If steps are not taken to address the gap, women will remain at 20 percent of equity partners and leave the law profession over the coming decades, according to Judy Perry Martinez, president-elect of the American Bar Association (ABA).
In support of its members, the ABA prioritizes achieving gender parity in the profession. They’ve drafted Zero Tolerance: Best Practices for Combating Sex-Based Harassment in the Legal Profession, launched the Women of Color Research Initiative to study and cultivate diversity and inclusion, and published The Grit Project to evangelize the importance of grit and a growth mindset, two traits successful women lawyers have in common. They’ll soon release recommendations to ensure the legal field is as hospitable to women as men.
The ABA also hosted February’s Women of Legal Tech Summit at Chicago Kent College of Law, where they honored the 2019 Women of Legal Tech—celebrating stellar women in the legal tech space—and invited women from across the industry to give rapid-fire presentations from new angles about parity and evolution for women in law and legal tech.
Three themes stuck with me: language, leadership, and law librarians.
Equality starts at the level of language, Hanna Kaufman declared in her talk, “Language Hacks for Gender Equality.” Hanna, who serves as counsel for innovation and technology at the Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois, pointed to two specific areas where being intentional about language can make a big difference for women’s success.
#1: Startup Funding
Hanna shared insights from a recent Harvard Business Review article, where Dana Kanze explored the reason behind the stat that female entrepreneurs receive about 2 percent of venture capital funding, even though they own 39 percent of the businesses in the US.
Dana’s finding? Venture capitalists, both men and women, consciously or not, asked entrepreneurs different types of business questions based on their genders, with different outcomes. And in the end, men received about seven times more funding than women.
Dana’s study found that of male entrepreneurs, VCs asked business questions that were promotion-focused: Potential upsides. Ideals. Vision.
Of the female entrepreneurs, VCs asked prevention-focused questions: Avoiding potential downsides. Safety. Security.
Turns out, the style of questions asked weren't as important to outcomes as the orientation of how entrepreneurs responded (promotion or prevention orientations). The trick, though, is that we’re more likely to answer in the same orientation as the question—85 percent of entrepreneurs answered in this way. So when asked prevention-focused questions, women were more prone to give prevention-focused answers rather than visionary ones.
The takeaway here for the legal tech startup market, where the ratio of male to female founders is 6:1? Women entrepreneurs should be intentional about answering business questions with a promotion orientation, regardless of how the questions are asked.
#2: Job Descriptions
We associate certain words with genders, Hanna said. When most of us hear the words “brilliant,” “genius,” and “rockstar,” we think of men.
Word associations become especially important when we write job descriptions because they send an unconscious signal to applicants about who the company may “truly” be looking for.
Describing a role’s responsibilities using words that carry strong associations with men can dissuade women from pursuing an opportunity—especially when we consider studies that find women put more pressure on themselves to check every box of a job description before applying.
One fix is to focus on behaviors and mindsets, like persistence, more than what we might mistakenly consider set qualities, like intelligence.
“How will you use what you learned today?” Hanna asked. “Seek the ‘dedicated’ over the ‘brilliant.’”
On this journey toward parity, Brooke Moore, founder of MyVirtual.Lawyer, said in her talk, “Collaboration Over Competition,” that we have three choices: step down, step back, or step up.
Stepping up means owning our responsibility to practice leadership as a discipline, whether we lead in an official or unofficial capacity. Joy Heath Rush, CEO of The International Legal Technology Association (ILTA), outlined her ten commandments for successful leadership, which Erin Harrison of Blickstein Group summarized perfectly in her article on the conference in Legaltech News.
Stepping up means speaking up when we witness behaviors that harm the parity cause and having the courage to have difficult conversations with both men and women when they’re needed.
Stepping up means owning our own biases and ineffective patterns—like when we take a scarcity mindset about opportunity, which causes us to treat fellow women as competitors instead of collaborators.
It means going out of our way to share what we’ve learned. In her talk, entitled “Be the Change We Want to See,” legal tech startup founder Alma Asay, now chief innovation officer at Integreon Discovery Solutions, called this building “whisper networks”—sharing our experiences and key information to prepare each other for interviews, pitches, and workplace challenges. Alma also urged us to network to help others, to show up for each other online (she’s a huge fan of Twitter) and in person, and to build a deep bench of women speakers to pull from when we’ve got opportunities to highlight subject matter expertise.
Stepping up also means setting a positive example through mentorship. In her talk, “The Missing Key Element: Mentoring,” Sarah Reynolds, a partner with Mayer Brown, noted that company-sanctioned mentor programs are great, but for real progress we’ll need to go beyond them.
“Pay it forward,” Sarah said. “Women who have had good mentors make good mentors. Make it part of your job.”
Finally, stepping up also means raising your own hand to be mentored. It’s embracing a growth mindset: no matter our levels of expertise, we’ve all got much to learn.
If you show mentors you aren’t open to critical (read: growth-inspiring) feedback, people will stop giving it. Ask for it, put on your poker face, thank the giver, and take it away to reflect on it, Sarah said. Real progress requires humility and vulnerability.
“If you want to know where all the badass women of legal tech are ... check the law library!” said Deborah Ginsberg, Chicago-Kent College of Law’s educational technology librarian, opening her talk, “Legal Tech from the Other Side: Law Librarians Bridging the Gap.”
With all the discussion around artificial intelligence and other big changes coming to the practice of law, one group has been quietly working to evolve. At one time, law librarians focused on building expertise in printed resources to support the legal profession. Now, as legal tech becomes a standard part of how law is practiced, law librarians have stepped up to claim it as another area on which they can offer guidance.
“We’re helping lawyers and staff learn the tech to get their jobs done,” Deborah said.
Not to mention Deborah’s passion for algorithmic accountability—making sure that, as algorithms offer increasing automation across our life experiences, we’re building in sufficient controls to verify they’re staying aligned with their intention, and identify and address harmful outcomes.
Law librarians are an example of staying relevant. They’re worthy of their own theme because they demonstrate a professional group who has looked at what’s ahead in the field and adjusted accordingly, in the interest of continuing to best serve their constituents.
“Law libraries are becoming known not for going extinct, but for building bridges to the tech lawyers will need for the future,” Deborah said.
Bonus: A Fun Networking Party Trick
Many of us use LinkedIn to stay in touch with new connections we meet at conferences. But that connection process usually happens by flipping through a stack of business cards afterward and requesting connections individually.
In her talk, “Legal Tech: Not Just for Coders,” Carol Lynn Grow, owner and vice president of marketing and sales at LawToolBox, taught us a LinkedIn party trick. It’s an easy way to connect with fellow conference attendees on the spot. Walk through the following steps and encourage others to do the same:
- Open the Linkedin app on your phone.
- Click the people icon (two silhouettes) along the bottom bar.
- Click “Find Nearby” at the top in the center.
- Enable Bluetooth at the prompt.
- A list of people nearby who have that page open will populate.
- Tap the checkmark next to their listing.
- Voila! You’re connected.
Congratulations to the ABA’s 2019 Women of Legal Tech, and thank you to the ABA and Chicago Kent College of Law for another inspiring local conference with activating conversations.
There’s no way we’ll achieve pay equality in the next decade, they say? To that the women of legal tech say, “just you watch.”