Van Leynseele credits her success, in part, to the lack of “power-based machismo” often seen at other top law firms.
This story was originally published in the October 2017 issue of Marijuana Venture, on sale now online at a store near you.
The Future Judge
Anne van Leynseele
Founder | 7 Point Law
When Anne van Leynseele started practicing cannabis law in 2014, Washington’s legal industry was just beginning to set its roots. Her firm, 7 Point Law — or Northwest Marijuana Law, as it was known then — consisted primarily of van Leynseele, her cell phone and a laptop.
Within one year, she was representing 118 clients all across Washington state.
“We, like the industry, matured rapidly,” says van Leynseele, who helped write the Obamacare legislation prior to starting 7 Point. “It’s been really exciting.”
In the beginning, van Leynseele did a lot of work on licensing, shareholder agreements and compliance matters, but as the industry has grown and developed, her practice dealt with more nonpayment concerns, zoning variances and landlord issues.
Today, the firm handles typical corporate law matters, such as partnership disputes, employee litigation and trademark issues.
The change in van Leynseele’s practice reflects the industry’s growth from mom-and-pop operations to large, legal corporations pulling in millions in revenue. She saw early on that many of the lawyers in the space were criminal defense attorneys with experience in marijuana, but not in the corporate side of the law that entrepreneurs needed.
“What they really needed was a corporate lawyer who understands business operating in highly regulated industries,” she says. When she started her firm, she was among the few attorneys in the space with a business law background. “It really was unusual at that moment.”
A different type of law firm
Van Leynseele credits her success, in part, to the lack of “power-based machismo” often seen at other top law firms. Rather than buying into the hierarchical structure of traditional firms, van Leynseele favors a holistic approach that includes a strategic council where all 7 Point attorneys weigh in on major cases and issues.
Because cannabis law touches on 23 traditional areas of practice, van Leynseele credits the council and the lack of a classic structure as bringing the firm’s customer service to a higher level.
“This is not your classic law firm,” she says. “We write our own rule book for how this firm is run.”
And in the ever-changing world of cannabis regulations, 7 Point’s nimble structure allows the firm to respond immediately if anything changes. In Washington, for example, a large cache of new regulations went into effect July 23, something van Leynseele has been working to make sure all her clients know.
She says one of the major difficulties in dealing with folks who are not traditional business people is explaining the need to retain a business lawyer like herself. Without specific deadlines or court dates, some clients do not always see the value until it is too late.
And in a rapidly-changing, highly-regulated industry like cannabis, “too late” can sometimes mean the end of your business.
Path to Pot
Van Leynseele’s path to working in the cannabis industry went, of all places, through the White House. After graduating from the Seattle University School of Law in 2008, van Leynseele was diagnosed with breast cancer and found the health insurance world to be maddening and confusing. She ultimately consolidated everything she learned into a document called “The Layperson’s Guide to Insurance” that found its way to the Obama White House.
Based on that piece, the administration recruited her to join their efforts to reshape the country’s health care industry and she headed east. Van Leynseele helped work on the Affordable Care Act and had a chance to meet the president, though she admits she was a bit more excited to meet a fellow practicing attorney.
“More impressive, I met the First Lady,” she says of Michelle Obama.
When her four-year appointment was complete, van Leynseele moved back to the Evergreen State where she saw a news article about the federal Bureau of Reclamation denying water rights to legally licensed cannabis growers.
“It pissed me off,” she says. “That’s federalism run amok.”
It also bothered her that she had spent four years working for the White House, only to come home and find what she referred to as “my administration” making things difficult for legitimate Washington businesses.
She decided then that is was time to make her move.
Van Leynseele decided to approach her new law firm and its clients differently than most attorneys in the field. She wanted to focus on the professional, corporate and regulatory side of the industry, something she found lacking in other firms.
“They were still stuck in crisis response rather than building a stable foundation like all other industries do,” van Leynseele says.
She tells the story of one client to whom she recommended putting 10% of sales revenue into an emergency fund, something she says is a “rule of thumb” in the corporate world. Sure enough, a neighbor eventually forced the client out of their location and into a new one, something van Leynseele says would not have been possible had they not followed her advice to put money aside.
“It would have (bankrupt) any company that didn’t follow that rule of thumb,” she says.
As the industry continues to grow, change and adapt, so does 7 Point Law.
In February 2016, van Leynseele recruited and hired Aaron Pelley, a trial attorney she respected after squaring off against him in court. The two combined their practices, giving the firm experience in both corporate law and litigation.
Van Leynseele estimates that 7 Point now represents a quarter of Washington’s legal cannabis industry.
As the firm continues to grow in Washington, van Leynseele and her team are beginning to branch out to other states that have legalized. The firm opened an office in Portland, Oregon in 2016 and plans to open one in Los Angeles in January 2018, just in time for the first wave of licenses to be approved in the Golden State. She also consults for a business in Maryland and has a farm in Hawaii, where she someday hopes to retire. The farm currently grows coffee and avocados, among other crops, but van Leynseele hopes to be the first sitting judge in Hawaii to grow pot on her family farm.
Until then, she is excited about the prospects the future hold for both her firm and her clients, whose “genuine and earnest” nature continue to impress her.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to serve these businesses,” she says.