As Philadelphia’s startup community grows, the law school and its alumni are playing a key role in stoking the city’s ambitions to become a major player in the tech world.
A growing corps of alumni work for boutique firms that cater to entrepreneurs, hang out their own shingles to serve startups and aid investors who prime the innovation pump in Philadelphia and the region.
“We’re involved in the legal piece of tech startups and early-stage businesses,” said Patrick Bello, ‘12. “We’re working on the business side as well.”
Bello, among the first alumni to take part in the Entrepreneurial Law Clinic directed by Professor Steve Rosard, landed a job right out of law school at Baer Crossey, one of the city’s boutique firms, and recently launched his own firm, Provisor Law.
Based on a subscription model, Bello’s firm keeps costs low for clients who have tight budgets.
“It’s a new model,” Bello explained, “you don’t pay for more than you need.”
The law school and its alumni have gained notice for their contributions to the tech sector, said Juliana Reyes, lead reporter for Technical.ly Philly, a company that provides news, sponsors events and delivers services to support economic development.
Reyes noted that Eamon Gallagher, ’12, an associate at Weber Law, is a high-visibility connector, organizing meet-ups and sharing news tips, while the ELC and Apprennet – the firm Professor Karl Okamoto launched to create an online education platform – have given the law school prominence.
Weber Law founder Geoff Weber, who hired Gallagher, said that while Philadelphia has many business lawyers, relatively few understand the unique needs of startups.
“It’s a specialized field,” Weber said, praising the ELC for preparing students well for practice in this sphere. “For a lawyer to come out of law school with that specialized background is very helpful to these clients. There’s less of a learning curve.”
Within the Philadelphia market, young lawyers who have chops in this specialty “are mostly Drexel folks,” Weber said.
The law school and its alumni have also caught the attention of the venture capital community.
“It’s great that Philadelphia has a law school that’s focusing people on entrepreneurial law,” said Larry Brotzge, a general partner with Robin Hood Ventures’ management company, which invests some $2.5 million annually in startups.
In the past, Brotzge said, Robin Hood struggled to pay attorneys or find savvy interns to help with the due diligence angel investors need to make informed decisions about which of the 300 ventures it hears from each year deserve backing.
But after hiring Brittany Esser, ’15, its first law-student intern, Robin Hood aims to give her a full-time job and to line up more law students for future internships.
“Brittany is far and away the best intern we’ve had in our 15-year history,” Brotzge said, adding that due diligence, when performed well, serves different groups of angel investors and the business community as a whole.
“We rarely fund an investment by ourselves,” he explained. “We’re going to share with each other. It improves the quality of the due diligence for the whole community.”
The collaborative nature of the thriving startup community also reduces the competition for clients, said Bello, who shares work with other practitioners.
“It’s a healthy ecosystem,” Bello said. “There’s enough work to go around, which is good.”