According to the National Association of Women Business Owners, as of 2015 more than 9.4 million businesses are women-owned, employing 7.9 million people and generating $1.5 trillion in sales. We recently sat down with three successful entrepreneurial women from the world of legal technology to get their thoughts on the importance of diversity in legal technology, and what it takes to succeed as a woman entrepreneur and business owner in today’s legal world.
|Gina Buser, CEO and co-founder of talent development and change management consultancy Traveling Coaches. The company, in business for more than 20 years, is a strategic partner to AmLaw 200 firms helping them develop talent, build skills and competencies, increase performance, successfully implement change and influence behavior.|
|Nancy Beauchemin, president of InOutsource, founded the company 15 years ago. The company works with AmLaw 200 law firms and legal IT professionals on information governance initiatives such as records management, business intelligence, new business intake and technology implementations including FileTrail and Intapp.|
|Amy Juers, CEO of Edge Legal Marketing, founded the company in 2001. Her team works with legal technology companies of all sizes to market to law firms and corporate legal.|
Andrea Malone (AM): Why is gender diversity important in the legal tech world?
Nancy Beauchemin (NB): When you have gender diversity, you get a range of perspectives to help solve client problems and better position your service offerings. It gives everybody a better opportunity to learn from each other. It’s essential.
Gina Buser (GB): I am often asked by women whom I mentor, as well as clients and partners, how to navigate leadership or influence as a woman. My answer is usually to not make a thing out of it. Don’t even acknowledge it when you’re the only woman in the room. Why is that even a point of conversation? By focusing on our expertise, consistently bringing high-value products and services to our clients and delivering well, those conversations diminish. I also created Traveling Coaches to foster an environment for employees, especially women, where they could grow and thrive without sacrificing themselves or their families in the process. I think the value that diversity brings to the marketplace, especially to legal, is like Nancy said—the unique perspectives. And more perspectives spark innovation. Challenging each other encourages change, which is a good thing. Unique perspectives facilitate better outcomes for everyone.
Amy Juers (AJ): If you look at the Edge team roster, you will see all women. As the agency has grown, we have added women with years of experience in legal tech marketing, and they all have different skill sets. Our diversity comes into play where we can leverage each other’s specific talents to benefit our clients. The work environment is successful because our clients get someone with a plethora of experience who can hit the ground running. Longevity at a workplace in this field, and especially in legal tech, is not common. The team has been together for more than 10 years and the value of connectedness that brings to clients is priceless. It is like dropping a CMO into your organization, and you are off to the races.
AM: What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a female entrepreneur in the legal world, and have those changed over time?
NB: When I started InOutsource 16 years ago, one of my biggest challenges was getting respect from male law firm partners and managers who may not have been accustomed to dealing with strong women in business. Fortunately, that happens less today, somewhat because times have changed, but also because we have been in business for a long time and earned the trust of our clients. Another challenge we used to face was convincing our prospective clients we had the level of experience and depth necessary to address their information governance challenges. Again, that’s much easier now that we have a proven track record.
GB: When I started Traveling Coaches in 1995, it was unusual for a woman to be in the leadership role at an IT organization. And though more women are in leadership today, if I walk into a law firm boardroom with my male employees, many people—especially male partners—default to the men being in charge. I think it’s a matter of innate biases that we all need to be aware of. Another real challenge was that I was 25 when we started the company. When you’re young and female, that’s two strikes against you.
AJ: It’s been 10 years since I founded Edge Legal Marketing. In the beginning, a big challenge was believing I had the authority and skills to negotiate deals, especially when dealing with male clients. Over time I’ve honed that skill set, and that’s benefited the company in terms of how it is positioned and viewed in the marketplace. Another early challenge was overcoming the perception that we could only deliver tactical or administrative-level tasks, rather than high-level consultative strategic work. As time has passed, we’ve positioned ourselves as a strategic partner rather than simply a tactical doer.
AM: How do you view the state of gender diversity in the legal world today?
GB: I think women are underrepresented in the leadership of law firm IT organizations. While there are more female leaders than there were 10 years ago, if you look at the Am Law 200 today, you’ll see very few female C-suite leaders. This speaks volumes about our industry’s commitment to gender diversity.
AM: What are your thoughts on initiatives designed to increase diversity in law firm leadership, like the recent Mansfield Rule? What else can we do so we’re not still having this conversation in 10 years?
NB: I hope that initiatives like the Mansfield Rule will improve diversity efforts within law firms and those efforts will extend their influence to technology vendors servicing law firms. I do question some firms’ motivations. Is diversity a core value for these firms, or are they just trying to check a box for monetary incentives? Nonetheless, I think anything that raises awareness or speeds up changes in what is still a very male-dominated field is a good thing. We need initiatives that go further and promote diversity throughout the market.
GB: I applaud anything the legal community leadership is doing to level the gender playing field. The Women’s Business Enterprise certification is very relevant when dealing with government agencies or corporate America. I am amazed that most law firms haven’t even heard of WBE when we tell them it can help with their diversity initiatives. For that matter, I can only remember two law firms that had formal diversity purchasing initiatives. It’s something that I would love to see law firms embrace. Just as firms should increase their number of female partners, practice leaders and business leaders, so too should they increase the diversity of their vendor partners.
AM: What advice would you give business owners in general, and women business owners in particular, to succeed in today’s competitive legal market?
NB: Being a woman business owner, you need to know that you have to do better than your male counterparts. For me, it comes down to continuing education and hiring people who have that same thirst for knowledge, people who will really get to know our customers and our industry. Success in legal depends on demonstrated knowledge. Be tenacious, believe in what you’re doing and strive to be the best.
GB: I agree that the requirement is for us to be better, and the good news is that most women business owners are wired with a drive to be the best. A healthy blend of confidence, humility, and commitment to learning is a recipe for success. I believe sustained success is the result of a strong brand, an unwavering focus on company culture and an exceptional understanding of your customers’ real needs and pain points. Be willing to have proactive conversations with clients and seek candid feedback. Too often, business owners are afraid to ask what they could do differently or better, yet that’s how we grow and improve.
AJ: It’s important to wipe away insecurities associated with being a woman or the notion that people might think it makes you less than a man. Instead, go in with the mindset of an even playing field. For younger or less experienced women, that can be a challenge, but try not to fear it—embrace it and feel empowered by it.
AM: What do you think 2018 holds for gender diversity in the legal tech world?
NB: Sadly, I am not convinced that gender diversity will be a priority for the legal tech world unless it is required by law firm clients. Only then will law firms ask vendors about their diversity policies and initiatives as a condition of doing business—it’s a top-down system. Hopefully, things like the Mansfield Rule will help, but that’s not directly applicable to legal tech vendors.
AJ: It will take a while. I don’t think 2018 will see a lot of change. Maybe things will change faster than history has shown us. In light of all the publicity that sexual harassment and equality are getting right now in the media and in the entertainment industry with such as initiatives like “#MeToo” and “Time’s Up,” we are seeing more women stand up for themselves. With the power of the internet and social media, I’m hopeful that change from here forward will happen faster than it has in the past. I’d like to do a shameless plug for Women in eDiscovery, an association I serve as the executive director. The purpose of this group is to enable women to empower each other through education, networking, and mentorship. And, one more is RelWOW, Relativity Women of Workforce, which affords professional development and personal connections for women. I want initiatives like these to grow in order to help make change happen.
GB: I think we’ll see an increased awareness of some of the challenges in the marketplace, which helps. Until there is awareness across all genders and walks of life, we can’t create a desire to change.
NB: It’s not that things aren’t changing; it’s that they’re not changing fast enough. If you look back a few years, law firms didn’t have diversity initiatives. Now they have diversity officers. Firms know that things have to change, and the challenge is how to actually change them. I understand that change can be hard in large law firms and it’s not going to be easy, but it needs to happen.
About the Author
Andrea Malone is the marketing and business development manager at White and Williams LLP. She is currently editor-in-chief of Law Practice Today. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter @andrea_malone.