SUPPORTING VETERANS: Q&A WITH MORGAN LEWIS
By: Christina Manning
When starting a business, legal concerns can be a major area of focus for entrepreneurs. Thanks to the support of organizations like Morgan Lewis, Bunker Labs PHL continues to host Bunker Brews, a monthly happy hour meetup where we discuss highly relevant business topics with our community of veteran entrepreneurs. This month, Morgan Lewis will be represented on our panel at Bunker Brews: Avoiding Legal Landmines.
Here’s what they had to say about their support of the veteran community:
BL: How does Morgan Lewis support the veteran community?
ML: Support of the veteran community has long been a hallmark of Morgan Lewis’ philanthropic efforts. The most notable of these initiatives is the pro bono legal work that we do on behalf of veterans. In partnership with national organizations like National Veterans Legal Services Provider (NVLSP) and local providers like the Military Assistance Project in Philadelphia, lawyers across the firm regularly handle individual benefits matters and we have also played a key role in driving how the VA benefits landscape is shaped across the United States.
For example, a team of lawyers in our Washington office brought a class action on behalf of more than 5,000 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan diagnosed in service with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Upon discharge, these vets were assigned a disability rating lower than what was required by statute, which resulted in many class members failing to qualify for free VA medical care. Our work ultimately produced a favorable settlement, resulting in a substantial upgrade in the plaintiffs’ military disability ratings. In addition to our own pro bono efforts, we are committed to helping develop veteran’s rights advocates in the broader legal community. Most recently, we committed to funding three successive Equal Justice Works fellows who are focused on helping low-income veterans apply for service-connected benefits and discharge upgrades.
BL: What is the motivation behind your support of the veteran community?
ML: All of our philanthropic efforts, including our work on behalf of veterans, are motivated by a desire to participate in, support and improve the communities where we live and work. We are proud to count many veterans among the members of our Morgan Lewis family. As a firm, it is our great privilege to be able to serve the veteran community which has done so much for us, our families and our country.
BL: What drew your company to connect with Bunker Labs PHL?
ML: Our connection with Bunker Labs grew from connections to the veteran entrepreneur community here in Philadelphia and beyond. We admired Bunker’s mission and were impressed with the work with the early cohorts. We felt that Bunker Labs would be a great organization for us to partner with given our shared ideals and support for veterans.
BL: Why is it important for companies like Morgan Lewis to support veteran organizations?
ML: A commitment to inclusion of historically underrepresented groups is a core value at Morgan Lewis. We are committed to inclusion not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it is integral to how we do business. It influences how we service clients, collaborate with colleagues, and recruit prospective Morgan Lewis lawyers and administrative professionals, and how we engage the communities in which we live and practice. Veteran organizations, and the veteran community more generally, have been historically underrepresented by the legal community. With a large, diverse team of experienced attorneys, many of whom are veterans themselves, we count ourselves among the few law firms that have the necessary background and experience to assist with the unique challenges faced by veterans and veteran organizations, and we consider it an honor and a privilege to serve those who have sacrificed so much to serve our Country.
Our firm has several internal lawyer networks, or affinity groups, among which, a veteran’s network that serve as a constant resource for our lawyers. Each group—led by two or more influential partners and other lawyers—meets regularly, shares information, and provides a means to focus the firm’s resources in furtherance of our commitment to inclusion. In 2013, we were recognized as: “CPBO Pro Bono Partner Award for Partnership with HP and National Veterans Legal Services Program to Support Veterans, Corporate Pro Bono.”
BL: Could you provide a brief overview of the work you and your team do at Morgan Lewis?
ML: Our lawyers provide growth businesses with personalized and effective long-term representation, from initial startup to maturity, utilizing lawyers in offices in major technology centers throughout the United States, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. We offer clients a pragmatic, business-oriented approach to solving a range of complex legal problems, cost-efficient legal services, and value-added access to business resources.
Our lawyers provide legal services well suited to rapidly growing companies, including guidance on corporate finance, mergers and acquisitions (M&A), initial public offerings (IPOs), intellectual property (IP) protection, employment, international expansion, regulatory, cybersecurity, and tax issues. We leverage the experience and domain knowledge developed through our representation of many of the leading technology, pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical device, financial services, and energy companies. We look to establish life-long lead counsel relationships, from early-stage development through global expansion and initial funding to an IPO or other liquidity event.
Colby Smith counsels clients in business law matters, with an emphasis on public and private merger and acquisition transactions and securities and investment transactions. Colby and his team represent seed, institutional, and strategic investors in investment and portfolio company transactions. He represents clients in a variety of industries, including technology, healthcare, manufacturing, aerospace and defense, retail, and consumer products. He also serves as chair of the Philadelphia office Pro Bono Committee.
BL: You will be speaking at the November Bunker Brews: Avoiding Legal Landmines event. Can you offer a few messages you hope the audience walks away with after that panel discussion?
ML: Earlier is always better. Leaders of start-up and emerging businesses are always well served to build relationships with legal counsel sooner rather than later. Having a relationship with one or more trusted advisors before a crisis hits is important, so that you can move quickly when the need arises.
Trust your instincts on legal issues. The practice of law involves judgment. Even if not formally trained as a lawyer, business leaders are well equipped with the skill set to decide the business approach on important legal matters. Discuss and understand the legal issues that you encounter with your lawyer, and remember at the end of the day the lawyer is there to help you accomplish a business objective.
BL: What are the top legal concerns that veteran entrepreneurs should be aware of as they are starting and growing their business?
ML: Words matter. Be careful of the contracts you sign and making sure you read and understand the legalese, even if you are unable to negotiate or change it.
Be cautious with your equity. Equity is critically important to early stage companies. Too often we see emerging businesses that use their equity as a check book. Taking that approach raises a variety of considerations that should be thoroughly understood before doing so.