The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Aaron Dickinson represents emerging companies through all stages of their business lifecycle and advises venture capital funds investing in high-growth startups. He represents early-stage companies in equity and debt financings, entity formation, corporate governance, and commercial agreements. Aaron also is an adjunct professor of law at Seattle University School of Law, where he teaches contract drafting. Prior to his legal career, Aaron served in the U.S. Army as an infantry officer. Aaron lives in Seattle and enjoys spending time with his family and exploring the outdoors.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
My practice is in Emerging Companies & Venture Capital. I work with clients of all sizes, from startups with just a couple of founders to Fortune 50 companies. I help startups with entity formation, corporate governance, commercial agreements, employment, and compensation issues. I also represent startups in equity and debt financings—from convertible notes and simple agreements for future equity (SAFEs), to Series Seed financings, all the way to Series F and later stage financings. I also help startups with liquidity events, such as secondary sales or merger and acquisition transactions.
What types of clients do you represent?
I work with both small startups and large companies investing in startups. I also work with venture funds investing in high-growth companies, as well as corporate venture groups investing with a strategic vision. I help advise later-stage companies in both corporate governance and later-stage financings, and as they prepare for exit events such as an M&A transaction or IPO. Most of the clients I work with are technology businesses, but not all—I also represent clients in other industries, such as space, manufacturing, and professional sports.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
Most of my work is helping companies and founders fundraise. Fundraising can take many forms, including angel investments, debt financings, and preferred stock equity financings. I help clients with SAFEs, convertible notes, preferred stock financings, and secondary sales. I also help companies with reorganizations and recapitalizations, whether for tax or other strategic reasons.
How did you choose this practice area?
I was introduced to transactional law in law school and found that I quite enjoyed the forward-thinking and business-oriented nature of the transactional practice. I love working with startups because they have great visions of the future—it is exciting to apply my skills and abilities to help founders and companies execute and create their vision in reality.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
I would break up my typical day into three different categories: counseling, drafting, and managing a transaction. Counseling involves the client meetings in which I provide legal advice on various questions, ranging from structuring a financing round to onboarding an employee. Drafting involves preparing the relevant agreements necessary to buy and sell equity, authorize corporate actions, or otherwise engage in the business of the company. Managing a transaction involves coordinating all the moving pieces to bring a financing to a successful closing.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
I teach a contract drafting course—so I definitely recommend practical drafting experience! Interpersonal skills and leadership are critical components to being a successful transactional lawyer as well. Time management is a key skill for staying organized and focused—similarly, organization and project management are great skills and characteristics to develop. A solid grasp of contract law, business entities, and securities regulation is a necessary foundation for an emerging companies lawyer.
What do you like best about your practice area?
I enjoy the vision, persistence and high energy of founders and startup companies. I like that I have the ability to provide high-value, meaningful advice to companies on the cutting edge of business and technology.
What is unique about your practice area at your firm?
Part of what makes Perkins Coie’s emerging company practice different is the team-oriented mindset: I am engaged in meeting client needs from the very beginning, and the whole team works together to provide the best client service possible. We also have a deep bench of practical experience in representing both venture funds and emerging companies so we can see trends in the market as they develop over time, which is a valuable insight we share with our clients.
What are some typical tasks that a junior lawyer would perform in this practice area?
A junior lawyer will perform drafting tasks, diligence review, and will help manage transactions, and will often be asked to draft board and stockholder consents, and other ancillary documents that are critical to properly authorizing and executing financing deals. A junior lawyer will also be expected to manage client relationships from the very beginning, with supervision.
What kinds of experience can summer associates gain at this practice area at your firm?
I had a great experience as a summer associate (check out this video here to hear from me and others on the summer program). I had a chance to work directly on significant transactions and client matters. I drafted substantive legal documents for attorney review and communicated directly with clients. I developed skills in communicating legal advice, drafting both legal documents and client correspondence, and developed my substantive knowledge of business entity and contract law in a practical environment, which perfectly complemented my legal education.