24 April 2019

Legalpreneurs Spotlight - How three women dared to break the law

Published on 24 April 2019

Christie Guimond, Priya Lele and Nicky Leijtens are three women on a mission: to create a platform for like-minded women to explore legal innovation, and in the process, ‘break the law.’ Together, they have co-founded ‘She Breaks the Law’, a network for women who lead legal innovation to connect, develop skills, share their experiences, and create live events like design workshops and hackathons.

“Innovation in law has come a long way, from being an oxymoron to becoming a buzzword, to actually making a real impact on the profession,” said co-founder Priya Lele, Legal Process Design Lead (UK, US and EMEA) at Herbert Smith Freehills.


Four hundred members within a week

“The greatest impact has come from creating new opportunities – for example, in new roles like process engineers, legal technologies, or legal project managers - or applying different methodologies, such as design thinking, Lean, and Agile,” said Nicky Leijtens, co-founder and advisor to the Board of NautaDutilh N.V. All of this, said Nicky, helps inspire the change to make things better in the law.

“The three of us have worked in legal innovation for a long time under a number of different guises and from different standpoints within the ecosystem,” said co-founder Christie, who has previously worked as an R&D Strategy Manager for Ashurst. “Although each of our paths have been very different, our creativity and drive for improvement allowed us to climb into the driver’s seat and to break ground in this new area of practise.”

Priya left practice to work in one of the first ever legal process improvement teams, working closely with lawyers and clients. Christie, a project management professional, was one of the first to start a legal project management team. Nicky led the way to embrace design thinking, which helped to reimagine the client experience and improve access to justice. Together, their initiative, She Breaks the Law, reached four hundred members in just one week. Membership is diverse, with members from England, Singapore, Australia, Sweden, the United Arab Emirates, Belgium, Hong Kong, the United States, India, the Netherlands, Finland and Spain.

“It’s a whole lot of law-breakers,” declared Nicky.


A more diverse, rich and complicated legal ecosystem

They noted that legal innovation comes with numerous opportunities.

“Whether you are a lawyer or in-house-counsel who is practising in innovative ways, or whether you are someone who is reimagining legal operations or founding a legal tech company to provide new solutions - the possibilities are endless,” said Nicky. “The same applies to organisations who embrace innovation and the spirit of doing things differently, regardless of their origin as a law firm, accounting firm or alternative legal service provider.”

However, Christie counselled caution.

“As with anything disruptive, legal innovation also poses some threats,” Christie observed. “The ecosystem is more diverse and rich, but also more complicated. Maintaining a competitive advantage is a real challenge.”

Priya agreed. “Embracing innovation is not without risks and to make a real impact, needs to fit within the culture of the organisation,” Priya said. “The paths of those who chose the more ‘traditional career’ and those who chose to adopt 'alternative' routes need to converge, to create more value. That requires an understanding of the true value of the different roles, respect for each other’s perspectives, empathy and adaptiveness. We believe that this starts with connecting those various perspectives and disciplines to establish collaboration by sharing stories and exchanging experiences.”


Towards human-centric tech – and justice

The three co-founders feel that innovation is a lot more than making better use of improved technology.

“For us, people and processes are equally important - if not more,” said Nicky. “Also, technology is a great enabler, but any product or service must meet the needs of the users to add real value. For instance, in providing access to justice, effective justice does not come from legitimacy or applying objective rules alone. Emotions and feelings heard are equally important, which calls for human touchpoints in the journey. We believe that the application of human-centric approaches like design thinking to create new solutions is a positive development that will continue to drive more tech disruption in the profession.”

Better technology will undoubtedly improve efficiency.

“Looking at all the industries that have been digitalised – for example, energy, entertainment, banking - it goes without saying that law will be even more digitalised over the next few years,” said Priya. “This will bring greater efficiency and value for both users and service providers. There is already a rise in the number of platform-based digital services in law.”

Priya flagged artificial intelligence (AI) as an area to monitor as it develops and helps bring more efficiency in cultivating knowledge, data etc.

“The rise of AI or rather machine-learning based technology solutions to augment human efforts is definitely one to watch,” Priya said.


Different ways of learning to navigate digital disruption

“This increasingly digital world requires different skills and different ways of working, which begs for different ways of learning,” said Priya. “There is definitely a need for different education – beginning at universities and law schools and continuing into professional training and development throughout the course of one's career.”

Changing attitudes towards experimentation and risk will also greatly assist.

“Dealing with disruption requires curiosity, adaptability, creativity, and courage to try new things, as well as advanced soft skills,” observed Nicky. “The industry can help accelerate this by tolerating experimentation and the occasional failures, stimulating collaboration and learning. Navigating the challenging and exciting times that are ahead of us requires breaking down silos, encouraging people to share experiences and work together effectively within the ecosystem.”

“For us, that starts with connecting all of the actors from the different disciplines within the ecosystem and creating a safe space for everyone to learn and benefit from their shared experiences,” Christie explained. “This is why we've co-founded She Breaks the Law – a global network for women that are leading innovation and disruption in the legal profession to come together to connect, share, develop and create together.”


Be curious, daring, different

Triumphing in these times of turbulence and change requires more than simply picking up a coding course or changing your approach to legal project management.

“We think that 'curiosity' is the starting point – it's all about the 'mind-set',” said Nicky. “It starts with daring to explore and crafting a career around what makes you tick.”

“Understand what is happening in the legal innovation space and why, and explore the different opportunities that resonate with you,” advised Priya. “This is far more important than pursuing labels. There are truly endless opportunities for anyone wanting to do law differently both in traditional as well as non-traditional roles. The world is your oyster – so good luck and be different – be you!” 

Christie praised the work of the Centre for Legal Innovation (CLI) as crucial to helping the profession transition and improve.

“We believe collaboration makes for better innovation, since it helps push good ideas forward within the ecosystem of the profession,” said Christie. “Especially in the areas of education, access to justice and diversity and inclusion, a joint effort is very much needed. It is very inspiring to see how much CLI has accomplished since its creation in 2016, by bringing together leading thinkers, practitioners and legalpreneurs.  We believe that the role that CLI is playing, by being the linking pin and accelerator, is crucial.”