsels and other attorneys from around the country to understand the day-to-day legal operations of a health and fitness company, and to get his or her personal take on the different trends, methods and best practices for operating a health and fitness company. If you know a general counsel or other attorney that we should interview, please contact us.
Without further ado, here is our interview with Suleen Lee, General Counsel for The Barre Code:
The Barre Code
H&F Law Blog: It is a bit unusual for a newer studio fitness company to have full time general counsel. What prompted The Barre Code to hire a general counsel so early on its history?
Suleen Lee: I started at The Barre Code (back then, "Barre Bee Fit") as an instructor about 6 months after the company had opened its first location in River North. Back then, I was working as an associate at a law firm. I had taught fitness classes during law school, so I wanted to do the same in Chicago. Though I only taught a few times a week as my work schedule allowed, it was a great way to balance long billable hours at the firm. After a few years of watching the company grow across Chicago, I decided to approach one of the owners for coffee. I had joked around with them for months about coming on as legal counsel, and it just so happened that the coffee meeting coincided with them exploring the idea of franchising their business. They knew that starting a franchising arm of the business would require lots of legal work, and thought I would be great fit for this role. So I took the risk and leapt into it wholeheartedly, believing in the mission of the company to empower women everywhere.
H&F Law Blog: What type of legal work do you encounter on a routine basis? What type of projects do you handle in house and what projects do you send to outside counsel?
Suleen Lee: The type of legal work that we do in-house on a routine basis involves lease review for our corporate locations, franchise agreements, and trademark protection. The matters that we send to outside counsel typically involve more complex issues of trademarks or corporate structure. While we have used outside counsel for IP, franchising, and general corporate matters, we have begun to bring more of the legal work in-house in order to reduce costs. I also wear a business hat in getting the franchise and corporate locations launched off the ground through the pre-opening process.
H&F Law Blog: How do you hire outside counsel?
Suleen Lee: We hire outside counsel based on our networks, reputation, and fit. (Business fit, not physical fit. Ha.) For example, I had heard of our franchise attorneys at Cheng Cohen through other attorney friends of mine, and knew they had an excellent reputation for high-quality representation and work. When we met with the lead partner, we appreciated the way she was able to explain legal requirements in approachable terms.
H&F Law Blog: If you could give one piece of legal advice to a fitness studio brand that is just getting started, what would it be?
Suleen Lee: When starting out, make sure to understand the importance of documentation and organization. When you are first beginning, the last thing on your mind is likely writing things down and creating an organized file structure. While it is easy to be extremely optimistic at the onset and wear rose-colored glasses thinking nothing will ever go wrong, you will soon enough learn that this is not the case even if it is years later. Learn how to be realistic and protect your business by keeping diligent notes and emails, that you can easily access when the issues inevitably arise 2 years down the line.
H&F Law Blog: How did The Barre Code decide that franchising was the best route for the business?
Suleen Lee: The Barre Code decided that franchising was the best route for the business to spread our mission and mantra of empowering women on a larger national scale. We wanted our brand to reach women everywhere. We are currently adopting a mixed-model approach of growing corporately as well as through franchising.
H&F Law Blog: How has franchising changed the brand?
Suleen Lee: Franchising has changed the brand in that it has expanded the core demographic of our brand beyond the 24-40 year-old young professional females in Chicago. We have become a company on a national scale, and our clientele now includes everyone from young teenagers to older women to stay-at-home moms to working moms, to urban dwellers to suburbanites.
H&F Law Blog: What characteristics do the best franchisees have in common?
Suleen Lee: Our best franchisees are excellent at communication, operations, and management. They are well-respected for their hard work and the way they treat people. They overcommunicate (rather than undercommunicate) and know how to motivate their teams. They are also super responsive, proactive, and provide honest feedback on what works for them and what doesn't. They have a deep-seeded belief in what the brand stands for, and because of this, work tirelessly to operate and run their businesses.
H&F Law Blog: Having known you a few years, it is clear to me that you have always been drawn to a healthy lifestyle, including starting with The Barre Code as an instructor when you were still working at a large law firm in Chicago. How has your healthy lifestyle helped you in your representation of The Barre Code?
Suleen Lee: Interestingly enough, I think it's more the times that I've fallen away from a healthy lifestyle that helps me in my representation of The Barre Code. While I've led a relatively active and healthy lifestyle since the age of 15, I've had my share of battles, which helps me relate to clients. I would say it's pretty universal that we've all struggled at one point or another in maintaining a healthy lifestyle, so having a deep-rooted understanding of this has helped me frame discourse around our brand as well as frame motivational commentary when teaching classes.
H&F Law Blog: What’s your favorite pre or post-workout snack or meal?
Suleen Lee: I like over-easy eggs. It's bizarre - I can't do shakes, or bars, or anything that comes packaged, but give me a frying pan, some olive oil, and a few eggs to crack, and I'm happy as a clam.
H&F Law Blog: What has been your biggest challenge?
Suleen Lee: For a brand as personal as The Barre Code, where we care about helping women achieve their goals and believe in their abilities, it is often difficult to separate myself from work. I know for a long time, it was hard learning how to shut off because it's in my nature to get consumed with work that is backed with passion and purpose. While I have made huge strides in learning how to balance personal time with work goals, it is still something that I am figuring out every day.
H&F Law Blog: Thanks, Suleen. We at the Health and Fitness Law Blog and our loyal audience really appreciate your time. Good luck to you and The Barre Code in all of your future endeavors!