If you are a lawyer with an entrepreneurial spirit and an interest in technology, this next profile is for you. We have the pleasure of learning from lawpreneur and legal innovator Megan Cornell, founder, CEO, and lawyer at Momentum Business Law:
1. Tell me a little about your practice or business.
I run Momentum Business Law, an entrepreneur focussed practice headquartered in Ottawa, but serving businesses across Ontario. We are just turning 5 years old this summer and have been focused for all of those 5 years on figuring out how to deliver better legal services to entrepreneurs. We rely heavily on technology to be more efficient for both ourselves and our clients, allowing us to focus a lot on the client relationship. We’re launching an online DIY option for small business this summer called Gain Momentum.
2. Why did you go to law school?
I knew since I was 10 and my Grandmother bought me a book called The Scales of Justice that I wanted to be a lawyer. However, most of my life I thought I would go into criminal defence work, particularly working to free the wrongly convicted. Then the summer before law school I worked with a great estates lawyer and realized that even estate law was really interesting to me – so when I finally entered law school I only ever took the one, required, criminal law class.
3. How did you get to where you are today? Design? Chance? Both?
Probably like most people, a bit of both!
I went out on my own after 10+ years of practice at a mid-sized firm in Ottawa because I knew I wanted to do things “differently”, but I really didn’t know what that meant. I began by working out of my home office and with no clerk, because with no overhead I knew I would be completely flexible. That meant, however, that I had to learn to do absolutely everything for myself – coming from a firm with 60+ lawyers and double that in staff, that was challenging. However, that gave me the foundation to eventually grow the firm and I’ve always expected our team members to know how to do a very wide range of both client work and firm operations.
The piece which was more by design was our firm’s focus on using technology and the design thinking employed by technology companies. My partner is in tech and most of our social circle is in tech – this has always help me understand our technology clients well, but it has also directed every thought I’ve had as I’ve designed and built the firm. Principles of lean and agile development, the perspective which product managers bring to customer work, just simply focusing on the firm as a client-centered instead of lawyer-centered organization. This approach has led us to be leaders in both process and technology innovation. I’m so incredibly proud of what our small little firm accomplishes – all because we have embraced a different way of thinking about law and how legal support is delivered to clients.
4. What is your most significant achievement? What are you proud of?
I can’t believe that Momentum is 5 years old. There have been some really hard times – mostly when team members left to go on to different opportunities. I wanted to give up so many times. I can say now that it is a horrible idea to start a firm and grow it on your own – I should have had at least one more of “me”, but I’m incredibly proud of how I’ve managed to build a firm which accomplishes what it does. This has absolutely been done with the help of amazing Momentum team members along the way, but I never want to underestimate the burden that comes with the ultimate responsibility for the success of your clients and the livelihood of your team.
5. What are some key challenges, and more importantly, opportunities for women in law?
This is such a tough question, because I think that so much of it is the mindset which we bring to our careers. If we accept that we want certain experiences and we commit to making those experiences happen and balancing any competing interests, then all challenges are opportunities. I think that women can get in their own way and overthink things – we have one shot at this so we should seek to enjoy what life presents us with as much as possible. There are SO many routes which our careers can take – they can even take us out of law completely, we just need the courage to find those paths.
6. What advice would you give a woman starting her legal career?
Look out for number one (and in case there is any doubt, that’s you!). What I mean by that is, always consider your own best interest as you move through your career. It took me a while to figure this one out: I think that as women we are often oriented towards being people pleasers and trying to support others. Sometimes that is the right thing to do, but not to the detriment of our own careers.
Also, you don’t and probably shouldn’t, try to plan out your entire career at the start. Be prepared for change and new opportunities, or for completely changing your mind about what you want to do. Our career is supposed to be challenging and fun (at least some days!), not just something we survive. One of the big secrets about finally finishing school and starting on your career is that it really isn’t as sexy or exciting as you thought it would be. Particularly if you haven’t been in a previous career, it is a bit of a wake up call that the responsibility and day to day routine of a career job can be hard. That doesn’t mean it is time to leave necessarily, but figure out what you do like about your career, and focus on making that the biggest part of what you do – you aren’t doing something wrong if you finally start practice and it isn’t nearly as amazing as you thought it would be!
Yes, look out for number one! I like that. Also, I agree, planning out your entire career is futile. Life throws you curve-balls and you might miss opportunities if you are focused on your "plan". Thanks for participating in this series Megan, and congrats on Momentum's 5 Year Anniversary!
I started this blog series because I was tired of hearing about women leaving law and wanted to hear about women leading in law. The "Women Leading in Law" series focuses on good news stories and highlights amazing women succeeding in the legal profession. Each post includes the profiled lawyer's answers to six questions. Prepare to be inspired!
ICYMI - previous posts profiled the following amazing lawyers: Yola Ventrescu, Hilary Book, Margaret Waddell, Nandi Deterville, Jennifer Quaid, Maryann Besharat, Cynthia Mason, Roots Gadhia, Evelyn Ackah, Carrisa Tanzola, Sarah Leamon, Robin Parker, Lorin MacDonald, Karen Yamamoto, Victoria Crewe-Nelson, Lynne Vicars, Kemi Oduwole, Anne-Marie McElroy, Jennifer Gold, Jordana Goldlist, Megan Keenberg, Yadesha Satheaswaran, France Mahon, Sarah Molyneaux, Richa Sandill, Vivene Salmon, Kim Whaley, Alisia Grenville, Frances Wood, Maggie Wente, Anita Szigeti, Neha Chugh, Christy Allen & Nancy Houle, Suzie Seo, Kim Gale, Alexi Wood, Melissa McBain, Erin Best, Gillian Hnatiw, Melanie Sharman Rowand, Meg Chinelo Egbunonu, Lisa Jean Helps, Nathalie Godbout Q.C., Laurie Livingstone, Renatta Austin, Janis Criger, May Cheng, Nicole Chrolavicius, Charlene Theodore, Dyanoosh Youssefi, Shannon Salter, Bindu Cudjoe, Elliot Spears, Jessica Prince, Anu K. Sandhu, Claire Hatcher, Esi Codjoe, Kate Dewhirst, Jennifer Taylor, Rebecca Durcan, Atrisha Lewis, Vandana Sood, Kathryn Manning, Kim Hawkins, Kyla Lee, and Eva Chan.
Erin C. Cowling is a freelance litigator, researcher & writer at Cowling Legal Freelance and President and Founder of Flex Legal Network Inc., a network of freelance lawyers.