A lot of the starts-ups that I work with, especially the technology start-ups, are doing something completely different with their business. This might be operating a traditional business in a new way – such as myself, offering online Legal Services at a fixed fee – or it could be doing something completely new. I spend a lot of time talking to disrupters because there are often legal minefields involved in doing something completely new, or disrupting a current practice or industry.
Some of the things that I assist clients with Include:
Clarifying the intention of the business
Consideration needs to be given to understanding exactly what they intend to do and how that fits in the current landscape. For example, taking a traditional business national in an online space, in which case the laws of several states might apply. Sometimes this means that licensing requirements are required, or there might be different legal requirements in different states.
Understanding specific compliance requirements
People often incorrectly think that you can just have a disclaimer that disclaims any legal responsibility for complying with the law – but that’s not the case. One thing that I do, and have done in the past, is analyse the different laws for clients and then we sit down and have a look at what the differences are in state legislation, and what tweaks they can make to their business model, or what different processes need to be implemented in different states.
I have also in the past reached out to regulators to try and get guidance on how they will view any new type of business – some are better than others in this regard – but that is another thing that disrupters need to be mindful of.
Consider standard legislation compliance
We also look at traditional laws and how they will apply to the business. For example, copyright, privacy, data obligations and complying with consumer law. When a business is traditional and has an online presence, such as real estate agents consumers know what to expect from that business, therefore managing consumer expectations is not as difficult or as challenging as in the case of a disrupter. When you are doing something new, there is an obligation to ensure that your consumers, and the other people that you deal with, understand what to expect from your business and how it’s going to work. Having transparency in documents such as terms and conditions or clear contracts, will assist to manage the expectations and, in my view, will reduce instances of disputes caused by confusion or a miss-match in expectations.
I’ve been working recently with a lot of market place developers, in a range of different fields, about connecting people through technology where the business is the middle man. I spend time talking though with clients how the technology will work. We discuss practical implications, not just legal matters because I need to understand how the business works in a practical sense, as does the business owner, so that we can foresee what risks are involved. After this is established, we can discuss how any risks can be managed. For instance, we can review how the business operates and the associated processes and procedures and consider if any identified risks can be dealt with in legal documents or can we use disclaimers or disclosures.
I also assist disrupters by facilitating communication with technology developers, in order to iron out the way the technology runs so that we can make sure it will comply with the law. Sometimes the business owner just needs to understand the risks and boundaries that they are pushing. This can result in them choosing to either manage risk through insurance or they might choose to take their chances as a disrupter and address any issues that arise at the time.
I see my role as assisting disrupters to identify risks, minimise them where possible, and give comfort on the legal landscape. Ultimately the decision is yours with how you proceed with the business.
So, my advice to anyone thinking about disrupting an industry or doing something new, is to seek Legal Advice, often our legislation is old and your trying to do something new so we can discuss ways to make it fit, or you can at least seek comfort that you have made an informed decision when you proceed to disrupt.