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‘Discrimination continues for women’ – in LegalTech and traditional firms

Less than a third of LegalTech founders are women – and are “largely invisible” within the industry. This urgently needs to change, according to these female tech founders.

user iconLauren Croft 09 November 2021 NewLaw
Discrimination continues for women
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Speaking on the first episode of the new Lawyers Weekly podcast show, LawTech Talks, the founder and director of Immediation, Laura Keily, and the founder and CEO of Xakia Technologies, Jodi Baker, spoke about being female tech founders in a male-dominated field.

The release of this episode followed the release of the Diversity in LegalTech – it’s time for action report, published by the Australian Legal Technology Association (ALTA) – in partnership with PEXA and Alpha Creates, which found that just 21 per cent of Australia’s LegalTech founders are women.

Ms Baker and Ms Keily have each experienced first-hand the lack of parity in the LegalTech industry – and reflected on what needs to change to ensure equality moving forward.


Xakia was born out of Ms Baker’s first start-up, Hive Legal.

“We saw a real gap in the market, particularly for those smaller teams who were looking for an affordable way but not necessarily an Excel spreadsheet way to solve the problem. And so, we actually built while I was at Hive with three clients,” she said.

“We were offering an offering on a third-party platform and saw the opportunity because, of course, clients didn’t really want it hosted out of law firms.”

Ms Keily not only runs Immediation but is also still a practising barrister – and said she became inspired by her litigation work to use LegalTech for good.

“When I took the leap and became a barrister, I started taking on more commercial litigation in the SME market and the mid-ranking parts of the market. That’s where I really got exposed to how difficult justice was for so many people,” she explained.

“I was really inspired by that to try to use technology to bridge the gap. Four years ago, three years into my journey as a barrister, I decided to start building a platform and a company around trying to provide accessible justice. And here I am four years later with the technology platform, [which is] being used by lawyers in courts in many different countries now.”

Ms Keily has experienced a variety of “subliminal discrimination” and said that being a female tech founder is no different.

“In my career as a solicitor and as a barrister, I certainly experienced the full gamut of not so much bullying, but the subliminal discrimination that exists in various different ways and learn to manage to live with that really because you have to just to get on,” she said.

“I think, as an entrepreneur, there have been instances where I have certainly felt that there were inappropriate comments made or unconscious bias. I suspect that because I was maybe more progressed in my career at that point when I became an entrepreneur and not so young that maybe it wasn’t happening quite as much, but I certainly believe that; that discrimination continues for women in the law, whether or not they’re on the technology side or on the professional side.”

Ms Baker said that when she first started out in the tech industry, legal operations and LegalTech were both newer markets, resulting in “zero support network” for women.

“It was really hard to find places to learn and understand; I had no idea about technology, so no real idea about even what building this sort of a start-up would be about. I guess one of the biggest challenges was around just how women operate naturally.

“And it’s not every woman, and it’s not every man, but women generally don’t make the same level of noise in the market that the men do. And so sometimes that can be hard because it perpetuates some of the unconscious bias,” she said.

“There’s been very evident that there is a difference between the way women operate and the way that men operate. And sometimes it makes women look quieter, not as confident, like their idea isn’t as good. And so those challenges, trying to counter those challenges can be really hard work.”

The Diversity in LegalTech report, commissioned by the women of ALTA, prompted a “deeper dive” into the industry to understand why only 21 per cent of LegalTech companies have a female founder, Ms Baker added.

“What we learned was all of the usual data around representation. Women saw 53 per cent of lawyers are women, which we well know, but then the numbers come down 32 per cent on the bench, 16 per cent equity partners, 5 per cent of CEOs. What was new to me, at least, were some of the other numbers around funding. So, 2 per cent of all global funds from venture capital firms go to female-led businesses,” she said.

“And also, what we were hearing from the market is that the women are largely invisible. They’re just not seen. So even though we do have a really quite substantial number of very successful and fabulous products out there, the women are just not visible to the purchases of these products, which was wildly concerning to me when those numbers were being drawn out through the process of writing the report.

“So really the output for us was there has to be something that’s done about this.” 

Ms Keiley said she was surprised to find out so few LegalTech founders were women.

“I was actually quite surprised because when you peel back the onion, it’s not just the number of female founders that’s concerning, it’s the number who’ve raised funding.

“And when you put together the number of solo founders who are female with the number of women who’ve raised money, which is obviously key, then it starts to become quite a scary statistic. And you do have to wonder why that is the case, but more importantly, what it is that can be done about it,” she said.

“Obviously, LegalTech is critical to the continuation of the profession and our ability to expand overseas and to generate ongoing profitability of the legal market in this country. So, it’s a broader issue than just equity, which of course is important in its own right.”

Funding is just as important as visibility to ensure parity, Ms Baker added.

“I think that the flow-on effects are really about potential. There are plenty of women who have great ideas. Many of them who’ve taken a risk, many who have at least got a product to market. Taking it from there and turning it into something that is scalable, something that is successful, something that is not invisible in the market, but also provides those lovely case studies and role models and what have you is absolutely essential for changing the pattern here,” she said.

“But the risk is that without funding, they can’t make that noise in the market that we talked about to get them from zero to hero. And without that money, they can’t go and build a team, continue to develop their products and so on.

“So, it stays micro, it stays small, and that might make up the numbers, but it doesn’t necessarily get us to a position of parity, which is really what we want. I worry that the funding issue really lies at the heart of where we’re at today but will actually lie at the heart for a really long time.”

Whilst women are “getting a foot in the door” of the LegalTech industry, there is still more work to be done, Ms Baker continued.

“We also need to make sure that when they are funded, they’re getting equal share of the funding or a proportionate level of funding. Because if we see 6 per cent of deals are going to female-founded businesses, but only 2 per cent of funds,” she said.

“And yet all of the numbers suggest that actually when the funds are invested with female-led businesses, they return better than male or male and female-led businesses. Then there’s no real rationale to that. And yet we haven’t seen any real change in the news.”


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