Start-ups in early stages of growth can be left vulnerable without the right legal support. That's why Linkilaw, the legal platform for start-ups, is on a mission to provide expert, affordable advice to young companies.
We had a chat with the team at LinkiLaw to find out more about what inspired the business and how they match fledgling companies to exceptional lawyers.
Can you tell us where the idea for Linkilaw came from?
The straw that broke the camel’s back was when a dear friend of mine was in a vulnerable situation and was deported as a result. She was working as a cleaner in a house and was accused of stealing jewellery from her employer. Originally from Brazil, and without the best English, she didn’t have anyone to fight her case. One week after she was deported, her boss found her jewellery. She had lost her livelihood and place in the UK over nothing. From that moment, I always knew that I would work day and night to prevent that from happening again.
With these questions, I had a lightbulb moment which led me to quit my job at a law firm in 2015.
What if there was a service for finding quality, specialist lawyers that don't cost an arm and a leg? From that realisation, Linkilaw was born - I wanted to democratise the legal industry.
Linkilaw is now THE legal platform for start-ups. We are working to make sure that every start-up has access to the legal framework to create a business that will last for years to come - regardless of where they come from or how much they earn.
What are the key legal requirements for start-ups in the early stages of growth?
Getting your contracts nailed down is just as much a matter of business as it is legal sense. There are a vast number of contracts that you have to set up in your first few years - Shareholders’ Agreements, Directors’ Service Agreements, and Terms and Conditions all need to be nailed down as you set up your company. Then, as you grow, Employment Contracts and Consultancy Agreements will become important. Soon, maybe, you will be looking at transatlantic shipping contracts.
Know your regulations! Depending on the nature of your business, a different body will regulate your activities. Are you in Fintech? Get to know the FCA. The latest legal start-up? The SRA is your friend. Taking on the ad world? The ASA is where you want to turn. More than a series of letters, these are national bodies that will govern your area of work. Without their sanction, you won’t legally be allowed to function. As with all these things, legal advice is best, but you can do some initial research: look on their websites, call them up, send them a messenger pigeon. Unlike with the contracts above, operating without regulation is likely to be a criminal offence for which you can be prosecuted. Unless your start-up is an easy-to-use guide to prison escape, I wouldn’t recommend it.
Data is a contentious issue and one that makes a lot of headlines. Essentially, if you are going to store users’ data, you will need to comply with national laws that are there to protect that data from prying eyes. At the moment the relevant law is the (somewhat outdated) Data Protection Act 1998, however, the data protection regime is changing and is likely to become more stringent with the introduction of the EU’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) on 25 May 2018. The sensible companies are all preparing for it in advance, and so should you.
We won’t go into that now but we urge you to get to know it. Just one piece of advice - if you are storing users' data (or planning to), start by registering with the ICO and scanning their website for guidance. There are checklists on there to get you started and to point you in the right direction.
Just as with the regulations above, failure to adhere to these data protection provisions might mean more than a civil claim against you; it may mean criminal prosecution.-Intellectual Property
IP is an interesting area of law and is extremely relevant for start-ups and entrepreneurs. Protecting your IP - by trademark, patent or copyright - enables you to protect your brand by preventing others from using it for themselves. It grants you (almost) exclusive rights to market and use the creation. You can protect brand names, inventions, designs of products, and things you write, make or produce (this includes code).
As well as protecting your own IP, however, you have to be wary of using another’s work or infringing on their rights. If you are exploiting another company’s IP without their permission and without a legal defence, they are within their rights to sue you. Most of the time IP won’t be a worry for you - if you are using everyday language, for example, and you use some words that just happen to be a trademark, without referring to the actual trademark, chances are you will be fine. If, however, you are planning on working with other companies and using their brands, you will need to consult an IP specialist. In the start-up world, IP disputes are common as entrepreneurs compete for ground over their ideas and brands. Get ahead of the curve by getting yours sorted.
Amid the excitement of your new company, tax obligations can feel like a real drag. Boringly, however, they have to be complied with. It is essential that you speak to an accountant or tax lawyer, understand the structure and nature of your company, and comply with corresponding tax obligations. Tax can be a drag; fraud can be a bigger one.
What are the common legal mistakes start-ups make?
Not getting everything on paper. Sorry to be a pessimist but unfortunately in the cut-throat world of business, a handshake or even a seemingly strong friendship just isn’t enough! We see so many start-ups with shareholder or founder disputes gone wrong and these are so preventable! Get all your agreements down on paper and sign on the dotted line. That way, even if there is a dispute, it can be sorted quickly and cheaply (and you won’t need to come to us to find a lawyer!)
How does Linkilaw set out to be the "one-stop shop" solution to these problems?
Linkilaw works to support start-ups at every stage of their growth. If you’re at the idea stage, we can provide advice on which company formation would best fit your business. If you’re incorporating or setting up a partnership, we can help with that. When you need to get your legal documents in place, we can draft them for you. We also have a legal marketplace for you, so you can get quotes from our massive network of expert lawyers.
In short, any legal problem you have - we can sort it, either in house or using our platform!
As a freelancer, your brand is often yourself, what is the best piece of legal advice for individuals looking to create their own personal brand?
As a freelancer, you get all the fun that comes with working on your own terms, but unfortunately that freedom comes with potentially insecure income. With that, your personal brand becomes all the more important. People work with who they can trust - even if they’ve never collaborated in the past. If you are proactive, you will ensure that whoever you work with on a freelance basis signs a consultancy agreement which explicitly explains what is expected of you and the party you are working for. This means that everyone knows where they stand and the project will run smoothly. If word gets out that you operate above board and sign an agreement to squash any ambiguity about the responsibilities you have to each other, that will definitely work in your personal brand’s interest.
The Work Crowd functions similarly to Linkilaw as we connect businesses to specialists through an online platform. What does the future hold for Linkilaw and how could freelancers and start-up owners alike benefit from the growth of the business?
By working to secure the future of other start-ups, we have inadvertently secured our own. With every passing day, we’re growing more, and we're constantly reinvesting revenue and knowledge to perfect the process of the average person finding the legal services they need to prevent ugly legal disputes. We are also increasingly using technology to maximise efficiency and building even more products and services (such as our free Start-up Legal Session) that will benefit freelancers and start-up owners.