Over the past fifteen to twenty years, the franchise agreements have grown tremendously in complexity and size. They also tend to be more and more favorable toward the franchisor. Therefore, if you are a potential franchisee, you must read the franchise agreement very carefully to make sure that you fully understand what the agreement is saying. While it is imperative to hire a business attorney to advise you before you sign the agreement, this essay will sketch the typical structure of most franchise agreements in order for you to be able to better navigate your franchise contract.
1. Recitals. The recital provisions usually attempt to describe the franchisor’s system, its potential to contribute a great variety of proprietary information, and the reputation of the franchisor in the industry. Be careful: these provisions are generally not repeated as commitments of the franchisor and are typically disclaimed later in the franchise agreement (otherwise, the franchisee may have a breach of contract claim later).
2. Term of the Franchise and Exclusive Territory (if any). This part of the franchise agreement describes the longevity of the franchise agreement, whether any renewals are available, and what territory is granted exclusively to the franchisee against the same-brand competition.
3. Payment Obligations. Most of the agreements set out the payment obligations of the franchisee separately, while others merge this part of the contract with the rest of the franchisee’s duties.
4. Franchisor’s Duties. This part of the franchise agreement describes the franchisor’s duties toward the franchisee. Usually, however, these obligations are riddled with exceptions and references to the franchisor’s discretion. For examples, phrases such as “in its discretion” or “upon written request” are very common. Be careful: this part of the franchise contract may actually be used to impose obligation on the franchisee. Your attorney needs to review this section of the agreement very closely.
5. Franchisee’s Duties. The provisions regarding franchisee’s obligations may be especially numerous. Many modern franchise agreements may contain a very detailed list of duties imposed on the franchisee, and incorporate by reference the entire content of additional manuals and “any subsequent changes and additions thereto.” Additional covenants in separate articles may also be included in the franchise agreements.
6. Transfer, Assignment, and Termination. This part of the franchise contract sets forth how the franchisee may transfer (including through death, incapacitation, and sale) the franchise to another party. A right of first refusal in favor of the franchisor is often included. Also, be on the lookout for additional substantial fees paid by the franchisee to the franchisor in case of a transfer.
7. Miscellaneous: Choice of Law/Forum, Dispute Resolution, Disclaimers, Indemnification and Exculpatory Clauses. This part of the franchise agreement usually contains a mandatory arbitration clause and unfavorable choice of law provisions which may attempt to deprive the franchisee of the existing statutory protections. Here, you will also find various disclaimers and the indemnification requirements. Finally, various “no representation”and “no reliance” clauses (admitted by the franchisee upon execution of the franchise contract) are often included here. Despite the extreme pro-franchisor bias of many of these provisions, state and federal courts have a tendency to enforce them. Therefore, you must study these provisions with your attorney in order to make sure you understand what types of claims against the franchisor you are giving up by signing this agreement.
A typical franchise agreement is about 40-50 pages of dense legal language. Usually, it contains more information in addition to what is described above. Some agreements do not follow the above-described structure at all, but, rather, adopt their own format which may divide, omit or merge the sections described above into more or fewer articles and sub-sections. Therefore, it is highly advisable to retain services of a franchise attorney to review your franchise agreement to make sure you understand all of the provisions of this contract.
Sherayzen Law Office can help you review and analyze your franchise agreement so that you can understand your rights and obligations before you sign the contract.
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