How did you become involved in legal tech?
My father was a design engineer, so we always had a computer in our house from a very young age—though admittedly, I mostly just played a lot of games like Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune! I also did technology courses at school, but I certainly wouldn’t have professed to have a particular interest in technology. To me, science, technology, and mathematics seemed binary and dull, unlike my subjects of choice—theology and law. I have never considered myself to be exceptionally strong in STEM subjects. I thought that my insatiable curiosity for the world around me would be better suited to a life in the arts! But I have always been highly attuned to looking at ways to make things work better and more efficiently. For that reason, in my professional career, I have always been more inclined towards process improvement and efficient management than technology.
Of course, as technology has evolved, it has become a better enabler of efficient processes and that was the link for me. For example, when I first worked as a legal project manager in the early 2010s, I was using collaboration platforms like HighQ to facilitate better matter management. When I moved into a strategy and innovation role in 2014, other forms of legal technology like e-signing and machine learning contract analysis were beginning to gain more prominence. I was increasingly tasked with getting involved in this emerging area of strategic importance for my firm.
I happened to be nearby one day when my boss at the time asked me to a meet-up of a small group of legal technology enthusiasts, called Legal Geek. I thought it sounded interesting and went along. I met some interesting people and heard about where our industry was going—and that really was the gateway to my deeper curiosity about this world of legal technology and its impact on wider industry disruption. I started to get more involved in exploring new and emerging technologies and working to implement them in my firm. I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time, with the right level of curiosity!
Legal Geek is now a massive global community with large conferences in both London and New York, which shows how far we have come in legal technology.
What projects have you been focused on recently?
One of our central aims with She Breaks the Law is to bring women across the globe together to collaborate and lift one another up as leaders of disruption. The main way that we do that is through our LinkedIn platform, which has proved to be a really good space to bring the community together. However, it is limited in its scalability and functionality, so we are now looking into how we can create a technology platform that brings our members together and fulfills our aims for the community.
As an executive board, we have been working with HighQ, who have developed a space for us to communicate and plan. We hope to translate this hard work into a strong platform for our members in the future.
There are a lot of challenges around this though, particularly around how you get people to adapt and change their behaviors. We are thinking very carefully about that. In that way, it is not that dissimilar to implementing a new piece of technology in a law firm, which requires engagement and purpose.
Is there a legal tech resource of any kind that really helped you when you were starting out in the field?
When I was at my previous firm and was starting out in my new innovation role, I was told by the head of legal technology to join Twitter and to follow some of the legal cognoscenti on there. I have to admit, I was pretty skeptical of how valuable social media could be for business purposes, but that proved to be invaluable advice! The legal technology and innovation community on Twitter is a thriving one, and being a part of this group was invaluable in enabling me to have a good sense of what people in our industry are grappling with all over the world. It also introduced me to great commentators and publications that I would probably never have encountered otherwise. What I found really interesting about that, is that it can sometimes feel quite lonely to drive change in the legal industry, but when you are part of a community, you recognize that you are not the only one facing these challenges and that you can share.
What technology do you think lawyers could look at in a different way that would benefit society?
I think that lawyers need to look less at how technology could benefit society and look more at what society really needs—addressing that with technology if appropriate. The access to justice gap across the world is stark, for example, and technology is a fantastic way of addressing that. Access is a fundamental and basic principle of the rule of law, which enables people to actively and effectively participate in the legal system. But it is no secret that the legal industry has been a closed “guild” for much of its existence, and there are vast numbers of people who cannot physically access justice in “legal deserts” all over the world. Technology has so much power to close this gap and to address so many of the unmet legal needs that society faces. The enabling technology that lawyers choose to look at and use to enhance access to justice is moot. It is the principle of using technology for the betterment of the industry that is important and it is heartening to see many examples of this all over our industry.
What advice would you give to other women who want to get involved in legal tech?
I would encourage women to almost overlook the technology aspect itself if you don’t consider yourself to be a techie. Though there are amazing technologists and coders out there and we should encourage these women leaders too, there are many other ways to get involved in legal technology that do not require a coding background. The reality is that a lot of digital transformation is about people and processes. Transformation is about establishing efficient and effective processes that solve real, human needs and problems which are then enabled by technology. There is plenty of room for change managers, people managers, project managers, and so many other non-traditional technology roles in legal technology.
The other thing I would encourage is to try and remember that this is still an emerging area in our industry and with that comes a lot of uncertainty. The career paths are not always well-defined and it can feel like an uncertain path to travel, when there are several more well-trodden paths you could take. The reality is that I would not have been doing this job when I began my career because this job didn’t exist. Remember that the world of legal technology is ever-evolving and you get a really exciting opportunity to find your own way and shape your own path on this journey. If that appeals to you, then forget about how uncertain it is, take the step, and find a strong network of like-minded people, like She Breaks the Law, to help you on your way.
Give a shout-out to another woman in legal tech who you admire or have learned something from!
When we first launched our network in early 2019, our membership grew by hundreds in the first week. We were completely astonished that there were so many women all over the world who were leading disruption within our industry. We now have over 1,800 in our global She Breaks the Law community and I almost want to say that I couldn’t possibly choose! But one of our ambitions as a community is to recognize and shine a light on some of our female leaders out there and to lift them up so I have to choose one.
I would love to highlight Jennifer Paybody, the Head of Commercial of Clifford Chance Applied Solutions (CCAS), a subsidiary of Clifford Chance. In her role, Jennifer is responsible for the sales, marketing, and go-to-market strategies for all products of CCAS. She started her career in Ireland in 2006, which included working in the marketing team of A&L Goodbody whilst undertaking her marketing degree—which is no mean feat in itself. Jennifer then joined Clifford Chance, where she managed a number of the firm’s global key client relationships, embedded best-practice client development approaches, and developed a deep understanding of customer needs within the financial services sector. In 2019, she moved into the firm’s newly-formed CCAS unit and now works tirelessly all over the world to promote and embed legal tech in her firm.
She embodies so many of the qualities that female leaders of legal technology can bring to the table. Like me, she is not a pure technologist by background, but that doesn’t matter to being successful in her role. She is extremely intelligent, driven, and brilliant at her job. More importantly, she is also kind and very generous with her time. She seeks to support whenever she can, including as an amazing supporter of She Breaks the Law, and as a volunteer for a number of charities. She is one of the many leaders in this space who are breaking the mold every day, and I admire her very much.