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Hospitality law expert to tackle contract negotiation

Nathan Breen

Meeting planners who attend Nathan Breen’s session on contracts at the 2012 Small Market Meetings Conference Oct. 28-30 in Jacksonville, Fla., won’t walk away with law degrees. What they will gain is the ability to recognize potential problems with future contracts.

In Breen’s seminars, as in the classes he teaches at two Chicago-area colleges, the Chicago lawyer tries to build awareness.

“What I try to do is put out enough information that the attendees will know that they have an issue,” said Breen. “They might not know how to solve their problem, but they will at least know there is a legal issue to be concerned about. And that is extremely valuable.”

Partner in Chicago law firm

Breen, a partner in the Chicago firm Howe and Hutton, has become known as an expert in hospitality law.

After graduating from John Marshall Law School in Chicago, he began working with the not-for-profit associations that make up most of Howe and Hutton’s clients.

Breen discovered that in addition to the intellectual property issues that are his area of specialty, many associations needed assistance with contracts and other legal issues that pertained to their meetings and conventions.

He also began to teach hospitality law at Lexington College and later at Kendall College. Breen now teaches hospitality law at both schools; at Kendall he also teaches an online course. Most of his students are event planners.

Intricacies are intimidating
Breen realizes that contracts and their intricacies can be intimidating. He tells meeting planners what he tells his hospitality law students.

“It is not realistic that you will take one undergraduate law class and solve all your own legal problems. But when something comes up, you know enough to say, ‘This is a legal issue, and I know how to handle it, or I at least know I have to get more information.”

Attending conferences like the Small Market Meetings Conference gives the lawyer a chance to talk to planners about the issues they face.

“It is my opportunity to get a better sense of what is going on in the field,” Breen said. “Ultimately, I work in a law office. I’m not doing what they do every day. They get to tell me ‘Hey, this is what I’m seeing; this is what the big issues have been for us.’”

In his talks about contracts, Breen typically covers cancellation, attrition, indemnification and force majeure. “I stick to the issues that people usually want to talk about,” he said.

He will also point out areas within contracts where venues are willing to negotiate.

“You might not realize that you can ask the hotel for certain concessions that they might be perfectly willing to provide but that they are not going to put out there on their own.”