Johnson ’94 joins faculty as director of Start-Up Ventures Clinic

June 21, 2012Duke Law News

W.H. “Kip” Johnson III ’94 will join the Duke Law faculty in July as a senior lecturing fellow and director of the Start-Up Ventures Clinic. As clinic director, he will supervise students representing early-stage ventures on matters related to the start-up process.

Johnson, who also holds an MBA from Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, is a founding member of Morningstar Law Group, a new Triangle-area firm, where he focuses on representing clients in start-up ventures, angel investing, venture capital, and private equity. Until June 2012 he was a member in the corporate and securities practice group of Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice’s Research Triangle Park office, which he co-founded in 1997; he joined Womble Carlyle in 1994. He also is an active angel investor locally and in Silicon Valley.

Johnson welcomes the opportunity to return to the Start-Up Ventures Clinic, which he co-taught with Clinical Professor Andrew Foster in its spring 2011 pilot phase.

“I really enjoyed working with the students as they tried to figure out what the start-up space looks like,” he said. “It’s a fair bit different than larger businesses. It was really a lot of fun for me to help them understand how the business angles worked with the legal issues, and how to take all of the substantive law that they had learned and help them understand how that worked in the business world.”

Over two semesters to date, students in the Start-Up Ventures Clinic have provided legal counsel to early-stage businesses and social entrepreneurship ventures. Many are led by student teams associated with the Duke Start-Up Challenge, the Fuqua School of Business's Program for Entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurship programs at the Pratt School of Engineering.

Providing supervised legal assistance to Duke student-based start-ups will continue to be a core clinic function, said Johnson, who hopes also to gradually build the clinic’s client base in Durham and Research Triangle Park in order to give students opportunities to work with entrepreneurial ventures “at different points along the growth curve.”

“The goal is for the clinic, first, to be a resource to Duke students in any of the various schools ─ to advise students who are thinking about creating a start-up venture as to what they need to do to realize that venture, to help them understand the larger start-up ecosystem, and to understand how some of the decisions they make on day one will affect their ability to do things later on,” he said.

“Many of the clients coming from Duke will be at the earliest stage of the start-up process, meaning that they may not have funding and they may not have customers. That creates one set of legal issues and business issues that need to be considered before you move forward. However, a lot of what a practicing lawyer does is to work with clients that span a broad spectrum, from the very early-stage start-up … [to] bigger clients that have raised millions of dollars and have multiple product lines and multiple customers,” Johnson said.

He hopes to develop opportunities for students to work with clients at each stage of a business’s life cycle.

“Increasing the number and diversity of transactional clinical opportunities is a key element of Duke Law School’s strategic plan for our clinical program,” said Foster, who directs the clinical programs as well as the Community Enterprise Clinic. “Kip’s appointment will allow us to move this clinic out of the pilot phase and to transform it into a more robust and continuing component of the curriculum. He brings a unique combination of professional experience, connections to the region’s entrepreneurial community, and commitment to teaching that will position the Start-Up Ventures Clinic to provide both important educational opportunities for students and high quality services to new ventures in the community.”

In his private practice, Johnson works with clients from seed-stage start-ups to mature operating companies, assisting them with strategic alliances, technology transfer and licensing arrangements, mergers and acquisitions, employee recruitment and retention issues, and commercialization strategies for new technologies, and financing, among other services. Since 2005, he has helped clients raise more than $500 million of venture capital, private equity and angel investments to grow their businesses.

“Kip is a tremendous lawyer and a superb teacher, and his great base of contacts in the RTP entrepreneurial community will be enormously helpful,” said Visiting Professor Kip Frey ’85, director of the Law and Entrepreneurship LLM program. “His addition to the Duke Law entrepreneurship team will be transformational, and I'm looking forward to working with him.”

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