Alex Aldridge takes notes as Hogan Lovells, Hardwicke and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives assist young entrepreneurs at Legal Cheek‘s pro bono clinic
Despite spending the past hour and a half dishing out quick fire legal advice to a queue of young start-up founders, Hogan Lovells IP solicitor Mark Marfe (pictured above right) is still sounding chirpy.
“It’s demanding but fun to think on your feet,” says Marfe, who has clearly relished the challenge — and mild chaos — of providing practical legal guidance to the entrepreneurs attending Legal Cheek advice clinic (pictured in action below), run in association with Pivotal Tribes, at the Google Campus in Shoreditch on Wednesday lunchtime.
While assisting the business hopefuls Marfe has also learned a couple of things himself; one fashion designer, for example, is worried how 3D printing could impact his designs. “We discussed the pros and cons of high end designs being available as digital files,” explains Marfe. It’s a potential threat to new products that the City law IP specialist hadn’t previously had cause to reflect upon — and will likely be relevant to Marfe’s corporate clients in the not too distant future.
IP law advice is unsurprisingly in hot demand among the entrepreneurs and wannabe entrepreneurs who populate the Silicon Roundabout area of east London around Old Street Tube station. But there is also a thirst for all sorts of other advice — from professional indemnity to distribution agreements. There is a strong demand, too, for help with general business law questions, with rookie entrepreneurs’ knowledge about the formation of companies often sketchy.
At the Google Campus Hardwicke barrister Simon Allison (pictured below) and chartered legal executive lawyer Martin Callan did their best to field such inquiries, assisting, among others, a lingerie start-up and a company making indicators for bikes.
The session is a stark contrast to the sort of pro bono typically conducted by Allison and Callan, who each give their time for free to, respectively, the Bar Pro Bono Unit and Community Links.
“It’s difficult to know who to give your time to, because the people [at the Google Campus] don’t have money to pay for legal advice today but the likelihood is that they will do in the future,” says property specialist Allison (pictured below). “Whereas people who have been evicted from their homes, and are no longer entitled to legal aid, are in a position that may not improve and could indeed get worse.”
Callan (pictured below) explains his view that the cuts will mean that the legal profession comes under increasing pressure to make pro bono compulsory.
“The cuts are here to stay; there’s nothing we can do about it,” he says, adding: “CILEx has been lobbying hard about this on behalf of our members and alongside the rest of the profession, to no avail.”
To help offset the damage, he reckons lawyers should do a mixture of free work helping people in different areas of society.
With the legal aid situation so desperate it obviously has to take priority, but as I know from personal experience (having founded Legal Cheek three years ago on a laptop at the Google Campus) goodwill from skilled professionals in the early phase of a company’s development is extremely valuable.
There is also a longer term commercial rationale to helping out start-ups. Consultant solicitor Jonathan Lea, the founder of the Pivotal Tribes events group for tech start-ups and those with an interest in entrepreneurship, is currently seeing some of his early stage clients experience rapid growth. One company, which Lea has been assisting since its embryonic days, is now working on several projects with Google, which means regular interaction with the internet giant’s panel of international law firms.
“This is a growth area for lawyers,” says Lea, who began his career with City law firm Clyde & Co before eventually going solo to become one of the best known lawyers in the London tech start-up scene. Plus, Lea continues:
“There’s a big cross over between most commercial law areas and helping start-ups, with many of the same issues affecting large and small businesses — just on a very different scale.”
Trainee solicitor Gabor Fellner, who has accompanied Hogan Lovells’ Marfe to the session, agrees:
“The setting is different, but the principle of tailoring commercial legal advice to clients in a practical way is the same.”
Legal Cheek would like to thank London Startup Events, Start Up Britain and Milo Yiannopoulos for their generous assistance promoting this event.