Law for Labors of Love-May 2012

Law for Labors of Love-May 2012

Start-up law firm Friedman Iverson specializes in legal work for "creative entrepreneurs."

Walk into Friedman Iverson’s place of business, and you’d be excused for wondering: This is a law office? The former auto repair shop in Minneapolis’s Lyn-Lake neighborhood that attorneys David Friedman and Blake Iverson use for their legal practice resembles a recording studio, complete with band posters on the walls. And that’s by design.  

Friedman Iverson’s “creative entrepreneur” clients include event planners, graphic and website designers, video production companies, clothing designers, and musicians. These clients need the kinds of services many lawyers provide: writing up contracts, setting up business entities such as partnerships, and offering business advice. But Friedman Iverson’s creative clients often are starting their first businesses—and being artistic types, they often know little about potential legal pitfalls. 

“People are going into business with their friends,” Iverson notes. “That’s a really terrifying thing, because things go bad in business all the time. You’re going to ruin a personal relationship if that happens, and you’re going to also ‘underpaper’ it.” Partners need to draft documents that make everyone’s responsibilities crystal clear. Iverson adds that he and Friedman also know when to play the heavy: “You guys love each other now, but you might hate each other in the future.” 

For creative enterprises, these attorneys argue, boilerplate contracts often don’t do the job. “What we want to know is, what ways has your business been burned before?’ And then we write the contract” with that in mind, Friedman says. In addition, “We find all the time that we’re translating contracts into English. We won’t write contracts with legalese. If stuff like ‘heretofore’ slips through, we’ll strike it.”

“No one should call their lawyer and ask, ‘Did I breach this contract?’” Iverson adds. Clarity can eliminate the need for litigation—though litigation is a service that the firm also can provide. 

One of Friedman Iverson’s clients is Kedrin Likness, who founded Attagirl by Kedrin in 2007 to market her custom crocheted hats and other accessories. Last summer, having found that her Minneapolis business “grew faster than I expected,” the first-time entrepreneur contacted Friedman Iverson, which she’d heard about through Minneapolis-based organization MNFashion, to safeguard trademarks and draw up licensing and independent-contractor agreements. Besides appreciating the firm’s workspace—“it’s laid back, not like a stuffy lawyer’s office”—Likness praises Iverson for “explaining everything, what he’s doing and why,” as well as offering different legal options. 

Iverson founded the firm in 2008; Friedman joined a year later. In addition to being college friends, they were bandmates. After law school, Friedman returned to New York City to work as a staff attorney for a nonprofit; Iverson took a job at a business services company specializing in legal affairs. Unhappy with his work, Iverson envisioned a different kind of practice and lured Friedman back to Minnesota. It wasn’t difficult: Friedman and his wife were finding life in New York too expensive. 

Currently, creative enterprises make up about 25 percent of Friedman Iverson’s caseload, with the rest comprising consumer law, including bankruptcy filings and debt collection. The partners want to bring that ratio closer to 50-50. 

They’d also like to make their workspace into a gathering place for creative types. A lot of the partners’ time, Iverson says, is taken up by “being a conduit—referring someone to a good accountant, or just having two clients meet each other because one wants to put up an art opening, and another one has space, and someone else is a DJ, and somebody else is a caterer. If we can be a help for those kinds of people, that’s a rising tide that lifts all boats. All our clients win. And you can’t help but be a beneficiary to that.”