Office Hours: I've founded the only law firm exclusively representing marginalized and under-represented founders and fund managers.Featured
Hi everyone! I’m Aravinda Seshadri. In the middle of last year, I founded my law firm Venturous Counsel, to exclusively support marginalized and under-represented groups in tech as outside general counsel. I went to Stanford Law School: I knew I wanted to work with startups, so I joined a large law firm with a good reputation for working with tech startups. I quickly learned that large law firms aren’t optimized for working with small companies. The economic incentives aren’t aligned: they’re often out chasing huge IPO and M&A deals because they bring in a lot of money for the firm (and staffing the attorneys who thought they’d get startup work on those deals!). I joined a colleague of mine who felt the same way and had left to found Silicon Legal Strategy, focusing on early stage startups and investors investing in that space. I was happy there for 8 years, and as a partner for 5 years, but began to realize a disconnect: even though our firm was diverse, our client roster wasn’t.Although boutique law firms are better at representing startups, they don’t do a lot of marketing/outreach (no budget), which means that people outside their networks don’t know about them. And even worse, most boutiques prefer clients who were referred, further segregating networks. This leaves under-represented founders at a loss, looking for good legal counsel and often ending up with a large law firm that overcharges and underdelivers. Of all of the people paying that large law firm “tax” in startup, I didn’t want it to be the under-represented founders and fund managers, who already face all sorts of other hurdles. Instead, I wanted to make sure those people had an even better chance of succeeding, with seasoned, practical and mindful legal counsel. That is what led me to found Venturous Counsel. Now my days are spent ensuring the people I want to see more of in tech are matched with the right legal resource and my newfound mission has been transformative in how I feel about my job and my life.All of which is to say, I’m super excited to be here to answer your questions! Ask me anything about my journey, random legal questions, or anything else! If it’s a detailed legal question, I might have to set up a time to discuss it with you offline, but I can promise that my goal is to see you succeed and I will do my best to that end in whatever way I can!
Thanks so much for joining us for Office Hours, Aravinda!Hi Elpha – Please ask Aravinda all your questions before this Thursday. She may not have time to answer every single one, so please emoji up vote the ones you'd most like her to answer.
Thanks for having me - excited to be a member of this community!
Hi Aravinda; Tysm for your OH here. My question is what I’m doing competes with FAMGA in some ways; I filed patents 2 1/2 years ago but I haven’t heard a thing from USPTO. Is there any chance that they are going to actually grant them Or am I just wasting $? Thx again! (do you represent female founders)?
Hi Jo,If you haven't consulted with a patent expert, that would be the first step. I'm not a patent expert, but you can always reach out to me for a referral ([email protected]). If you are working with patent counsel and are not sure, you can always get a second opinion. I do know the patent process takes time and is a significant investment. As I mentioned above, you may consider other strategies for protecting your IP as well.
Hi AravindaYour work is impressive. Please I will like to know all of what you think are important to enable a startup get patent for their app idea knowing there are so many varieties of apps out there doing slightly the same thing or providing slightly similar services.At what point do you consider yours proprietary to consider getting a patent for it?
Hi Chess, good question, but I want to flag that patents are not the only way to protect your intellectual property (IP). Copyright, trade secrets, trademarks, all of these systems also help to protect your IP and are often less expensive. So it’s worth it to take a moment and ask what you want out of the patent and whether that will be worth the investment in the patent application process. That said, if you think there is something truly novel about your app and you want to pursue the patent process, I think it's worth chatting with one or two patent counsel to get their take. The counsel I work with don't charge for the intake/discovery discussion, so email me at [email protected] and I'll check conflicts for you to see if I can make an intro. Be prepared with an understanding of what is novel in your product to discuss your strategy.
Hello Aravinda, thank you for taking time to answer questions.I was wondering what your views were on legal tech in general and (as it appears to me) why are many firms slow to adopt newer technologies?My second question concerns NDAs. In your view, do they give an adequate protection against ideas being stolen?Thank you
Olia, these are good questions. I'll answer the second one first: NDAs are good to have, but are notoriously difficult to enforce. That said, disclosure isn't an "all-or-nothing" approach, so my advice to clients is to sign the NDA, but stage any release of confidential information over time (do not give away the "secret sauce" or core trade secrets in your first meeting!). Try to assess the kind of partner they are (reach out to former partners, etc. to determine their reputation) and to try and obtain other means of ensuring compliance, such as social measures (publicizing the relationship), or a contractual relationship where the counterparty's interest is aligned with your success. Also don't try to get investors to sign NDAs before you pitch them - they won't, it's not standard and asking for one makes you look paranoid or naive. Just make sure that your pitch doesn't go into detail on the secret sauce either.To your second question, it does seem like there are so many elements of legal work that are rote/repeatable and that technology can not only reduce costs, but reduce errors in those areas. However, A couple things are at play:- Most large law firms are slow to change because they've been around for 50-100 or more years. Age tends to lead to organizational ossification and an "if it's not broke, don't fix it" mentality.- Most lawyers bill by the hour, including me (those who offer flat-fee payment are typically giving you a rate that is a bit above the average, so the clients who are organized and need less guidance and help are subsidizing those who are disorganized and take up more legal time, which doesn't seem fair to me). So if a law firm is billing out paralegal work by the hour, for example, why would they pay for a solution that then reduces the hours for which they can bill for that paralegal's work? While the individual associate may feel discomfort (as I did) with this approach, the large law firm is unlikely to change its structure if it means they make less money. - Even though it seems like much of it is rote, a lot of it still requires a human to analyze, work with the client and make the right decisions at a lot of points during the flow. So it takes a LOT of time, working side by side with lawyers, to design something that is workable from a legal perspective. Most startups don't have this approach and commitment (and even if they try and are well funded, like a startup many here have heard about, it hasn't worked out).There is good news: while adoption has been slow, I think it's picking up steam and there are numerous technologies out there that savvy lawyers use: Carta/captable.io - onboarding to these platforms later tends to be a costly and painful process, but if you onboard clients early, you can reduce transaction costs and time spent on (let's be honest, boring admin) tasks. DocuSign and Dropbox also reduce paper and paper-shuffling costs and allow clients access to their own documents. I actually encourage all new clients I encounter that want to incorporate to use Clerky. It was built by former lawyers and only tackles those truly automatable aspects of legal documentation like incorporation. And the flexibility of these savvier lawyers and small law firms has put pressure on larger law firms to innovate and figure out ways to be more efficient.
Thank you for holding Office Hours, Aravinda! For the founders out there who have an idea, but have not yet formed their company, what advice do you have for them regarding the various options they have to incorporate (online legal solutions vs. botique law firms vs. big firms), what should they be thinking about in selecting a legal partner, and what advantages do specialized firms such as yours bring to the table that other firms might lack?
Hi Lauren, happy to help!I strongly recommend Clerky for incorporation if you want to eventually raise funding. The other options are not as good and will require more time and $$ for your lawyer to fix, when you eventually hire them.The unique advantage that my firm provides is that the entire purpose of the firm is to help level the playing field for diverse founders/fund managers, so they can have a better shot at being successful and help diversify the tech/startup industry. I don't think any other lawyer or firm can provide that level of goal alignment. My billing rate is less than half what it would be at a large firm, given my level of experience and expertise. I set it at that level because it allows me to help a broader range of clients than just those who could afford a large law firm's rates. I am delighted to adopt technical solutions to avoid the amount of paper-pushing and (let's be honest) boring work I would bill you for, as it frees up my time to focus on higher leverage, more interesting work that can actually help you succeed. I also work with my clients especially in the early stages to figure out how to stage projects or involve them in ways that will reduce their legal bill. Fundamentally, you want to find a lawyer you can trust as a long-term partner, to enable you to focus on what you're best at - growing your business. You can find that lawyer anywhere, but the search can be painful and tiring. To that end, my mission is not to represent every diverse founder/fund manager, but to be a resource and help match them with the right legal resource for them - that's part of the pro bono aspect of my firm.
Hi Aravinda! Thank you so much for taking the time for Office Hours and for founding such a much-needed venture!I'm in the process of launching my Minimum Viable Product, and my startup is in the mental healthcare industry, which means that I have to consider all of the legal ramifications (and requirements) of my decisions, including HIPAA requirements, potential liability for getting sued by patients, etc. Am I right that it's important to get legal advice early (and each time a pivot occurs) when you are in the healthcare industry? And how would you suggest finding a lawyer who specializes in legal requirements for mental healthcare providers?
Sure Lindy - happy to help!To your broader question, it's always a difficult line to walk as a startup in terms of how much of your spend should be on creating the product, and how much on making sure it doesn't cause harm or bankrupt the business. It really is a risk/reward analysis and it depends on your particular factors. I'm happy to help you evaluate some of the risks/rewards and to help put you in touch with regulatory experts - lets connect!
Thanks for the office hours! Question: what insurance do you recommend for CPG startups? We have general liability ($2M) and worker’s compensation. Considering others and would love your thoughts!
Hi Halle, you're very welcome!The right insurance coverage for you depends on your stage/type of product/potential market. I will say that the fact that you even have insurance puts you ahead of the pack! For most startups, their insurance is the existence of a legal entity that will limit their liability (which by the way, only an LLC or corporation, not a sole proprietorship, will do). Happy to chat with you a bit and connect you with a couple of insurance brokers who may be able to give more context and advise as to other options.
Hi AravindaMy second question to you is to know how much it costs to get -a customized B.A.A agreement for ones startup-a privacy statement created for a health care-related startup -a "terms of service" document created for my startup Thanks
Chess, happy to chat with you to figure out what you need and match you with the right resource. Please email me at [email protected].