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Spotlight on Liz Wiley - A Super Star Entrepreneurial Francophile

Updated: Apr 25

Liz Wiley has been an awe-inspiring pillar who has stood by our firm's Co-Founder Suzy Fulton's side. These two high school buddies, after exploring their own careers separately, came together to forge a path forward on the virtual law firm platform provided by a prior firm co-founded by Suzy, and now at Fulton Jeang PLLC. The geographic boundaries of the State of Texas and the United States are too limiting and constricting for this superstar talent who continues to follow her passion for all things French. We are glad to be able to provide a peek into her fascinating life in this post.

FJ: What influenced you in making the decision to become a lawyer?

LW: Nothing in my background would suggest I’d become a lawyer. Obsessed with French since 8th grade, I majored in French and Spanish, spent my junior year in Paris studying at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques for political science and the Sorbonne for 17th-century French literature – working on my Junior Honors thesis in French on André Malraux –then pursued a master's degree in Latin American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Much inspired by the diverse community of students at UT, my year in Paris, and travel that junior year throughout Western Europe and the then Soviet Union (before the wall came down), I imagined an international career, living in Paris or Geneva, working at the United Nations or similar entity.

While at UT I learned from a friend there was something called “art law,” so on that inspiration alone I applied to law school. I loved the idea of something as beautiful and unique as art having legal issues–whatever those may be. I learned in law school, however, that I did not like at all what I discovered was the actual practice of law. Trial court? Arguing with people all day? I almost gave it all up. What I loved was seeing how rules, government, and changing social norms combine to create the structures in which our everyday lives are ordered.

Luckily, a friend recommended that I apply for a judicial clerkship, and I worked for a wonderful judge at a Texas court of appeals. Appellate law was the perfect fit: new areas of law with each case, and presenting a case persuasively using the facts and law, supported by policy and precedent. That experience led to a fulfilling career at Andrews Kurth LLP (now Hunton Andrews Kurth) in the litigation and appellate sections where I made partner. The pivot in 2009 to leave the firm and work for a client learning the ropes of technology and patent litigation was a game-changer. Leaving the firm was a hard decision, but it was one of the best decisions I ever made. I followed my growing passion for technology law, which, though I had to start from scratch, I knew it would be a legal specialty that could only grow–and grow it has.

Were it not for that move, I would not have been able to immerse myself exploring France’s startup ecosystems and technology commercialization practices. And were it not for that journey of curiosity into the French startup ecosystem, I surely never would have had the opportunity of a lifetime to be asked to serve as the Honorary Consul of France for the city of Austin and help found French Tech Austin, with Austin becoming an important part of the international French Tech network.

FJ: What brought you to Fulton Jeang?

LW: The short answer is my superstar dear friend (since high school) Suzy Fulton, whose work ethic, smarts, and sense of humor create a workplace culture that is supportive and humane. Her ability to gather equally smart, wonderful people around her (especially her co-founder!) is a testament to that statement.

Fulton Jeang’s model is perfect for me to support international startups looking at Texas for a base of operations because I can draw upon all the experts (employment law, corporate, intellectual property) to help these clients while I clarify frequent misunderstandings given the different legal systems. I did not always have a transactional practice, but it arose out of necessity given those many exploratory trips to France. Inspired by what I was seeing in France in terms of technology innovation, and so much energy around entrepreneurship, I was all about promoting Austin and Texas as a great option for French entrepreneurs to expand into the U.S. market. The FJ model lets me provide those clients I gained along the way with a diverse array of services.

FJ: Please tell us some of your career highlights.

LW: For a French-obsessed teen growing up in a small town in Texas, it has been a journey of pinch-myself moments that I never could have dreamed of, and just because I was so very curious, intellectually and culturally, driven to understand France and connect people there and here. I have now worked with three French ambassadors in their visits to Austin; served under three dynamic Consuls General of France who have helped put Texas on the map with French leaders; led an Austin delegation to Angers, France to the World Electronics Forum in 2017; and, most recently, spoke on a panel of women entrepreneurs from Taiwan and Quebec at the November 2022 Connected Women’s conference in Angers, with friends from Austin in the audience.

But the highlight is surely what I am doing now. Thanks to the support of FJ, I am combining all of my passions–for international dialogue, emerging technologies and digital rights–in founding a Swiss-based nonprofit in Geneva, Switzerland called the ARC Association. ARCA’s founding mission is to build and safeguard a registry that will hold unique digital identifiers for anyone in the world who wants one. Using a legal structure on which the Red Cross is organized, national and regional chapters around the world will be lead node operators of the private blockchain that will hold those identifiers. We also will educate and collaborate with other NGOs on protecting the individual’s right to digital data, just as passionately as we protect who we are and what we create in the physical world.

It turns out that I was not far off in imagining that international career in Geneva.

FJ: Why does Fulton Jeang’s virtual business model suit your practice and lifestyle?

LW: There is no way I could have made those exploratory trips to France 2-3 times per year since 2010, to delve into France’s multilayered and complex technology commercialization and tech ecosystems, especially in Austin’s dynamic and beautiful sister city of Angers, France, had I worked at a traditional law firm. And because FJ is full of entrepreneurial lawyers with vast experience and impressive networks, I am drawing on all of them, their expertise and their networks, as I look for teams in England, France, and Canada to build out the ARCA node operator network.

FJ: What are your sweet spots for client/legal issues you love to work on?

LW: I love bringing order to chaos: figuring out for a client a priority in terms of getting their corporate house in order in terms of governance, contract management, and technology protection. And given my early lawyer training, any project that entails creative and persuasive advocacy will always be the best and favorite part of my law practice.

FJ: What can the firm do to help you reach your goals for the next year?

LW: I look forward to drawing on my colleagues’ expertise even more as I build out ARCA’S network of nonprofits focused on empowering individuals to claim ownership and control over their digital lives.

FJ: What do you do for fun?

LW: Because I now live in beautiful Buena Vista, Colorado, a charming mountain town of 3500, I have more time to de-stress out in nature. BV features a stunning landscape as it is nestled in a valley alongside the Arkansas River alongside a range of mountains comprised of the “14ers” because they tower over BV at 14,000 feet. So although I cannot enjoy my usual favorite activity of catching foreign films and documentaries with friends at AFS Cinema in Austin, which I do every time I get back to Austin, these days I am loving hikes along the river and live music concerts around town.

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