The Legal Technology Resource Center’s Women of Legal Tech initiative is intended to encourage diversity and celebrate women in legal technology. This initiative launched in 2015 with a list of innovators and leaders in legal technology and with this year’s additions, that list now includes 141 talented and influential women leaders.
Every Monday and Wednesday, we have featured a woman from our class of 2022. Today we have Natalie Knowlton!
Natalie Knowlton is Co-Founder & A2J Policy Principal at Access to Justice Ventures, LLC.
Three points to summarize you and your work in legal tech.
- The percentage of self-represented litigants in civil and family law matters is massive, and with this trend comes massive opportunities for legal tech innovators. I have studied and closely follow the research on this new normal in our legal system and connecting entrepreneurs with this research is a passion.
- Courts and legal services providers are integrating technology into their processes in a way that would have been aberrant before the pandemic (at least at a systemic level). This shift opens so much opportunity for tech solutions and private-public partnerships.
- Lawyers alone will never solve the access to justice gap–whether pro bono, legal aid, private practitioners, or all of the above combined. While some in the profession have not accepted (and likely will not accept) this reality, the opportunity for new providers, new services, and new tech-enabled solutions has never been greater. My mission is to empower the innovators working to create these new markets.
How did you become involved in legal tech?
My work at IAALS, the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System at the University of Denver, where I serve (or “served” effective Aug 1) as the Director of Special Projects, highlighted the role that technology is already playing in the access to justice space and highlighted the vast opportunities for tech solutions (in courts, in legal aid and pro bono settings, and in the private sector) to bridge our massive access to justice gap. At the time I began engaging in legal tech communities, I didn’t see many connections between those who study and research in this space and those building solutions. I wanted to bridge that gap so I started to shamelessly insert myself into the conversations that were happening in legal tech and began creating connections with direct-to-consumer startups in the space.
What projects have you been focused on recently?
I find myself steeped in legal regulatory reform efforts at the moment. Conversations on reforming unauthorized practice of law (UPL) rules and amending restrictions on fee sharing and co-ownership with professionals who are not attorneys are not new. But these issues are coming to a head in states around the country, particularly because these rules are founded on assumptions and our community is increasingly interested in data-informed policy making. The innovation occurring in the direct-to-consumer space is growing, and these entrepreneurs and more broadly attorneys in the People Law sector are constrained in their abilities to scale. I am interested in creating structures that allow for experimentation and data collection to ensure that we are really empowering the creation of ecosystems that facilitate access to justice while also protecting the public.
What do you see as the biggest challenge in legal tech today?
Given my focus on direct-to-consumer legal tech, an issue that I spend a lot of time thinking about is how these providers can achieve product-market fit. With changing regulations, new markets are being created with new providers and new services. This process takes time, and part of the conversation is changing public expectations on what it means to get legal help. Lawyers have been the only game in town for a long time, but that is increasingly not the case. Ensuring the success of these new markets and the companies leading them is a collective effort. And this is the challenge that is resonating most with me these days.
Has the pandemic changed anything about the way you, your firm, or your organization does business? Has the changes that have resulted from the pandemic improved or altered your work or how you do it?
I was a remote FTE before the pandemic, so when the rest of my team had to go remote it was a great equalizer for me. If one person on a team is distributed then really the entire team is distributed, but this reality was so much easier to sell when everyone was working in the same remote manner.
In terms of how it impacted the substance of my work, the pandemic *did* revolutionize (and I don’t use that word lightly) how courts engage unrepresented users. Those changes massively impacted, in a positive way, our family and civil process reform efforts.
What legal tech resource helped you the most in your legal tech career?
I almost hate to say it but Twitter! That is the platform through which I started engaging with this community and it has connected me to so many wonderful resources, people, and organizations–and has also given me life-long friends.
What do you see as the most important emerging tech, legal or not, right now?
I’m a sucker for predictive analytics. The tech isn’t perfect and we have to consider the many issues surrounding bias and compromised input/output. But I still see so much potential for integration of these tools in the direct-to-consumer space. We are not there yet, but I think it is an inevitable development and one that I welcome.
What do you see for the future of legal tech?
The future of legal tech is also the future of legal services innovation. And I am here for it.
What advice would you give to other women who want to get involved in legal tech?
Don’t wait for an invitation to get involved in these communities. Find the segment you’re interested in and start engaging and connecting–see where it takes you.
Give a shout-out to another woman in legal tech who you admire or have learned something from!
Just one?? Stacy Butler. She leads Innovation for Justice (i4J) and is responsible for incredible research in the justice tech space. I refer to and cite her work almost every week, whether to cite lessons learned in implementing a court ODR system, to showcasing her program as a leader in training people without a law license to provide legal advice, or anything in between. https://twitter.com/stacyrbutler4