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We asked attorneys and law students throughout the nation what are some things a law student should do if they are interested in start-up law. Their opinions and positive advice should help law students make the right decisions. We hope you find their responses useful.
There are many different types of start-ups, from solo businesses to small business start-ups to a large company purchasing an emerging competitor. There are also many fields for start-ups: technology being the giant, as well as local business, online business, and others.
The back bone of starting any business is the same: choosing the structure, the state of organization, the liability analysis and prevention, insurance, trademark, copyright, and other IP protection. From there it starts to become industry specific. I would recommend a solid business law background, a focus on the niche of your familiarity and experience (for me, it is horses, so I help equestrian businesses start up), and then network as much as possible in that industry. Know the non-legal language of the industry inside and out. Make them feel like you are one of them, and not a lawyer on a pedestal. Learn how to explain things in a non-intimidating manner, with confidence. An internship in the industry, even if not in the legal department, would be invaluable!
I'm a startup attorney in San Francisco and am teaching a course on Startup Companies and Venture Capital Transactions at USF Law this Fall.
In addition to the routine (take startup and venture classes, work for a Silicon Valley firm), here are my top recommendations:
Learn about business, start a business, run a business. Startups need practical advice, and you can deliver that best when you know exactly what the startup founders are going through.
Increase your comfort with technology. Always be learning. Make sure you are a whiz with computers, particularly some things lawyers don't usually use: spreadsheets. They are an integral part of business. Learn about the tech behind cloud computing, mobile technology, etc.
Work on your soft skills: negotiation, networking, organization, and marketing. Startups require their founders and employees to wear a lot of hats, and they want the same from their lawyers.
Get comfortable with risk. Lawyers by training want to be complete and eliminate all risk, but startups thrive on risks.
Make sure you have a broad-based general background in many areas of the law. Startups come in all shapes and sizes and all levels of background, education and sophistication. You will be asked to give advice on a wide range of legal issues.
You will probably get plenty of responses from students, career counselors and attorneys telling you that students should learn how to handle various 'Internet age' issues - lots of really interesting and sexy stuff. I am going to provide some more grounded advice...
...but first, who am I? My name is Michael Simon. I am a licensed attorney (nearly 7 years of trial practice in Chicago area) who left to help found a dot-com doing automated legal research. I have worked for major law firms and IT companies. I was the Technology Counsel at a successful eDiscovery start up and now I am co-founder of an eDiscovery Expert Consulting firm. I also teach eDiscovery at Boston University Law School.
So, enough with the credentials, here is my advice: learn the basics of law that will make you absolutely indispensable on a day-to-day basis to any start up. Pay close attention in your Contracts courses. You will be called on over and over again to draft contracts, standard agreements and negotiate deals with customers/partners/vendors/etc. If you can gain experience with software and services agreements, even better - perhaps through advanced courses or clinics (BU offers some great clinics and practical courses).
Take Corporations and pay attention there too. You will need to advise your co-founders/constituents how they should set up the corporate entity (S Corp? C Corp? LLC as a pass-through?), how to do it correctly and when/why to change things. You will need to provide strong, solid advice in the face of outside investor demands so that your team knows what the true impact of their demands will be (i.e. who gets to run the place).
A basic Tax class wouldn't hurt either and some schools (like my alma mater, Loyola of Chicago) require it. Tax knowledge will come in handy when you need to select and explain corporate structure options.
And finally, take at least an intro class in Intellectual Property, even if you are never going to become a Patent attorney. This is the one area that I skipped that I still regret. Understanding what kinds of IP rights your startup will have and how to protect them is critical. Equally critical is understanding how not to infringe someone else's rights.
eDiscovery Expert Consulting
Michael Simon Ronin and Co-Founder
Build a strong network. Develop people skills. Get out and meet people.
Intern/Clerk with a law firm that caters to start up clients.
If there is a particular industry of start-ups that you are interested in, be involved in that community, i.e., network and socialize with people outside of law school. Know their 'language' and customs, i.e., a black t-shirt, hoodie, and jeans a la Mark Zuckerberg are standard in the tech industry. The clientele will be comfortable if you are one of them (or at least understand them).
That being said, keep it professional. Avoid intimate relationships in the workplace that shed you in an unprofessional light.
-Tisha Dodge, founder of Dodge Legal Group, PC.
Intern at a firm that has a start-up law practice so you can start learning on the job. Get as much experience as you can. Real world exposure is key to really understanding the risks your clients will face. Find a lawyer in the start-up space that can be a mentor and give you guidance.
Plus, get involved in the startup community by attending events so you can start building relationships - this could be how you find future clients. Research startup law issues and learn everything you can on your own. If you're around the startup community you'll quick begin to learn what issues they face.
Managing attorney of Meyer Law
A boutique law firm that specializes in technology and advises startups
I am a new associate with Gross McGinley, LLP, LLP, but had my own practice 1 year out of law school for the past 5+ years. I have given 2 CLEs on setting up a solo practice, as well as mistakes to avoid.
If a student wishes to start a practice, my first piece of advice is to start early and find a mentor! I would also recommend that the student join their local bar association and the solo/small firm section. Get involved as soon as possible and seek the guidance of both the more experienced practitioners and also the new solos. Remember that students these days can provide a great deal of information to the older practitioners (the students are probably more tech savvy).
In addition, join the American Bar Association Solosez listserv! It's a free listserv and you do NOT have to actually be a member of the ABA to join.
-David W. Crosson
Attorney at Law www.GrossMcGinley.com
1. If interested in start-up law, a student needs to make sure they take every opportunity to demonstrate their business savvy, especially in reaching out to start-ups. Many law schools offer legal clinics to help small businesses with taxes, contracts, or intellectual property. A law student uniquely positions himself or herself when he or she comes to a potential employer with a list of projects already accomplished and a list of clients and contacts in the business community.
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