Michelle Craig Sparks Legal Tech Startup Scene in New Orleans
Michelle D. Craig is an attorney who co-founded Transcendent Legal, the first legal tech startup in the Gulf South. She was born in New Orleans, graduated from Covington High School and returned to New Orleans for good in 2007. She has a particular interest in the startup community, and she explains in this WhyNOLA Q&A what makes New Orleans the best place for her career and her life.
NOLABA: What brought you back to New Orleans, and what keeps you here?
Craig: I came back because I had an opportunity to practice the type of law I wanted to practice at a great firm in the city. When I first moved back, I wasn’t sure about the move. Things were just getting back together after Katrina, but I got very involved with several organizations and movements in the city. A few years into my stay here, I literally woke up one day and was bitten by the New Orleans bug.
Someone told me when I first moved back that New Orleans gets deep into your soul. I gave them the side eye and promptly said I would be gone in two years. Well, they were right. I’m still here and I love it. My family is not here, but I have friends here who are like family. They are my “framily.” If, God forbid, another Katrina hit, I would come back and rebuild the city again and again. My parents were military, so I lived everywhere as a child and never connected to the places I lived. It was just the next location until it wasn’t anymore. But I’ve connected with New Orleans. I don’t even understand it myself, but it’s the truth.
NOLABA: How do you respond when you’re asked Why NOLA?
Craig: I respond that New Orleans is special. It’s alive. New Orleans needs new and vibrant businesses. Coming here is an opportunity to move to a place that not only needs you as a business owner, but also wants you. I would say that business owners and business people here know each other and work together. We embrace people who follow their dreams in our city. Bigger cities might offer more resources, but they come with headaches. New Orleans offers the opportunity to be a big fish in a small pond. It also offers the opportunity to contribute to the culture in a meaningful way with your business.
NOLABA: Why is New Orleans a good location for your business – Transcendent Legal?
Craig: We combine technology with legal resources to give our clients the ultimate customer service experience and help achieve their business goals. Lawyers are generally not known for their efficiency. At Transcendent Legal, we seek to change that. I practice startup law, education law, business transactions and civil litigation. I have always been particularly interested in the startup community. I know the fears and the frustrations, the needs and the disappointments. A success for one of us is success for all of us in New Orleans. The city’s startup community is robust. I help these companies with a large variety of issues including formation documentation, partnership agreements and employee on-boarding. I help them navigate legal matters that they probably would never ever think of. My goal is to make sure their legal foundation is solid as they move forward. I’ve seen so many startups hit a wall because they didn’t do what they needed to do on the front end to legally protect themselves from outside forces and sometimes from each other.
It is very gratifying to help a company grow from the ground up and to watch it flourish and to know you had a part in that. That’s one of the great things about New Orleans. There is so much opportunity to grow and be of assistance to new and amazing companies. I also have an education practice. With my work in education law, I really feel like I’m giving back to the community by helping the students and educators be successful. It is a very gratifying practice of law.
NOLABA: If a peer told you they were considering a position in New Orleans, what would you tell them about the city from a business standpoint?
Craig: I would tell him or her that the business community is small. We know everyone. New Orleans is different because we all work together and we play together. I’ve never lived in a city like that. It gets interesting sometimes. I would tell them to be mindful of that. For me, it has been a very good thing.
NOLABA: What do you love most about New Orleans in general?
Craig: I love the family atmosphere. I remember when I first moved here and I stayed here for some of the holidays. I usually had no less than four invites to the homes of friends who wanted to make sure I had somewhere to go. Many of my friends’ parents have always been and continue to be like my parents – open, nice and welcoming. I really like that about the city. Everyone treats friends like family. We also like to have fun. I would be kicking myself if I didn’t say that is one thing to like about the city. I’ve lived a lot of places, and I’ve never lived in a place where there is so much to do all the time. With so much going on in the world, a lot of us, whether we have a lot or a little, have a good and happy life.