CJ: Hello and welcome to the Feminist Law Podcast. I’m your co-host Courtney Jones.
CT: And I’m your co-host Clara Topiol. We’re both co-founders of the Feminist Law Project and final year law students who are very passionate about feminism and the law. We are releasing two special episodes on the Feminist Law Podcast for International Women’s Day which officially takes place on the 8th of March. This year’s theme is DigitALL, Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality.
CJ: As such, we’ve interviewed two women who built their careers in law and technology. We hope you enjoy this special release.
CT: Today on the podcast, we have Sophie Martinetz, Director of the Legal Tech Centre of Vienna. Could you please introduce yourself?
SM: Hi, I’m Sophie. I’m a director of the Legal Tech Centre at the University of Economics. What we do is we look into how law can be digitalized and how law can make more use of technology so that’s one of the key focuses that we have. This means not legal questions of the digitalisation but how can you use technology to make sure that people, for example, have access to law?
CJ: Thank you for the introduction. This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is DigitALL, Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality. As such, could you please tell us more about your pathway into tech law?
SM: Yes, sure. I’m a lawyer by training but we have a different system in Europe, especially in Austria. We study law and then we have to take extra education to become a lawyer for example, or take the bar exam. It’s similar to your situation as well but it depends what country you’re living in. I did my law studies and then I worked in the film industry doing something totally different. When I finished my studies, I went to Germany, worked as an in-house lawyer doing things like Pop Idol and this kind of stuff. I went into London doing that as well. It was a really big company and I really enjoyed that. Then I thought it was very very boring because you can never take decisions. I know, I’m sorry, all the lawyers who are very passionate. Lawyers will disagree with me but I thought it would be much nicer being able to take also commercial decisions and not just advice. I actually changed and joined a big bank and what we had was an in-street focus and they did corporate finance for media companies. At the end of my career in the bank, I had a global business development team in certain countries. Then I went back from London to Vienna. I tried again as a venture capitalist in a bank and then I set up my own business. In terms of my own business, I started with an innovative concept for lawyers; we had sort of a law firm, but it wasn’t a real law firm. Out of tech, we really understood well what the problems of lawyers are and 7-8 years ago, we actually introduced one of our core businesses. I know you came to me across the Legal Tech Centre, but we do legal tech every day. It’s all about the digitalisation of the law. We help people setting up new systems, digitalise, deliver the law as well. it’s all about change of mindset and the Legal Tech Centre where you found me was only set up two years ago. Because of my experience in the real business, we said there needed to be some academic research and opportunity to not just do things, like digitalisation, but really reflect and do some research on what we actually want to achieve with that because digitalisation is a big big trend. Especially in law, it’s very important to consider which systems are we using? What do we need? What limitations do we have? What’s the ethics about it? What’s the vision? What do new, young people who are studying need to know in order to understand how digitalisation can benefit us as a society? This is the reason why I also founded the Legal Tech Centre, on top of what I’m doing as well.
CT: That sounds fascinating and such a varied path in terms of your career. Following on from that, during your legal journey, did you ever face any additional challenges or hurdles and maybe even discrimination because of your gender?
SM: No. I cannot help with that but maybe, I’m also very naïve. I think my awareness is limited. What we also have is about ten years ago, we founded Women in Law which is an initiative I’ve been driving for the last ten years or so. We connect women within the legal industry: lawyers, in-house lawyers, people from the government, people who work as lawyers or with a law degree… Women can always meet but we wanted to create a platform, something institutional. We’ve been doing that now for ten years and it’s basically my hobby, sorry for saying that. I run this company. What we now see is a lot of interest especially around networking, doing business together, getting to know each other but also in terms of discussing this practice: how you can break through certain structures. It’s about structural discrimination. In terms of you ask me if I ever, yeah, I came across any personal discrimination. I think especially in Austria, it’s a very traditional country. So, 74% of all mothers work part-time. In Austria, we choose part-time because, to be honest with you, I used to live in London, and you cannot afford to work part-time because you don’t know how to make a living. What we have in Austria is good that it’s not in London, but we have the highest rate of people working less than 50%. I think together with Germany, we have a very high rate. What we see is an issue because a lot of the women take all the caring responsibility and the unpaid work and that’s common to all European countries and across the world. But especially with the part-time issue, we have a lot of structural problems there. I think there are a lot of problems but it’s really about showcasing how we can solve them. What we do in Women in Law for example, we’ve introduced promoting the best awards. What we’re looking forward is the best law firms for women but also law firms for example for men who want to work in a modern way of working so maybe flexible, maybe less politics in your office. There’s a lot of things we need to look at. It’s not just about personal discrimination. Yes, I do think it’s very important, but we wish for more men and women to be more feminist in terms of trying to change the situation that we live in because we know that women and also men don’t quit jobs because of work-life balance because that’s a big myth that everyone wants a work-life balance. It’s not a problem. A lot of people quit their jobs because of office politics, discrimination, bad pay and forces and no flexible working. After the pandemic, flexible working probably changed a bit but that’s what we see. Work-life balance is at the end of that because a lot of things have an effect on it. We would have a different structure and there would be no place for that discrimination.
CJ: Absolutely, it sounds like initiates like the Women in Law initiative has a big effect on combatting some of that discrimination at work that women might face because of the networking opportunities and the conversations that it allows to happen so that’s incredible. Could you tell us a bit more about the WU Legal Tech Centre and why you decided to co-found it?
SM: I decided that we need something on a university level. Austria isn’t a big country; 8 million people so it’s really small and we have different universities. I decided I wanted to go somewhere where we have a multi approach because at the University of Economics in Vienna, we have lawyers, but we also have technicians and a lot of people who work in organisational design, so I thought that was very interesting. When I approached the law team, I thought we’re going to do something about legal tech and they said, ‘that sounds interesting, what is it?’ So, I thought, let’s do something together and that’s how we founded. I founded it with a professor, he moved on to another title in another university and now I’m doing it with another woman. It’s really cool. What we do is we try to have three focuses: one is getting students closer to technology by introducing them to low-code no-code technology, different things, so they can really work on the law but bring it into the technology. That is very important. The second one is we do a lot of masters and diplomas and PhDs which have a focus for example on the rule of law; how you can access law through technology. It’s really about the positive aspects of digitalisation and not always the bad side of it. We really try to focus on that; that’s on the academic part. The third one is that we really try to build a bit of an academic community to define what is important and what do we especially need in terms of technology; for example, if you use artificial intelligence tools, we need to make sure that in the legal structure, it’s not enough to just give a result like ‘the computer says no’. you know, Little Britain where she says computer says no? Nice! But whether it says yes or no or blue or white, we need to understand why it says this or no and blue and white. And it’s really important that we sharpen this discussion because especially in law, we need to understand why a decision is taken. If we don’t give to the technology people, where the IT guy says, ‘it’s great what we can do’, we say ‘how can you do it’ and they say ‘we can’t tell you, it’s black magic’ and then we say ‘no, the lawyers need to know what’s happening and why it’s happening and we need to ask for that’. That’s very important. Those are the things we will try to focus on within our communities. Does it make sense?
CT: Yes, that’s brilliant thank you. It definitely sounds like you’re expanding the Legal Tech Centre quite a lot but also in line with all the digitalisation which is very common today and definitely the way in which the law is going. In terms of the Legal Tech Centre itself and in your position as director, how do you ensure that you’re striving for gender equality where possible and offering equal opportunities to both genders?
SM: We’re two ladies now who are in charge. Whenever we hire someone, we have the concept of best people. We try to fit our own unconscious bias. I like people who like me. But these people do not always have the best academics. So, we really have to ensure that we challenge our own bias and we don’t have a quota but we don’t usually have problems that it’s half guys and half women in terms of working for us. It happens in all my teams. Sometimes, it means more work, but we get a lot of applications from both genders. Some law firms simply get only guys who apply because only guys work there. We actively try to avoid that.
CJ: Yes, and I think it’s very important to try to actively recruit an equal number of men and women. It gives the organisation a certain level of diversity that’s really helpful. You mentioned earlier that you didn’t feel you experienced discrimination during your legal journey. In regard to women in tech, do you think that you’ve witnessed significant improvements during your career in terms of involvement and place in the industry?
SM: In the legal industry or in the academics?
CJ: More so I think women in the tech industry, women in the legal industry.
SM: I think in the legal industry, what we see now is, at the moment, there’s a real war. It’s been autumn, everyone was looking for people. Beginning of this year 2023, I think it cooled down a bit. People are a bit more cautious about getting people in their teams and things like that. In general, what we see, at least in Austria and Germany, is that we have less people who want to join and more people who want to hire. That means that people need to look into different genders. It basically means to look into the female potential, far more than they used to. I think that’s a positive way. I’m not sure whether the companies are ready yet so they try to find the answers and it will take some time but I think we’re along the right path. Let’s see what happens in two years.
CT: Yes, I think it will be very interesting to see what happens as you say. Going forward, what is one piece of advice you would give to our listeners today who might want to pursue a career in tech law?
SM: Just go for it. Nothing else. And make your alliances. Try to meet a lot of adult people. Try to make connections as well. but be really good at law. I think that’s very important. I’m not a lawyer myself but what I see, I’m trained in law, but what I can see is when we go to university, we do low-code no-code decisions, and we ask people to look into certain legal fields and then we ask them to build for example some expert systems. The interesting thing is everyone says ‘technology, it’s too hard’ but the interesting thing is the far bigger effort is to really be interested in the law. Then, understanding the law and once you have that as a basic, you can start thinking about how to put it into a product, how to manage technology, how to digitalise, but if you don’t understand the first place or are not interested in the first place, then you can put it into a system. We really need to look into the education and stay interested and stay critical and they want to understand the nitty gritty. Then in the next step, it’s very good to pick a field but you don’t need to be a techy yourself. So, I think if you’re able to cross this bridge, I see a lot of potential for people. That will be my advice. Get yourself exposed to technology as well but don’t give up because people think I need to be able to code and to be a perfect lawyer whatever. No, it’s not. Technology will become easier and easier.
CJ: Yes, I think that’s very good advice, especially considering how often women tend to underestimate our abilities for certain roles. I think the advice to just go for it is an excellent piece. Going on from that, what is one message you would like to share for the purposes of IWD 2023?
SM: I have a very very difficult relationship with women’s day. I love women’s day because it puts attention on a lot of issues and I hate women’s day because we need it. I’d rather have no women’s day anymore. There is no advice on women’s day because every day is women’s day. There is just one advice, especially what I see in terms of women and their careers. I see a lot of young women and then I sometimes see women who are further advanced. When I ask women who are further, they often tell me and we often discuss that thinking back, they thought they could achieve everything and handle it all but what they find out is that once they have children or other obligations in their lives, how important it is to have someone with you in your life. What kind of partnership do you have and how supportive is that person? Sometimes, or very often, at least in Austria, they find themselves thinking they could have it all but then they realise that if you do it on your own, it’s very difficult. What I actually see is that it’s very important to choose your partner well for whatever you want to achieve in your life because otherwise, it can happen really quickly that you’re back in traditional relationships and traditional working relationships. I think it’s really worth considering who are you going to partner with and what does this mean in terms of your career and your family? Be very careful about that. In German we say ‘open your eyes really widely and have a look and look at it really carefully’. That’s the biggest advice because whether it’s law, tech or whatever you want to achieve, I think that’s so important. It’s really important you do what you really like. You really need the support because life is long, you have a lot of challenges in that and it’s very important to be able to combine it both.
CT: Brilliant, thank you so much for joining us today.
CJ: If you have any suggestions for this podcast, let us know directly via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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CJ: The music from this podcast was sourced from Pixabay.com.
CT: Thanks for listening!