1 March 2012
The Forefront Law Group formally launched its entrepreneurial law practice with more than two dozen initial clients, including venture stage and growth companies in technology, software and social media, luxury and retail, real estate, and renewable energy. On the asset management side, Forefront’s client base spans angel and venture investors, a global investment bank, and several innovative hedge funds and investment managers.
Forefront is a practice of legal experts focused on the needs of entrepreneurs, growth companies, and the investors who finance them. With eight senior lawyers – and growing rapidly – Forefront serves as the sole general counsel for 13 corporate entities, providing the full panoply of legal services for these entrepreneurial clients. “Through Forefront we get all the services that an in-house general counsel would provide, plus access to all the specialized legal advice we need in employment, commercial contracts, technology, and intellectual property. Rather than a single in-house counsel serving as concierge to expensive outside law firms, Forefront delivers it all in one package,” commented John Cooper, CEO of BrightWire, a global foreign language news summary service. “When we secured large scale venture capital funding from Matrix and Silicon Valley Bank last summer, Forefront handled the entire transaction for Brightwire, from inception through negotiation and closing. As deal lawyers, I would put the Forefront team up against any firm in the country.”
Only months into this new form of practice, Forefront has already completed four venture capital transactions, with six more in the works. Forefront’s unique model deploys a team of seasoned, mid-career experts to handle client demands efficiently. Forefront lawyers enjoy doing the work themselves, without the added expense of training new associates or churning docs through a pyramid structure. Without the need to support cadres of associates and their learning curves — and extremely low overhead — Forefont operates like a start up company itself and delivers high value legal services at reasonable cost.
Forefront’s founding partner, Jason Gabbard, a veteran of Cravath Swaine & Moore, had led scores of major securities, M&A and real estate transactions. He also led an internal legal team for Morgan Stanley’s London-based private equity funds (traditional PE, real estate and infrastructure). Subsequent to Morgan Stanley, Jason has been representing entrepreneurial clients for four years in independent practice. He has completed a dozen major venture capital transactions (both equity and debt) and has represented his clients in extensive negotiations with investors, vendors, and clients. Jason also has significant experience with complicated transactions in the fashion and music industries.
Founding partner Don Carlson was a senior executive in the legal and investment banking divisions at Goldman Sachs & Co. He also headed the financial institutions practice at Axiom Legal during a phase of unprecedented growth. After rounding out his legal training as a law clerk on the First Circuit Court of Appeals and as a trial lawyer at Williams & Connolly in Washington, DC, Don turned to the business side of the legal profession. He has been a CEO or senior officer of four growth companies himself (Axiom Legal, Corporate Executive Board, Business Intelligence Advisors, Matterhorn Transactions) and serves on the boards of several others as an advisor and active angel investor. Don has specialized in complex commercial negotiations since his law school days working with Professor Roger Fisher (author of Getting to Yes) and the Harvard Negotiation Project.
Forefront’s founding team also includes a number of other senior lawyers including the former general counsel of Calvin Klein, Kinkos, and Nexxar; an experienced commercial lawyer from Morgan Lewis; and a tax expert from BCRS; and a fund formation expert from Fried Frank. The team is growing at a steady clip in response to the specific legal needs of Forefront’s expanding client base. As Carlson puts it: “The way we practice law is shaped by the fact that every one of our founders and lawyers is an entrepreneur at heart. We have a passion for problem-solving and finding ways to help our clients grow their business.”
Forefront recently relocated to larger offices on the corner of Wall Street in the financial district of Manhattan. The firm expects to continue growing at a rapid clip. As Gabbard notes: “We aim to grow aggressively over the coming three years and I fully expect to quadruple revenues and client base during that time period. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Forefront offices in both San Francisco and London in the near future.”
The Forefront Model
Forefront is a firm founded on acute focus to both client satisfaction and low overhead. Forefront currently serves as exclusive general counsel for more than a dozen companies, providing the full panoply of legal services for these entrepreneurial clients. The firm eschews hourly billing whenever possible and actively encourage clients to opt for project-based or flat fee pricing. Forefront willingly shoulders the burden of efficiently managing legal costs on behalf of its clients.
Forefront’s preferred structure is to set a fixed monthly fee for comprehensive legal service. For less than the cost of one general counsel, clients receive all the services that a general counsel would provide along with access to all the specialized legal advice they require. They do not have to resort to outside counsel to get the actual legal work done. For companies on the cusp of needing to hire an in-house lawyer, this solution is irresistible.
Some clients opt for flat fee quotes on legal projects in order to scope out the work needed in discreet increments. Forefront welcomes performance-based fees to more perfectly align the firm’s interests with those of its clients. In every case, Forefront strives to find creative ways to move away from the outmoded, unimaginative and inefficient system of billable hours.
Representative transactions in the past year include:
- Acted as lead counsel for Brightwire in connection with $9.3M series B round led by Matrix Partners. Deal involved LLC to C Corporation conversion, as well as tax-free spinoff of one division. (Forefront also has been engaged as counsel for the sale of the spinoff company.)
- Advised management team of NY-based luxury goods and apparel company in connection with management buyout of the business from its original parent company, a multi-billion dollar publicly traded company.
- Acted as lead counsel for NY-based financial technology company in connection with $2.5M Series A round co-led by First Round Capital and Windcrest Ventures, a family office active in the east coast venture capital arena.
- Acted as lead counsel for New York-based financial software company in connection with $1M convertible note offering.
- Advised investment group in connection with both Series B and Series C investment rounds in OnDeck Capital, with First Round Capital, Village Ventures, Ron Conway and Khosla Ventures all involved in the transactions.
- Advised NY-based social media company in connection with $1.5M seed round led by Tudor Investments.
- Represented Brightwire in significant venture debt financing with Silicon Valley Bank.
- Served as counsel for management team in complex negotiated reorganization of Lincoln Square Advisors (opposite Akin Gump and Sidley Austin).
- Currently advising Brazilian investment manager in connection with equity investment / joint venture with multi-billion dollar US insurance company.