Adam Nyhan, the newest lawyer at Opticliff Law

Adam Nyhan, the newest lawyer at Opticliff Law

Adam Nyhan has a story similar to many Mainers. He grew up in Yarmouth, but moved away for college and stayed away while building a successful career as a lawyer and an entrepreneur. Now, he’s returned for the quality of life.

Nyhan has moved from Brooklyn to Portland and has joined Opticliff Law, a small Portland law firm that helps startups and small businesses navigate the often complex world of starting a business, protecting intellectual property and raising capital. Zeke Callanan, who founded Opticliff in 2012, said he scored a coup in attracting Nyhan to the firm.

“As we continue to target our practice, Adam’s strong background in technology and innovation made him a natural fit for the team,” said Callanan. “We are thrilled that he’s returned to Maine, and even more excited that he shares our commitment to helping startups here.”

I interviewed Nyhan about his experiences in the startup world, the importance of legal stakeholders in the startup community, what drew him back to Maine, and what some of his passions are.

So, you grew up in Yarmouth. Why’d you leave Maine and how long have you been living out of state?

I grew up in Yarmouth and still make it home for the Clam Fest when I can. I left Maine in 1994 to attend college in Minnesota. I moved back here in October 2015, after 21 years of living in other cities. In that time I spent 5 years in Washington, D.C., working as an aide to a member of Congress and going to law school. I also spent eleven years in New York City, working with one larger firm as well as my own solo law practice, and I lived in Los Angeles for some time when I co-founded a startup company there.

What drew you back to the Portland area?

Earlier this year my fiancee and I became engaged, and we started looking at the future. Brooklyn was an amazing place to live, but it was not a long-term plan for us. We love Maine, and I have family and friends here, and it’s an awesome place to live. We both work with startup and technology companies in different ways, and Maine’s startup and tech scene is growing fast, so we realized pretty quickly that we could move here. We really liked the idea of being able to buy a home, have a short commute, and live and work with nice people. That sounds simple, but it is.

What’s your fiancee’s name and what does she do?

My fiancee, Kini Schoop, is the Director of Marketing Communications at CashStar. She’s a veteran of private-sector and non-profit media relations and communications, formerly at UNICEF and Change.org.

Given your expertise, how important is it for a startup community to have members of the legal community with experience in specific legal issues facing new tech-focused companies?

If you’re in a specialized industry, or creating a new category of product, you want lawyers who understand that space. Just like you’d want investors or marketing people who understand that space. So that’s what my Opticliff Law colleagues, Zeke Callanan and Andrew Kraus, and I do in our day jobs. We help our clients navigate the ever-changing legal and business issues — the latest crowdfunding regulations, for example. But we all have a second job, too. On nights and weekends, we’re serving on boards, hosting tech meetups and conferences, and introducing our clients to friends of ours who can help them. We’re contributing what we can to people who are not our clients, but who all play a role in our ecosystem. And they’re educating us at the same time. It’s a virtuous circle: the more we help each other, the better for every player in the community.

I know you were at the PubHub event last week when Kerry Gallivan, CEO of Chimani, made the comment that startup founders should secure very good lawyers, and should look outside the state where lawyers have more experience putting together complex investment deals. Care to offer some thoughts in response to this?

Hire the best lawyer that you can find and afford. Look, if I launch a company here in Maine, I’m going to hire lawyers to help me with any type of specialized legal matter that’s outside my own skill set. If I can’t find the right lawyers locally, I’ll hire them wherever they are based. Having said that, I’m confident that a Maine startup can find good local attorneys who can do anything that is necessary. The lawyers here have the experience, and they cost a fraction of the New York and Silicon Valley rates. A mega-firm is no good if you can’t afford it. And it usually isn’t necessary.

You’re a lawyer, but you’re also an entrepreneur. Tell me a bit more about the startup you co-founded in California. Do you see yourself starting any other companies in the future?

The startup was called Legalaunch, based in Los Angeles. My co-founder, Jeanette Hsieh, and I are both lawyers, and we were building a website that would have allowed lawyers in smaller law firms nationwide to communicate and collaborate with each other on projects. We also partnered with suppliers of products that lawyers use at work — software, office supplies, and so on — to give our members access to discounts. I do plan to start another company in the future, maybe together with my fiancee. The costs of starting a company have dropped incredibly, and so have the risks. You can do great things with a laptop, a network of people you can learn from, and barely any money. And Maine is a great place to start a company.

What things outside your work and entrepreneurship are you passionate about?

I’m a history junkie. I would love to write a book about an area of Maine history that hasn’t been covered in depth yet. I’d love suggestions, because I haven’t settled on a topic yet. I also dabble in making homemade pickles, and I’m going to try making kimchi this weekend.

Do you have any big, crazy ideas you’d like to execute on? What’s your Maine-focused BHAG?

I want to see Maine become widely recognized as the best state in the country to start a business. That will take time, it will take concerted educational efforts, and it will take leadership. But we can do it.

Are you open to being contacted by others in the community who have similar goals?

Yes! Call me anytime, whether you’re a lawyer, an entrepreneur, or a person with an idea or a question. Let’s grab coffee and we’ll figure out how we can help each other. I have coffee with about two people each day. I drink too much coffee, but that’s okay, I love hearing what people are working on.