Sarah Feingold, In-House Counsel for Etsy: My 3 Top Legal Tips for Entrepreneurs

Sarah Feingold is the in-house attorney at Etsy, an e-commerce website focusing on handmade and vintage items, including art, photography, clothing, jewelry, edibles, quilts, and toys, as well as art & craft supplies. Etsy is modeled on open craft fairs that provide sellers with personal storefronts where they can list their goods.

Since launching in 2005, Etsy has raised over $90m in funding, including $40M in Series F funding in May 2012. The company now has over 300 employees.

An artist, Sarah Feingold decided that the best way to protect creative folk like herself was to go to law school. As counsel to Etsy, she specializes in intellectual property, business and commerce law.

When Sarah’s not practicing law, she's speaking or writing about legal issues (she penned the ebook “Copyright for Artists”) or hammering silver in her tiny Brooklyn apartment kitchen for her own jewelry business, Feingold Jewelry.

We spoke to Sarah about the legal requirements of a rapidly growing startup; her three top legal tips for entrepreneurs; and her own entrepreneurial journey.

TNW: Tell our community a little about what your role entails, as the in-house attorney in a growing startup.

SF: As the only in house attorney at a growing start up, I am involved in many aspects of the business. Even though I work for a really innovative and creative company, my role is not all glamorous. For example, most of my job revolves around reading and writing. I help draft and negotiate business contracts, I research and write policies,I assist with employment matters, I protect Etsy's intellectual property, and I work with outside counsel on various matters.

TNW: If you could advise entrepreneurs to follow three pieces of legal advice to protect themselves and their business, what would they be?

SF:

When making business and legal decisions, do your research, but don't get paralyzed by it. Business people need to take appropriate risks.

2. Avoid cutting corners when seeking legal advice, and make sure that you and your lawyer have the same vision.

3. Entrepreneurs are often afraid someone copying an idea. But some things, like a genuine story, top notch customer service, and constant innovation, can't be copied.

TNW: How have the legal requirements of Etsy changed as the company has grown from 17 to over 300 employees?

SF: When I first started at Etsy, I helped set out the legal ground work for the company. For example, I helped to research, write, and communicate policies so that the company was prepared as the company grew. When you think about it, all businesses, small and large, face similar legal issues. Today, there are more contracts to research, draft and negotiate. Today, there's more intellectual property, like copyright and trademarks, to protect. And today, we have more policies to draft and employees to train.

TNW: How has the digital age affected the legal issues encountered in business, and what developments do you see in the future?

SF: The digital age has made it possible for any person with an Internet connection to create and distribute material online.

Within seconds, these words, images, videos, and photographs can reach businesses and millions of strangers. A sense of legal responsibility accompanies this power.

We all must be cautious of the fine lines between legal issues like free speech and defamation and the line between fair use and infringement.

Also, the digital age has given the non-lawyer access to some free legal great information. I've seen some quality guidance on the web, but I've also seen flawed analysis. In the future I'd love to see more legal education and access to reliable legal resources.

TNW: You are an entrepreneur yourself. Tell our community a little about your business and your entrepreneurial journey.

SF: My parents are both artists and they started their business when they were in college.

My entire life I watched my parent create, innovate and take chances. Sometimes things worked out, and sometimes they didn't.

My dad laughs that at 12 years old, with my first metalsmithing class, I caught the business bug. Today, I have a jewelry business of my own. I make jewelry in my tiny Brooklyn apartment and I still get excited with every order!

TNW: Is there anything we haven't asked you, but you would like to share with our community?

SF: Thanks so much for the interview!

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