Startups need legal services that can be billed differently and an educational resource that can tell them what services they need at each stage of their development, a couple of Little Rock attorneys told Arkansas Business recently.
That’s where WLJ Tech Law, a practice group of the Wright Lindsey Jennings law firm, which has offices in Little Rock and Rogers, comes in. The group was formed in 2018 and resides at the Little Rock Technology Park downtown.
Tech law is a broad term that can be applied to services required of any company that uses technology — every company is a technology company in some ways — but it mostly refers to intellectual property work, such as the filing of patents and trademarking names; contract review; copyright issues and licensing agreements; nondisclosure agreements; and employment contracts.
Brandon Middleton, a lead attorney with the group, offered some insight as to what’s different about this area of practice.
“I think the biggest difference is not necessarily the way you approach the law, because the general legal principles aren’t different. But it’s the ability to understand the inner workings of a company, … not only the fast-paced nature of a startup, but the priorities of technology companies. The jargon is big,” Middleton said. “I think, for a client, it’s valuable to have really a partner in the law rather than just a one-off, I-need-help-with-this-issue. And you’re not going to get that from someone who doesn’t have any interest in what the business is doing.”
With that in mind, WLJ Tech Law was formed to centralize WLJ attorneys who are interested in technology law and to make this area of practice more visible and accessible. But the group benefits from decades of experience the full-service law firm already had at hand, he said.
It is composed of “a handful of attorneys from different practice areas” and has five to 10 Tech Park clients, although the exact number of clients is hard to pin down because the group is not separate from the firm, Middleton said.
“The work we do is geared toward those [tech and startup] companies, but it’s not exclusive to those companies, nor is it exclusive to this group,” he said. WLJ Tech Law has “grown into an initiative to not only provide legal resources to tech companies and entrepreneurs but really to support the industry.”
WLJ Chief Operating Officer Adrienne Baker said the group was formed because “we really believe that startups in the technology sector and outside the technology sector are the future of the state of Arkansas. It grows the economy here in the state and nationally, internationally.”
Middleton said the group’s aim is to be a lifelong partner and keep these clients out of legal trouble by taking preventive action.
“From a legal standpoint, and also just from a business standpoint, these technology companies, particularly startups, are working with a pretty fast-paced, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants business approach,” he said.
So they need flexibility when it comes to getting legal service. For example, when appropriate, WLJ Tech Law bills by project, instead of by the hour, and offers monthly payments because startups don’t have the financial resources of established companies. They need a more concrete line item for their tight budgets, Middleton said.
Baker said, “I feel like a lot of times, with tech companies in particular, they think they need to go to a major national law firm and New York or Silicon Valley, and pay this insane rate to those attorneys there. One of the things that I think we’ve tried to do with our tech group, and certainly in our office in the Tech Park, is let people know there’s someone literally right down the hall to help you with these same issues.
“I think being available to them, at the rates we’re able to be available at, as compared to a San Francisco rate or a New York rate, has made getting legal help more accessible to these companies.”
In addition, WLJ Tech Law has hosted presentations and workshops on what legal steps startups should be taking and when. They need to know what is business-critical and has to be done right away and what can wait, Middleton said.
To provide educational resources, the group has partnered with entrepreneurial support organizations Startup Junkie in Fayetteville, the Venture Center, the Tech Park, ReMix Ideas of Little Rock and Winrock International’s Delta I-Fund, an accelerator for entrepreneurs in the eight-state Delta Regional Authority territory.