Boldrey said Dykema is very selective about its cannabis clientele, ensuring they can make payments.
“When we’re not sure on somebody, we insure against that with upfront retainers,” Boldrey said. “We do a lot of due diligence up front to judge the client’s suitability and reputation. We’re looking for clients that have some level of business expertise and aren’t coming in with a long criminal history.”
But the criminal side of law was a way in for many lawyers in the industry.
Matthew Abel, partner and founder of Cannabis Counsel Law Firm, spent much of his career defending clients against misdemeanor and felony marijuana charges before expanding into corporate law.
“I think it was God’s work,” Abel said. “Back then, I only took cannabis cases. It wasn’t lucrative, but I was able to make a living. I had to travel far and wide across the state. I felt the people I was representing were not criminals.”
But when caregiver rules for medical marijuana were published in 2008, Abel switched to assisting clients with establishing their business models and abiding by state regulations.
Abel said he was in the right place at the right time to get ahead of competitors.
“When I started, other criminal defense lawyers said I was crazy, and when the medical marijuana law passed those same attorneys said I was crazy,” Abel said. “But we got to enjoy the spoils of being early in. There are now over 1,000 members of the cannabis law section of the state bar. Now all those big law firms have cannabis practice groups.”
But Abel’s client base does differ, he said.
“Our market tends to be smaller operators, scrappy mom-and-pop operations,” Abel said. “Our offices smell like cannabis. We’re customers too. There are a lot of clients who are not going to hire a lawyer whose office smells like cannabis. They want a silk-stocking firm. But that’s OK. We’re comfortable where we are and there is still plenty of work to go around.”
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