A Capital Idea
Milwaukee-based Godfrey & Kahn ( www.gklaw.com) has long enjoyed a reputation for representing, and growing with, entrepreneurs. But hardly content to rest on its laurels, in July 2002 it took a new step to demonstrate its commitment to this special client group. The 168-lawyer firm launched its Emerging 100 program to provide emerging companies with specialized first-year services under a flexible-fee arrangement. The program lets participants select from a range of fixed-fee services and offers qualified clients the option of deferring the fees for warrants in the company. The goal: To help position entrepreneurs for further growth.
Mark Ehrmann, the partner in charge of Emerging 100, explains how the program originated from involvement in venture conferences and meetings with investors. There, it became clear that emerging companies typically have one common need: capital. Without it, they sometimes have to forego important legal services. And "cutting corners," Ehrmann says, can lead to troubles for young businesses later (such as failing to secure a patent or giving up too much of their companies).
As Ehrmann explains, Godfrey & Kahn had always displayed a willingness to take a risk with clients. But the Emerging 100 program offered a way to formalize that readiness.
Initially, there were a few skeptics in the firm, with some partners worrying that existing clients might want to take advantage of the program. Ehrmann's admittedly flip but factual response was, "If [a large corporate client] wants to give us a warrant for stock in lieu of fees, why wouldn't we?" In fact, though, the firm has a set of criteria that allows it to qualify applicants for the program.
To promote Emerging 100, Godfrey & Kahn has employed mailings, articles in relevant publications, lawyer presence at trade shows -- and even an airport diorama. And it's paying off. In the year since the program's rollout, the firm has signed up a number of new clients and has additional proposals under consideration. Just as important, says Ehrmann, the program has helped brand the firm. "We are getting our name out in this area. People are saying, 'You guys represent emerging companies.'" And with this value-added program, the firm is demonstrating that it means to help those young businesses reach their full height, too.