Big Law Alums seek to grow tech startup scene in New York

By: Nell Gluckman, The Am Law Daily

New York Skyline

Several former Am Law 100 associates are at the center of an effort to position New York City as an alternative to Silicon Valley for technology startups. The city’s robust legal scene, meanwhile, is anxious to get involved.

A new nonprofit, Tech:NYC, launched this week with the goal of advocating regulators and lawmakers to make the city an easy place for tech and Internet companies to get off the ground. The membership organization’s founding executive director, Julie Samuels, is a former Big Law associate, as are several board members.

“New companies are growing quickly,” Samuels said. “They need legal help, and there are plenty of lawyers who want to provide that legal help.”

Samuels, a former associate at Loeb & Loeb and Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, which merged into what is now Dentons, said that the legal work young technology and Internet companies need is only going to get more important as regulators and policymakers start paying them more attention.

Tech:NYC hopes to be on the forefront of that effort. The nonprofit will try to influence legislation in New York when it comes to issues such as data security, privacy, immigration and taxation. The group’s projects have yet to be fully determined, but Samuels expects that they will also work to ensure that high-speed Internet becomes ubiquitous and that computer science is taught in schools.

The nonprofit’s outside counsel is Gunderson Dettmer Stough Villeneuve Franklin & Hachigian, a 200-lawyer firm well-known in the tech sector for advising venture capital firms and emerging growth companies. So far, Gunderson is the only law firm member of Tech:NYC. The lead lawyer on the project is Kenneth McVay, a founding partner of Gunderson’s New York office.

Samuels (pictured right) joined Tech:NYC after serving as president of the San Francisco-based Engine Advocacy & Engine Research Foundation, a two-year stint that followed the nearly four years she spent as a senior attorney and Mark Cuban chair to eliminate stupid patents at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She said the New York legal scene is ready for a tech boom, but that some new companies in the big city are probably not yet profitable enough to endure Big Law legal fees.

“They’re going to have figure that out,” said Tech:NYC board member Reshma Saujani of the law firms. Saujani, a former Davis Polk & Wardwell associate who made an unsuccessful run for Congress in 2010, founded the nonprofit Girls Who Code, which teaches computer skills to young women. Schulte Roth & Zabel tax partner Dan Kusnetz serves as the organization’s outside counsel, Saujani said.

Some Am Law 100 firms are experimenting with different fee structures for startups. Perkins Coie, for example, announced in March that it will offer a 15 percent discount to startups that are founded or led by women.

Big firms are also positioning themselves to support the growth of the startup industry in New York by recruiting lateral partner hires that work with venture capital and emerging company clients.

Latham & Watkins recently added Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe’s David Concannon, while Perkins Coie landed Charles Torres, co-chair of Lowenstein Sandler’s Brooklyn Entrepreneurship Center and startup practice, as a partner in New York. Lowenstein immediately sought to restock its local tech expertise by adding Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo corporate partner Evan Bienstock.

Saujani agreed that regulatory work is becoming increasingly important for tech companies as they grow into international corporations.

“The question for startups here is going to be, ‘How do you get legal counsel when you’re starting?’” she said. “But then the Airbnb’s of the world are going to need attorneys helping out in [the regulatory] space.”

In addition to Saujani, another Tech:NYC board member with an Am Law 100 background is William Floyd, a former senior adviser at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips in New York who now serves as head of external affairs for Google New York, the local affiliate of the Internet giant, which tapped Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson to advise on its $1.8 billion buy of its own Big Apple headquarters in 2010.


View source version on The American Lawyer.