Maureen Murat is an attorney and principal of Crowdie Advisors, LLC, a business consulting firm helping entrepreneurs and small businesses access financing via crowdfunding and other alternative methods. How did she get there? How did she combine her education, professional curiosities, drive to help people, and acute understanding of an emerging challenge, cryptocurrency regulatory law, into one career? Recently, WERKIN hosted an Ask-Me-Anything featuring Maureen for Washington DC’s BEACON community of women entrepreneurs. Maureen shared her advice for what it takes to be open and flexible for a career that fully represents one’s strengths and interests.
WERKIN: What led you to your career in this emerging area of law?
Maureen Murat: I had always wanted to go to law school, particularly after working as a paralegal. Working during the day while going to law school at night was challenging. I was also trying to figure out what area of law I wanted to focus on for my career and became interested in tax law.
Before I finished law school, friends of mine were launching a startup to help people navigate the JOBS Act under the Obama administration. The JOBS Act was going to allow everyday people to invest in small businesses. They asked if I wanted to help with the regulatory aspects.
I liked the idea of building a community and helping people raise money they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to access, to grow their businesses.
I was the only woman on that team and there were some challenges. I realized the part I liked most about that work was helping businesses with equity crowdfunding, helping them complete documentation for regulatory agencies. I read up on the JOBS Act, and started going to Meetups and other events catered to DC’s boom of tech entrepreneurs at that time, looking for clients. I realized that a lot of people hadn't quite gotten the basics down yet. They didn't know how to register their business, they didn't have a business plan or even a revenue plan. So, I thought, "maybe I could help those folks, too,” and then later help these same businesses with raising funds via equity crowdfunding or other alternative sources. I could help with business consulting for operational issues, strategy issues. Then came the cryptocurrency wave.
I started looking into what these requirements were for crowdfunding and cryptocurrency. And I started to find that's where I could really help people. As I said earlier, tax law is one of my passions and that turned out to be one of the biggest issues that people have in terms of adopting cryptocurrencies and later exchanging them into cash. They hadn't considered tax implications. Now I’ve been finding out how I can fit in to the tech world, bringing my passion for tax law. I don't code, I don't build apps, but I understand enough of how things work from the business perspective, that I could help clients get their projects off the ground.
WERKIN: Full circle from your early interest in tax law. It stood out when you said that you didn't see yourself as a tech person, someone who builds apps or an engineer, but what you offer businesses in that industry is so vital. You can't expect those in traditional tech roles to fully understand everything that needs to happen for tax and transactions and navigating cryptocurrency. It seems you've really carved out a business based on a need that you saw that matched your skills.
MM: And it was really hard at first because you go into detail and try to figure out how this industry works, not as a technologist. You're often looked at like "What are you doing here?” And at first, I would be offended. But I tried to flip my mindset, so instead of being offended, I would tell myself, "Well, they just don't know any better. They don't realize that they need me.” It's also been a journey where I've learned a lot, I probably more about certain tech products now, and how you can use it in a different industry than I ever would have learned if I had just gone to school.
WERKIN: You mentioned the work you put in to attending events, learning about the industry, and meeting potential clients was really important. You have this very unique story, were there any mentors across any of these industries that supported you along the way?
MM: No unfortunately, I didn't really have a mentor. I have one now, but at the time I didn't even know I needed one.
I wish I did because that would have been helpful and I wouldn't have been so stressed out. Because having an outlet or having someone you can run ideas by, having someone who is going to give advice based on their experience, even if their experiences aren't similar, is a major asset. I wish I had a mentor, but at the time, I didn't.
WERKIN: And now you're supporting other people coming up in this niche, as a sponsor. What advice do you find yourself giving to other people interested in moving in to this area of law?
MM: The first thing I tell people is to figure out what your strengths are and work from there. Oftentimes we focus on what we don't do well. If we don't do something well, you can either learn the skill or find someone who can fill that gap for you. But I think it's better to focus on your strengths because that's what's going to move you forward. Once you get your groove, once you figure out what it is that you do, what you provide, is actually a benefit and you get paid for it, then that is what moves you forward. Focusing on what you can't do, is always a way to hinder progress.
The second thing I would say is that there is this idea that if you're an entrepreneur, you have to be grinding all the time, and you should not sleep, and eat terribly, and try to go to as many things as you can. I used to think that too, because that is so often what you see on social media. But when you take a step back, you realize that you can't be your best if you're not feeling your best. You need to find a rhythm what works for you. What works for me is working out. I run and sometimes turn off my phone for a little while; do whatever you need to do that brings you back to center. It is very important for you to keep going.
WERKIN: According to the American Bar Association, women still make up just 35% of the legal profession. They represent 23% of partners in private practice. What were some of your experiences working in private practice as a woman?
MM: When I first moved to DC, I was a paralegal and worked at the Office of the Attorney General for DC. And that was the first time where I had all female attorneys on our team, all female managers, and supervisors, it was so refreshing.
I am Of Counsel to a small law firm here in DC. The area of law that I practice in, corporate issues, security, general tax law, is very male dominated, even in our 22 or 23 attorney firm. Sometimes in meetings, something I would say would be overlooked, and then someone else would repeat it and get the credit and I’d think, “I just said that!” That is something I still have to deal with.
Sometimes I have to just walk away, not let it get the best of me. Other times, I know I have to be assertive. I am finding where I can figure out which battles to fight and where to save my energy.
WERKIN: What personal attributes do you think it takes to go into law?
MM: When I first went to undergrad, I thought I was going to be a nurse. Then when I witnessed my niece being born, I just and knew that I wanted to be an OG/GYN nurse. But then I started working part time in a law office, working with an attorney who, in many ways, was like a mentor. She gave me more responsibility, which built my confidence and sparked my interest in law. Being able to help people make informed decisions is important to me. I could have done that as a nurse or an attorney.
One of the attributes that you would want to possess is being flexible about what is required of you. After law school, once you start working in whatever area you're in, you'll find you learn new things about yourself. I don't know if there's a list of traits you need to be a lawyer. It's more about how you feel you can contribute to the area of law that interests you. It takes up so much of your life, you should like it.
WERKIN: What is one piece of advice readers can do today?
MM: There's a perception that if you're a woman, you should be used to doing many things at once. One thing that I have found in the last year is sometimes you do need to just take a break. Sometimes that means when you're not feeling your best, you need someone who can hold space for you. You're not at your best, but there is someone you can turn to who can help you get back to center. A lot of time, we think that we can do it all by ourselves and to a certain degree, you do a lot by yourself, but if you can get one or two people who you can really confide in and lay your head on their shoulder every so often, that's a way to rejuvenate.