My name is Abe Lichy, and I’ve been practicing law since 2010. I started out at a top NYC firm, after which I left to start a fashion company with my wife. After building a start-up and getting to know many other start-up founders, I decided to make the move back to private practice as a lawyer—I knew I wanted to continue being entrepreneurial and also that I wanted to provide legal services for start-ups. At my firm, Lichy Law, we advise start-up and emerging growth companies through the ups and downs of starting and growing their brands.
I’ve also been in the jam band scene for the past fifteen years. To say it’s shaped who I am as a lawyer would be an understatement—jamming is in my blood and something I actively practice as a musician with my brothers in a band called The Lichy Nuts. A few weeks ago, I was at the Saturday night Joe Russo’s Almost Dead show at Brooklyn Bowl. In the middle of that unreal “Terrapin” jam, I was ironically thinking about how the characteristics of a good lawyer closely align with the characteristics of a good jam band. So, with that said, I’d like to explain why I firmly believe that lawyering for start-ups should be like playing in a jam band.
Jam Bands Have To Be Skilled Listeners
I put this as the first reason because I think it’s the most important skill both musicians in a jam band and attorneys should have and continuously develop. To be an effective advisor and advocate, you must listen to your clients. Successful jam band musicians also know this. Trey Anastasio recently talked about this after Phish’s recent Baker’s Dozen run at Madison Square Garden:
“This kind of thing happens: Page is playing the piano and he’ll move to the Rhodes, and I’m just playing and all I’m doing is listening. Like, Mike, Page, Fish. What’s Page doing? What’s Mike doing? In a circle. Page moves to the Rhodes and he plays a riff on the Rhodes, and I might give him just two notes of a little copy or a harmony. And basically what I’m saying is ‘hear you that you’re on the Rhodes, I’m with you.’ That’s it! It’s just the littlest hint, and I know he heard me, and I know he knows I’m listening. There’s a combination of that and all of that music that we’ve learned together. It’s like ‘I get it, I’m not fighting you, I’m with you.’ And then the floodgates just open.”
Like the individual members of a jam band, lawyers representing start-ups (and lawyers in general) need to first and foremost listen to their clients. What are their needs? Goals? Obstacles? Business concerns? What are their dreams? With start-ups especially, what’s their budgetary constraint? What’s most important to them right now, and what can wait another six months If you don’t have a basic understanding of your client, how will you be able to tailor your services to meet their needs?
Another reason listening is so key is because start-ups move at a million miles an hour. They’re constantly evolving, pivoting, adapting, publishing, and interacting. It’s the nature of the beast and part of what makes starting a business so damn fun. If you’re not paying attention and listening to the subtle shifts in energy and direction, the jam fizzles out, and the magic is gone. By continually prioritizing listening, your technical skills, knowledge, and wisdom naturally flow into appropriate solutions. A little cowbell here, switch to a synthesizer, put some overdrive on your guitar, and set the gear ship for the high gear of your soul (start-up soul that is).
Jamming And Starting A Business Are Dynamic
The idea that jamming and starting a business are both dynamic is kind of an obvious point but important nonetheless. Don’t get me wrong—there is something to be said for formal structure. Most jam songs still have verses, choruses, and the occasional bridge, but within that framework, there’s an exploration of the unknown, a give-and-take dynamic that flows from harmony to dissonance and resolves back to harmony. It’s the roller coaster ride of the start-up experience. When you, as a lawyer, represent a start-up, they’ll inevitably need the verses and choruses—the corporate formation documents and starter documents. Sometimes you get a bridge—IP filings and protection. And beyond that, sure, you may have a general idea of the types of legal solutions and services your client will need down the road. However, in 2017, there is no getting around the fact that the rapidly progressing pace of technology and the millennially-driven explosion of new businesses and business types forces us to be dynamic as lawyers.
One size absolutely does not fit all. That’s one of the problems I see companies getting into when they use online legal services like LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer, etc. (I’m not knocking those sites—they can have value when used appropriately). Being a dynamic lawyer means actively listening and reacting to new needs as they arise—for example, scoping out the consequences of a new brand activation or what to do if a supplier doesn’t send goods on time. Does that affect your client’s relationship with its retail vendors? Who’s liable for losses? If I was being a dynamic lawyer, wouldn’t I have foreseen this?
The Magic In-Between
It’s the energy flow between the verse and chorus sections and the outros, the exploration that goes on within the framework, where the magic in-between is created. The magic in-between is why jam bands have cultivated such cultish followings. It’s why fans will see the same group over 100 times and are left wanting for more. It’s what gives us goosebumps when a band resolves a ten-minute dark, dissonant jam with a euphoric, blissful peak, only to drop back to the main theme with confidence. I hate to sound like “that guy,” but it’s hard to even put into words if you haven’t experienced it. It’s magic. Start-ups also experience this magic with their victories, small and large. Founders can be having the worst week ever, then find out that they just secured a brand activation with a top influencer, which will get their brand tons of needed exposure. I’ve been there, literally. That shift from dissonance to harmonious peak is real. And it’s not an experience if you can’t bring someone along.
When you’re lawyering for humans going through this experience, you have an opportunity to be an active participant in the journey. If I had to assign an instrument to the lawyer in this situation, it would probably be the bass—the glue that holds it together. While the rhythm and melodies shift keys and flutter between registers of notes, the bass is there keeping everything held down tight—and that’s really how I look at it when I’m advising my start-up clients. I get excited when exciting things happen to them, but I also keep my head grounded and make sure they know the consequences of getting carried away with in-the-moment successes. You just sold $50,000 worth of units? Awesome. You want to spend it all on a blogger post? Calm down, let’s talk this out. It’s the magic in-between where those important conversations and where dissonance and harmony happen. In other words, to quote a wise man, once in a while you can get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.
Putting It All Together
In the end, what we all want as lawyers is for our clients to succeed. In order to give our start-up clients the best chance at success, we need to provide the best legal framework tailored to their business and needs. To do that, we need to listen, be dynamic, and navigate the magic in-between. Do that, and amazing things can happen.
Adapted with permission from a post originally on LichyLaw.com.