Debby Winters doesn’t have the biggest or fanciest law office; in fact, the previous tenant’s company name is still on the front door at Winters’ office on South College Avenue in downtown Fayetteville.
The interior has a just-moved-in look even though Winters has been there for two years. Don’t let appearances fool you. The Winters Law Firm is considered a can’t-miss resource for the area’s startup community.
Winters opened her firm in 2004 soon after graduating from law school at the University of Arkansas. She didn’t go full time as a solo practitioner until 2011, immersing herself in the entrepreneur ecosystem of northwest Arkansas.
Winters specializes in intellectual property law and business law. IP law deals with patents, trademarks and copyrights, allowing entrepreneurs to protect their creative ideas and inventions, while business law expertise lets Winters help her clients get their companies up and running.
Fresh out of law school, Winters went to work as in-house counsel for two private companies while doing side work on her own. But when a client told her in 2011 that she was good enough and trusted enough to do her own thing full time, Winters took the leap.
“In northwest Arkansas, and Arkansas in general, it’s hard to find what we call an IP boutique, which just does intellectual property,” Winters said. “Around here most people have to do something else, especially in the past because there wasn’t enough intellectual property work. At one point one of my clients said I bet you could just do this. The startup community is growing and there is plenty of need out there.”
Entrepreneurs like the one-on-one focus a smaller firm provides. Winters is the only working attorney at her firm; she has a clerk and two “helpers.”
“I trust her completely,” said Jay Amargos of i’mindful Studio in Fayetteville. “She doesn’t have a big fancy law firm. She keeps business very simple. She really goes deep into companies. She understands your needs. She develops a relationship. That’s really valuable.”
Jeff Amerine of Startup Junkie Consulting said Winters isn’t just a lawyer doing entrepreneurs’ paperwork. She is involved in the ecosystem as an investor and a member of the ARK Challenge.
“Debby has been a pillar of the tech startup scene for the past 10-plus years,” Amerine said. “She has been one of the key resources for intellectual property legal matters and has been an active angel investor.”
Amargos, a native of Puerto Rico, formerly led Startup Junkie’s minority outreach program and regularly refers minority entrepreneurs to Winters. Winters said it also helps being a female lawyer because many startups are led by women.
“I stay busy; I don’t turn anybody away,” she said. “The way my business has grown to a large extent is word of mouth. I know what they’re going through.
“One person said, ‘Oh, we have the coolest attorney in town.’ They feel it is not so corporate.”
If not the coolest, Winters might just be the smartest. Before going into law, she was a UA professor with a degree in biochemistry and molecular biology, not to mention a Ph.D. from the University of Georgia.
“She’s bad ass,” Amargos said. “She is the whole package. I consider her a part of my team, not just my lawyer.”