Scores of entrepreneurs both locally and nationally regularly ask me for startup advice and referrals to potential investors, lawyers, accountants and other vendors. Just take a look at my profile on Quora. I am not shy about telling the truth. I never sugarcoat my opinion, but I am quick to say I might be wrong or might change my mind in the future. Last year I was asked for a referral to a startup lawyer and while I almost never make negative referrals (i.e. don’t use that guy), I did explain that I was frustrated with a particular startup lawyer here in Dallas.
Beginning in the mid-2000s, I met a young startup lawyer, Ryan Roberts, who was relatively new to Dallas. I was so impressed I used him for at least six of my companies and recommended him to LOTS of entrepreneurs over the years. In return, he used me as a reference for LOTS of startups and I recall taking a lot of calls from entrepreneurs wanting a reference for him. He always did great work for me and my companies (I presume he did great work for the companies I referred as they never complained). My opinion of Ryan changed in 2012.
At one point I became adverse to one of the companies I had hired him to represent. I sued the company and while he wasn’t handling the litigation he continued to represent the company as their corporate counsel. At that time, he also represented a few of my companies including Architel Holdings LLC, Architel LP and Architel GP LLC (among others). One of my limited partnerships, a partnership he represented, was the largest investor in the company I was suing. When the litigation began Ryan was instructed by the board of the company I sued to cease all contact despite the fact that he ALSO represented my other businesses. Since Ryan wouldn’t return my calls I wrote him an email asking him to resign as the corporate lawyer of the company I sued so he could continue to work with my companies. He responded indicating he could no longer represent my businesses due to the conflict. Changing lawyers is a huge pain in the ass and is an expensive proposition, but without another option, we moved everything over to Bill Garrison.
I always resented Ryan’s decision to fire me as a client. I was a very loyal, using him for all of my companies and recommending him to anyone and everyone who needed a startup lawyer. I never asked for anything in return. He made a purely financial decision to fire me. Who would you have picked: a small-time entrepreneur in Dallas or the billionaire co-founder of Facebook? In his estimation he made the right decision from a business perspective I suppose, but he shouldn’t be surprised that if someone asks me what I think about him as a startup lawyer that I would say I wasn’t a fan. I’m not.
At the end of the day, I am not saying he’s not a good lawyer. He is. I am saying I’d never work with him based purely on his behavior. It sucked. You might ask why I am writing this. Simple, someone forwarded the following opinion I wrote about him to him and he PUBLICLY called me a liar (he should have called me to talk it out):
Given how annoyed I was with Ryan and his decision to fire me as a client I thought my opinion was reserved. I’m really pissed that he had the balls to suggest the statement was a lie. It was not. Calling your former client a liar is stupid and just another example of how shortsighted he can be. I doubt he’ll ever represent that billionaire again and he’ll never represent me or any company I am slightly involved with (i.e. I’ll never invest in a company represented by Ryan Roberts) and not because he’s not a good lawyer, but because he’s not loyal… Period. I would have never written this post if he hadn’t called me a liar – I am telling the truth.
Here is the email proving he fired me as a client:
Here’s the email I sent him asking him to stay on as our lawyer: