BELTWAY BANTER with TOM LALLA Interview between Tom Lalla & Robert Lehrman
PROVIDED BY TOM LALLA
hat follows is an email interview between Tom Lalla and Robert Lehrman. Tom was the top lawyer at Pernod Ricard USA from 1991 to 2013 (Senior Vice President and General Counsel). Pernod has a wide range of spirits and wine products throughout the world, from Chivas to Absolut to Martell. Before that he was a partner at Buchman & O’Brien (one of the earliest and busiest law firms devoted to alcohol beverage law) in New York for about 10 years. After law school and before entering the alcohol beverage industry, Tom was an assistant district attorney in New York State. Not incidentally, Tom was my first boss when I was new to being a lawyer. I watched with amazement as he took over the reins in the legal department of a small spirits company that by fits and starts became a colossus.
Who were the legendary beverage lawyers before you, and what made them so? The outstanding, legendary beverage lawyer of the past few generations was Abe Buchman. I worked with Abe and his firm for 10 years and then continued to work with him when I joined Pernod Ricard. Abe was a mentor and a role model for tireless devotion to the industry. Abe taught me the necessity of finding practical solutions for our clients’ issues. Sometimes, as lawyers, we lose sight of being practical. We get hung up in the legal niceties of an issue. What Abe stressed was that we find a solution that was practical for the client and accomplished the client’s goals without running afoul of the legal requirements. Another legend was Bill Schreiber. I had the pleasure Any good stories about Abe Buchman? of working with both My first professional experience with Abe Buchman Bill and Abe when occurred about a week after I joined the Buchman the Buchman and firm in 1981 when I was called into Abe's office. He Schreiber firms merged told me that one of our major wholesalers was shut in 1986. Having both down due to a strike by the warehouse employees. Abe and Bill together He instructed me to go to the client’s headquarters in the same office was where the warehouse was located to make certain a beverage alcohol that the situation remained peaceful and calm. The lawyer’s dream come basis for my involvement in this matter, Abe said, true. With so much was that I had been a prosecutor and should be able shared knowledge to bring some "law and order" into the situation. about the law, the What Abe had not told me was that the problem was industry, and its not with the union but with our extremely volatile players and so many client. My real job was to keep our client from doing exciting projects something regrettable. I spent several days with the being worked on by client and happily reported back to Abe that all was them, it was a unique under control. I always had the sense that Abe enjoyed moment in my career. watching my “baptism by fire" from a distance.
should not be paid mere lip service. From my vantage point, responsibility was taken seriously by the members of the industry.”
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