In tech, female founders traditionally produce greater investment returns, decrease design bias, and build more diverse teams. Last year, we celebrated an unprecedented number of women in legal tech getting acquired, winning awards, and earning promotions.
Now, we have more than 50 female founders working on tech solutions. We are on the cusp of a new wave of legal tech female founders whom I believe are uniquely positioned to build the future of legal services.
Yet, even though women are making strides, female founders currently account for less than 15% of legal tech founders overall — even below tech startups more broadly. If technology is the future of the legal profession, then those who build it, will shape it. Considering that women now outnumber men in law school, and client demographics are skewing more diverse, this number is alarming.
Why does gender representation in legal tech matter, and what can we do about it? The most glaring consequence of not having diverse founders is that tech solutions will be highly susceptible to design bias from the outset. There are countless examples of AI systems not being able to recognize women’s voices, recruitment tools subconsciously discriminating against language in women’s resumes, and hardware products being designed for and tested by only men at the risk of female users. As women become greater consumers of both B2B and B2C legal tech, how women consider, buy, and use technology must drive product development.
Furthermore, because women are disproportionately affected by access to justice and workplace issues, they are also uniquely positioned to solve them. Take, for example, Montage Legal and MyVirtual.Lawyer. “Montage Legal was founded by two women (Erin Giglia and Laurie Gormican) who brought their own experiences as mothers,” says Heidi Alexander, the Deputy Director of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers – Massachusetts and the head of the ABA’s Legal Technology Resource Center Women in Legal Tech awards. “Montage Legal provides freelance lawyer services by mothers at home on an hourly basis to provide flexibility. Another is Brooke Moore of MyVirtual.Lawyer, who has a network of lawyers, including a focus on military spouses who oftentimes have difficulties getting hired due to transitions in their husbands’ locations.”
The value of having women at the helm extends beyond products and into culture, says Maya Markovich, Head of Product at Nextlaw Labs and Nextlaw Ventures. “As technology begins to take on more of the quotidian tasks in industries like law, the most valuable skills [for teams] will be those traditionally viewed ‘female’ attributes like inclusiveness, emotional intelligence, and empathy,” Markovich explains. “These are the skills that build value and the traits that will define the most successful among us in the future.”
Yet, even with these benefits, the path for women to start legal tech companies is still complicated, mainly driven by a lack of access to capital and networks compared to their male counterparts. In fact, women only receive about 2% of venture capital investment. “The problem is about the same as women in enterprise tech generally; it’s more of a systemic problem with the tech industry,” says Jules Miller, who co-founded legal tech companies Hire an Esquire and Evolve the Law, and more recently the investment firm Prose Ventures.
Markovich agrees. “Funders often make investments that reflect their own demographics because they’re more of a ‘cultural fit,’ which perpetuates a relatively homogeneous group,” she says.
How do we combat the lack of access to capital and inherent investment bias for female founders? “The best thing we can do is make current founders massively successful to inspire more women to start legal tech businesses,” Miller says.
One recent success for women in legal tech is Kristina Jones, the co-founder of CourtBuddy, which matches clients with solo lawyers on-demand for legal services at flat rate. CourtBuddy raised a $6 million round of investment this fall — a feat for any legal tech company.
Jones recognizes the need to share her story. “We need more success stories to get the venture capital world excited to jump in and help us scale our businesses faster,” she says.
Alexander adds that in general, “we need more women in the startup scene, in leadership positions, in venture capital, to change the culture.”
In addition to access to capital, access to networks that grow and scale women’s businesses is crucial. Personally, I’m a big fan of joining accelerators and incubators to develop that community, and SimpleCitizen (YCombinator), Wevorce (YCombinator), Callisto (YCombinator), CourtBuddy (500 Startups), and Paladin (Techstars) are a few of the female-founded legal tech companies that have been able to take advantage of such programs.
Now, with the emergence of legal-focused accelerators through Allen & Overy and Duke Law’s Tech Lab and others, I hope we’ll also see the beginning of an intentional effort to not only diversify portfolios, but also democratize access to legal tech buyers. Similar to how investors favor those folks who look like them, decision makers tend to buy from familiar faces, and even one key introduction or partner can make all the difference.
While the industry works through how it can support innovation more systemically, there are tangible ways the rest of us can promote and support women in legal tech:
- Don’t treat female founders as charity. “The best thing to do is to invest in women founders and buy their products so that they build successful companies.” —Jules Miller
- Highlight and celebrate those leading the way. “Like LTRC’s Women of Legal Tech Initiative that selects women in legal tech to add to a growing list every year, we need to give people who are looking for speakers or other opportunities, access to reference lists of excellent candidates.” —Heidi Alexander
- Be intentional. “Actively seeking out investments with strong female leadership and taking concrete steps toward gender diversity is not only the right thing to do, and backed by data, it’s also a better business decision.” —Maya Markovich
- Cross-promote. “We should look at the solutions that we are building to see how we can partner and promote complimentary services within our own customer bases.” —Kristina Jones
- Make an introduction. Even just one introduction to a potential buyer or investor can have an incredible impact on a female founder’s business.
Resources for female entrepreneurs are not finite, and if we can make a conscious effort to lend our support, networks, and resources to scale female entrepreneurs’ work, we’ll be stronger as an industry.