Amidst all the Facebook IPO hype this week, there was the release of an e-mail from Mark Zuckerberg to his corporate lawyer, instructing them to dilute Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin’s share in the burgeoning company.
Aside from the obvious professional responsibility issue that this presents for the lawyer (assuming the lawyer was acting for the corporation, they had an immediate duty to declare a conflict of interest and cease all representation of the company), the story highlights the need to get good independent legal advice before entering into any legal agreement. I had a great example of the right way to do things last week – we were retained to give ILA to a shareholder on a Shareholder’s Agreement that they had largely formulated. Despite the fact that this shareholder had been the principal instructor to the corporation’s lawyer, and was intimately familiar with most of the terms of the agreement, the corporation’s lawyer still thought it would benefit all of the shareholders to get ILA – not just to waive it as is sometimes (unfortunately) done.
The shareholder was convinced that ILA would add value even if only to have a fresh set of eyes review the agreement. In our review, we offered more than that; considering various critical events from the shareholder’s individual perspective was very different than the perspective of corporate representative they had while preparing the agreement.
The details of the Facebook dilution are not entirely clear (the ensuing litigation was settled and not much is on the public record) but presumably the restructuring that diluted Savarin down to 10% was ultimately effected, and presumably without Savarin retaining counsel to explain this to him. And when he did realize the dilution, litigation was the only option available.
Getting independent legal advice is not cheap, but the value in what you are getting is often immeasurable. If you are entering into an agreement of any significance (including potential future liabilities), you absolutely must have legal counsel review the agreement and confirm that your interests are protected (or that your unprotected interests are known to you). It’s that simple.
Scott R. Young