As its name suggests, Bytelex is a modern law firm that has positioned itself at the intersection of two worlds -- the more traditional sphere of legal practice (lex) and the faster, info-byte world of new and emerging technology start-ups.
For Bytelex Advocates founder and managing partner, Raymond Asiimwe, the major focus of the firm is with startups and technology companies that need legal support during the critical formation and growth stage of unconventional business models.
Asiimwe, a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley (LLM) and Uganda’s Makerere University (LLB), says his fascination with computers and technology dates back to high school days. It was something of a turning point.
“I began spending most of my time in the computer lab and picked up skills in web design and then app design when I got to university.”
This interest continued during law school, coinciding with an uptick in the tech ecosystem due to the installation of the SEACOM high-speed internet cable to the coast of East Africa.
“Many incubation hubs began setting up and I spent most of my time after class in these incubators or attending startup-pitch sessions. Having a tech background at that time was a big advantage because no one was thinking about how to represent startups, investors, and the critical technical issues that all the parties required,” he says.
Asiimwe soon persuaded a number of law school classmates from Makerere to establish a new legal firm that would focus on tech startups. And that’s really how Bytelex Advocates was born.
“We discovered that most of them were failing, not because of poorly-conceived ideas or lack of investors - they just didn’t have the business and legal advice to structure and run a startup the right way.”
Now, nearly seven years down the road, Bytelex has offices in Kampala (Uganda) and Kigali (Rwanda) as well as a wealth of transactional advisory experience in Ghana, Tanzania and Kenya.
His partners, all fellow Makerere graduates, are Martin Asingwire (Litigation, ADR and Intellectual Property), Irene Eyogire (Energy, Finance, Tax), and associate George Kiwanuka (Startups, Tech Transactions, Litigation).
The Kigali office is manned by associates Trust Kabano (Startups, Tech Transactions, Litigation) and Mutatina Benon (Startups, Tech Transactions, Litigation).
Bytelex has already assisted several startups, technology and energy companies in the East African region, including regulatory compliance advice for Zipline International. This is the revolutionary San Francisco health-tech drone-delivery company that launched its service in Rwanda three years ago and which recently expanded its operations into Ghana, making it one of the world's largest autonomous medical drone delivery services.
Tyler Mcnish, Legal Counsel for Zipline, says that as Zipline expanded into Africa, Bytelex’s thought partnership and support has become greatly valued.
"Raymond is a fellow entrepreneur who understands that companies like Zipline need fast, practical solutions to legal problems, not fancy offices or over-lawyered documents.
“Raymond and his team have been quick to jump in on a wide array of projects for us, from researching regulatory compliance issues to reviewing employment procedures to working on contracts for transactions.”
Asiimwe said this explained the firm’s commitment to “build radical ideas”.
“We provide relevant advice or building blocks that can spur growth for a broad cross-section of clients in different industries. These include the off-grid energy company Absolute Energy, Japan International Cooperation Agency, Matibabu (U) Limited, and PrintBoda Limited.
“Opportunities to innovate excite us.
“Clients call on our team for forward-looking legal advice on transactions, litigation and compliance matters. We bring distinctive quality, experience, teamwork and value to the table – and innovate in everything we do.”
“The law in East Africa is not designed for startup companies, so you have to adapt the law in a way that will work for the clients. It’s very challenging. You have to think differently, but at the same time make sure what you are doing is legal and effective.”
This was one of the main reasons he chose to further his studies at UC- Berkeley.
“A lot of the startup financing instruments, and tech law as we know it, has been developed in Silicon Valley. So, learning how these laws work and bringing that knowledge back to Uganda and East Africa generally has been extremely valuable.”
This also explains the innovative and Silicon Valley-like culture of the firm.
“We are pioneering an early-stage equity investment instrument and innovating around document storage and retrieval,” he says.
On a lighter note, Bytelex has broken the formal mould common in global law firms.
“We have a notoriously rebellious and unconventional culture,” he says. “Partners can be seen walking barefoot in the office, there is an open kitchen and an open door policy. The line between partner and associate is blurry.”
Partner, Martin Asingwire believes this inspires a culture of innovation.
“Ideas often come from the least expected people. Even a day-old associate has something to bring to the table,” he says.
Bytelex is poised to expand its services further into West Africa as well as Nairobi, London, New York, Abu Dhabi and Silicon Valley in California. It is also offering a range of cost-effective legal services that include fixed fees, retainers, sliding-scale fees based on volume and an outsourced General Counsel function.
Recently the firm was recognised for its work at the African Legal Awards in Johannesburg where it was named as a finalist in both the specialist and boutique law firm categories eventually being highly commended as a boutique law firm.
“There are no limits to the opportunities presented by new tech - add that to the growth potential of the African investment landscape and you have a winning formula. Bytelex is well-positioned for this with the skills and knowledge to support entrepreneurs and investors. We are looking forward to a phase of expansion and development across the continent,” Asingwire said.
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