CHARLOTTE –Two recent moves by the Charlotte office of Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice have given the law firm the capabilities to serve the needs of start-up tech firms at any stage of development — from the initial concept to going public.

Michael Todd, whose specialty is working with emerging growth companies, has been hired as a partner in the corporate securities area. The firm also recently announced a merger with Lockhart + Hoffman, an information-technology oriented law firm.

“The firm is committed to technology, in terms of how we function, and is focused on companies who use technology to advance, either as what they do or as a tool,” says Todd, who was most recently with Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison, LLP in Washington, DC. “We don’t do smokestack industries Monday through Thursday, and then do tech on Friday. The tech focus is part of Womble Carlyle’s initiative to keep moving forward.”

Womble Carlyle is not the only law firm recognizing the potential of a tech practice in Charlotte. The Charlotte office of Atlanta-based Morris, Manning & Martin announced Friday the hiring of three attorneys, including Jeff Hay, who specializes in emerging growth and technology

Todd brings IPO experience

Todd focuses in the areas of corporate finance, mergers and acquisitions and general corporate representation of emerging growth companies. His corporate finance experience includes representing a number of underwriters in public and private offerings of debt and equity securities, and he has served as issuer’s counsel in connection with numerous public and private offerings. In addition, he has represented venture capitalists and emerging companies, including several technology companies, in connection wit both early and late stage financings. In the last five years, he has been involved with 10 public offerings, five of them IPOs.

Todd says people shouldn’t be surprised by his move to Charlotte.

“Those who are skeptical about technology are not in tune with the future,” he says. “The market opportunity in Charlotte is huge, and there currently isn’t a lot of competition.”

He adds that the company will soon be introducing a variety of automated tools that will “lower the cost of executing financial transactions and make our services faster and more value-added.”

Lockhart shares the firm’s commitment

Womble Carlyle’s commitment to technology and tech firms was also a major draw for Ashe Lockhart, who founded his firm in February 2000. “(Womble Carlyle partner) Cy Johnson approached me about joining the firm almost before I opened my doors, and kept in touch with me,” he explains. “As my practice grew and I needed the expertise of additional lawyers, I turned to Cy and his firm.

“By working with them closely, I found that they were sensitive to the unique situation of start-ups — although they are small and may not generate much revenue, they require a sophisticated level of legal services. Yet you have to be sensitive about how to bill them. Womble Carlyle showed me they were responsive and able to deliver the services to these firms at a reasonable cost.”

Todd says his and Lockhart’s roles are “completely compatible. Ashe’s experience is primarily with early stage companies, and mine is more with later stage start-ups.” They are joined by attorney Ted Claypoole, who handles tech law full-time.

Lockhart explains that tech law is not a discrete body of law. “Rather it’s how you apply the principles of existing law — such as contract law or employment law — to this unique and quickly growing industry,” he explains. “It’s the fluidity of this industry that makes it so different form traditional businesses.”

For example, procedures and structures set up in a firm’s earliest stages can affect how attractive it will be in a few years as a possible acquisition or how easily it can go public. In tech firms, Lockhart notes, intellectual property is often a major concern, so companies often write employee contracts in such as way that workers can’t take the company’s work or clients with them if they leave. “If potential buyers think employees will leave with the firm’s ideas, they are less likely to want to purchase it,” he says.

Todd is just one of a number of Womble Carlyle attorneys Lockhart can call on to serve his clients. Adds Lockhart, “I’m the point man who draws on the firm’s resources and assembles a team to help my clients meet their goals — whatever they are.”

Lockhart says no one should be surprised that high tech law is growing in Charlotte. “Charlotte is a major financial center, a major distribution center and a manufacturing center,” he explains. “Technology lends itself to helping these businesses be more efficient and more valuable. Technology is a means to take what we have and make it better.”

Morris Manning expands tech practice

At Morris Manning, Charlotte managing partner Bob Donlon says the expansion signifies the importance of technology.

“It’s true that Charlotte’s tech community is not as deep as Atlanta’s or RTP’s, but it is a good place for our firm, which also has large healthcare, insurance and commercial real estate practices,” he explains. “The presence of the banks is helpful, as is Charlotte’s economic vibrancy.”

Before moving to Morris Manning, Hay was co-head of the emerging growth and technology practice for McGuire Woods. During his 18 years of corporate law experience, he has specialized in technology, venture capital, private equity, mergers and acquisitions and alliances and joint ventures. He is past chairman of the Metrolina Entrepreneurial Council.