McGill’s student-run legal clinic for startups is thriving


Like so many other ideas tackled by tech startups, Saam Pousht-Mashhad’s vision for Compass, Quebec’s first student-run legal clinic for startups came from scratching his own itch.

As a brainy undergrad, Pousht-Mashhad had a business idea that required IP knowledge. But when he approached legal clinics it wasn’t easy to get what he needed.

“They didn’t want to give it to me. They said since I was a for-profit venture they couldn’t help me. So we were forced to see a lawyer and pay him a lot of money to do it and in my mind it didn’t make sense,” he told MTLinTECH.

Skip ahead in time to when Pousht-Mashhad started law school. He thought McGill students should replicate the model consistent at other law schools in Canada (Ontario, particularly), where students work on business-related issues with the help of supervising lawyers. They help entrepreneurs “sift through the legal maze.”

“And making sure their cash flow stays within the company at the germination stage and it’s not going to lawyers,” added the law student.

The Compass student-run legal clinic at McGill has now been in operation for three years now. A handful of bright students work on cases with supervising lawyers from Dentons. Pousht-Mashhad estimates the clinic has successfully assisted 120 entrepreneurs over the three years.

Today the firm’s leading team is made up of Pousht-Mashhad, the San Francisco-based Maryam Sabour, Trish Barrett and Corey Wolman.

Compass

Compass says it’s the first of its kind in the province, mirroring services offered from other clinics at Queens University, York University, Dalhousie University, University of Calgary and University of Ottawa to name a few.

In an effort to provide more than just legal advice, Compass has also secured partnerships with Richter (accounting) and Banque Nationale (banking). When a startup goes beyond needing only legal information, Compass can easily refer them to its partnering institutions, often at a better rate.

“These startups are looking for the best advice but we all know bootstrapping has its limits,” said Banque Nationale’s Pat Romanelli. “So we want to provide the best service with the clinic. Our role is just to encourage entrepreneurship. It’s not always about financing and lending but also about guiding, advising and working with partners that can help grow entrepreneurs at the next level. We’re proud to be a part of it.”

Pousht-Mashhad said most of the requests by startups revolve around complex incorporation schemes or patents. Compass tries to point them in the right direction, and one that’s easier on the wallet.

“We walk them through the federal incorporation guide, tell them the documents and articles they need, explain to them the relevant provisions, tell them what a shareholder agreement is and usually they walk away from the conversation very different from when they initially came in. They realize they don’t actually need that much legal guidance when it comes to these very basic documents.”

It’s been a long time since Compass wasn’t even recognized at a club at McGill. Now students can actually work at the clinic and earn credits.

Things are looking up for the group.

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