When I say this industry has a diversity problem, I can’t point to much in the way of hard data.
By ROBERT AMBROGI; Jun 8, 2020
After a week in which issues of race and injustice have dominated the news and our thoughts, those of us involved in legal technology need to acknowledge that this industry has a diversity problem of its own and begin to explore what can be done about it.
When I say this industry has a diversity problem, I can’t point to much in the way of hard data. I know of only one study of racial diversity among founders of legal tech companies. It was conducted two years ago by Kristen Sonday, cofounder and COO of legal tech startup Paladin, a pro bono management platform.
As I reported then, Sonday analyzed the backgrounds of 478 founders from 269 legal tech companies. She found that only 26 were black or Latinx. As percentages, 2.3% of founders in legal tech were black and 3.1% were Latinx. Even when accounting for Asian, Indian, and Middle Eastern founders, the total number of founders of color was still just 26.5%.
Sonday also looked at gender diversity. She found that just 13.8% of legal tech founders were women — less even than the average across industries of 17% women founders.
A study published two months ago of legal tech in Australia found that 30% of Australian legal tech companies had women as founders or cofounders. That study did not look at racial diversity.
If there have been other studies of racial diversity in the legal tech industry, I am not aware of them. However, observation is enough to tell us that black and Latinx founders remain only a small fraction of those at the helms of U.S. legal tech companies.
And founders are only part of the picture. It is equally important that there be diversity among those who work in legal tech — in management, engineering, sales, marketing, and everywhere else. Here again, observation of those who staff trade-show booths or speak on educational programs suggests that diversity is severely lacking.
So what can be done to increase diversity in the legal tech industry?
I put that question to Bryan Parker, cofounder and CEO of Legal Innovators, an alternative legal services provider that focuses on enhancing diversity and inclusion. Parker was the guest Friday on our Legaltech Week journalists’ roundtable, which we devoted this week to a conversation on race in law.
After starting out as an M&A lawyer at Shearman & Sterling, Parker left law for a career as an investment banker and serial entrepreneur. In recognition of his many years of corporate leadership, he was selected for membership in the Executive Leadership Council — a national organization of African-American CEOs and senior executives at Fortune 1000 and Fortune 500 companies.
He published an article last week in The American Lawyer, What the Death of George Floyd Should Teach the Legal Industry.
During our Friday roundtable, when I asked him that question, he offered several thoughts on how to increase diversity in the legal tech industry:
- Consumers can help drive change. Consumers have been the driving force pushing change at some of the world’s largest technology companies, including Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Legal tech startups are no different than Silicon Valley startups in this regard. Although Parker did not say this explicitly, I take that to mean that those who are purchasers of legal tech products — law firms, legal departments, legal organizations — should look for and even demand diversity in the companies with which they do business.
- Diversify the pipeline of those coming into the field. If we want to increase diversity in legal tech, we need to increase the diversity of the pipeline of those coming into the field. That requires starting earlier to look for individuals who are interested in careers in both law and technology, increasing their access to STEM programs, and providing funding for them to participate in STEM programs.
- Define and track metrics for diversity. Part of the answer to diversifying the pipeline is to define and track the metrics of success. “What we measure ends up becoming true, these are the results we end up seeing,” Parker said. “Let’s measure the right things that we want to see change and then let’s contribute to them.”
- Provide mentorship. Noting that part of his company’s model is based on the European concept of apprenticeship, Parker urged a similar approach to bringing diversity into legal tech — take those people who could one day be legal tech founders or engineers and pair them with people or internship programs where they can get mentorship.
The educational system is key to feeding this pipeline, Parker emphasized, noting that, 65 years after Brown v. Board of Education, in which Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren urged integration “with all deliberate speed,” equal opportunities in STEM careers are still lacking.
“Tell me in what world ‘all deliberate speed’ equals 65 years,” Parker said. “This is why we have to measure things and hold people accountable.”
I would add that one other way to promote diversity in legal tech is through investment dollars.
Three months ago, I reported on a survey done by Dana Denis-Smith, CEO of Obelisk Support in London, in which she looked at 10 years of investments in legal tech and other “new law” companies. She found that just under 1% of formal investment overall in the new law sector had gone to companies founded solely by women.
Her study did not examine investments by founders’ race. But whether with regard to gender or race, it stands to reason that investors in legal technology can have a significant impact in promoting diversity by the choices they make in where they put their dollars.
As in all aspects of our lives, the greater the diversity in legal tech, the more we all stand to benefit, whether we are developers of products or purchasers, whether we are those who deliver legal services or those who receive them.
And we can all play a role in helping to make greater diversity a reality.