N.Y. Law Firm Offers Free Legal Services to Technology Startups

A New York City law firm recently said that it will provide no-strings-attached, free legal services to selected technology startups, offering to help fledgling companies address key issues such as preparing corporate documents, reviewing intellectual property issues, drafting privacy policies and crafting website terms of use.

The law firm, Shahmoon & Ellisen LLP, is calling its offer the Tech Law Project. To attract applicants, the firm has constructed a website that describes the project, outlines its services and houses an application for interested parties. In addition, the law firm has put up a Facebook page and opened a Twitter account.

The idea behind the project is to "help entrepreneurs avoid common and preventable mistakes" typically associated with starting new businesses, said Hays Ellisen, a partner in the law firm with Eli Shahmoon.

"Technology startups are a major engine driving job growth in today's challenging economy," said Shahmoon. "However, high legal costs may lead founders to not seek legal advice in the critical formative stages of a company," he said.

"The Tech Law Project provides founders with free legal services so that they may create the jobs that fuel economic growth while avoiding future legal pitfalls," he said.

Ellisen said that watching the recent hit film, The Social Network, which chronicles Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's legal troubles, cemented the idea for the project.

"The Tech Law Project can help newly forming tech companies avoid destructive disputes by offering a wide range of absolutely free legal services," he said.

Last October, the attorneys began in earnest to solicit and process applications. They've not put any restrictions on who can apply nor have they identified specifically what they're looking for in a candidate other than they don't want any fly-by-nighters.

"We're looking for serious, dedicated tech startups," Ellisen said.

From applications received so far, the law firm has accepted three applicants and expects to approve many more. Ellisen said that his firm has the resources and capacity to work with about 20 tech startups at a time.

"We have finite resources and they go just so far, and to provide individual counsel we have to somewhat limit the number," he said.

Applicants need not operate in New York to garner Ellisen and Shahmoon's free legal services. Although the attorneys are licensed in New York, many of the services they plan to provide are not specific to a particular state's laws, Ellisen said.

It's interesting that the attorneys aren't asking for anything in return for helping the tech startups they engage. While it's not unusual for law firms providing upfront assistance to startup companies to request an equity stake or chart some other avenue for future compensation, Ellisen and Shahmoon are taking their chances that working for free might generate new business sometime down the road.

"There's no quid pro quo," Ellisen said. "But we do hope that the companies we work with will come back to us in the future," he said.

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