Verified Startup Lawyer: Stephane Levy

Stephane Levy got his start in the days of Silicon Alley almost two decades ago, and built up his practice with New York startups and beyond through all the ups and downs since then.

Today, as a partner at Cooley LLP, he works with a wide range of companies, from company formation, seed and later stage rounds, all the way through to M&A transactions and IPOs. He also teaches at Cornell University Law School as an adjunct professor, on legal matters affecting emerging companies and venture capital transactions.

“We met him in the very early days, and his help on all things relating to the company, investors, corporate decisions, fundraising, and just simple strategy has been spot on. He’s always someone I can rely on to give me honest feedback that will eventually play out to be true.” Sachin Kamdar, New York City, CEO, Parsely

On the New York startup scene

“I was probably one of a handful of tech lawyers in NY, at least of my vintage, working with startups and venture funds in the early and mid 2000s, so I kind of grew up doing that stuff in New York when most of the other corporate lawyers in the city were focused on more traditional M&A, private equity, capital markets, etc.”

When a client is having a rough time

“I’m not going to drop a company just because they are going through hard times or treat them any different. It’s a mixed bag out there, and at the end of the day you’ll have some really successful companies and some that are having a tougher time, but you have to take a long view. If a company is going through a really tough time — for example, they’re having trouble raising money — them not getting any attention from their lawyer will really compound some of the issues.”

What makes startup lawyers good

“The key is to try to bring your judgment to bare and say, “Listen, there’s going to be some risk. I’m not going to advocate you do everything on my punch list of ideal things you can be doing from a legal perspective, but if you have to focus on a few things to stay out of trouble for now, these would be them.” Not every lawyer is able to give that type of guidance or has, I guess, the experience or the judgment to be able to do that, but that’s something that entrepreneurs really value.”

Sample horror story

“Let’s say three founders take a third each and they don’t impose vesting. A year later, one of the founders leaves to go get a job somewhere and doesn’t want to give a portion of the equity back. Those are potentially really significant errors that could cost the company and the founders.  I just feel bad because the reality is we’ve automated a lot of our formation processes up front such that it really doesn’t cost much for founders to get state of the art documents in place from the get go.”

Below, you’ll find the rest of the founder reviews, the full interview, and more details like pricing and fee structures. This article is part of our ongoing series covering great lawyers and other experts who founders love to work with. More details here.

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