Meet The Member: Stephanie Messas, Partner in Law

Member news, Women in Business | March 05, 2020

Originally from France, Stephanie Messas, Esq., grew up in a bi-cultural home with one French and one American parent. After high school, Stephanie decided to get in touch with her American roots and moved to the U.S. for her studies to eventually practice law in the international sphere. 

Today, Stephanie is Partner of The Messas Law Practice and helps foreign companies develop and thrive in the U.S. by creating corporate structures and identifying diverse legal issues related to corporate governance, intellectual property, and employment.

Keep reading to learn from Stephanie's legal expertise and insights on successfully doing business in the U.S. 

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FACC: In today’s day and age of ubiquitous technology and rapid share of information, how do you advise people to protect their intellectual property?

SM: Intellectual property (IP) constitutes one of the most important business assets because it covers so much, from designs, discoveries, resources, to creative work produced by the business and its employees. In fact, very often, IP makes a company attractive to the outside world and differentiates it from its competitors.  Technology, in many ways, has helped create such property but unfortunately also made IP more accessible to third parties sometimes against companies’ best interests. 

The first step to protecting IP is to audit the company’s assets.  What type of IP does the business have?  Copyrights, patents, trademarks or proprietary Information?  Depending on the inventory, there are different legal strategies to help businesses establish, develop, and implement procedures to protect such property. These strategies include registering the IP with the proper governmental body, drafting contracts with confidentiality and non-disclosure clauses or drafting licensing contracts that incentivize employees to create without violating companies’ rights.

FACC: What are some risk management techniques that could help those growing businesses in order to minimize their personal liability? 

SM: This is a great question and one I get often from entrepreneurs.  Understandably, entrepreneurs are worried that they will be personally liable if something goes wrong. The good news is that typically corporate shareholders and officers cannot be held personally liable, so long as their actions are taken in good faith, fall within the scope of their position and comply with the requirements of the law. Under certain circumstances, however, a court will disregard the corporate protections and hold shareholders and officers personally liable. For example, they may be held personally liable for the nonpayment of wages.  For this reason, the best risk management strategy is to consult a US-based attorney who can guide businesses and get robust insurance early in the entrepreneurial game.

FACC: In order for foreign companies to be successful in the U.S., what foundation of knowledge do they need to obtain in regard to legal strategy?

SM: The US is not only different from France in terms of laws, it is also different in terms of cultural norms. Those differences can sometimes trigger legal mishaps.  While entrepreneurs don’t need to have any legal knowledge to create a thriving US business, they do however need to hire competent people who are fully familiar with both local and French cultures.  In terms of legal solutions, foreign companies should search for counsel that can accompany them in their development, come up with legal strategies to maximize their business while minimizing risks, and can do so while keeping legal services within their price range. 

FACC: What is imperative for business professionals to understand about hiring employees in the US in comparison to other counties such as Europe?

SM: This may sound evident but the most important takeaway is that the US is not Europe.  While it seems true that the US employment market allows for greater flexibility in terms of hiring and firing practices, some professional behaviors which are acceptable in Europe are not part of US cultural norms.  Also, different states have different employment laws.  Entrepreneurs should make sure to have proper contracts and employee handbooks that comply with the law of the state where their employees work.  Finally, now more than ever, we see the importance of having solid, regularly updated policies, such as one addressing the coronavirus,  that are compliant with federal, state, and local laws.

FACC: What led you to become a member of the FACC-NY? 

SM: On a personal level, my bicultural background (French and American) has led me to immerse myself in the tight-knit French community in the US.  As a result, I have known the FACC for a long time and when I branched out on my own, I knew I would continue to nurture this relationship.  The FACC, in addition to being a great networking organization that constantly provides business opportunities, has been extremely supportive in my professional development, as well as my clients’. 

Interested in connecting with Stephanie? Log into the FACC Member Directory to send her a message.