As lawtech, a cross section of two traditionally male dominated fields, is booming, it is not surprising that issues around diversity stayed in focus at this year’s Legal Geek Conference in London last week.
This year the Women in LawTech panel session was hosted by Ivy Wong from Lexoo, former lawyer turned legal technology entrepreneur. The panellists were Joanna Goodman, freelance journalist; Julia Salasky, Founder and CEO at CrowdJustice a crowdfunding platform for legal action; and, Caroline Ferguson, Business Transformation Manager at Simpson Grierson and founder of Living Lawyers, a consultancy focused on helping law firms to improve service delivery.
Wong kicked things off by referencing the recently launched Women in LawTech mentorship scheme set up by Legal Geek—which so far has led to 34 mentorships. The lack of representation is a key hurdle in women getting into the sector, Ferguson told delegates, adding that junior positions are held by 60 percent women, but represent only 30 percent of partners, which “won’t inspire the next generation, so this is where the mentorship program comes in”.
Goodman pointed out, however, that even though representation is important, it shouldn’t just be about a few great leaders, and everyone should feel empowered to make a change. Role models need to be realistic and at all levels—mentorship should not be an exclusive club. Although flexible working around childcare is one of the things that should be looked at, there is much more. What about carers and other situations where flexible working is essential? A point that was raised at the Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law panel at Thomson Reuters Generate 2018 conference in September.
Sharing her perspective as someone who had ‘taken the plunge’, Salasky mentioned that even start-up funding is a different experience for women. “The starkest moment of this for me was when an angel investor told me he would never invest in a sole female founder. By contrast, one of the men who invested in CrowdJustice, when I was visibly pregnant with my first daughter, proudly told me that his wife runs a start-up valued over £100m”, said Salasky. This was the opposite to her husband’s experience who was a fintech start-up entrepreneur looking for funding at the same time.
The focus should be on “people passionate about the world, that is not a gendered thing”.
Staying on the tech world side, a resounding message from the panel to the lawyers in the room was that law firms looking at technology should be aware of the diversity of their providers, and a zero percent pay gap is achievable. Ferguson achieves this in her company, and “it’s not only an attractive selling point, but a good way to entice the best talent”.
One of the developments that seems to be working in favour of better diversity is the range of roles now available in and outside firms—roles looking at “transformation” and “innovation”, that are all encouraging signs that attitudes are changing. Salasky had some encouraging words for those considering switching from the more traditional law firm roles to tech, adding: “Think about what’s blocking you from taking the leap, and don’t let the lack of representation stop you”.
Though there is a fair way to go, the general impression of female representation in lawtech is increasingly positive; there were many female lawtech start-up founders and consultants that graced the stages. Technology is set to transform the legal industry in more ways than by improving access to justice and client care, it is also opening it up to a more diverse pool of people, who together are set to make a real difference.
Read the full review of the Legal Geek 2018 Conference here.