The Startup Magazine talks to Sarah Pearce, Partner of the Tech Transaction team of law firm, Cooley. Sarah gives us an insight into how they are supporting technology companies in London. As of January 2015, Cooley established its very first European office in London to provide its strengths across many of its core practice areas, among them corporate/M&A, venture/growth capital, technology and life sciences transactions, IP, complex high-stakes litigation, insurance & reinsurance, financial services, regulation, competition, employment, data protection and privacy.
What new legal challenges do new technologies in retail and commerce pose?
Technology is now pervasive and has become a part of virtually all the products we buy, and ultimately, therefore, of our lives. Technology has played, and continues to play, an important role in a number of businesses’ commercial strategies, particularly with the “digitalisation of retail” and with e-commerce and digital playing a key role in marketing strategies. This has been seen recently in a number of forms. The surge of social media activity and consumer engagement strategies, notably in the fashion arena (such as Net-A-Porter’s Net Set app) and personalisation of the consumer experience raises key challenges in a number of areas, principally IP and data protection/privacy. The innovative technology is ahead of the existing law: we need to keep abreast of not only legal developments but the new technologies themselves. It is part of our job to warn our clients of this and help them become smarter with the way they navigate the legal side of the business, arming them with the right legal tools.
At what stage of business do you get involved with the technology companies that you work with?
We work with companies at varying stages of growth cycles and clients across many industries. We have particular expertise in technology, of course, but also media- and entertainment-telecommunications, financial services, energy and natural resources. Cooley has been doing so since the venture industry began, having formed America's first venture fund in Silicon Valley. Clients who partner with us get the advantage of extensive experience, true teamwork and an entrepreneurial culture that specialises in helping build businesses and transforming breakthrough ideas into successful companies. We are selective about the startups we work with but there are no hard and fast rules as to the stage at which we get involved. We are actively involved with a number of incubators and accelerators such as Techstars, Seedcamp, and Level 39.
For those looking to approach Cooley, are there questions you wish they would ask themselves before they approach you?
There are a few key things that startups should look to ask themselves before seeking external advice. Firstly, what is the business case for their proposition, could it be said to be credible? Secondly, with particular regard to choice of lawyers, do they want to work with the lawyers that have the best understanding of what the business is offering. There are many law firms that offer fees lower than ours, but I would say that no one really understands the business models and practices in the relevant industries quite like we do - we use our unparalleled legal expertise and business savvy to help clients grow and succeed.
In the USA, you have a service called CooleyGo, which is soon to come to the EU. How does CooleyGo differ from the traditional services that Cooley offers?
Cooley GO is a free, online resource centre for startups and investors at varying stages of growth cycles. The site provides entrepreneurs with comprehensive legal and business guidance, insights on current marketplace trends, and access to fundamental legal forms applicable to the establishment, growth and management of emerging and growth companies. Cooley GO provides entrepreneurs with the ability to: generate core legal documents; read substantive posts addressing issues arising at different growth stages, including thought leadership from across Cooley’s global full-service platform; view Cooley’s latest reports on venture capital financing trends; and visit inspirational profiles of Cooley emerging company clients. In April of this year, Cooley GO won the “People’s Voice” Webby award (“the Internet’s highest honour” according to the NYT) in the law website category, the first US law firm in the award’s 19-year history to win a Webby in this category. As you say, we intend to launch an expanded UK-focused version of this globally popular resource later this year.