“Why Pro Bono Actually Pays” With Attorney Jon Avidor

“Pro bono Pays.” Obviously I don’t get paid monetarily for my pro bono services but it is some of the most rewarding work I get to do. Never forget how fulfilled you can feel simply by helping others.

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“Pro bono Pays.” Obviously I don’t get paid monetarily for my pro bono services but it is some of the most rewarding work I get to do. Never forget how fulfilled you can feel simply by helping others.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Jon Avidor. As founder of Avidor.Law and partner at World Trade Ventures, Jon plays a crucial role in the New York startup and venture capital ecosystem. He brings sophisticated legal advice and services honed from white-shoe law firms on Wall Street and Silicon Valley where he represented top clients such as Goldman Sachs and Khosla Ventures. Avidor counsels early stage companies through financing, growth and exit transactions and has represented companies in high-profile acquisitions by LinkedIn, Intel and PayPal.

Thank you so much for joining us Jon! What is your “backstory”?

I grew up in California and started my career in Silicon Valley at Fisher Investments helping high net worth individuals with investments.. I quickly moved in to tech consulting which provided a lot of exposure to Silicon Valley’s robust startup ecosystem in mid 2000s.

I knew from a very early stage in my career that I wanted to make a meaningful impact in our exciting innovation economy, but I also knew I needed to grow my skills and experience in order to do so. I enrolled in Northwestern’s amazing 3-year JD/MBA program which combines advanced law and business degrees in a short time frame. I graduated Cum Laude and met a lot of amazing individuals along the way.

With my student loans in mind, following the program, I accepted an amazing offer from one of the most reputable law firms in the world, Sullivan & Cromwell. I joined their NYC headquarters and spent a few years toiling and sweating as an attorney on some of the biggest mergers of our time. We were selling companies to acquirers such as Bayer and AT&T and serving top financial institutions like Goldman Sachs and Barclays. Ultimately, it was the loss of true personal balance that led me back to the west coast to rejoin the passionate innovators of Silicon Valley, this time as an attorney. I had lost touch with the passion that led me to graduate school in the first place.

At the leading firm Goodwin Procter, I started working directly with entrepreneurs and founders of early stage startups while also working with investors to execute venture capital financing rounds. Long story short, at some point I realized that I liked working with entrepreneurs so much, that I would venture off to become one myself. That’s when I launched Avidor.Law as one of the early NYC law boutiques specifically designed for startups.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your law career?

Mark Cuban was an investor in a deal I worked on a while back; he’s quite a savvy guy. I recall a conference call where his team hammered us on some deal terms and remember thinking “did we just get head smashed by Mark Cuban?”. Later when the deal closed, someone sent us a box of Sour Patch Kids and flowers without a note. We were sure the gift was a clever message from Mark’s team although we never did get confirmation.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I’m working with a very talented partner at World Trade Ventures on a venture capital fund focused on NYC fintech, cyber security, adtech and big data investments. On one hand we’re fostering innovation in the exciting NYC tech ecosystem and on the other our goal is to make venture capital more accessible to more investors with lower minimums and better access to top deals.

Investing in unicorn deals like Uber, Airbnb and requires certain deal access. At World Trade Ventures we apply a micro VC model so we can accept smaller check sizes from accredited individuals and get them in on professionally vetted investments which have a higher likelihood of success. Our firm is co-located in the World Trade Center within an incubator sponsored by the Silverstein family, owners of the building.

How exactly does your firm help people?

Avidor.Law is focused almost entirely on startups and their investors. Our mandate is to help startups form, finance, and grow so they can have the capital needed to invest in innovation, hiring, building company infrastructure, and product iteration to achieve scale. We are treated like in-house general counsel for our clients’ executive teams as they confront important company milestones and decisions.

Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?

I really like Howard Schultz and his background growing up in New York and just working his way up. Understanding that consumers in another culture like Europe consumed coffee in a way that was very different than what he’s seen in the US. Convinced that the European style was simply a better experience, he set out on a course of various business moves over a decade that led to him working with a company taking over cafes.

One of the cafes they took over was Starbucks and Howard built the company into what it is today. Knowing there is a better experience possible and shifting consumer behavior to get more out of it is something I want to do with legal services. I think that companies use legal services in a myriad of ways but the experience will look very different in 10 years. The legal industry has been slow to embrace the digital revolution but it’s coming.

What advice would you give to someone considering a career in law?

Figure out what you are passionate about outside of law itself. Are you passionate about sports, business, environment, or entertainment? Consider how you want to apply your law degree and what community of people you work with.

You want to be in an industry that excites you because your first job won’t be the job you stay with forever. Finding the best fit is a process and exploration phase so don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves. Learn all the parts of the business, not just your role and this will open up more opportunities and will set you up as a leader.

Entrepreneurial or startup law is the best way to be a good corporate attorney to learn quickly at an early age. One year in startup law is equal to 3 years worth of experience as a junior M&A lawyer in Fortune 500. Working with startups and founders, you will have greater impact on the formations and transactions you are working on and will learn from making mistakes. You just don’t get that sort of experience, exposure, and growth when going straight into large M&A.

If you had the ability to make three reforms in our legal system, which three would you start with? Why?

Technology has transformed essentially every aspect of business and life yet the practice of law remains mostly the same which is why I think we are ripe for innovation. We need technology that will lower exorbitant fees for simple legal services like drafting documents for a Seed or Series A fundraising round.

I think the way most lawyers bill, billable hours in ten minute increments, discourage clients from participating and being part of the team in an effort to avoid calling in for a quick question and being billed hundreds of dollars. We need new billing models that promote the collaboration between firm and client to deliver an improved experience. Ideally the lawyer would be considered part of the team and kept in the loop.

Anything lawyers can do to improve transparency for their clients so they have a better understanding of who is on their account and how much time they are spending on what activities, is something they should always keep an eye toward. We are working a few new products that will alleviate the transparency gap for us here at Avidor.Law.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

A fellow from college and I founded Urban Resource Project, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing resources to underserved communities. My contribution is that I do a lot of pro bono work for under-represented entrepreneurs who may have been convicted of a crime or haven’t had access to capital and want to open up a small business. I help companies that are run by minorities, women, and people of color who aren’t getting the meetings and access, to lend some credibility and move the needle.

I know this is not an easy job. What drives you?

I’m an entrepreneur myself so I experience the everyday stresses of managing a budget, mitigating risk, investing in growth and all the challenges that come along with this journey. I know that having good advisors in business is important so if I can provide that to someone else, I will. In my role, I can help other entrepreneurs build what matters by helping to protect them. Passion is contagious and I get fired up when I work with an entrepreneur truly passionate about the impact they are looking to make.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. “A career is a journey and not an ending.” No such thing as what I want to do when I grow up. A career is constantly changing and there is no dream job, only progression and lessons along the way. Once I retire from law and venture capital, I can begin to write books about my experiences and begin a new career as an author.

2. “Adversity must be faced in order to grow.” As discouraging as it was to be turned down by every major VC in Silicon Valley, it actually gave me the motivation I needed to get through three years of grad school.

3. “Law is an art and not a science.” In the practice of law, not every question has a right answer and is black and white so it provides room for interpretation. View the problem from multiple perspectives and don’t be afraid to brainstorm creative solutions.

4. “Creativity counts in law.” Law leaves room for creativity and isn’t always cut and dry. Next time there is a challenge, step back and try to look at it differently.

5. “Pro bono Pays.” Obviously I don’t get paid monetarily for my pro bono services but it is some of the most rewarding work I get to do. Never forget how fulfilled you can feel simply by helping others.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

I would love to have lunch with Mark Cuban so I can ask him once and for all who sent me those Sour Patch Kids. It’s been a burning question for some time now. [update: Mark contacted me after publication to tell me his team didn’t send them and then offered me some business advice. The mystery continues!]

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