The Reminger Report: Emerging Technologies

How Can Start-Ups Access Quality Legal Assistance? with Devin Miller (Part 1)

February 17, 2022 Reminger Co., LPA Season 2 Episode 36
The Reminger Report: Emerging Technologies
How Can Start-Ups Access Quality Legal Assistance? with Devin Miller (Part 1)
Show Notes Transcript

Zachary Pyers is joined by Devin Miller, Founder and CEO of Miller IP Law.  Based in Utah, Devin provides resources for start-ups and small businesses to learn about patents, trademarks, and copyrights and how they can build value into their business and protect their assets. 

Highlights of their discussion include:

  • Devin's educational path from dual degrees in Electrical Engineering and Mandarin Chinese to eventually earning a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) and a law degree (JD), led by his passion for entrepreneurship and the law.
  • How he increases accessibility of legal assistance to start-ups by removing common barriers. The pros and cons of utilizing online legal tech companies (like LegalZoom), and finding a middle ground.
  • Why he started his podcast, The Inventive Journey, and what he's learned from interviewing 300+ entrepreneurs.

Be sure to join us next week for part 2 of this discussion, where Zachary and Devin review common problems faced by start-up entrepreneurs and how to avoid/overcome them.

Visit our website for information about our legal services related to emerging technologies.

ZBP     Zachary B. Pyers, Esq.
 DM      Devin Miller, Esq.

 | ZBP   | Today we have a special edition of the Reminger Report Podast on Emerging Technologies.  I am excited to introduce a special guest, Devin Miller.  Devin, thank you for joining us today.
 | DM | Absolutely. I’m excited to be here.  Looking forward to good conversation.
 | ZBP | Well we are very excited to have you here. We appreciate you taking the time. Now, before we jump in and kind of start talking about it, I’d love for you to kind of give us some background about yourself.  We obviously see the science behind you, helping start-ups and small businesses and innovation, Miller IP Law – intellectual property for those that don’t know.  But tell us a little bit about yourself. I know you’re a lawyer by training, but you know kind of tell our guests, you know, who it is that you are and what it is that you do.
 | DM | Yeah. That’s a whole long conversation in and of itself. So I’ll try and give you the shorter version of it. So kind of by heart, I have two things that I love, well I guess more than two things.  I love my family, they’re the most important. So I have a wife, been married for 14 years, have four kids ages 11-6.  So that’s the most important thing in my life. If you switch over the business side of my life, my two passions are start-ups/entrepreneurship and the law.  So that’s kind of if you’re to look at the path that I’ve taken, it always kind of goes back to I love both, or I have passion about both of those. So, you know, kind of starting off educational career as far as on the college side, so I have four degrees which my wife always jokes is three degrees too many, but I got an electrical engineering degree, a Mandarin Chinese degree, and then as I was getting – my emphasis was always more on the electrical engineering degree – but as I was getting to the end of the undergraduate and I was kind of figuring out what I want to do when I grow up and I came to the conclusion I liked engineering but I didn’t want to be an engineer in the sense that I didn’t want to be stuck on a project for a long period of time, and a lot of engineers don’t have any say in a company or have any impact.  You have to say with them for a long period of time or have a lot of experience.  I’m saying hey, I don’t want to work 10-15 years of my career before I ever get to see what I’m working on or really understand it or have any impact on it.  So that’s kind of where I said what do I want to be when I grow up and kind of said I love entrepreneurships, start-ups and I also love the law. So I said well I can go do an MBA and get in the business side or I can go get a law degree.  I said well rather than choose one or the other I’m just going to go straight down the middle and do both. So I ended up getting an MBA degree as well as a law degree at the same time and then really been chasing both passions ever since.  I’ve been a full time lawyer now for about 10 years.  So been doing the law thing full time and I say side hustles are really a second full-time job.  I’ve also done several start-ups, everything from small family business that make 10s of thousands a year up to seven and eight figure businesses as well.  So that’s about me in a nutshell as much as I can put it in a nutshell.  But that’s a little bit about me.
 | ZBP | No, I appreciate that and I think it helps to provide some context both, I mean not only for myself but for our listeners, right?  Because one of the things I always talk about right is that everybody approaches things a little bit differently.  And so one of the things that I think is really helpful is to have that background and explanation when we hear about how people are approaching things. It’s helpful to say this is how I’m approaching it, but let me tell you my background as to why I’m approaching it this way. And so I think that’s immensely helpful to our listeners.  You know you talked about kind of the background in law, full time lawyer for the last 10 years, a bunch of start-ups. How did you kind of start out your career?  You know when you first came out with the MBA and the law degree, how did you kind of get started in this space?
 | DM | Yeah, I would probably go back to when I was still in school.  So, you know, as I was in school I was kind of just to set up the stage or the context a bit so I was doing the law degree and the MBA degree at the same time, had a two year old at the time, had a newborn at the time and I was working about 20 hours as a law clerk and then I also – as if that wasn’t enough – decided that you know I saw a flyer, it was either a flyer or an email I can’t remember which, saying hey there’s a business competition.  You can come, join, it’s multi-disciplinary where you get a whole bunch of different people together, you don’t know each that are studying different things, put them all together and see what business ideas you come up with and you enter the competition.  So I formed a group one year, we did an idea that was kind of fun but never did go anywhere.  It made gym bags less smelly. We came back around and got together, we were all juniors at the time, we were in our 3rd year of school, got together for our last year, and said hey do you want to do this again.  We did. We went into a – decided after a lot of stupid ideas of brainstorming – I came up with the idea to do a wearable hydration module. Back in the days when they didn’t have wearables, didn’t even know – Fitbit wasn’t around, Apple watch hadn’t been thought of yet.  And so that’s really probably where I got my start on entrepreneurship. So I was chasing the law side of it and doing the MBA at the same time, but I also did that. From that, the short story is, entered into the competition, took second place although I think we should have gotten first. But started a business around it, bought out the other partners, there were people in the competition with me. Started a business with it, raised some money or did some further development over a few years. Ended up merging with another company, that one’s still around and right now it’s an 8 figure, going on 9 figure business.  And so I was always chasing the law, doing that full time when I graduated I was a full time attorney and then doing some of these entrepreneur things on the side until about 3-1/2 years ago where I started my own law firm. Also wanted to be able to kind of consolidate everything I was doing so the side hustle and the legal I can mend it to one business to one company and one effort.  And so I started that about 3-1/2 years ago. So that was a much longer answer to a short question.  I don’t know how to make it any simpler because it’s a messy thing, but that’s a little bit about how I got started while I was still in school and then kind of continued to graduate, become a lawyer, work for some law firms, work for them for about 7-1/2 years, started my own thing and the whole time I was also doing the entrepreneur and doing start-ups on the, alongside of that.
 | ZBP | I think it’s great when lawyers, and we’ve talked to a number of lawyers on this podcast through, I mean I love talking to lawyers just because I mean..
 | DM | Well you’re a select bunch. Most people try and avoid lawyers as much as possible.
 | ZBP | Well I think part of it is just because I am a lawyer myself so I’m happy to discuss you know tech issues with other lawyers who are in the tech space because oftentimes you know we find a lot of lawyers who, you don’t find a lot of lawyers in the tech space, or you don’t find as many.  And so you find a lot of lawyers who are adjacent to the tech space, you know, because they are transactional lawyers or they’re litigators and they’re adjacent to it. But I love talking to lawyers who are actually in the tech space and you know I also love it too just because one of the things that I know a lot of young lawyers or law students who may be listening to this podcast, they oftentimes ask what else can I do with my career or my law degree other than traditional business and I thought there’s actually a lot of things.  And we’ve had a lot of lawyer guests on this podcast who were saying look what I’ve been doing.  And it’s really interesting stuff, right? And I always say that the analytical approach that you learn in law school is applicable to a lot of different situations.  Start-up business is oftentimes one of them.  So tell us a little bit, you know you answered on kind of how you ended up in the tech space at least initially. Explain to us, you’ve got your firm Miller IP Law kind of keeping everything under one roof.  Tell me what are some of the services, well tell me first, I know a lot of people like to know where are you located, right? Because we haven’t even, I’m in Columbus, Ohio, but where are you located and tell us about some of the services your firm is kind of offering.  
 | DM | Yeah, and uh I almost went to school in Columbus. I went to Cleveland, Ohio when I did the graduate school for the law degree and MBA, so I went to Case Western Reserve, so nearby where you are at for a few years. But now I’m located, I was originally from Utah, I’m back in Utah most of my life with the exception of I lived in Taiwan for a couple of years and went to school in Cleveland for graduate school.  But I’m in Utah. So we’re located in a smaller town. It’s called Ogden, Utah.  It’s just north of Salt Lake City but definitely an awesome place, and I love being here.
 | ZBP | And tell us kind of what some of your services that your firm, I’m assuming it’s intellectual property, some patent work and along those lines, especially given your engineering background, but tell me is it limited to that?  Are you helping or consulting with start-ups in other capacities?
 | DM | Yeah, so do several things. So I would say the mainstay and the focus are you know kind of the core competency is on intellectual property, so patents, trademarks, copyrights.  That’s kind of when I started at my old law firm, and even a lot of my career when I was focusing on the legal side, that’s where I was focused.  So definitely have a core competency between myself and other attorneys here, and we also will branch out a bit. So we’ll do LLC formations. We’ll do NDA or non-disclosure agreements, independent contractor agreements, employee IP assignments.  So those are kind of business related services that oftentimes come along with that.  And then in addition to that, and kind of I also own an engineering firm that does a lot of product development. So we’ll help kind of on the a lot of times start-ups and small businesses will come in and they’ll have initial prototype or maybe a concept and they’re saying hey I wanted to protect this, and then oh by the way do you know anybody that helps on the development side and we’re able to offer kind of both those services under one roof.  And then in addition to that kind of on the law side is I’ve been branching out, one of the other things I think is an area that the legal side often lags behind and that’s a longer conversation is on some of the DIY legal services.  Now you have people like Rocket Lawyer, Legal Zoom, but for the most part the traditional law firm model is such that hey we’re the attorneys, you either don’t have enough money to afford us, we’re going to leave you out in the cold and you have no options which I understand why they do that or they say hey pay our fees, and for a lot of start-ups and small businesses you’re kind of left between a rock and a hard space. You don’t really have the funds or the budget right now to afford an attorney but also need some of those at least initial services to get started.  So we’ve also in addition to law firms as part of the efforts, we’ve done a DIY legal product that we’re able to offer for those that are getting started.  It doesn’t replace an attorney, but it does provide an additional option for start-ups and small businesses as they’re getting started.
 | ZBP | Can you explain to our audience what some of those services might look or if I was coming to look for, what might I see?
 | DM | Yeah, so we actually offer quite a few different ones.  Some of the ones you’d see, you can do a trademark application and you know the way that we’ve set it up is, tooting our own horn I guess, but Legal Zoom and we looked at it, and some of these are offered by Legal Zoom, but the problem is every time I’d see people go to Legal Zoom, and they even tried to do it on their own and use their services is it was complicated, hard to understand, there wasn’t a lot of direction, it was just kind of wrote out script.  So we created a much larger suite, but it also in addition to that we’re looking and saying okay, what are the better ways that we can improve?  So we integrated video in there, we have explainers, we have a lot more information. At the end they have an option to, if they say hey I’d like an attorney to pick up where I left off or it’s too complicated, you can have an attorney pick up and go the normal route. Or you can buy and hour of attorney time to get some direction. But as far as the services, you can do a provisional patent application, you can do a trademark, you can do a copyright, a patent licensing agreement, cease and desist letter, LLC formation, NDAs, independent contractor agreements, business wills, those are a good majority of that. So a lot of the services that we’re saying are going to be needed for a start-up for a small business to get started, we offer it as a legal product.  Now not as good as an attorney, never claim it be because I think it’s very hard to replace an attorney, but we try to fill in that gap as much as possible to make it as good of a product for those that maybe can’t afford us or afford attorneys.
 | ZBP | What I think that we’re starting to see, I mean I think one of the issues that has existed and has been commented on and I think you’ve touched on this, is the accessibility to legal assistance.  I mean and I know that that’s been an issue, not just in the start-up phase, but I mean this has been an ongoing issue that I think a lot of people have talked about. The problem is complex, I mean problems like this are never simple or easy, right, to fix.  But I think that what you’re hinting at or talking about I think is one of those issues to try to decrease that barrier to access legal assistance.
 | DM | Yeah, well I think there’s two.  I think one is, there’s always been that barrier.  I don’t think that’s new to the legal realm.  I mean if you go back I’m sure 2 or 3 hundred years people are still struggling with how to pay for legal services because attorneys have always been pretty expensive.  But I think that there’s a couple of things.  One is, you’re trying to, you know typically, I always look at it as kind of like building a house.  And you can, you know typically, if you need a shelter over your head, if you had to build something yourself, you could put up a tent.  You could probably do without a lot of instructions and you get it done.  Or you can go hire somebody.
 | ZBP | I was going to say, you’ve actually never seen me put up a tent.
 | DM | Theoretically.  I’ll give you a really simple tent that only has two poles, I’m sure you could figure it out.  My backpacking tent.  I’ll give you that one or I’ll show you that one, but I’ll bet you could get that one to pop up.  But you know you either have a tent, if you had enough time, you had enough bandwidth you could probably figure out how to do it yourself.  And that’s kind of doing it yourself.  You know the typical, if I don’t have an attorney and I have to try and figure it out, I may go watch some YouTube videos or may try and read something online. I’ll get that bare essential tent over my head that keeps me out of the cold or at least keeps the rain off of me if it rains, but doesn’t do much more.  Or you can go and you can have a contractor build your house, which is kind of more like an attorney.  And it will have all the amenities, and it will have the heating and the air conditioning. It will have the electricity, it will have you know all the amenities and nothing else.  It’s either kind of you either get the tent or you get the house.  And so one is that there seems like there should be more of a middle ground to where you’re not just left with one of those on the legal side of either having to try to figure out how to put up a tent yourself or having something or having the house.  And so that’s kind of where I think that a lot of law firms are not addressing that need, and the reason being they just want people to come in the door, pay the attorney rates, make the better amount of money off of it, don’t shy away from it.  But I think the industry is moving that way whether attorneys like it or not, you’re having outside entities that are coming in like Legal Zoom, like Rocket Lawyer.  I think it’s going to continue to come. So for me, it’s either looking at it and say we can either continue to try to ignore it, push it off pretend it’s not there, let the outside encroach it, and I’m not saying encroach in a bad way, but figure out how to solve the problems we’re not willing to.  Or we can start to say, hey we already have a lot of this expertise and knowledge and we’re able to do it.  Why not start to fill that gap so that we can continue to be a stable, have a stable future.  The other thing I think is I think it's just one where technology evolves to the point that we can do it a lot better now than what you could do 200 years ago.  Two hundred years ago, there really wasn’t ability to make a lot of those products, but attorneys in law firms are still thinking how it was done 100 years ago.  And you look, other than we use email and some docketing software and folder management, it really hasn’t changed a lot.  I think that you have, kind of each generation they just do it how the previous generation did it, how they learned it from their mentor or the attorney they trained under, and they never actually looked to say is there a better way or different way to doing this?  And so I think that there’s a lot of opportunity but a large degree goes unaddressed.
 | ZBP | You know one of the other things I know is you host a podcast too, is that correct?
 | DM | Absolutely.
 | ZBP | So tell us about, I mean I like talking to people who host podcasts or have their own, so tell us about your podcast, how can our listeners find your podcast? What do you talk about? What do you address on your podcast?  And what should we be listening for?
 | DM | Yeah, so that podcast is called the Inventive Journey, and it really started out of, so as you can probably guess, first of all, I love start-ups, I also work with a ton of start-ups if you can’t tell by the sign. That’s who we focus on, you know start-ups and small business.  And a lot of time when we were getting into it, I was hearing a lot of the same, first of all, I bill the same way myself, but I was hearing a lot of the same billings. That even though everybody has their own journey, there’s a few things that are commonality. Everybody feels overwhelmed. Everybody feels like everybody else has it figured out except for them.  You’ll watch the movie, you’ll read the book or the tv show and it feels like everybody’s an overnight success, and on and on.  And then not only compound it with you’re having to wear multiple hats.  You know you’re having to do HR, you’re having to do hiring and firing, marketing and sales, you’re the janitor, you’re the boss and everything in between.  And everybody kind of felt like you know why am I the only one that’s feeling these ways, and overwhelmed and lonely and don’t know how to do it.  And so the podcast has really started from, no I hear this a lot and there are a lot of people going through it. Everybody has a different journey, but they all have these same struggles. And so I was really telling the journey we start at high school/college. So start through the beginning and we’ll clock through in about half an hour how people got to where they’re at today. Maybe they went straight from college and did their own start-up or maybe they worked for somebody for ten years and they figured they hated it, they tried their business – they failed, they tried another business – they were successful, they sold that, whatever that journey is, but we kind of tell the journey from the beginning so you can hear hey you’re not alone. Other people have done it. It doesn’t matter how old you are, what your education is.  Everybody has a different path. And it’s just a really fun conversation to hear how all the different people that are doing start-ups and small business, how they got to where they’re at today. So it’s on all the major podcast platforms. You can go find it on any podcast player. We’re also on YouTube. You can also check it out on our website, so you can catch it about any way. But if you just go and search The Inventive Journey, it would come up pretty easy.
 | ZBP | Great.  Thanks for sharing that.  I was going to ask, do you ever notice that your guests on the podcast are they, are a lot of them serial entrepreneurs, meaning they’ve worked on multiple projects whether they’ve been successful or not?  Or do you get a lot of people who have been on, you know they struck it on the first time or they’ve got one business and that’s what they’ve stuck to?
 | DM | All across, so we’ve done I think now 350 episodes or more, and so we’ve talked, I’ve talked with a ton of people, is everything from people that just getting started out were just getting into doing their first business and so who knows, it’s too early to tell to people that have done it, they’ve failed, they had to pivot, they adjusted and they’re on their third of fourth one, to people that are you know getting ready to do their next successful one, to people that hit it, struck it on the big – and I don’t know, it’s interesting, I don’t know that there’s been enough of one or the other because everybody’s in a different place.  I mean there are people that struck it on the first, but even the people – why I like the podcast, even the people that struck it on the first, it still took them years, they pivoted, they adjusted. It’s not like the had an idea, they went and implemented it, sold it at marketplace and everybody just started paying them lots of money. I don’t think I’ve had any of those stories. What I have heard is hey I left my job, I was sick and tired of working for someone else, or I always had a dream or desire. I started this, we were in it for a year or two, figured out we had it all wrong, we needed to pivot, we adjusted, we changed the marketing or we changed the product, that didn’t work, now after about 3 or 4 years we kind of got it figured out now and we’re starting to be successful.  That is a much more realistic and some people are saying I’ve been doing this for 10 years and I still don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m having a great time at it.  So I mean I think it’s that one where people, some people are still with the first business they’re at.  And some people are doing serial, and everybody’s journey is so different, so I don’t know that there’s enough of a commonality because everybody has such different journeys and paths.