I just returned from a wonderful conference at Texas A&M School of Law, sponsored by the Center for Law and Intellectual Property (CLIP) and Startup Aggieland. Megan Carpenter, director of CLIP, did a wonderful job of organizing the conference, entitled “Innovation Summit: Shaping the Future of Law & Entrepreneurship”. As I listened to the speakers (of which I was one), I was inspired to gather a list of what exactly it means to be a lawyer for entrepreneurs, or an entrepreneurial lawyer. My list is below; what have I missed?
An entrepreneurial lawyer needs to have an entrepreneurial spirit and business mindset. By that, I mean:
1. The entrepreneurial lawyer must be able to assess both risks and opportunities. The entrepreneurial lawyer should not be risk averse or focus on the negative effects of every option. The entrepreneurial lawyer should recognize that risk is tolerable where there is opportunity for reward.
2. The entrepreneurial lawyer should aim to be part of the business team and be invited into business meetings, not kept outside. If the client simply hands the lawyer a term sheet to draft the deal after the business terms have already been settled, the lawyer has failed to be entrepreneurial. To be part of the team, the entrepreneurial lawyer must know the client’s business and have a solid business and financial understanding. It also helps if the lawyer is not a naysayer and can assess both risks and opportunities (see #2).
3. The entrepreneurial lawyer must be able to help her client’s “lean start-up” strategies, which includes avoiding high sunk costs when the start-up is in its early stages (e.g., avoiding high legal fees, potentially avoiding high legal costs such as patent and trademark filings and incorporation fees, at least at the pre-concept phases).
4. The entrepreneurial lawyer must be willing to find non-legal solutions to her client’s legal problems.
5. The entrepreneurial lawyer needs to break from the mechanical confines of traditional legal representation and be creative.
6. The entrepreneurial lawyer should not have a litigious mindset.
I plan to write a paper exploring the notion of an “entrepreneurial lawyer” further and how to teach such entrepreneurial skills to law students. That paper will be presented at Lewis & Clark Law School’s Fall Forum in October 2014, organized by Susan Felstiner, director of the Small Business Legal Clinic there.