Clinic aims to help startups tiptoe through legal quicksand

Free facility at Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya pairs law students with new social-venture tech firms

IDC students attending a class  (Courtesy)
IDC students attending a class (Courtesy)

Israel may be one of the best places in the world to create a new startup, yet it can be very hard for entrepreneurs to deal with bureaucracy and legalities. A tiny detail or a small mistake can cost thousands of shekels.

For this reason, the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, a private university north of Tel Aviv, has set up a free legal clinic to help new startups wade their way through legal quagmires and bureaucracy.

“Our legal clinic is a unit within the IDC Herzliya that wants to make a social impact involving students, who can in the process also get practical legal experience. They get real legal experience, perhaps even more than some interns,” said Assaf Ben David, a lawyer with international, commercial and high-tech experience, who was recruited to establish the clinic two years ago.

Startups that wish to become clients of the clinic must be technologically related: they must produce apps, software, websites or physical products that do something unique. In addition, they must be social ventures.

“Dan Nir and Roger Gladstone, the people who donated money to open the clinic, had a dream to create social change. Due to their social awareness, and the IDC’s focus on social involvement alongside entrepreneurship, we decided to choose only this type of startups,” said Ben David.

Nir is an American private investor and a philanthropist who managed hedge funds for 25 years. Gladstone founded the Gladstone Law Group and is a board member of numerous organizations.

The clinic is the first of its kind in Israel, said Ben David. The free legal service is exclusively provided to help people like new immigrants, Arabs, ultra-Orthodox Jews, Druze, residents of Israel’s periphery and individuals with disabilities. Female entrepreneurs get preferential treatment.

“Statistically speaking, these entrepreneurs are underrepresented in the high-tech field. Israeli Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews each represent approximately 20 percent of the population in Israel, but are just 2-3 percent of the tech industry. Similar low statistics apply to women entrepreneurs who although they comprise 50 percent of the population in Israel, only represent approximately 20 percent of the high-tech field,” said Ben David.

At the IDC Legal Clinic, nine to ten startups are chosen each year, after a selection process that evaluates the solidity of the idea and the startup organization, and services are provided by carefully selected third- and fourth-year law students under the supervision of Ben David. Also, during the year, other startups are helped through minor issues.

“Sometimes they just need a document,” said Ben David.

In November the legal clinic will start its third year of operations.

To increase its reach and to expand the services provided, the IDC Legal Clinic for Start-Ups has also started a mentoring program, giving startups access to mentors who provide them with advice and connections. The clinic’s website also enables startups to find free, subsidized or for-payment legal documents for download.

“We try to offer as much assistance as we can in all possible ways,” said Ben David.

These include terms of use, privacy policy, founders agreement, service agreement, intellectual property protection and company incorporation, all elements a startup has to figure out on its way to success.

One of the startups that have gone through the clinic is Guider, an app and website that helps people connect with local guides and residents all around the world. One of its founders came from the Golan Heights in the north of the country, close to the border with Syria.

Another venture is “Orchim Le-Shabbat,” translated as Sabbath guests and created by new immigrants; it helps people to gather and have dinners together on the day of rest.

“The only disadvantage of the clinic is that our turnover rate (of the documents) is slower than that of an average legal firm, because they are students and this is an educational program,” said Ben David. “But we are growing and becoming more efficient year after year. It is just a matter of time.”

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