Otto Hanson ('16)
Staff Attorney, Davis Graham & Stubbs LLP
Founder and CEO, TermScout
Otto Hanson’s entrepreneurial spirit helped pave his way to the University of Colorado Law School and to co-founding his own company. As a staff attorney at Davis Graham & Stubbs LLP and founder of TermScout, a legal tech startup that helps businesses and consumers build and understand contracts, Hanson recognizes the important practical skills he gained while attending Colorado Law. Hanson earned his MBA from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies and worked for various startups before attending law school.
"A big part of the reason why I chose Colorado Law was the programs run by Associate Professor Brad Bernthal and former Dean Phil Weiser,” he said. "I started out in the Silicon Flatirons student group and was president during my second year. I also competed in transactional competitions, and my team won the national Transactional LawMeets competition in New York City in 2015."
The Tech Lawyer Accelerator and the Deming Center Venture Fund (DCVF), led by a cross-disciplinary team of CU Boulder graduate students, were two of the biggest influences on Hanson’s career.
"The DCVF is basically a venture capital fund run by graduate students. I was a student venture capitalist while I was a law student,” Hanson said. "Prior to law school, I’d been on the startup side but never the investor side. It was really great to try that hat on,” he said. “We listened to startup pitch presentations, interviewed executives, worked with the legal and financial teams, and learned about the due diligence process. We had to really look under the hood of the business and ask if we should allocate funds to this company. That was such a great experience to have while I was still in school."
Unbeknownst to him at the time, the DCVF would later play a pivotal role in Hanson’s own startup, which started when Hanson and Katherine Snow ('17) entered, and won, the Global Legal Hackathon in 2018 with an earlier iteration of their idea, then called LexLucid.
"We were frustrated after discovering some unusually and unapologetically aggressive terms in the click-through agreements of some large, well-known companies, so we set out to create a way for people (and later for businesses) to know what they’re signing," he said. "We received really positive feedback from judges and even found our first initial investor at the final round of the Global Legal Hackathon in New York City. We came back from that competition with a prototype of a product, an investor, and a winning idea, so we decided we had better keep at it."
When Hanson went out for TermScout’s first financing in early 2019, his team pitched—and received funding from—the Deming Center Venture Fund.
"It was great to work with the fund again and experience being on the company side of that transaction," Hanson said.
Another fundamental law school experience for Hanson was the Tech Lawyer Accelerator Program (TLA), run by Bill Mooz (’85). The program, which has been reimagined as the Institute for the Future of Law Practice, offers a hands-on training boot camp that focuses on disciplines not generally taught in law school followed by a field placement with companies in Colorado, Silicon Valley, and elsewhere.
"TLA got me up to speed. It was definitely a game changer,” he said. “Before law school I worked in low-tech startups, so I knew I needed more tech experience. TLA taught me the core language I needed to speak intelligibly to software engineers and work in the tech sector. I actually ended up working for a software company that summer. If you want to be involved with a high-tech business, being able to speak the language is just as key as knowing the law."
"If you want to be involved with a high-tech business, being able to speak the language is just as key as knowing the law."
Hanson also identified classes such as Venture Capital and Private Equity, taught by Bernthal and local venture capitalist Jason Mendelson, and Legal Writing Professor Amy Bauer’s Transactional Drafting class as useful and practical classes.
“I really didn’t want venture capital to be over. It was definitely a top class of all time for me,” he said. “The best class for technical skills was Professor Bauer’s transactional drafting class. She does a good job of using a technical approach to drafting and helping students recognize constituent parts of a contract. That is one skill that I still use all of the time."
Today, Hanson continues to practice law part time in the finance and acquisitions department of Davis Graham & Stubbs LLP and is the CEO of TermScout. “It’s incredible how supportive DGS has been, providing office space and mentorship for TermScout and being flexible with my legal practice as part of their efforts to give back to the entrepreneurial and legal tech communities,” he said.
Sarah Boulden (JD/MBA '13)
Senior Associate Attorney
Silicon Legal Strategy
As a graduate of Colorado Law’s JD/MBA dual degree program, Sarah Boulden got the best of both worlds: experiential education and practical coursework at Colorado Law and business-focused learnings at the Leeds School of Business.
Today, Boulden is a senior associate attorney at Silicon Legal Strategy, a boutique law firm providing transactional legal services to technology startups and investors. She heads the Denver office of Silicon Legal Strategy, which is headquartered in San Francisco. As outside general counsel for startup companies and venture capital firms, about 70 percent of her work is with startups and 30 percent is with venture capital investors. Most of Boulden’s day-to-day work consists of transactional legal work such as helping startups with formation and corporate governance, employment and consulting agreements, commercial agreements, equity and debt financings, and mergers and acquisitions.
"While I was a student I participated in activities across both the law school and business school. I was involved with Silicon Flatirons and the New Venture Challenge, and I was an articles editor on the Colorado Technology Law Journal,” she said. "I was also a student attorney in the Entrepreneurial Law Clinic and served as a course assistant for a Philosophy of Entrepreneurship class taught by Associate Professors Brad Bernthal and Phil Weiser, along with Brad Feld of the Foundry Group. At the business school I was also a director on the Deming Center Venture Fund."
Through classes and activities with the business school, Boulden broadened her knowledge base and acquired new skills not often taught in the classroom.
Additionally, through experiential learning in the Entrepreneurial Law Clinic, Boulden gained valuable practical skills. “In the clinic I had three clients with different needs, and I learned skills that are hard to obtain outside of an experience with a clinic or legal internship, such as drafting documents and client emails and the importance of responsiveness to clients. All of the skills I learned in clinic I still use today. Additionally, I’m currently a supervising attorney for the Entrepreneurial Law Clinic, so I’m able to advise and train current students."
"Theoretical classes are excellent for setting a solid foundation of the law, but practical courses allow students to be off to a running start as an associate."
Boulden noted the importance of taking practical classes. "The classes that stand out to me are Venture Capital with Associate Professor Brad Bernthal and Adjunct Faculty Jason Mendelson, Deals with Professor Erik Gerding, and Transactional Drafting with Legal Writing Professor Amy Bauer,” she said. "These practical classes have been the most helpful for me in my career. Theoretical classes are excellent for setting a solid foundation of the law, but practical courses allow students to be off to a running start as an associate. Additionally, networking and internships while you are a student are helpful to learn more about what you would like to do in the future and provide a much-needed break from legal coursework."
For students interested in business law, Boulden notes: "Students should try to gain a general understanding of the typical lifecycle of a business. Early stage companies typically need help with setting up the structure of the business to limit liability. They need form documents to issue equity, build a team, and work with vendors and customers. As companies grow, their needs change as they take on outside investment, grow their team, continue expanding their products and services and get ready for a successful exit. Additionally, knowing how to effectively use legal software and even Excel are important skills to have."
Christian Sederberg ('05)
Founding Partner, Vicente Sederberg LLP
Christian Sederberg’s practical experiences, from law school to his early career, have helped him succeed as a business lawyer in a variety of fields. Today, as a founding partner at Vicente Sederberg LLP, Sederberg helps lead a nationally recognized marijuana law firm into uncharted territory.
Sederberg entered the University of Colorado Law School knowing full well he wanted to do some sort of transactional law work.
"Prior to law school, I worked at Great West Health and Life and I did projects with the general counsel’s office," he said. "I liked reviewing contracts and I knew that I would like to continue working in that general area. I worked at KO Sports while I was in law school where I did sports agency work representing hockey players and professional snowboarders. Unfortunately, there was an NHL lockout during that time, which ended my short sports agency career, but by that point I really knew I was transaction oriented."
At Colorado Law, Sederberg joined the emerging Entrepreneurial Law Clinic, a project that then-Professor Phil Weiser took a leadership role in helping to develop into the current program.
"It was a unique clinical experience. We worked on forming companies and other issues related to a startup. We represented these startups from around the Boulder and Denver area, helping professors and the university commercialize the research or inventions that came out of their work at CU, as well as graduate and undergraduate students who were starting new ventures."
Sederberg found the practical experience that comes from working in a clinic invaluable. "Nothing beats doing the work,” he said. “Transactional experiences can be hard to get while you are in law school. You can get the legal background in classes on corporations and administrative law, but it really takes being a practitioner to know how to do the work. Just getting in there and learning how to do it is important.”
His advice to current students looking for a career in business law or in transactional work would be to get the practical experience as soon as possible. “Get involved with the Entrepreneurial Law Clinic and also go to industry events or CLEs focused on the industries you are interested in. Try to get internships and externships with regulatory bodies or firms with strong transactional practice groups. For example, our firm often takes interns and externs from Colorado Law."
“Get involved with the Entrepreneurial Law Clinic and also go to industry events or CLEs focused on the industries you are interested in. Try to get internships and externships with regulatory bodies or firms with strong transactional practice groups. For example, our firm often takes interns and externs from Colorado Law."
After law school, Sederberg worked as a transactional attorney at McGloin Davenport Severson and Snow, where he focused on corporate and real estate transactions from 2005 until 2010.
"Then the recession hit, and commercial and residential real estate projects really dried up,” he said. “Financing to start new projects or complete existing projects also became difficult, if not impossible, to secure and insolvency was common. We shifted from helping clients build up to helping clients with bankruptcy and collections.”
Looking for a change, Sederberg was in luck when a friend introduced him to Brian Vicente. At the time, Vicente was doing advocacy work on cannabis issues for nonprofits. In 2010, Vicente Sederberg LLP took off, focusing exclusively on cannabis law.
“Some of the challenges to working in such a new field include the fact that our clients are almost all startups,” Sederberg said. “Medical marijuana became legal in Colorado in 2000, and recreational marijuana was legalized in 2012. Our clients face challenges raising money and finding good teams, and may have limited access to bank accounts. When we first started, it also wasn’t certain that marijuana wouldn’t be challenged by the Department of Justice at any time. Additionally, there’s limited case law—it takes time to build precedent, and the legalization is new and only at the state level."
Working in a developing field brings plenty of rewarding experiences. “Standing up a new industry that will only become larger is very rewarding," Sederberg said. "This industry is international in scope. We have worked with foreign governments on how to effectively regulate cannabis and hemp. It’s great being able to do this work with innovative people in an environment that will fundamentally change how the U.S. and the rest of the world does business."
The growing marijuana industry has provided Sederberg with a chance to participate in creating an industry. "When we were looking at how to regulate marijuana, we looked at the current Colorado liquor and gaming regulations,” he said. “In 2010, when we were developing the basic framework, we also created a partnership of sorts with the new regulatory agency, which was also learning how to regulate an entirely new industry. It’s a fascinating way to do things, to be involved with lots of stakeholders from the very beginning of an industry."
Laura Littman ('13)
Senior Product Manager, Strategic Networks
Laura Littman’s interests and knowledge have led her to pursuing two different career paths in law and business: she currently works as senior product manager on strategic networks at the Zayo Group, where she originally began as in-house counsel.
When Littman entered Colorado Law, mentors such as Phil Weiser guided her into the tech policy space based on her interests. “Antitrust was my real interest going into law school. I came in as an undergrad economics major and Phil Weiser steered me towards telecom and the tech field because there’d be a lot of antitrust there,” she recalled. “I also worked with Phil as an editor for some of his writing and did antitrust research with him."
As a student at Colorado Law, Littman continued to pursue her interest in antitrust, getting involved with Silicon Flatirons and serving as an articles editor on the University of Colorado Law Review. She also worked at the Federal Trade Commission in Washington, D.C., as part of the Hatfield Scholars Program, which provides grants for summer internships in government or public interest in recognition of Dale Hatfield’s career.
“The FTC allowed me to split my time between privacy and antitrust,” she said. “On the privacy side, I was in a group that did investigations and acted on privacy issues. On the antitrust side, I worked on hospital mergers."
Littman’s interest in antitrust and business law led her to working in-house at Zayo Group, a tech company that provides communications infrastructure services. Her combination of knowledge of and interest in business law and telecom law made her an excellent fit.
“I spent my first year helping Zayo go public. After that, I focused on mergers and acquisitions, and then we started to focus, cleaning up our corporate entities and internationally," she said. "Last year, I became curious about the business side. Zayo agreed to give me opportunity to learn about being a business person. Since I had a really good handle on the corporate legal side, I was able to switch over completely to the business side, and I’m 100 percent working on strategy and product development now. I’m also considering going back to business school part time."
"I think it’s also refreshing for the business side to have someone who was trained differently. As attorneys, we’re critical thinkers and problem solvers. Lawyers tend to look ahead, given we’re used to working on the triage side of things."
Littman noted how her training and experience as an attorney has helped in the business department. "The in-house attorney department here is fairly small, and we have to be jack of all trades. We did contracts, regulatory work, mergers and acquisitions, and financing. You end up getting great inside knowledge of how the business works," she said. "I think it’s also refreshing for the business side to have someone who was trained differently. As attorneys, we’re critical thinkers and problem solvers. Lawyers tend to look ahead, given we’re used to working on the triage side of things," she said. "Business is focused on customers and sales but I’m also making sure the processes are done right the first time. I’m able to be part of the entire process of a deal. I’m learning more about the product but I’m also able to help through many of the steps, from pricing to contracts with customers. Whereas some of the business people tend to avoid working on contracts, I’m actually excited about working on the contract at the end of the deal."