She Breaks the Law (SBTL) is a network of women professionals who are leading innovation and challenging the status quo in the legal world. Since March, the group’s members have grown to more than 1,600 followers on LinkedIn after launches in London, New York, Chicago, Amsterdam, Paris, Dubai, and Mumbai.
Earlier last year, Christie Guimond, Senior Manager at White & Case; Priya Lele, Legal Operations Lead in Client Solutions for the U.K., U.S. & EMEA at Herbert Smith Freehills; Nicky Leijtens, Advisor to the Board at NautaDutilh, co-founded SBTL. Then, Helen Burness, Director at Saltmarsh Marketing, joined the leadership team in November.
The seeds for SBTL started when Guimond, Lele, and Leijtens — who have similar backgrounds in legal areas like project management, design, and other innovations — came together at a networking dinner in 2018 and began sharing their challenges and successes. After bonding over their common achievements and experiencing the same types of issues, they realized there was no forum for like-minded women legal professionals to gather for this kind of dialogue on a regular basis. They left that dinner committed to do something to fill this gap. As a next step, they made a list of their connections who might also want a forum to network with other professional women. The three soon realized that their list was quite long, and the rest is history.
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SBTL has two main purposes: i) to drive true collaboration; and ii) to re-frame the narrative of women’s leadership. Because collaboration is essential for innovation, that became one of the group’s first goals. “We really want to break down silos all the way across the industry,” says Leijtens.
Secondly, the founders see the purpose of SBTL as aspirational, rejecting the negative connotations associated with women’s leadership styles. Indeed, Guimond, Lele, Leijtens, and Burness seek to go all in on shifting the narrative by highlighting the unrecognized women who are working to drive positive change and providing a platform for recognition and networking.
The SBTL community is aligned pretty much to the industry with participants coming from law firms, corporate law departments, academia, the media, accounting firms, and legal tech companies. While the majority of the community members work in law firms, “around 15% work in-house, another 15% work in legal tech as well, and about 5% come from the Big Four,” says Lele.
Creating the She Breaks the Law Platform
SBTL has organized its activities around four strands:
- She Connects;
- She Develops;
- She Creates; and
- She Shares
She Connects is the community’s networking strand and is primarily comprised of live events. “It’s really important that we bring women together so that they connect deeply and build strategic networks,” Burness explains, adding that She Connects gives women the opportunity to build relationships around a specific topic of interest.
She Shares is the space that allows women to share their own stories and their own experiences, with the community providing two different ways to do so. The LinkedIn community is the place where many women have organically shared their backgrounds, career paths, and how they have overcome challenges. The second way is through in-person sessions where a few women share their own career stories and then attendees break off into smaller groups to draw a picture that depicts their career story.
This methodology is intentional because “women don’t get very many opportunities to stand up and be proud of who we are or where we’ve come from, and to share those experiences with other people,” says Guimond. “This strand helps women gain recognition in smaller, intimate environments.”
She Develops is the strand that is dedicated towards developing women’s talent and career opportunities through skills, mentoring, and coaching. The approach to this strand is to act as a channel to connect others based on their needs, the co-founders say.
Finally, She Creates is all about giving women a safe space to create and develop their own ideas while working together. “It was important to us that we have this community of women who are trying to drive change, many of whom are very creative, and who have good ideas,” Leijtens describes. “But they don’t necessarily have the opportunity within their own organization to develop those ideas.” The co-founders wanted this safe space within the platform where members’ new ideas have a place to be tested or find additional contributors.
Dealing with Explosive Growth
The exponential interest and growth of the group was unexpected, according to Lele. The co-founders were aiming to launch in London and Amsterdam because they were based in these cities. “But when we launched on LinkedIn, and women from across the globe joined the group, we paused and said, ‘Wait a second, there is something here,’” Guimond explains. “It’s not just for London or for Amsterdam. This actually is a global community.”
The balance of taking advantage of the growth momentum and maintaining the integrity of the SBTL brand has been challenging for the co-founders, especially because their work on this network has to co-exist alongside their day jobs. At least one of the co-founders has been in person at each launch event, taking advantage of personal and business travel for work or conferences. “We really want to engage with the community in all of these different locations around the world, and it’s really, really important to us that we’re there helping these communities get off the ground,” says Burness.
Indeed, the diverse backgrounds of its members alone demonstrates how SBTL is achieving its goal of breaking down the silos. At the same time, to anchor in a new location, Guimond emphasizes the group has to reach out to those local women professionals who are trying to do things differently or pursue innovations — but fortunately for SBTL, there are lots of people all across the legal industry who are trying to do just that.