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The Privacy Advisor | Startup seeking legal guidance? Student group Legal Garage can help Related reading: Privacy leaders: How COVID-19 impacts privacy programs

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For startup companies, the development from a concept to reality can be filled with questions. How do they patent their product? Will they need a privacy policy? Terms of service? Employee contracts?

To give early-stage companies a solid legal foundation and empower students with hands-on experience as they work to become practicing attorneys, the UC Hastings Law School created the Startup Legal Garage. The program matches qualified startups with a supervising attorney from a top law firm and two law students, who offer legal resources free of charge at the school’s Center for Innovation in San Francisco, California. Services include privacy policies, regulatory research, incorporation, trademark, vendor, customer and employment contracts, basic funding work, and more.

Now in its 10th year, the program is looking for partner startups for the fall semester. Applications open June 22 at www.startuplegalgarage.org/applications and will be considered on a rolling basis until July 17.

“The point of the program, of course, is the students learn to be lawyers,” Center for Innovation Deputy Director and Assistant Professor of Practice Paul Belonick said. “I’m not interested in will they make a billion dollars. What I’m interested in is do they have a solid company with a solid plan that is going to yield a good deal of work for my students so they can learn something.”

Startups, which each have a unique tech component and are from a plethora of industries around the country and in Silicon Valley, effectively become a client for one semester at no cost. They could be in bitcoin or fashion, clean energy or pharmaceuticals. “It really does not matter,” Belonick said, adding he pursues startups that will present interesting legal obstacles for students to conquer.

Students also apply to participate in the program. They will meet with the attorneys and the startup at the beginning of the semester to identify the company’s legal needs. While the supervising attorneys set the parameters of work to be done, the students do the leg work.

Belonick said he looks for startups in the early stages of their development, but those that are starting to gain traction with dedicated founders, solid teams, good business plans and growth potential.

“It’s not something they came up with last week, but rather something they have been working on for a year or two. It’s usually when they hit that point, they start to get a little bit of traction, maybe they are hiring employees, maybe now is the time to put out their product to market,” he said. “So, they really need their terms of service written up, they really need their privacy policy right now, because they are starting to make that move towards being a public-facing entity that is selling and buying.”

Privacy policies and terms of service are among the top services the Startup Legal Garage teams provide, Belonick said.

“Most tech companies that are client-facing, especially apps these days, are required to jump through a lot of privacy hoops,” Belonick said. Students “need to make themselves aware of (the EU General Data Protection Regulation) and (California Consumer Privacy Act) and all of these things and then go out and actually put it into practice and write these policies.”

UC Hastings Law School 2019 graduate Cyril Kottuppallil, now a legal fellow at Techstars, said he learned about businesses' privacy needs through the program and was a student while the CCPA was being created. While he works for a business accelerator company now, much like the work he did with the Startup Legal Garage, the program left him with an interest in privacy work.

“That was an awesome thing about the Startup Legal Garage. It played to the fact that there are so many different things out there — I could do terms and conditions, I could do privacy, if I wanted to,” he said. “I would like to move into that privacy aspect, it’s intellectually satisfying as an issue moving forward.”

During his two semesters with the Startup Legal Garage, Kottuppallil worked in both the patent and corporate side of businesses, gaining experience in a range of startups’ needs, including investment agreements and terms of services.

“What was really cool about that is a lot of it gets utilized immediately,” he said.

Kottuppallil said he was struck by the impact the program and the work students did had for startups. “These companies are like their founders’ children. They absolutely live and breath these companies and a lot of them do amazing work,” he said. “That was the coolest, most impactful thing — realizing the work that I can do can really affect not only one person’s life but more down the line when these products get going.”   

Belonick said it has been estimated that companies can save between $25,000 and $30,000 by using the Startup Legal Garage.

“The products and services we provide would normally bill at around that much money over the course of a semester,” he said. “That’s huge to a small company with $200,000 in the bank.”

For more information on the Startup Legal Garage, email startuplegalgarage@uchastings.edu.

Photo by Nastuh Abootalebi on Unsplash


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