Legal clinic to offer support to tech startups

Norton Rose Fulbright LLP is partnering up with MaRS Discovery District to launch a legal clinic dedicated to serving innovative tech startups.

The clinic will help startups with regulatory matters and legal issues including intellectual property, business immigration, and mergers.

Basic services offered through the clinic will be free, but the law firm says it has also prepared packages with predictable fee arrangements for larger blocks of legal services. Tech companies must be venture clients of the MaRS information communications and technology service team to be eligible for the clinic’s services.

According to Anthony de Fazekas, partner at Norton Rose Fulbright, there’s much to gain for the firm by investing in promising ideas and building relationships with tech entrepreneurs.

While big technology companies have large in-house legal teams, the ones in their early stage don’t, and they have “a tremendous need for legal services,” de Fazekas says.

MaRS’s venture clients also have a global focus, which makes them a good fit for Norton Rose, adds de Fazekas. The firm, which is industry-focused, also gains “cutting edge industry knowledge” by working with startups, he notes.

The loyalty that’s built early on with a tech company is often strong, and can last a very long time, according to de Fazekas.

“This is part of the economy that’s very fluid so people that you work with on one venture move into other positions later on, or start a new venture altogether. So certainly, there can be tremendous payoffs.”

Norton Rose’s articling students will be working at the clinic, which makes the firm “as attractive as we can be” to the next generation of legal talent, de Fazekas says.

Norton Rose’s move is part of a larger recognition by law firms that investing in tech startups could result in big business gains in the future if entrepreneurs succeed.

In an interview with Law Times, Debbie Weinstein of LaBarge Weinstein LLP said her firm either defers or writes off fees charged to startups if they’re unable to pay, a commitment she says pays off in the long run.

“Think about it,” she said, “You’re basically saying you’re going to stand behind your client and you’re going to hope that they can succeed and if they don’t succeed, you’re not going to get paid.”

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