A Thought Leader on Women and Tech in the Law

Charlotte Rushton is managing director of U.S. Law Firms for the Legal business of Thomson Reuters. She is a member of the Legal business executive leadership team, serves on the Thomson Reuters operating committee, and is the executive Innovation Champion within the Thomson Reuters Legal business. Charlotte was named one of the top “100 Women to Watch” by the Financial Times and London Stock Exchange index (FTSE) Female Board in the UK. She holds a master’s degree in engineering from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

Last year, Thomson Reuters led the recruitment of law firms to participate in the annual Women in the Workplace study conducted by McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org. McKinsey published the resulting report and complementary article, available here: Women In Law Firms. The Thomson Reuters Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law initiative, which Rushton co-sponsors, launched the study results at an event attended by many of the survey participants, corporate in-house attorneys, and other industry influencers. It has continued to raise awareness about the study as part of its ongoing programming, which is focused on the changes needed for greater gender equality in legal leadership.

Nicholas Gaffney (NG): What kind of feedback did you get from law firms and women in law firms to the 2017 Women in the Workplace research?

Charlotte Rushton (CR): One piece of feedback that we received across the board is how important it is to have concrete data sources focused on diversity and inclusion within the legal industry. In the 2017 Women in the Workplace study, 23 firms provided information about their talent pipeline, policies, and programs, while more than 2,500 lawyers from within those firms completed an employee survey about their experiences regarding gender, opportunity, career and work-life issues. The good news is the study determined that law firms are taking considerable steps to increase gender equality. However, more needs to be done to balance gender representation at post-associate levels, and law firm leaders are eager for recommendations on how to accomplish this. The study results have helped law firm leaders identify specific areas for sharper focus, such as the process for partner determination and methods for increasing female lawyers’ access to key client relationships and the external networking opportunities. Some law firm leaders are considering changes to their matter assignment processes and are re-committing to their investments in mentorship and sponsorship programs.

NG: What could law firm leadership consider doing differently with regards to gender diversity that would benefit their clients and society?

CR: I believe we’ve reached a point of widespread recognition among law firm leadership—and corporations more broadly—that diverse workforces are no longer a nice-to-have but rather a must-have that leads to better financial results and helps attract and retain the highest-performing talent. The study provides several strong recommendations, including the need to make flexible work programs a more concrete and feasible option; to strengthen senior leaders’ involvement with coaching and sponsorships programs; and to establish measurable targets so that everyone involved with hiring and staffing matters has a clear understanding of their responsibility to help create a diverse and inclusive work environment.

NG: What is the most exciting development you have seen recently in the practice of law relating to women?

CR: I think the most exciting development is the aggregate of all the enriching activity and dialogue that continue across the legal industry about how to tackle the persistent structural challenges that hinder women and people of color as they progress in their careers. As to positive trends, we are hearing more discussion about how firms are working to ensure their matter-assignment systems are equitable and transparent, and that early-career female lawyers are having the opportunity to network and build relationships directly with high-profile clients. Another message being embraced is the need for diversity and inclusion to be truly baked into a firm’s strategic goals at the uppermost levels, to truly effect change. As for specific recent efforts to highlight, the ABA’s own “Achieving Long-Term Careers for Women in the Law” initiative launched by current president Hilarie Bass is studying why women are leaving the law later in their careers.

NG: What one thing about the business and practice of law would you change if you could?

CR: In recent years, law firms have come a long way in their ability to respond to clients’ demands for greater predictability, in part through a greater emphasis on legal process and project management. Indeed, firms have come to realize that competition from both their own clients—corporate legal departments—and alternative providers requires greater precision in how they price and allocate the work on their matters and track their ongoing effectiveness.

While it requires change and new processes, innovative technologies are enabling firms to implement models, systems, and tools to guarantee greater predictability of costs. In turn, firms can develop more flexibility to deliver on what clients need, when they need it, and for a price that is acceptable to the client and favorable for the firm.

NG: What technologies, business models and trends do you think will have the biggest impact on the practice of law over the next two years?

CR: It’s no secret that AI is top of mind for legal professionals. While there are certainly instances of hype, in reality, AI does promise to be a game-changer in the practice of law, and its adoption is already well underway. As computers get faster and domain-specific data sets increase, AI technologies are becoming even more valuable for searching across vast amounts of information and extracting insights. Lawyers who have a strong grasp of the client problems they are trying to solve will be able to leverage AI to enhance their own expertise, freeing up their time to focus on the real value they add: generating insights that are likely broader and deeper than previously possible. These efforts will help demonstrate the all-important value that clients wish to see.

NG: What’s the best new law practice you have heard of recently?

CR: Law firms that are wisely investing in technology solutions can reap great value from document automation, which has the potential to reduce manual document drafting from hours to minutes. This, in turn, frees up lawyers to apply precious billable time to more complex negotiations. For example, to increase efficiencies involving fixed-fee work, some firms are creating secure portals where their clients can directly complete the questionnaires that result in automated documents. This not only reduces spend but also reduces the time it takes an attorney to review a document for accuracy. For law firms interested in building relationships with prospects, some are adding basic forms and contracts to a website landing page that allows visitors to create and download simple documents for free, in exchange for lead captures.

About the Author

Nicholas Gaffney is the founder of Zumado Public Relations in San Francisco, CA, and is a member of the Law Practice Today Editorial Board. Contact him at ngaffney@zumado.com or on Twitter @nickgaffney.

Send this to a friend