Major Legal Pitfalls for Startups – The Case for Hiring a Lawyer before you “Start Up” – Part 2

 

In this two part series, Kelly Laffey discusses the legal pitfalls that startups can avoid when forming their company. Kelly counsels clients on issues related to corporate governance, mergers and acquisitions matters, and securities regulation and compliance. She also assists with financing for large private corporations, and entity formation and succession planning for professional services firms. Kelly provides general business counseling on a variety of up-and-coming regulatory issues for small and emerging companies that offer commercial services, allowing them to explore new business opportunities in various states. Drawing on her diverse work experience in the entertainment arena, including time spent with talent agencies, and music and television production companies, Kelly also assists on matters related to licensing, marketing, and exploitation of intellectual property rights.

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In Part 1 of this series, I described some typical legal problems that startup companies face when they try to go it alone in the early stages of their business related to choice of entity form and jurisdiction and common issues that arise with respect to division of equity.  In this part 2, I discuss issues related to securities laws and intellectual property and finally offer some words of advice regarding how to manage the costs of hiring an attorney early on.

Compliance with Securities Laws

Any issuance of securities, meaning stock, LLC interests, options, warrants, convertible notes, convertible securities (or SAFEs) and more, will be subject to federal and state securities laws.  Startup companies often need to find an exemption to the registration requirements of federal securities laws until they are ready to go public.  Securities law is a large and complex subject that really requires a good corporate attorney to help explain those obligations relevant to a particular company in a particular given circumstance.  Failure to comply with securities laws can result in a huge financial burden on the company, the founders and recipients of equity, including employees and investors, when fines are imposed or the recipients are forced to pay a much higher price for the equity than what was intended.  An experienced securities practitioner can help you find the right exemption and implement the right process to avoid fines and adverse consequences.

Protecting Your Intellectual Property and Employment Issues

It is critical to have proper employment documentation in place and such documentation should properly protect the company’s intellectual property.  Typical employment agreements include “at-will” offer letters, independent contractor agreements, consultant or advisor agreements and stock incentive award documents.  Employment laws vary from state to state so depending on what state you’re in, you may need to include specific provisions to comply with applicable state law. One of the most important employment documents which every employee (including co-founders) should sign is a proprietary or confidential information and inventions assignment agreement.  This document ensures the company’s confidential information will remain confidential and that any ideas, work product or deliverables created by the company’s employees while working for the company will be owned by the company.  These agreements generally prevent key employees who have developed significant intellectual property for the company from claiming rights in such intellectual property in the event that they leave.

Trying To Do It Yourself

For the reasons stated above and many more, one of the biggest mistakes a company can make is trying to do the legal formation work on their own or with an inexperienced legal service provider.  All of the mistakes described above are correctable but correcting them takes time and can incur greater cost than getting professional advice from the beginning.  Many firms have very reasonable startup packages for early stage companies that include both forming the company properly and providing a suite of documents covering most, if not all, of the above issues for the company’s use, for a very reasonable flat fee.  These packages are designed to get the company started and provide you with the basic forms of agreements you need to be protected.  Once these are put in place, the company is unlikely to incur significant legal costs until it raises capital or undergoes another significant event.  While a startup package fee may still seem like a significant amount of money to spend in a company’s early stages, the value is immeasurable over the life and success of the business.

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For more information about Startup Formation and other emerging growth issues, contact Kelly Laffey at klaffey@stubbsalderton.com.

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