A #MotherlyMakers interview with the lawyers behind a freelance law practice that’s transforming the trade.
Erin Giglia and Laurie Rowen are both lawyers and co-owners of Montage Legal Group, an attorney network with over 100 hand-picked freelance attorneys. The organization is a network of former large law firm associates and partners, who left law firms (frequently after having children), and now work remotely from home on a project basis for other law firms. Laurie and Erin have been recognized as leaders helping to create work-life balance in the legal industry. They talked to Motherly about what inspired them to start Montage, how motherhood changed their lives and their advice for other aspiring female entrepreneurs.
Motherly: Was there a moment when you realized that you needed to start Montage Legal? What clicked for you?
Laurie: When my first daughter Brooke was born, I realized immediately that I wanted to spend a lot of time with her at home – much more time than my maternity leave would allow. I didn’t want to quit working altogether, but I wanted “extreme flexibility” in my law practice. I wanted to be a stay-at-home mother and a lawyer at the same time. This simply did not exist within an established framework in 2008, so we had to create it ourselves.
I founded Montage Legal Group in 2009 with Erin. We added our first freelance attorney to our network in January of 2010 about a month after my second daughter was born, and we’ve been growing ever since then.
Erin: After having my son, I was eager to continue my legal practice with the firm. My firm did everything they could to make that possible for me, and my schedule was very flexible. I worked from about 8:30 am until 4:30 pm, went home to take care of my son, feed him dinner and put him to bed. The tradeoff was that I had to turn my computer back on every night at 7:30pm, and I worked until midnight (or 2 am). As much as a loved my firm and my job, that schedule was not sustainable, especially after I had my second baby. Freelance practice, and ultimately entrepreneurship, was the answer for me.
Motherly: What is it about law that is flexible? What other models have you seen in the legal field?
Laurie and Erin: Law practice under a traditional law firm model is rarely flexible. We created Montage Legal Group to make law flexible, both for freelance attorneys and for the law firms that hire them. In a typical law firm practice, associates are often expected to be available nearly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. As clients and the market push law firms away from this model, flexibility has been creeping in. Because lawyers are among the brightest and most educated people in the nation, they are certainly capable of creating practice models that lend themselves to more flexibility, including utilizing freelance attorneys to help make that happen. Freelance practice through Montage Legal Group offers attorneys ultimate flexibility with their schedules, and in turn, offers law firms an agile system to help them meet their important client needs in a pinch.
Motherly: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Laurie and Erin: Treat people how you want to be treated, even in business. We cannot remember who told us this, but this is one of the foundation blocks of Montage Legal Group. We have seen so many businesses and business people fail because societal rules often go out the window if it is “just business.” But our business is a huge part of our lives. We always try our best to be understanding and respectful with everyone in all aspects of our business, especially during stressful or complicated situations.
Motherly: How has motherhood transformed your career? What’s your secret to integrating work and family?
Laurie and Erin:Motherhood literally defined our careers. Motherhood was the transformative moment that made us realize that we wanted something different, something that would work better for us that did not already exist. Motherhood is the reason we created Montage Legal Group.
There are really no secrets to integrating work and family other than extreme planning. When we know a potentially busy time is coming up, whether it involves our children’s end of the year school activities or we are acquiring a business, we frequently say “This will be easy, if we just plan for it.” We try to anticipate stressful periods, and do everything possible to plan. It might be scheduling extra play-dates for our children so they are happy and occupied while we focus on work, or personally emailing all of our clients to get them the help we need prior to leaving for Hawaii with our families. We know business will take us away from our children at times, and we know our family will take us away from our business at times. We expect it, and planning gets us through those times.
And don’t be afraid to get help, either from family, professionals, or a network of friends. No one can have a successful career and a family without help.
Motherly: What advice do you have for women who are mothers in the legal field?
Laurie and Erin:It’s really, really hard to be a mother in the legal field, and that’s okay. Get in there and work hard, and gain the best experiences you can. But stop every so often and look around to make sure you’re on the path you want. Are you practicing in an area that you like and that gives you flexible options? Who are your clients? Will you be able to build a book of business? If you don’t know, then start trying to figure it out early. Above all else, get and stay connected. Meet people everywhere you go. Say yes to article writing and speaking engagements. These things build your credibility and your resume, which can lead to flexibility and career options.
Motherly: What keeps you inspired and excited every day?
Laurie and Erin: We are excited and inspired by bringing sense back to legal practice. Law, which is expensive for clients and often grueling for lawyers, sometimes feels like it doesn’t make sense. Lawyers are among the brightest and most educated people in the U.S., but they are also statistically among the most miserable. No one wants to spend hundreds of dollars an hour for something they don’t want to buy either. The Montage Legal network freelance attorneys are happy to help law firms grow and succeed by providing excellent work product and service. Law firms are happy to relieve some of their burden to people who are happy to help. Law firm clients are happy to pay less-per-hour to get help from an experienced freelance attorney. Everybody wins.
Motherly: What are your words of wisdom for other mothers wanting to turn their passion into a business?
Laurie and Erin:Write a business plan, or create a vision board, or both. Get in touch with people in your industry (through live networking or via social media), and ask them how you can be helpful. Offer to assist with writing articles, or share their information on social media. Once you build a relationship with someone, you can ask substantive questions and advice. Don’t ask for a job – ask for introductions instead. Be receptive to advice, and try to heed it when you can. If someone invites you to attend an event – say yes and show up!
Motherly: What are your big dreams for Montage Legal?
Laurie and Erin: Our biggest dream is to be the premier freelance attorney network in the nation, all while maintaining balance in our own personal and professional lives. We are well on our way!
Motherly: What does “Motherly” mean to you?
Laurie and Erin: Motherhood is not a one-size-fits-all scenario. Every woman is different, every child is different, and needs change day to day, week to week, month to month, and year to year. “Motherly” means awareness – of yourself, of your family – to find what works best for all of you at a moment in time. No comparing yourself to others. Motherly means finding and doing whatever is best for your family.