Last night I was fortunate enough to attend a talk given by Francis Davey on the topic of “Law for Startups” and I wanted to share my thoughts on the evening. Obviously these are my thoughts on a talk, not legal advice, if you want that speak to Francis,
This talk was organised and set up by the folks at Trampery Fish Island Labs.
They knew that a lot of Trampery members are in startups and would potentially have many questions that a talk like this could answer.
They were right! The evening was incredibly helpful. Francis was very generous with his time and knowledge as he talked us through a range of topics that are common themes for startups to want to know about.
Before I get into the content that was discussed; Francis must be one of the few legal professionals with a Github account. Slides are available should you like to look at them.
The focus of the information was aimed at small, creative business (which most of us were) and only covered the most common and important points. Francis started the talk by saying that “Law for Startups” is an impossible topic to cover in the time he had.
Structures for a Business
Once in profit Francis makes the argument that it makes sense to look at that various structures a business could follow, the most common of which being a Ltd Company. He also covered Limited Liability Partnerships and mentioned Worker’s Co-Operatives.
My takeaways from this information on structures for a business were that a Ltd Company is seen as a separate entity in the eyes of the law, which is a good thing because it means you don’t go bankrupt. It turns out it is actually very easy to set up a Ltd Company. It can be done by hand or at very little cost with a third party.
Contracts are naturally a huge topic and Francis went through a list of the different types we will commonly meet and make.
I learned a load of great information here;
- You don’t need a physical contract to have a contract (for example the contract you make with a shop when you buy something)
- You shouldn’t use legalese, there is no point and an objective observer with some relatable knowledge should be able to understand the contract
- Be really specific with dates and numbers in contracts. For example don’t say “monthly”, say “on the 2nd of every month”
- Proof-readers are cheaper than lawyers – don’t pay for a lawyer to correct your grammatical errors
Another interesting point was that he has found that there are two really useful types of people when it comes to proof-reading contracts. The first is obviously someone who has a great command of the English language. The second is a developer, because developers have a penchant for spotting and removing ambiguity.
So if anyone wants their tech contracts looking over, you can contact Rumble on…
Every startup wants to get to the point were they can start to hire people and there were some interesting points Francis had to say on the matter of employment.
The first point that I really enjoyed was that essentially people are duck–typed, even if you claim someone is a contractor, if it looks like an employee and it quacks like an employee, it is an employee.
There is a big distinction between a contractor and an employee where tax and employment rights come into play.
As someone who is an employee I was surprised to know that contracts of employment are ambulatory, which means they can change over time based on what work you actually take part in.
Next up was intellectual property, which is always going to be a hot topic in creative industries.
We covered who owns IP in various situations and how trademarks work. Francis also discussed issues with Patents, registering designs.
As a side note: Rumble have it in all our agreements that we don’t own the IP for anything we make, it always sits with the client. (assuming they pay their bills on time, ha!)
Breach of Confidence
My biggest takeaway from the section on how confidentiality works is that by saying “CONFIDENTIAL” on something that actually does give you some level of agreement that the reader should treat the work as such.
With this in mind Francis suggested you don’t absolutely need to have an NDA signed in order to show someone something, but it may be nice to have one as it is more concrete.
Reducing Lawyers’ Fees
The final subject of the evening was on reducing lawyers’ fees. It all seemed to boil down to trying to work out the most efficient way for you to work with someone.
A lawyer will general charge by time, so if you can give good instruction and explain clearly what you want out of them then you are likely to get that done a little bit faster.
You can also specify a fixed budget, to ensure you don’t end up paying more than you expected, or can afford.
I really enjoyed this talk, learned an absolute load and met some cool people doing interesting things.