As 2017 comes to a close, I took time to think back over the major trends and developments in legal technology over the past 12 months. I figured I write about such notable trends as artificial intelligence, bots and blockchain. But as I was thinking about the year, something else stood out – the prominence of women in legal tech.
I started to think about this as I read my own recent story about Alma Asay, the former Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher litigator who founded the litigation management platform Allegory. In November, Asay sold her company to global legal services provider Integreon for an undisclosed amount, after earlier in the year securing a $500,000-plus round of funding from several major legal tech investors and continuing to build out her product over the intervening months.
I remembered that a year earlier, in November 2016, Asay had told me in an interview about the hurdles she faced as a women entrepreneur in legal tech. “The most frustrating part about it is, you learn a lot as a young entrepreneur and you make mistakes and you try to fix them, and the deflating part of that was there was nothing I could fix, there was nothing I could change about the fact that I was a woman.”
She made this point even more explicitly in a Huffington Post profile:
Be prepared to be reminded every day that you’re a woman. In legal tech, you are hitting a trifecta of male-dominated fields: legal, tech, startups. Not only are you entering male dominated fields, but as a Founder/CEO, you are adopting a traditionally male dominated role.
Asay’s is a story of overcoming hurdles and succeeding despite them. She is the definition of grit and determination, traveling the country virtually nonstop to market her product even as she continued to build it out and run her small company. Her success earned her recognition by the ABA Journal as a Legal Rebel.
As I thought about Asay’s personal success, it struck me that her story exemplified a year that has seemed to me to be a turning point for women in legal tech. Her interview with me in November 2016 and her sale of her company in November 2017 served as figurative bookends to a year in which so many of the stories I covered involved women entrepreneurs, innovators and thought leaders. As I thought back over the year’s stories and trends, women were at the forefront to a degree not seen before, defining the present and charting the future of legal tech.
This was a year in which so many of the companies and organizations making news had women founders or executives. There was Bahar Ansari, co-founder of Case.one, who is disrupting practice management with her pay-by-the-case pricing; Nicole Bradick, cofounder and chief strategy officer of CuroLegal, who this year played key roles in helping to launch the Legal Checkup for Veterans and the Hate Crime Help app; Carol Lynn Grow, owner and VP of marketing at LawToolBox.com, which was recently nominated for a Microsoft People’s Choice Award; Anna McGrane, COO of PacerPro, who this year was named to the Fastcase 50; Laura Safdie, cofounder, COO and GC of Casetext; Janine Sickmeyer, CEO and founder of the NextChapter bankruptcy platform; and Tracy Stevens, vice president of product and design at MyCase, who I interviewed during a visit there last June.
This was also the year in which the ABA Journal appointed a woman as editor and publisher for the first time in its 100-year history — my long-time friend Molly McDonough. (And, yes, I would argue that a publication these days is a technology product.) This was a year in which one of the largest legal technology conferences, ABA Techshow, was chaired by a woman, tech consultant Adriana Linares (although not for the first time).
Often this year, when I reported on startups, their founders were women. Among them were Bebe Chueh, cofounding partner of the innovative technology-based law firm Atrium LLP; Chrissie Lightfoot, cofounder and CEO of Robot Lawyer LISA; Dorna Moini, the lawyer who founded HelpSelf Legal to help low-income people handle common legal problems; Emily Montgomery, the Las Vegas attorney who launched the legal keyboard product Citepad; Melinda Sungenis Black, the veteran legal tech executive who is preparing to launch The Expert Witness Exchange; and Amy Wan, the lawyer who started Bootstrap Legal to help real estate investors get legal paperwork done more easily.
Added to that are all the women whose thought leadership via blogs, social media and elsewhere drove the conversation about the present and future of legal tech. Among them are Niki Black, legal tech writer and speaker; Carolyn Elefant, founder of MyShingle; Joan Feldman, editor-in-chief of Attorney at Work; Mary Juetten and Jules Miller, the women who cofounded Evolve Law before selling it this year to Above the Law; Sarah Glassmeyer, project manager specialist at the ABA Center for Innovation; Ivy B. Grey, author of American Legal Style for PerfectIt, a proofreading and editing software for lawyers, and a frequent contributor to Law Technology Today; Margaret Hagan, director of the Legal Design Lab at Stanford Law School; Susan Hackett, CEO of Legal Executive Leadership; Lisa Needham, editor at Lawyerist; Jean O’Grady, blogger at Dewey B Strategic; Lisa Salazar of 3 Geeks and a Law Blog; and Nicolle Schippers, legal industry advocate at ARAG North America.
In speaking about the women who made legal tech news this year, I do not mean to discount the many women who have long held major roles of leadership and influence in legal tech. For leadership, I offer as exhibit number one Susan Taylor Martin, who has run Thomson Reuter’s legal business – arguably the largest legal technology business in the world – since 2013. For influence, no one comes close to Monica Bay, who has been the personification of legal tech for some two decades, in her roles as editor of Law Technology News and now fellow at CodeX.
Indeed, well before 2017, women were major trailblazers in many areas of legal tech. To even begin to name any is to omit so many others, but among the pioneers are Maura Grossman, a leader in e-discovery innovation; Sharon Nelson, cofounder of Sensei Enterprises and the dean of forensics and cybersecurity; and Stacy Stern, cofounder of Findlaw and Justia and one of the earliest pioneers in legal information technology.
Others include Laura Calloway, director of the Practice Management Assistance Program at the Alabama State Bar; Debbie Foster, a legal technology consultant since 1998 and cochair of the 2018 ABA Techshow; Denise Howell, technology lawyer, blogger and podcaster; Natalie Kelly, director of the Law Practice Management Program at the State Bar of Georgia; Sabrina Pacifici, founder, editor and publisher of LLRX.com and blogger at beSpacific.com; Catherine Sanders Reach, former director of the ABA’s Legal Technology Resource Center and now director of law practice management and technology at the Chicago Bar Association; and Courtney Troutman, director of the practice management assistance program at the South Carolina Bar and a longtime speaker and writer on legal technology.
And then, of course, there are all the woman who, well before 2017, were already established as CEOs of legal tech companies. These include Haley Altman, CEO of Doxly; Connie Brenton, CEO of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium; Andrea Cannavina, founder and CEO of LegalTypist; Felicity Conrad and Kristen Sonday, cofounders of Paladin; Aviva Cuyler, founder and CEO of JD Supra; Monica Goyal, founder of My Legal Briefcase; Catherine Krow, founder and CEO of Digitory Legal; Jill Nelson, founder and CEO of Ruby Receptionists; Jane Oxley, president of Smokeball; Donna Payne, founder of PayneGroup; Nicole Shanahan, founder and CEO of ClearAccessIP; and Monica Zent, founder and CEO of Foxwordy.
But it felt to me that the tide changed in 2017. Yes, legal tech has long been a male-dominated field. Yes, it continues to be a male-dominated field. Yes, women continue to face hurdles breaking into and achieving success in this field. I do not want to minimize any of that.
Even so, it felt to me as if we reached a tipping point in which women’s voices and influence combined to form an undeniable force. Women are not just contributing to the legal tech conversation, they are driving it as never before. This did not start in 2017 and it certainly won’t end here. But at the close of a year that started with legal tech entrepreneurs such as Alma Asay feeling frustrated about being a woman in a male-dominated industry, women are, themselves, the legal tech year’s greatest success story.
[Postscript: To read more about women in legal tech, see Monica Bay’s Legaltech News series of profiles of Women of Legal Tech, the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center’s list of Women of Legal Tech, the ABA Journal’s Legal Rebels, and the Fastcase 50.]