Goodwin Snaps Up Duane Morris Cannabis Group Leader

By Jack Queen
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Law360 (April 6, 2020, 8:52 PM EDT) --
Jennifer Briggs Fisher
Jennifer Briggs Fisher
Goodwin Procter LLP on Monday added a former Duane Morris LLP cannabis team leader in San Francisco, expanding its roster of marijuana attorneys as the industry grapples with fresh challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jennifer Briggs Fisher, who joins Goodwin's cannabis and litigation practice groups as partner, advises cannabis companies on complex regulatory compliance and represents them in commercial litigation. She said she expects both realms to be in high demand as the novel coronavirus shakes up state regulations and the industry's continuing growth exposes firms to high-stakes lawsuits.

"There is an increase in litigation facing this industry, and companies are going to need experienced litigation counsel," Fisher told Law360 on Monday. "But I always hope to have strong regulatory compliance practice because it's a constantly evolving space and a lot of the regulations are very complex."

Goodwin's top brass said Fisher's experience handling high-stakes criminal and civil litigation for major corporations will be critical for cannabis companies as they enter the big leagues.

"As funds continue to pour into the fast-evolving cannabis industry, we are seeing an increasing need among cannabis companies and their investors for corporate, financing, regulatory and litigation counsel," Goodwin's cannabis practice co-chair Brett Schuman said in a statement. "I've worked across the table from Jen and know her to be one of the best lawyers in the cannabis business."

Goodwin launched its cannabis group in 2016, and it has since grown to more than 100 lawyers, according to the firm.

Fisher's latest move comes slightly more than a year after she joined Duane Morris in January 2019 to head up that firm's cannabis practice. She said she became interested in joining Goodwin after working with the firm's attorneys on major cannabis deals, and was also enticed by the firm's plans for expansion in California, particularly in the litigation space.

Last year, a host of major cannabis companies were hit with investor lawsuits over plummeting stock prices and forecasts that allegedly obscured festering oversupply problems, regulatory bottlenecks and scaled-back capital investments. Cannabis companies also face a bevy of Telephone Consumer Protection Act suits, and hemp and CBD companies are facing lawsuits from consumers who say they violated federal health regulations when pitching their products.

The novel coronavirus has also intensified the regulatory flux in cannabis, with a growing number of states deeming dispensaries essential businesses not subject to mandatory closures. The designation has unlocked new opportunities for delivery and curbside pickup, as well as relief from the strictures of state cannabis regimes.

"Many of these companies are trying to figure out how to provide access to patients and consumers when so many of us are under quarantine or shelter-in-place orders," Fisher said. "It has really changed the landscape. A lot of people are now relying on delivery."

Fisher said that while the pandemic could slow the advance of marijuana legalization as statehouses focus on containing the coronavirus, mounting budget deficits could help move the needle in jurisdictions desperate for new revenue.

The COVID-19 crisis currently rippling through the global economy poses major risks to cannabis companies, along with virtually all industries. But marijuana businesses have also entered a phase of maturation that exposes them to lawsuits from consumers and investors, Fisher said.

"For better or for worse, we're going to see more of that affecting cannabis companies," Fisher said. "A lot of things that are more routine for other industries are relatively new for cannabis companies, and many of them haven't been exposed to those litigation threats before."

--Editing by Alanna Weissman.

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