Megan O'Neail

Megan O'Neail

A bit of serendipity and hard work can go a long way

This profile was written by Quinn Hartwig, a law student at the University of Toronto.

Equally inspired by Law and the Arts, Megan intuitively charted an unconventional path to a fulfilling career that combines her love of both.

There is always some cohesion to your journey, even if each stage may feel completely serendipitous at the time.

Growing up with a father who was a criminal lawyer, Megan was fascinated by the legal realm from the start, but as she matured, she also fell in love with the arts. When it came time to apply for post-graduate studies, Megan applied to both Osgoode and the Ontario College of Art & Design and was accepted by both. Her parents convinced her that law school was the choice ‘for now’ and that art school would be an option later – which she knew really meant never. 
Leaving art school behind was ultimately the right choice for Megan. She had a fantastic experience at Osgoode and made life-long friendships. She took a broad course load and graduated without yet having a firm idea of what area of law she wanted to pursue. Entertainment law was at the front of her mind, but she couldn’t find any firms offering articling in it. Instead, Megan found articles at a mid-sized, full-service firm with a particularly busy practice in medical malpractice litigation. The work was engaging, but she knew she was not a litigator at heart and would need to keep searching for the right fit after articling.
Just because she didn’t study the arts did not mean Megan stopped thinking about them altogether.

Leaning into her interest in film and television, Megan trusted her heart and gut and began volunteering on the sets of short films. While on set, a fellow volunteer found out Megan was a lawyer and suggested she look into the Producer Program at the Canadian Film Center (CFC). While researching the CFC, Megan saw they were hiring a business affairs representative for a contract position. The job was not quite “lawyer”, but she applied and was offered the job. Accepting the job was spontaneous and risky, but it kickstarted what would become a long and successful career in entertainment law. 
While working for the CFC and subsequently completing their esteemed Producers' Lab, Megan secured an internship at an established production company in the hopes of becoming a producer. The production company, however, became far more interested in her legal background than her producing skills. Slowly but surely, she became their unofficial in-house counsel. A short time later, in the midst of negotiating a licence agreement with a senior lawyer at Alliance Atlantis, she was offered a legal counsel position in their busy business and legal affairs group. In her role at Alliance Atlantis she gained extensive experience in film and television production and distribution which provided a stepping stone for future roles.     
One thing led to another and eventually Megan wound up at Astral Media heading up a small legal team. Megan’s team supported all aspects of the business, which ranged from negotiating big content and distribution deals to reviewing the company’s cell phone contract. One day, Megan was looking at ratings data for Astral’s shows and the next day, she would be negotiating a big deal with Disney. It was a real “generalist” role and like any job, there were pros and cons. The work was interesting, fun and exciting, but things could also get a little hairy. The experience taught Megan that not only did she love managing a team and working collaboratively with different departments – she was really good at it.     
After really coming into her own at Astral, a mid-size media company, Megan was naturally a bit dismayed when it was acquired by large multi-media empire Bell. She worried that working for Bell, she would be stuck in a siloed role and lose the generalist responsibilities she had grown to excel at. However, despite any initial trepidation, Megan has continued to flourish at Bell Media. She works closely with the business teams on strategy, risk assessment, and deal modelling. Megan loves that her work continues to give her the opportunity to think about entertainment and the arts from all angles and to provide legal and business advice that is both comprehensive and future oriented. 
In retrospect, relying on serendipity (and hard work) worked for Megan and her advice for law students unsure about their future career aspirations is to relax and trust that the classes you take will not necessarily dictate where you end up.

Law school provides the educational ‘tool kit’ to get you started and you can always leverage that toolkit when facing new challenges post-grad. Megan also stresses the importance of continuing to talk to everyone you can and to explore all options, thinking critically about what kind of work actually fits your interests, career aspirations and lifestyle choices. As her career evolved, Megan built a beautiful family, and she and her husband Matt are currently parenting three teenagers, including one with special needs. While Megan doesn’t have a one size fits all answer for how to achieve work-family balance, she stays on track by focusing on the things she can do. This means remembering to step back and prioritize mental and physical health  including exercise (she's an avid tennis player), sleep (one of her top 3 favourite hobbies), and spending time with family. 
Megan’s family responsibilities are especially complex as her youngest daughter has a rare genetic condition called Prader-Willi Syndrome. Raising a child with special needs can be an unpredictable journey that comes with different challenges, expectations and milestones. Whatever the circumstances, we all find ways to keep going that work for us as individuals, and those strategies can change as our careers and family evolve.
As someone skilled in combining her interests and dedicating time to her passions, it should come as no surprise that Megan has become an advocate for her youngest daughter’s health. She also indulges in her love of the arts at home, with her voice actor husband (a talented painter) and her children who are creative souls  as well. When your interests lie in two seemingly different worlds, finding ways to combine them to form a career might seem like a challenge. But sometimes the perfect job is not listed in a job posting – it finds you while you are following your heart.

Not Your Average Support – Any Amount