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Where Are All the Women in Legal Tech?

Arabella Mansfield isn’t a household name or someone whom you hear of often—but she was a pioneer in her day, an activist, a champion of equal rights for women and was the first female lawyer in the United States, passing the bar in 1869. Even in death her name channeled activism.

Fast forward to 2017, when an idea was born at a Diversity Lab event called the “Mansfield Rule” that was aimed to create a system to encourage Big Law firms to consider women or minority candidates for top-level positions at firms. The concept of the Mansfield Rule underscored the need to radically change the diversity issue the legal industry faced.

The good news is more women are earning law degrees and starting legal technology companies than ever before. But if you look at the statistics, the industry still has a long way to go.

  • Male legal tech owners outpace their female counterparts 6:1. Women comprise 13.8 percent of legal tech founders, even though they now outnumber men in law school.

  • Male legal tech founders are getting the lion’s share of venture capital. In technology as a whole, women receive about 2 percent of VC funding and minority-founded companies receive less than 1 percent.

Sobering numbers aside, a group of about 100 legal tech leaders gathered at the ABA Women in Legal Tech Summit on Wednesday in Chicago to address some of the most pressing issues that transcend industries but run rampant in legal, including economic disparity and access to justice.

Collectively, the legal tech leaders—including law librarians, legal tech founders, academia and law firm partners—made a powerful statement about how women are moving the needle in an industry that has been traditionally dominated by men.

While there’s still an 18 percent gender gap in pay in the legal profession among Big Law firms, women in legal tech are paving the way for future generations of law students, lawyers and could-be entrepreneurs. Drawing on their collective experiences, the all-female panelists shared best practices for how to get ahead in legal tech.

Up Your Chances of Getting VC Money

Say what you mean and mean what you say; simple advice, but when it comes to going after venture capital to back a legal tech startup, female legal tech founders cannot mince words with investors. Not only should women be explicit in their language, but also those who respond to “prevention-focused” questions with “promotion-focused” answers from investors are more likely to secure those coveted VC dollars.

10 Commandments for Leadership

Joy Heath Rush, the newly minted CEO of the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA), explained the top qualities of successful leaders. Below are her “10 commandments” for female leaders.

  1. Know what success looks like and communicate that to your team.

  2. Don’t forget operational excellence-it gives you a chance to do cool stuff.

  3. See the value in TNT (tiny noticeable things)-when taken together they can be explosive.

  4. Listen twice as much as you speak. There’s a reason why you have two ears and one mouth.

  5. Be a truth-teller. Always.

  6. Embrace the curiosity of your people. People who are curious are thinking about where they fit, about process, about learning.

  7. Understand the difference between de facto vs. de jure-the ideal is to have both.

  8. Do as I say, not as I do:-leaders cannot get away with this mentality.

  9. “When they go low, we go high.” Taking the high road is always the right answer.

  10. Practice servant leadership-not only are you serving your board, you are serving your peers, your subordinates. Don’t forget that.

Hanna Kaufman, counsel for innovation and technology at Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois, explained that men capture most of the VC money because they tend to respond to questions from potential investors with promotion-focused answers, meaning that they tend to be more optimistic and focus on positive outcomes. Whereas women tend to take a prevention-based approach, driven by criticism and the looming possibility of failure.

Collaboration Over Competition

Among legal tech circles, rather than competing against one another, women are lifting each other up, whether praising someone publicly on Twitter or mentoring a junior peer formally or informally, said Alma Asay, chief innovation officer at Integreon. “Shine your light. I see women in legal tech promoting one another. I don’t see it like someone is taking my spot.”

Brooke Moore, founder of MyVirtual.Lawyer, said those with a “queen bee” mentality stand in their own way. “We aren’t competing with the men, we are competing with the women in the room. We’ve got to get away from that.”

Do More With Less

It’s widely held that people who make lists tend to get more accomplished than those who keep mental sticky notes. At the start of each week, Talitha Gray Kozlowski, COO of Lawclerk, writes a day-by-day list encompassing everything from both the professional and the personal. Even if she doesn’t accomplish everything by Friday, it helps her strategize what projects are most important. “By the end of the week, it gives me clarity and helps me prioritize,” she said.

Tap Into the Wealth of Law Librarians

Law libraries are certainly an exception to other male-dominated areas of law. In fact, the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) is composed of 75 percent women.

Often the law librarian—now more commonly referred to as knowledge management—is a critical part of the legal tech decision-making process. Law librarians in 2019 are not stacking books and filing hard copies of case law. In recent years their focus has shifted from books to technology, dealing with algorithms, unstructured data and evaluating technologies that best meet the needs of their users—attorneys, judges, law clerks and law students.

“We are the bridge between our users and the technology they need to do their jobs,” said Debbie Ginsberg, educational technology librarian at the Chicago-Kent College of Law. “We are here as a resource; use us.”

Bet on the Future

With more law school applicants for the first time in nearly a decade, the numbers of rising attorneys has shifted significantly with 111,818 future lawyers poised to join the industry. The next generation of lawyers is made up of tech-savvy students working their way through law school with access to new technology.

Sara Agate, a third-year law student and clerk at Chicago-based law firm Levin and Perconti, created a model based on four “I can” "I"s: Integrate, Innovate, Impact and Inclusive. “Innovation doesn’t mean new, it’s about being collaborative,” she said.

Basha Rubin, founder of Priori Legal, graduated from Yale Law School, passed the bar, and then started the first iteration of Priori’s management platform for hiring outside counsel. Far from being the typical trajectory for most law school grads, Rubin felt compelled to develop a tool that would reduce legal inefficiencies and help in-house counsel work with the most talented attorneys based on their specific needs.

“We are creating a set of golden handcuffs for ourselves, which I think is the background to the discussion around women in legal,” Rubin said. “We need to rethink the profession—rewarding efficiency rather than hours.”

Erin Harrison is the former editor-in-chief of Legaltech News and a consultant with the Blickstein Group. Email her at erin@blicksteingroup.com.