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The year 2017 was hailed as the "Year of Women in Legal Tech
" based on a few high-profile acquisitions and hires.
Kristen Sonday, the co-founder of Paladin, a pro bono management platform, however, took a look around and noticed that there were few other founders in the legal tech world who looked like her.
“It wasn’t really consistent with my experience in the legal tech community as a female founder,” says Sonday, who is Latina.
The Princeton University graduate co-founded Paladin with Felicity Conrad in 2016. Since then, the company has raised close to $2 million in funding—including from celebrity investor Mark Cuban—while helping some of the biggest companies and firms in the world improve their pro bono volunteering.
So, Sonday set out to understand what the reality was: Was she blind to a cohort of female and minority founders, or did legal tech have a diversity problem?
Sonday’s findings were stark. The report showed that women and people of color make up 13.8% and 26.5% of legal tech company founders, respectively. According to the most recent U.S. Census, women make up 50.8% of the U.S. and the minority population—that is everyone who does not identify as white alone, including Hispanic or Latino people—is 39.6%.
“The research was consistent with my personal experience,” she says, “but it was still pretty alarming.”
This is happening, while at the same time female founders have been shown to produce greater investment returns, decrease design bias—which can create blind spots that hinder or leave out certain consumer groups—and they generally build more diverse teams, she says.
Since originally producing the report in May 2018, she notes the ranks of female founders are growing. She says a list of female founders she keeps has jumped from about 50 to 72 in a little more than a year—an increase of almost 50%.
Sonday’s research was compiled through Stanford CodeX’s Techindex, AngelList, Evolve the Law and the Legal Tech Startups list curated at Masachusetts lawyer Robert Ambrogi’s LawSites blog. The companies analyzed were operational, U.S.-based, legal-specific companies that were not law firms and had not yet been acquired. Founders were identified through various sources.
There’s also an expanding list of successful businesswomen. Sonday notes that NextChapter and Doxly, both led by women, were acquired recently. While Kristina Jones, a co-founder of Court Buddy, helped raise $6 million for a Series A funding round.
Even with these gains, Sonday says she continues to build networks with funders and other founders that are mission-aligned, have backgrounds in social justice and law or who come from backgrounds that help them identify with the problem Paladin seeks to solve.
Not a solitary fight, Sonday hopes that the legal industry’s support for diverse founders will continue to grow by buying their products, helping make introductions and making investments.
“I think it will have a very important cascading effect in the rest of the community,” she says.
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In This Podcast:
Kristen Sonday is the co-founder and chief operating officer of Paladin, a platform that helps organizations manage, staff and track pro bono efforts. Prior to Paladin, Sonday worked on international criminal matters in Mexico and Central America for the U.S. Department of Justice and was on the founding team of a New York City-based tech startup. As a result of her work to close the justice gap, she was named a 2017 ABA Woman in Legal Tech to Watch, ABA Journal Legal Rebel and FastCase50 honoree.