Partners Megan Cornell, Andrea Johnson and Heather Barnhouse are seeing changes in male-dominated space
Venture tech is often seen as a bit of a man's world, but the women lawyers in the venture technology and emerging growth companies groups at Dentons Canada are proof that this world is changing. And the recent addition of experienced entrepreneur and technology lawyer Megan Cornell as a partner with those groups at Dentons is further evidence of this change.
"As a leading individual in venture tech law, [Cornell] is a go-to counsel for tech companies," says Andrea Johnson, venture tech partner at Dentons and member of the firm's global board.
Adds Johnson: "We continue to see more women-owned and -led companies, accelerators, and funds, who are also looking to work with diverse legal teams. Megan not only boosts the breadth of expertise in our team, she joins a growing group of talented women lawyers at Dentons . . . who are committed to drive progressive change in the industry and contribute to the next generation of Canada's tech scene."
As a partner in Dentons' corporate and venture technology and emerging growth companies groups, Cornell brings 20 years of industry experience. This includes advising start-ups, local businesses, large domestic and foreign-owned companies with Canadian subsidiaries, retailers and the manufacturing sector.
For her part, Cornell says that one of the reasons she was attracted to Dentons was the "strong female leadership" and participation.
"It's a notable difference and something that clients are looking more these days," she says, "not just the expertise, but diverse backgrounds and perspectives."
Cornell adds that she feels her experience running her own boutique business law firm for ten years will be something she can incorporate into her practice at Dentons.
"Venture tech has always been a really big part of my practice for the last 20 years," says Cornell, who practiced at a large Ottawa firm before heading out on her own in 2012.
"We focused on doing things differently from a legal innovation perspective. I was applying software platforms that weren't necessarily designed for law yet. And that helped me double down in the venture tech space because I was living it as an entrepreneur, and most lawyers don't get the benefit of having been entrepreneurs."
David Little, national lead of the venture technology and emerging growth companies group for Dentons Canada, says Cornell "has a unique understanding of how to leverage technology to create efficiencies in the legal practice." With her extensive corporate law and start-up experience, "she is a great addition to the team."
Cornell says that "one of the clinchers" in moving to Dentons is the recent launch of its Venture Hub. It is a library of online resources for Canadian start-ups, including explainer videos, self-serve documents and a series of "easy-to-read" guides that discuss common legal issues that start-ups may face.
"It's a sign that Dentons is committed to that space, that they want to help clients in the venture tech space from the very beginning, when they are perhaps a bit nervous about engaging lawyers but still want guidance."
In joining Dentons, Cornell will work with lawyers Johnson and Heather Barnhouse, a technology group partner in the Edmonton office who works "primarily with women entrepreneurs who are growing and scaling their companies."
Barnhouse says many women technology entrepreneurs didn't intend to take on those challenges. "It's a generalization of course, but many women entrepreneurs start in service-based businesses, and after a while, they come up with solutions for dealing with inefficiencies, "which often means inventing and adopting technology."
What comes next, Barnhouse says, is the realization that others might benefit from these solutions. "They become a technology company when they perhaps never intended to be in that space." Barnhouse works with these women, helping them navigate a "whole new world" and build a technology-based business after starting out as a service provider.
Another difference that Barnhouse notices with many female entrepreneurs, though it's not exclusively women, "is I hear that what is very important to them is taking care of their team." "Whether we're talking about job creation, healthy, flexible workplaces, or philanthropy," she says, "it's important for them to find a venture tech partner that will facilitate those team elements."
Johnson points out that the boom in emerging growth companies provides a "tremendous" opportunity for women lawyers in tech. "People in this space don't necessarily have fixed ideas of what a legal team in this practice area should look like, so it's a real opportunity for women and other underrepresented groups to come forward."
She also notes that the venture tech industry has been under pressure for not funding enough women-founded companies. "But I think the industry is rising to that challenge, and progress is being made. We now have amazing teams contributing to the ecosystem around these women." Having women lawyers as legal advisers adds to that ecosystem.