How did you become involved in legal tech?
My route to legal tech was accidental and indirect. Having grown up in Silicon Valley and worked in IT in college, I could easily imagine using office technology tools to tackle the mundane aspects of legal work. When I was at a large law firm, using technology fully wasn’t a pressing concern because we had a team of incredible staff working around the clock. But after moving to a bankruptcy boutique with limited resources—and bigger cases—I needed to find new ways to do great legal work.
Every time I encountered a new problem, I looked for a way to address it long term. Any task that was tedious, repetitive, or ripe for human error was a candidate for a solution using tech. With limited resources, I did not have the option to buy new technology. Instead, I leveraged the MS Office Suite to its fullest extent, in creative and unexpected ways, adapting it for legal-specific functions.
Then a friend asked me to try his proofreading add-in for MS Word. I did and could see its potential if it were modified to be a better fit for lawyers. That friend was PerfectIt founder Daniel Heuman, who asked me to join him and build the solution that I envisioned.
The result is American Legal Style, which is still growing. When we launched in 2015, we had 5,000 legal-specific corrections. In 2016, I added 8,000 corrections bringing it to 13,000, and I’ll be doubling that when the next version of American Legal Style is released in August or September of this year.
What projects have you been focused on recently?
Continuing to develop and improve American Legal Style is still the core of my work, including engaging with our users directly and through social media. However, I’m no longer focused exclusively on American Legal Style–I’m working on expanding PerfectIt and Intelligent Editing’s business all around. The company is heading into its tenth year, and we are upgrading and expanding: Our new website launched on May 31; the cloud version of PerfectIt launched on June 26, so it’s now available for Macs, and a new version of American Legal Style will be coming soon.
I’m also responsible for creating our short—and long-form content and marketing. My strategy is to show lawyers a world where MS Word is a solution that (with minor tweaks and add-ins) we can leverage to serve our clients better and have a more satisfying legal practice. To accomplish this, I’ve written about technology and ethics, and showing that MS Word is more powerful and adaptable than lawyers might expect. I’ve also been writing about how innovation can be small, even starting with current tools, and make an impact. Finally, I write about legal writing and how we can improve the process by using simple technology tools and harnessing the power of MS Word.
Is there a legal tech resource of any kind that you find yourself returning to or that was particularly formative for you?
There are a few resources that I return to again and again:
- State of the legal industry reports by Altman Weil and Clio
- Blogs by Bob Ambrogi, Bill Henderson, and Casey Flaherty
- Articles on Evolve the Law by Above the Law
These resources give me a good mix of in-depth analysis, introductions to new topics or new takes on old topics, and staying in touch with the general sentiment and direction of the legal tech community.
What technology do you think lawyers could look at in a different way that would benefit society?
Two things that I think that lawyers could benefit from seeing differently are text messaging and online dispute resolution.
Communication has changed; people are relying on their phones for everything that they do and that means texting. By engaging clients in their preferred communication, we can serve them better. Many people do not have access to a computer outside of work—or at all—but they do have smartphones. Texting allows you to communicate with clients on their own terms and their own time.
At first, I thought that online dispute resolution was a crazy idea. But the more that I thought about it, the more I realized that it made sense. With ODR, suddenly, a litigant does not need to take off of work, travel, find the right clothes, or engage a lawyer to address a wrong. When all disputes require court appearances, a litigant must weigh the cost to fight for their rights—even when they are clearly right. This natural barrier to seeking justice unfairly tips the scales in a large corporation’s favor. ODR would also alleviate some of the funding problems for courts and increase access for rural and disabled populations.
What advice would you give to other women who want to get involved in legal tech?
You can create your own path to success, so long as you are persistent. If you are already in legal tech and want to grow your presence, it can be frustrating to see the same men get invited to speak again and again. As a woman of color in a male-dominated space, I certainly understand this frustration.
But there are many ways to build recognition. Write, blog, tweet. Pick anything and use your voice. So long as you are knowledgeable or learning, your voice is worth hearing. You must be meaningful and authentic with your engagement. It takes a while to gain traction, but it does happen. I’ve said more about Twitter, social media, and getting involved here and here.
If you want to be a creator, there are many paths there, too. Examine your experience for how you can contribute and what unique skills or approaches you have. It can also be important to been seen frequently, so get involved, attend conferences, and engage in social media regularly.
My final piece of advice is to give first. Offer to help, share other people’s articles, publicly talk about legal tech that you love, and support the community around you. What made a difference for me was that I offered to help others early on. By giving first, I was able to build relationships and credibility. I’m pleased with the opportunities that I’ve had and the connections (and friendships) that I have made.
Give a shout-out to another woman in legal tech who you admire or have learned something from!
There are so many women in legal tech who I admire and learn from on a regular basis.
I love anyone who is working hard to get lawyers to use basic office technology correctly and to its fullest extent. That includes Deborah Savadra from Legal Office Guru, Debbie Foster from Affinity Consulting Group, Catherine Sanders Reach from the Chicago Bar Association, Adriana Linares from LawTech Partners, and Chelsey Lambert from LexTech Review.
I appreciate the women who advocate for staffing changes as a way to handle the difficulties of legal practice, like Dina Eisenberg from Outsource Easier on delegation and Lori Gonzalez from RayNa Corp. on staffing and technology.
And I adore the women who are active, vocal, and making the legal tech community think, such as Cat Moon, Nicole Bradick, and Carolyn Elefant.
If I had to choose only one person, though, it would be Catherine Sanders Reach. She is incredibly knowledgeable about all things legal tech and she is a wonderful mentor to women in the legal tech community.
Feature image by #WOCinTechChat