Attorney Sean R. Weissbart and his Work that Positively Impacts the Food Industry
At a recent food and wine event, we had the pleasure of meeting Sean R. Weissbart, a trusts & estates and non-profit lawyer from New York City. He creates, advises and registers a variety of charities across many sectors and states, and works with individuals on plans for charitable giving that include food. Sean gives lectures across the USA, from NYC to Honolulu, about charities and charitable giving. In addition to law practice, he is a member of the adjunct faculty at New York University School of Law and Fordham University School of Law and has been listed as a "Rising Star" in Super Lawyers Magazine since 2015.
We were particularly interested in his role as a board member and general counsel to the men'tor BKB Foundation that supports and sponsors the USA team in the Bocuse d'Or world-wide culinary competition. The Foundation raises money to support and train the USA team and give scholarships to young chefs, and Sean advises on all legal and non-profit issues for the Foundation. In addition, Sean does an impressive amount of altruistic service. He is the winner of MFY Legal Services "Justice Award" for outstanding pro bono representation.
Broadwayworld.com Food and Wine interviewed Sean about his career and how it led him to work with clients in the Food Services industry.
Tell us a little about your education and how it influenced the direction of your law practice.
After graduating New York University and Fordham Law School, I spent four years in the litigation department of a top NYC law firm representing corporations in lawsuits involving contracts, intellectual property, or other deals. Although I enjoyed being surrounded by intelligent colleagues in a fast-paced environment, I believed I'd be more impactful working with individual clients on the matters most important to them: family, wealth, and philanthropy. My favorite classes in college and law school involved tax, estate planning, and personal finance. This motivated me to join my current law firm, Morris & McVeigh LLP, a boutique NYC law firm in continuous existence since 1862 that focused on trusts and estates and tax-exempt organizations. Shortly after making the switch, I went to law school for a second time, taking classes at night, to obtain a legal masters degree in tax law from New York University School of Law. My tax expertise allows me to advise interesting people from all disciplines and areas of the world on transferring their wealth in a tax-efficient matter and making the philanthropic impact they desire while complying with our tax laws that regulate creation of charities and charitable giving.
How can ordinary individuals make plans to be a part of charitable giving with food and other goods?
There are a plethora of charitable opportunities in NYC. Individuals can obtain an income tax deduction if they donate food to charities. If the value of the contribution is $250 or more, the tax law requires individuals to substantiate the deduction with written documentation from the charity. Another common way to get involved with food-related charities is by volunteering, but unfortunately, the tax law provides no benefits or deductions for time spent volunteering. Finally, individuals could consider forming their own food-related charity. To form a charity, you need to file an application with the Internal Revenue Service at the cost of $600 that demonstrates the organization will operate for an acceptable charitable purpose. Within the food world, the sky is the limit for acceptable charitable purposes but some examples to demonstrate the broad scope include charities that conduct classes and publish material about healthy eating, raise money to assist lower-income neighborhoods with access to food, provide food to the homeless, of offer classes about culinary arts or global cuisine.
Why do you find your current work with non-profits so rewarding?
By forming charities, I assist clients in making an impact on the areas that matter most to them. The scope of this work has ranged from creating an art gallery to feature artists with degenerative diseases in honor of a client's spouse who died of such a disease; creating a restaurant that gives vouchers to lower-income individuals to eat for free while simultaneously teaching them about healthy eating; to forming a food-production business operated exclusively by young people with high-functioning autism. Beyond helping clients to fulfill their dreams, this work sometimes provides the opportunity to participate in very unique experiences, and the most special moment, for me, came in January 2017 at the bi-annual Bocuse d'Or culinary competition (often described as the Olympics of culinary arts). I both represent and serve on the board of the ment'or BKB Foundation, which sponsors and trains the USA team for the competition. I experienced real national pride by seeing our American team win the gold medal for the first time in the 30-year history of the competition, and I am looking forward to history repeating itself for our country in the upcoming Bocuse d'Or in January 2019.
We'd love to know a little more about your position working with ment'or BKB Foundation and the USA team in the Bocuse d'or worldwide culinary competition that raises money for scholarships for young chefs.
I serve as general counsel to the Foundation, which means I oversee all legal issues ranging from review of contracts with vendors to compliance with IRS requirements on administering our scholarship program that provides opportunities for young chefs to train in top kitchens across the world. I also chair our young professional events, which bring together our under-40 supporters for unique culinary experiences while learning about our mission.
Can you tell us a little about your pro bono work?
I regularly devote over 100 hours a year to pro bono work. I'm proud to have received the MFY Legal Services "Justice Award" for my pro bono representation of a mentally handicapped women in a will contest. I have also provided pro bono legal services to Maya's Hope, a charity that raises money to improve the lives of orphans across the world and offered estate-planning services to lower-income clients dying of debilitating diseases.
We know you do a lot of traveling with your job and have opportunities to top cuisine. Do you have any particular chefs or styles of food that you enjoy?
One of the best things about traveling is getting to experience a new place through its food. Although I'm fortunate to have experienced some of the top restaurants in the world, some of my most memorable culinary experiences have come from local places such as street taquerias in Mexico City, neighborhood restaurants serving tagines in Marrakesh, and croissants from bakeries in France.
Is there anything else you want our Food and Wine Readers to know?
I've had a great career helping clients make an impact with philanthropy in the areas that matter most to them. No matter you're interest, if you have a desire to give your time, money, or creativity, you can find - or even create - a charity that ignites you.
To learn more about Sean Robert Weissbart, Esq., Counsel, Morris & McVeigh LLP and Adjunct Professor of Law, New York University School of Law, visit his profile on Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sean-r-weissbart-8477652. He can also be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Sean Weissbart