Celebrating Inclusive Excellence: Janelle Cornwall Adapts and Advances

In transactional law, the goal most often is to avoid litigation. Transactional attorneys comb through contracts and other legal documents meticulously—dotting every “i” and crossing every “t” in an attempt to keep things sailing smoothly without any surprises. In life, however, there is continuous change and disruption. Often, one just has to imbue oneself with the skills and perspicacity to navigate the sea changes that occur.

Janelle Cornwall, Assistant Chief Counsel, GTRI Transactions, Office of the General Counsel is savvy about transactional law and overcoming obstacles and change.

“I’ve faced several obstacles in both my education and career,” said Janelle.

“Obstacles have been a part of both my education and career,” Janelle shared. “However, they have served as stepping stones, propelling me towards growth and resilience.”

The Stanford University alumna, who studied Sociology and Psychology, and later, transactional law at Emory Law School, joined GTRI on Nov. 1, 2022. As the Assistant Chief Counsel, her role is pivotal to GTRI's operations.

"My job involves providing advice and counsel to GT/GTRI leadership, management, and contracting officers on GTRI transactions," Janelle explained. "It's about understanding the impact of Georgia procurement laws and regulations on the Institute’s transactions. I also prepare and review contracts, such as MOUs, NDAs, and other legal agreements and documents impacting GTRI."

Her journey was not without challenges. The most influential mentor in her life, her mother, stood by her through the stormy seas of change.

The New York native is the offspring of Caribbean immigrants. Her family moved to Atlanta suburb Stone Mountain during her high school years. 

One of Janelle's first hurdles was the realization that her initial college major choice of pre-med wasn't the right fit. "My grades suffered as I struggled to understand certain concepts that came easily to my classmates," she recalled. "I finally decided to pause and reflect on my skill strengths – writing, analysis, research, and problem-solving. With this renewed focus, I decided to pursue a career in law."

That choice proved to be the right one. She flourished as a law student. Her time in college included a term as Executive Managing Editor of the Emory (University) International Law Review.

A new challenge surfaced with the 2008 recession just as she embarked on her law school journey. "The job market was incredibly difficult to navigate," she said. "I applied to hundreds of jobs, rarely hearing back from employers. It was an emotionally draining experience."

As an inspiration in her life, Janelle acknowledges prominent political figure and social justice advocate Stacey Abrams. "Her tenacity and dedication to social equity have been truly inspiring," Janelle expressed.

Janelle's own tenacity and dedication have enabled her to rise above the tides of personal and professional strife.

"I’m fortunate to say that I’ve attained many of my personal and professional goals," she said.

She's a homeowner and is passionate about her family, including her dog, Milo, her home, music, pop culture, and social equity--like her role model Abrams.

In the future, Janelle plans to join Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) at GTRI, as she believes they can foster a sense of belonging. "I plan on joining a few ERGs so that I can start to build a greater sense of belonging at GTRI as a new employee," she said.

Janelle does have less taxing goals and pursuits as well: "In my free time outside of work, I enjoy going to concerts, listening to podcasts, hiking up/around Stone Mountain, and spending time with my family, friends, and dog.

"Post-COVID, my personal goal is to travel more, especially to places on my bucket list."

Janelle Cornwall’s story is a testament to resilience and the power of adaptation. Despite the challenges she faced in her educational and professional journey, her ability to navigate change and overcome adversity has led her to a rewarding early career path at GTRI.

Her story is exemplary for aspiring attorneys and current and future GTRI employees alike.

Writer: Christopher Weems
Photographer: Christopher J. Moore
GTRI Communications
Georgia Tech Research Institute
Atlanta, Georgia


The Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) is the nonprofit applied research division of the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech). Founded in 1934 as the Engineering Experiment Station, GTRI has grown to more than 2,900 employees, supporting eight laboratories in over 20 locations around the country and performing more than $800 million of problem-solving research annually for government and industry. GTRI's renowned researchers combine science, engineering, economics, policy, and technical expertise to solve complex problems for the U.S. federal government, state, and industry.

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