As a “kid lawyer” about 30 years ago, Dave Sorin was working on Wall Street at Davis Polk & Wardwell, representing “mega institutional clients”. It didn’t take long for him to figure out that it wasn’t his cup of tea, though back then, he didn’t know exactly why.
At the time, Morgan Stanley had created a high-tech group, and Dave proactively sought out assignments on technology related IPO’s. Why? Not because tech was all the rage; it was more so that he noticed that these were smaller deals, with fewer lawyers assigned, which meant he could get more involved and gain more experience.
He says, “It was only after working on several of those transactions that I realized I had been bitten by the bug. I found myself looking across that table and thinking that the guys on the other side- the innovators, entrepreneurs, and risk takers- would be the ones that would be REALLY interesting to work for and try to help them achieve their business goals.”
Fast forward to the early 90’s, when Dave moved his career out to Jersey and joined Buchanan Ingersoll. With just one associate, he was tasked with building their tech and entrepreneurial practice in New Jersey. By 1993 they had become the perennial IPO leader in the Mid-Atlantic region, and by 2000 there were 65 lawyers in their Princeton office. Throughout the run-up to Y2K, he was representing “scores” of innovators, technologists, angels, VC’s private equity firms and investment banks, gaining experience on both sides of the table.
Dave’s firm, along with PNC Bank, Dendrite, The Edison Venture Fund, and Arthur Anderson were all members of Maxine Ballen’s South Jersey Entrepreneur’s Network. They met regularly, and around 1995/’96, their discussions began to center around their realization that NJ had a robust “technology company base”, but no real ecosystem to support it.
A couple years later, they realized that despite the rapid growth of the NJTC, “there was no indigenous venture fund specific for the startup community in New Jersey”. So he and a few others co-created the NJTC Venture Fund. Even with the Venture Fund in place, there was still a void in the marketplace for companies that weren’t ready for venture funding, but still needed capital, so shortly after that, he also co-created and sponsored Jumpstart NJ, an network of angel investors.
Keep in mind, this is all before Y2K, Web 2.0, and the Great Recession.
With the seismic shifts in the economy, Dave saw a need to create a new type of law firm and founded Sorin Rand. He turned the traditional law firm’s delivery model on it’s head in order to embrace the new realities of business. Instead of leveraging cheap labor by pushing work down to associates with 1-4 years of experience, they leveraged the experience of their best lawyers. In order to remain competitive and not erode their compensation, they took a hard look at all the other costs incurred by a law firm. They embraced the new realities of business, switching to electronic libraries, digital documentation and storage, and reduced their square footage to 42% of a traditional firm. All these measures reduced the firm’s dependence on non-legal staff, and the entire delivery model cut costs for clients dramatically.
Sorin Rand’s compelling value proposition of expertise delivered at a sensible fee structure brought rapid growth. Startup law firms are not immune to the challenges of scalability that face many startups, and one of the primary challenges faced by Sorin Rand was that while they could handle all the funding, mergers and public offerings, they did not have enough intellectual property, tax, executive compensation and employment lawyers.
As the #1 rated law firm for Tech and Tech-Enabled companies, they were being recruited by multiple larger firms, most of which tried to convince them to return to the traditional leverage delivery model. The exception was McCarter and English. They understood Sorin and Rand’s model and philosophy, and had the resources to support the emerging growth companies that had been flocking to Sorin Rand’s paradigm shifting delivery model. The two firms merged in Q4 ’14 (without an increase in billing rates as result of the merger) and Dave reports that they are living happily ever after.
As embedded as Dave is in the startup scene in New Jersey, it was only a matter of time before he crossed paths with founder of what has become the state’s largest technology and entrepreneurial community– the NJ Tech Meetup. Dave was introduced to Aaron Price by Alan Wink of Eisner Amper back in 2010, when the group was still called the Hoboken Tech Meetup.
“It doesn’t take much to see what Aaron brings to the table. I was immediately struck by his passion, wisdom, and his understanding of the needs of these start up entrepreneurs. I really liked his spirit, and what he was doing, so we decided we wanted to support him. We signed up to be the first sponsor (of the meetup), and we’ve sponsored ever since.”
Dave was a keynote speaker at the original Spark Summit in 2012, has held several NJ Tech Meetup workshops, and advocates for the NJ Tech Meetup whenever possible. In addition, attorneys from McCarter & English regularly attend the meetups as a resources for attendees.
Aaron says “They mean it when they say they want to help, and embody the spirit of the kinds of support that allow the NJ Tech Meetup to thrive. Beyond that, Dave understands startups and early stage technology. He, and the firm, have helped many of the NJ Tech Meetup companies, from fundraising to employment issues, all the way to an exit. I often say that our goal is to surround the meetup with service providers who are best in class and understand startups needs so enterpreneurs can spend their time focus on other priorities. Dave and his colleagues, since SorinRand and now as McCarter & English, represent that idea wholeheartedly."
Dave is still active in the community and can be found sharing his expertise in the field as a featured speaker throughout the northeast, always advocating and supporting the engines of growth and job creation (especially in New Jersey) which has historically been a “high tech mecca”.
“As the years have gone by, we’ve seen all the tech innovation of the 80’s and 90’s really ‘come home’ and become integrated, allowing for changes in underlying business practices and lower capital intensity for startups… what you see is a dramatic increase in the sheer volume of ventures.” Fortunately for seed-stage companies in the Garden State, Dave Sorin has had a hand in making sure this is one of the most fertile places to grow.
Gil Olsen is a Jersey Shore native whose background is in youth and character development. His current focus is business and alternative education. He started out working with the BSA in the Florida Keys and the YMCA in San Diego before returning to Jersey. After teaching science for 3 years in a "traditional" school in Elizabeth, he decided to return to working full time on programs in the world's best classroom...The Ocean. He expanded the mission of Summertime Surf to include a character development focus, and enabled expansion to multiple locations. Summertime Surf has evolved from pen and paper “lemonade stand” system to building it’s industries most flexible, adaptable and technologically progressive system. As he and his partners grew Summertime Surf (from to 1 location to 6, under 10 employees to over 70, and 2 service offerings to over 20) he has created stable administrative and technical systems that enable Summertime Surf to operate smoothly at scale.