By Christy Burke
On Thursday, March 8th, the world celebrated International Women’s Day, and Chicago enthusiastically joined in! I had the privilege to attend three amazing events last week: ABA TECHSHOW, Evolve Law’s networking event entitled Getting Women a Seat at the Table, and Legal XX at Chicago-Kent College of Law. All three provided rich resources for women (and men too!) to share knowledge, learn, network, and explore the vast opportunities presented by legal technology.
Kicking off on Wednesday night, March 7th and continuing through Saturday, March 10th, ABA TECHSHOW really made an impression on me this year. I have attended this conference many times before, but this year’s was truly remarkable for its clear dedication to diversity. Under the stellar leadership of co-chairs Debbie Foster and Tom Mighell, the agenda provided abundant education on legal technology and also included many chances to discuss women’s issues.
Foster remarked: “Diversity has always been important to TECHSHOW, but this year we felt strongly about elevating the presence of women in legal at the conference. As co-chair, I am proud to have been in a position to support all of the amazing women and their contributions not just to TECHSHOW, but to our industry as a whole. Women have made, and will continue to make, a remarkable impact on the way that lawyers use and leverage technology in their firms.”
At TECHSHOW, I also met with Andrea Cannavina, founder of the Virtual Bar Association, who will be publishing interviews of women in legal tech starting in mid-to-late March. Cannavina says: “The Virtual Bar Association is on a mission to highlight the #LadiesofLegaltech. These trailblazers have dedicated their careers to perfecting their service or craft to help attorneys and law firms to #dolawbetter. The Ladies we are speaking with are smart, tough and willing to go the extra mile. Each has a unique story to share, and by sharing, hopes to help those who come after to understand the dedication required to be a successful woman in legal tech.” Each Lady will be highlighted on Andrea’s blog and her full interview published in the Virtual Bar Association’s newsletter – see http://www.virtualbarassociation.com
GETTING A SEAT AT THE TABLE
The night of Wednesday, March 7th after the TECHSHOW Welcome Reception, I attended a networking event called “Getting Women a Seat at the Table,” sponsored by Evolve Law. Held at The Boarding House, a sleek Chicago wine cellar bar, the event attracted both female and male attendees, a veritable “who’s who” of legal tech, all showing their support for women’s advancement. The event benefited a local domestic violence shelter.
According to Mary Juetten, Managing Director of Evolve Law and CEO of Traklight, “This event had great attendance from both women and men. We were overwhelmed by the positive response. Though the event was called ‘giving’ women a seat at the table, I feel we are past that now. Women don’t need to ask to be given a seat – they need to take a seat at the table.”
Juetten also co-hosted the TECHSHOW Startup Alley event earlier that night which featured 15 startup teams. She commented that women were well-represented on each startup team. “Even if a woman was not the primary presenter, she was present and actively engaged as a participant,” says Juetten. “I and many others were thrilled to see Alma Asay’s successful exit from Allegory recently when she sold her company to Integreon. In doing so, Asay become one of a select few female legal tech entrepreneurs to make such a deal. Her example will certainly encourage other women.”
LEGAL XX SYMPOSIUM
On Wednesday, March 7, Legal XX was a free one-day symposium open to those interested in closing the gender gap for women in legal tech or women lawyers representing tech companies. LegalXX conference materials noted: “Women are woefully underrepresented in the tech field, often facing sexism and harassment. As startup founders, investors, or tech employees, men often outnumber women many times over. If women play a diminished role within the tech field, then female lawyers interested in representing tech companies, as in-house or outside counsel, or in creating tech or legal tech companies face a higher bar to success.”
The morning at Legal XX was dominated by back-to-back Ignite talks, rapid-fire 5-minutes presentations by women on various topics supporting the conference theme. The audience of about 50 people was primarily women, though there were a small, very dedicated group of men who participated enthusiastically and asked what they could do to help more.
Megan Lopp Mathias of Stahl Cowen Crowley bravely discussed her challenges being a top female litigation attorney. Throughout her legal career, though she had established a tremendous practice and winning track record at various law firms, she still found it difficult to get her ideas accepted, sometimes finding it necessary to rely on male colleagues to champion her ideas to gain approval. Mathias said opposing counsel during trial spoke out, taking issue with her choice of lipstick. Saying nothing at the time, she simply returned the next morning with her all-female legal team all wearing vividly bright lipstick shades to make a silent statement – they would not be intimidated.
Helen Bukulmez, attorney, General Counsel at Consultwebs, LegalTech and Law School Marketing Professor at Chase College of Law, shared her struggle and success story as a woman emigrating to the U.S. from Eastern Europe. Through grit and determination, she put herself through law school. At Legal XX, Bukulmez shared an extraordinary poem she wrote with her colleagues including attorney Ann Louise Cheuvront and Anna Kathman (JD Candidate at Chase College of Law).
Encouraging bravery and collaboration, not competition, among women, the poem says: “We can rise on each other’s shoulders. But, what if, instead, we fall on each other’s feet? You’ve had to work more than anyone you know to get to power. I am not here to compete with you. There is enough space in this tower. You know the struggle. You helped forge the way. Let your success and nurturing inspire this day.”
As I heard this, my eyes welled up with tears thinking of my own struggle to build a career and my own business. Yes, it is hard to succeed as a professional woman, but in addition to striving for the top ourselves, we need to make space for others to achieve great things, too.
In the afternoon at Legal XX, Cat Moon, a lawyer, legal tech entrepreneur and Adjunct Professor at Vanderbilt Law School, conducted a human-centered design “sprint” which called for active audience participation. We divided into groups to brainstorm about how to solve the problem that LegalXX had raised: how to encourage more women to join legal tech. In my group, we discussed various barriers for women to enter or stay in the legal tech field and then brainstormed solutions. Groups were then asked to create project protoypes representing their solutions, using tools like play-doh and pipe cleaners, leading to very creative and intriguing results including uniquely-designed networking venues and more. Moon will be conducting a design thinking workshop at Vanderbilt’s Summit on Law & Innovation (SoLI) on April 30th, an event she is co-producing, and at which more than 50% of the speakers are women.
Legal IT Insider just launched a women & legal IT group to create an “ongoing dialogue about how to address and improve the very obvious diversity issues in the sector. Men too please.” Send them your news about companies and law firms who are celebrating women employees and addressing diversity issues head-on.
If you attended other events in Chicago last week which furthered diversity either for women or other groups, please post a comment below. We’re on a roll so let’s keep the conversation going…
As women, we can indeed rise on each other’s shoulders, so let’s all rise… and not let anyone fall ever again!
Christy Burke (pictured above right) is president and founder of Burke & Company (www.burke-company.com), a legal/tech PR and marketing company she founded in 2014. She is based in New York City. Connect with her on Twitter @ChristyBurkePR or on LinkedIn.