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The Friday Five

Five Ways to Support Diverse Legal Tech Entrepreneurs

By Kristen Sonday

In recent years, a frustrating paradox has emerged: Far more legal technology is being built than ever before, yet somehow the justice gap in America keeps widening. A whopping 86 percent of low-income individuals who need legal help in the U.S. don’t receive it, disproportionately affecting women, immigrants and minorities.

As a Latina, I feel strongly that voices from the communities most affected by the justice gap need to heavily influence, if not lead, the efforts to close the gap. Their presence seems limited.

In an effort to explore how diverse entrepreneurs are represented within legal technology, I recently released the first data-driven study on diverse founders in legal tech, which examined 478 founders across 269 operational, U.S.-based companies. (You can read the full “Face of Legal Technology” diversity report here.) The results highlighted two findings that may be contributing to the paradox:

  1. There is a significant lack of representation from diverse communities within legal tech.
  2. There is a significant lack of focus by legal tech on problems that affect access to justice overall.

In fact, women and diverse founders account for only about 14 percent and 26.5 percent of founders, respectively, even though women now outnumber men in law school. Furthermore, black and Latinx founders account for a staggeringly low proportion of legal tech entrepreneurs, at just 2.3 percent and 3.1 percent, respectively. And while 44 percent of access to justice-related tech companies are led by women and diverse founders, they account for a slim 9 percent of legal tech companies overall.

Making a Difference in Bridging the Justice Gap

If we’re going to develop and implement well-rounded solutions that actually make a dent in the justice gap, we have to support diverse legal tech entrepreneurs. Here are five ways you can make a difference.

1. Mentor. Connect with local tech hubs, incubator programs or law schools to offer your expertise as young entrepreneurs move from ideation to creation. Early on, it’s essential that founders receive diverse perspectives and feedback on what they’re building to help navigate the legal and tech worlds.

2. Fund. As a woman or founder of color, it’s especially hard to raise capital to build a sustainable business (women receive less than 3 percent of all venture capital funding). If you’re in a position to do so, consider angel investing in a company, cause or founder you believe in. A small amount can go a long way in an early-stage startup.

3. Co-Develop. Before founders can gain significant traction, it’s important they find product-market fit. Beta testing a product, becoming an early client, or providing regular feedback on a product is a great way to provide value to entrepreneurs early on.

4. Introduce. Diverse founders usually have much smaller networks than their colleagues, and thus can take longer to bring their ideas to fruition. Whether it’s a potential advisor, new client, capital provider, corporate partner, new hire, or journalist to share their story, even one introduction can go a long way.

5. Advocate. If you don’t have the time or capacity for any of the above, simply being an advocate for a diverse legal tech entrepreneur can help provide legitimacy and support that can be hard to get otherwise. Send a quick supportive email, share a social media post, give founders a shout-out, recommend them as speakers or mention them to friends if you like what they’re working on. It takes a village!

Now, how will you make a difference?

Illustration ©

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Kristen Sonday

Kristen Sonday is co-founder and COO of Paladin, a tech-forward platform that helps firms and legal organizations manage their pro bono. In addition, Kristen is a Fellow for Stanford’s Latino Entrepreneur Leaders Program and a Google for Entrepreneurs Code2040 Entrepreneur-in-Residence. Previously, she was with the U.S. Department of Justice, where she worked on international criminal affairs in Mexico and Central America. After the DOJ, she joined the founding team of Grouper. Follow her @KristenSonday.

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