KnightBlog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Communities
Feb 06, 2014

Venture Law Project helps startups find their legal footing

Posted by Ashley Juchawski

Knight Foundation supports Dade Legal Aid to facilitate the immediate launch of the Venture Law Project, which provides free legal help to startups. Below, Ashley Juchawski, a staff attorney at Dade Legal Aid, writes about the project. Photo credit: Flickr user joevare.

Miami-Dade County is quickly emerging as a technology startup hub. But as we attract and nurture startups from around the world, entrepreneurs have many questions about local laws, Florida business regulations and federal compliance. The Venture Law Project is making strides with these idea-makers, offering free legal advice, seminars and access to pro bono attorneys.

Most entrepreneurs and startup ventures have a great idea – the next big thing – yet they often don’t have capital financing or the means to hire an attorney to answer pressing legal questions: How do I protect my idea? What type of business entity will limit my personal liability? What are the tax implications? Should I file for patent protection internationally, just within the U.S. or both? How do I trademark my business name and logo?

The Venture Law Project fills a glaring need in the community while building on the mission of Dade Legal Aid. We’re a nonprofit law firm based in the heart of downtown Miami that provides a safety net of free legal services to qualifying low-income residents and vulnerable groups; we foster the idea of equal justice for all. Knight Foundation support made the Venture Law Project possible, building on trends in Miami’s startup community for maximum impact. It’s a true community partnership, where private attorneys can offer their services pro bono to those in need, working alongside other law firms and co-working campuses that are hubs for local tech. Qualifying startups have free access to expert attorneys and industry leaders at their fingertips. 

As the lead staff attorney for the Venture Law Project, I see concepts coming to life and entering the marketplace with little or no legal guidance, which is risky business. For instance, I recently met with the creator of a new mobile app, which is launching on the App Store and Google Play next month. She needed help drafting her privacy policy. We asked whether she had thought about filing a patent application to protect her idea before going public. This was something that she figured would be too costly and too time-consuming to worry about now—like most startups still pitching for venture capital funding. You can always figure this stuff out later, right? Wrong. Through the Venture Law Project, qualified startups, like the one mentioned above, are able to receive guidance through the complex and at times confusing areas of business law to protect their legal interests.   

We’re going to officially launch the Venture Law Project with Fashion Night on Brickell this Friday. Why combine fashion and the law? The event, with all proceeds benefiting Dade Legal Aid, will bring together people from throughout our region: entrepreneurs, judges, attorneys, fashionistas, anyone who wants to help the startup community. The event will feature fashions and jewelry by famous designers, complimentary hors d’oeuvres and cocktails, as well as DJs and live entertainment that have been donated as a joint community initiative. It undoubtedly will be fun, but more important, it’s a chance for all of us to support Miami’s emerging businesses. Great ideas deserve great support. The Venture Law Project will provide just that.   

Fashion Night on Brickell is slated for Friday, Feb. 7, from 6 to 9 p.m. at Espirito Santo Plaza, 1395 Brickell Ave., Miami. Tickets are available online for $25 at dadelegalaid.org or at the door for $40.

If you believe your startup may benefit from the Venture Law Project, please email ajuchawski@dadelegalaid.org or call 305-579-1033.

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