‘Women have led the way’ on innovation in law, says CEO
Women have played a key role in creating innovative business and pricing models in the legal profession, according to this chief executive.
Karen Finch, the CEO of online legal marketplace Legally Yours, said women have always been incentivised to establish innovative start-ups in law because they tend to need greater flexibility and adaptability that traditional firms might not offer.
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“It’s innovation by necessity. Women typically need flexible business models, especially when they start a family and have parenting responsibilities,” Ms Finch told Lawyers Weekly ahead of the Women in Law Forum 2023.
“They might see more problems because they don’t fit the status quo of the traditional, patriarchal model that has been built into law firms. They look at ways to create their own models. I think women are usually the first adopters of innovation because they’re looking for different ways to operate outside the traditional legal system.”
Women have adopted different pricing models by moving away from billable hours and charging clients upfront or fixed fees and have also been early adopters of technological tools (long before the COVID-19 pandemic) that enable them to work flexibly, increase access to their services and streamline efficiencies, according to Ms Finch.
These include triaging platforms that gather the client’s information online before consultation, online calendars and booking systems, video conferencing platforms, and automated digital marketing tools.
At the forum, Ms Finch will discuss the current state of the legal start-up ecosystem, how women are driving innovation, the challenges they face and strategies to overcome them.
One challenge is the gender gap in funding for start-ups globally. A recent study by Deloitte Access Economics (commissioned by SBE Australia, which connects female entrepreneurs seeking funding to a global network of investors) found only 22 per cent of Australian start-ups are founded by women.
Furthermore, only 0.7 per cent of all private start-up funding in the financial year 2022 went solely to female founding teams, despite funding growing tenfold between FY18 and FY22.
To combat this, initiatives like the F5 Collective have been established (which Ms Finch participates in) to support female founders – particularly those building high-growth tech ventures.
The Women of Australian Legal Technology Association (WALTA, which sits under the Australian Legal Technology Association) has been formed to increase the visibility of women in legal tech start-ups.
“We’re saying to the profession, there are women-founded legal tech solutions out there and you should be engaging with us,” Ms Finch said.
“We’re building a directory at the moment where members of the profession can come in and see who we are, what we do, and how they can interact with us. We’re also looking at how we can accredit them to be WALTA-approved because they’ve engaged with women and shown that they’re serious about diversity and inclusion.”
Additionally, women face implicit gender bias in questions investors ask them when they pitch their start-ups.
In a recent report on women in start-ups, Hall & Wilcox cited Dr Dana Kanze, assistant professor of organisational behaviour at London Business School, who gave a TED talk in October 2017 about why female entrepreneurs receive less funding.
She stumbled across a social psychological theory by Professor Tory Higgins called “regulatory focus”, which differentiates between promotion motivations and prevention motivations.
While the former emphasises accomplishments and encourages growth, the latter is concerned with losses, staying afloat, and maintaining the status quo, and underscores safety, responsibility, and security needs.
Dr Kanze’s analysis found that while men and women use similar amounts of promotion and prevention language in their pitches, 67 per cent of questions posed to males were promotion-focused, while 66 per cent of questions posed to female entrepreneurs were prevention-focused.
When asked how to remove this gender bias, Ms Finch said “calling it out” and providing education to investors are key.
“I think a lot of this bias is unconscious,” she said.
“So, we need to invest in education. Help them recognise if they’re tapping into an unconscious bias with a female founder. Ensure that they consciously understand that there is a difference in their line of questioning.
“Then we can educate them on how to alter their line of questioning.”
Ms Finch encouraged female founders to find a mentor who can instil confidence and enable them to directly address investors and control their narrative.
To hear more from Karen Finch on how women can break down barriers and thrive in the legal start-up ecosystem, come along to the Women in Law Forum 2023.
It will be held on Thursday, 23 November, at Crown Melbourne.