Already representing clients in thirteen states and abroad, the respected Colorado-based law firm Hoban & Feola has increased its cachet by recasting itself as a national cannabis law firm serving clients as a legal one-stop-shop of sorts, the first of its kind for the industry.
According to Hoban & Feola partner Bob Hoban, one of the foremost experts on U.S. cannabis law, the move is not about ambition and ego but about improving the standard of professionalism necessary for the industry to realize its vast potential.
When asked to explain the rationale, Hoban said, “The need exists because of what happens at the beginning of an industry. We saw this in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Arizona—states that we’ve been working in for a long time. A bunch of activist-type attorneys who don’t really have experience practicing law but who are dedicated to the cause end up becoming associated with activist and patient groups and soon start working for a lot of these companies. They don’t really do anything because they don’t have a lot of experience, but they do end up causing more harm than good, even though they are well-intentioned.
“You also see a lot of criminal defense attorneys all of a suddenly calling themselves cannabis attorneys,” he continued. “I admire criminal defense attorneys and know a handful I would call if those issues came up, but you need business attorneys who are steeped in business structure, financial issues, real estate, securities, all of the different things that we do.”
Over the past few years, said Hoban, the expanding needs of cannabis businesses have become too acute to ignore. “Business owners were coming in telling us that, yes, they had an attorney, but they needed one that does trademarks, one who does securities, one who does real estate, and maybe they have a litigation case and now need a litigation attorney.”
Those were areas of the law Hoban practiced at a large firm in Denver before starting his own firm in 2008. It occurred to him businesses were too busy to deal with five different law firms. “They needed to deal with one point of contact with a law firm that could handle everything. The beauty of what we have at Hoban & Feola is that if you want to do a deal in another state, we’ve got an attorney in that state who is an expert in local regulations and has the necessary connections, clients, and contacts, as well,” he said.
“The vision,” he added, “is to provide that one-stop-shop service, if you will, to all businesses in the cannabis industry, meaning those in both the hemp and marijuana world and any ancillary businesses.”
Hoban expects his grand vision to unfurl over time. “At the end of phase one, which wraps up at the end of April, we will have between twenty-five and thirty lawyers. Right now the number is twenty-seven, but I’m getting calls from lawyers who know what we’re doing and want to work with us.”
Points of contact
With its home office remaining in Denver, Hoban & Feola will build itself out on an existing framework of clients and contacts formed over the years in Washington State, Oregon, California, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, New Jersey, New York, Illinois, Florida, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Maryland.
“We’ll have local phone numbers in all these jurisdictions that are associated with the locality, so a person calling in, say, Washington State, will touch base with a staff person scheduling for the local office, who will figure out whether the caller needs Washington-specific services or something more broadly applicable. Then the plan is for me and my immediate team to have contact with the caller in conjunction with the local attorney so [the client is] getting the value of the whole team. We don’t want to create a scenario in which people are hiring us for our name and then getting pushed down the line.”
The firm also intends to provide the best legal minds the industry has to offer. “We’ve got professionals who are not only credentialed and have practiced law for a long time, but are also very experienced doing deals in the industry in their area of expertise,” Hoban said. “There is no one else in the country that’s got the credentialed, professional lawyers and the area of expertise.”
New people versus old guard
Hoban believes a “top-down regulatory structure” and the level of business discipline it demands are necessities for the industry. “If you are not structured like a business and act like a business with corporate governance and regulatory compliance, iron-clad contracts, and real estate deals that are clean, you are never going to be able to survive as a legitimate operator,” he said.
In fact, Hoban hopes to help companies that specialize in product, not corporate structure, protect themselves in a rapidly maturing industry. “One of the cornerstones of our success has been our willingness to help activists, and like I said, when a movement becomes an industry, activists are often the first to be misplaced. Helping them change with the times has been something we have been very successful at.”
He also said the firm will not shut out small companies with limited resources. “While we do have standards rates that are generally dictated by the local market, I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t take on clients who were broke, to help them get where they need to be. But it is a two-way street,” he noted. “We will work with people, but they need to come to the table with some level of sophistication, or at least be coachable in that regard.”
Like so many people, Hoban’s cannabis connection is personal. “I got into this because of family members who had cancer long ago.” But the personal stakes have grown for him. “To have this industry survive and grow the right way is important to me. When a movement becomes an industry, certain things change dramatically, and that’s where we are right now. My personal satisfaction comes from working with folks and advising them.
“I don’t mean to sound egotistical,” he added, “but I don’t believe there are many people in the country that have the perspective and experience in this industry that I have, because I have seen it grow from the very beginning, and I’ve been working around the country—and really, the world—on deals for several years now.”
Just as important, Hoban & Feola is here to stay. “We’re not going anywhere,” assured Hoban. “We’re looking at a long-term play, hopefully very long, as long as this industry continues to thrive and survive. We want people to say, ‘You know, Hoban and his team helped me, and you know, they’re really good people on top of it.’ I think we can maintain that for a long time.”
Hoban & Feola areas of practice:
- Marijuana Business
- Securities/Corporate Counsel/Trademark
- Real Estate/Land Use
- Industrial Hemp
- Mergers and Acquisitions
- Dispute Resolution Services
- State/Local Regulatory Licensing and Compliance
- Commercial Litigation
- Government and Policy Consulting
- Labor and Employment Law
- Federal Law/FDA & FTC Compliance