By Ivy B. Grey
Diversity is important to legal tech because it brings in different perspectives, which yield different solutions. Yet, diversity is often reduced to a buzzword and a checkbox. When that happens, the legal tech industry misses out on unique and compelling stories, dynamic expertise, and connections that could convince others to embrace technology rather than resist its adoption.
I am a black woman and I grew up in Silicon Valley with early exposure to technology. I did not grow up around other lawyers. So when I became a corporate bankruptcy lawyer in 2008, I was open to technology but still had to figure out how to practice law. And despite a lifetime of being fastidious and a bit anxious about proofreading, I was not immune to mistakes.
In 2015, when I joined Intelligent Editing to develop American Legal Style for PerfectIt, I was able to combine these seemingly-disparate parts of my life. I created a program that could defy the oft-repeated advice that proofreading cannot be outsourced and that, to do it right, it must be done in hard copy. My program checks over 13,000 legal-specific proofreading and editing errors that are often found in legal writing and can reduce an hour of proofreading to less than ten minutes. I doubt that if I had grown up with a lawyer in the house, that I would have considered this possible.
For me, legal tech is not just about my software. It is about the entire range of tech solutions, and business and ethical implications for our profession. It’s important that these things work together, but we won’t see the connections and possibilities if we don’t broaden how we approach diversity in legal tech. Here are some tips for broadening your perspectives and supporting diversity in legal tech by engaging with people.
Women and minorities in legal tech create solutions for a wide variety of problems related to the business and practice of law and the legal system—not just access to justice and social justice issues. We work on automation, natural language, artificial intelligence, big data, litigation, and business issues, among others. Support us in opportunities to publicly break the stereotypes. Ask us about something other than our identities—you can start with our tech.
The start-up and legal tech world has an obsession with founders, who are mostly white men. This keeps many women and minorities from getting the attention necessary to grow their businesses, raise capital, or access social and business networks to gain momentum. Access to capital and the historical wealth gap is an incredible hurdle for minority female would-be entrepreneurs, so we often join young start-ups or adapt existing technology as our way of making our mark. Broadening your view of who counts as a major player in legal tech will help you to recognize how non-founder women are playing significant roles that are driving, defining, and disrupting the industry.
Legal tech seeks to create a fundamental shift in the business and practice of law and the legal system. Lawyers resist change because we are biased in favor of processes that we already know. To break the cycle, we need the experience of someone who knows legal practice, but who is not so entrenched that they cannot see the flaws in the system. Because women and minorities have historically been outside of the system, we are likely to bring a different perspective. This difference allows diverse legal tech entrepreneurs to identify and fix problems that go to the heart of legal practice that most others assume cannot be addressed.
We know law, tech and innovation, and we have sophisticated thoughts on all three topics to share. Women and minorities in legal tech are writing thought-provoking articles that answer real questions about ethics and impact, among other things. We’re not just “booth babes” touting our products, we’re expanding the legal tech space and building a foundation to support growth and change for the entire legal industry. Invite women and minorities to speak on panels and display our expertise. Amplify our voices. Don’t make us climb extra hurdles. If we were recommended to you, trust that we know our stuff.
Whether you’re in the business of growing an individual company or growing legal tech as a whole, embracing diversity can help. It brings in outside voices that help generate faster innovation and growth. That doesn’t require special treatment. It means trusting recommendations regardless of background, talking to entrepreneurs about our technology, and remembering that tech companies are bigger entities than just their founder. It’s one of the easiest ways to get better products into law firms faster.
This article was originally published in Chicago Lawyer Magazine on May 25, 2017.