She Has Been a Successful Entrepreneur for Decades, Creating Companies in Technology, Law and Legaltech. Read Our Interview with Businesswomen & Entrepreneur, Monica Zent
Q: For those of us who are not familiar with Alternative Legal Service Providers (ALSPs), can you explain a little of what you do for your clients?
MZ: Alternative Legal Services Providers (ALSPs) offer an alternative to the conventional law firm and billable hour model of delivering legal services. ALSPs are creative, innovative, nimble, and cost-effective. Our business model is inherently aligned with the interests of our clients instead of against those interests as is the case with conventional law firm structures. ALSPs offer a range of services that extend beyond just legal services as well such as legal operations consulting, legal resourcing and flexible talent, legal technology advice and implementation and more. We are the fastest growing category of legal services provider in the market and corporate clients are finally understanding the true value that effective ALSPs can deliver.
Q: What made you decide to start ZentLaw?
MZ: I’ve been an entrepreneur several times over nearly my entire career. And I’ve been in the legal industry for 25 years now, seeing around corners and innovating. A lot has changed over that period and I’m glad I was able to be a part of that. One example of this is creating a new business model that was unheard of when I launched my business 20 years ago but now is a respected solution, giving clients more options than what previously existed. Things were very different twenty years ago when I launched ZentLaw. Legal services were nearly exclusively delivered by large conventional law firms that were beholden to the billable hour model. I saw an opportunity to create a new way legal services could be delivered and a new business model under which to do that. Of course, I had to educate the market on this new business model, what we could offer and why it was better for clients. Sometimes carving a new path isn’t easy. Back then, the idea of subscription legal services, treating clients with a service-oriented mindset, on-demand legal services from a dedicated resource and “virtual lawyering” were concepts that hadn’t become mainstream. In fact, these ideas at the time were considered ground-breaking. I’ve been called a “pioneer” in the legal industry for that reason. It’s a nice reference but what most people don’t realize is it’s very hard to be a pioneer. You’re out there on your own without a lot of support and no path in front of you but the one you create. It took time and proof to convince the industry but eventually the value proposition sold itself and now it’s probably one of the most replicated models in the market.
Q: What is legal technology and why does it matter? I understand you are a pioneer in the industry.
MZ: LegalTech is anything and everything that pertains to how we utilize technology to facilitate any aspect of legal work from finding the law to analyzing the law, documents, data, cases, and contracts to streamlining the delivery of legal services to empowering consumers to access the law to help themselves where needed. LegalTech as a term is relatively modern and allowed me along with some of my colleagues to become pioneers in it by creating, experimenting, founding, funding and advising some of the earliest LegalTech ventures. Yet, the idea of LegalTech is not new. In fact, the legal profession has made use of technology since the inception of tech. If we go way back in time, early technological developments such as the telephone, typewriter, and dictaphone to word processing, Boolean search tools and the internet, the legal industry has been a power user from day one. LegalTech has always mattered to the legal industry and it still does!
Q: What is one word of advice you can offer to young women who want to reach your level of success?
MZ: It’s hard to land on just one word of advice because many different factors go into leading to success from believing in yourself to staying hungry, to having grit, to being authentic, there are so many different traits. The road to success is not always a straight line and learning from mistakes made along the way is just as critical to being successful as being ambitious and driven. Being true to yourself, cultivating your strengths, while being mindful of weaknesses, and building authentic relationships with your network are all key elements of the journey toward success.
Q: Can you tell our audience one of your most memorable moments of your career?
MZ: There have been many memorable moments and people along the way, but the 20th anniversary of ZentLaw was by far my favorite moment so far - and we are looking forward to many more eventful years ahead! Being featured on the cover of Legal Business World was another high point - I was so very honored.
Q: At the start of your career, what do you wish you had known?
MZ: The importance of building and keeping your network. At the start of my career, the internet was new and so it was very difficult to build a network and even harder to keep without social media as a tool. Build, cultivate, take care of your network; your success depends on it!
Q: Which woman inspires you and why?
MZ: My mother always taught me to be strong, independent, and self-reliant. She worked her way up in the banking sector back in the days when women were not accepted in leadership positions. I’ve spent my whole life inspired by her, her work ethic, and her exemplary moral character.
Q: What advice would you give to young women who want to pursue their dream and start a business?
MZ: Work hard, believe in yourself, and be honest with yourself. And choose your spouse wisely.
Q: What advice would you give to young women who want to succeed in the workplace?
MZ: Know your worth, work hard, advocate for yourself, and always remember to build bridges wherever you go.
Q: After high school, where did you feel your career path would take you?
MZ: I knew I would either be going into pre-med or prelaw, but I wasn’t sure which. I have always loved science, but I ultimately enjoyed debate so much that I decided to take the legal path. In reality, I didn’t end up as a doctor or an attorney, but an entrepreneur.
Q: Can you tell us how you manage your work life balance?
MZ: It’s important to take time to go outdoors, take a break, and to keep your work separate from your personal life. It’s really hard to do this in a remote work environment, but not impossible. It’s great to be productive but be sure to set the boundaries between your work and home lives. Do the best you can to build balance in your daily routine.
Q: What's your advice for women in male-dominated fields?
MZ: There are much fewer male-dominated fields than there were back in the day - leadership roles, board positions, venture capital, and the startups that receive the venture capital - all employ women at all levels. You must always work hard, know your worth, and advocate for yourself. Don’t be afraid to be confident so you can make sure that you are able to compete in the best way possible.
Five Things About Monica Zent
1. What celebrity would you like to meet at Starbucks for a cup of coffee?
Well, he’s not a typical celebrity but is becoming one now: Sam Altman.
It would take several cups of coffee to get through the many questions I would have for him.
2. What’s your favorite thing to do in your free time?
Spend time with my family.
3. Among your friends, what are you best known for?
Honesty and kindness.
4. What’s your favorite app on your phone?
Camera and messages - couldn’t live without them.
5. Are you a morning person or a night owl?