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 8th March. This year’s theme is DigitALL: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality.
CJ: As such, we have interviewed two women who built their careers in law and technology. We hope you enjoy the special release.
CT: Today on the podcast, we have Catherine Bamford, legal engineer, CEO and founder of BAMlegal. Could you please introduce yourself?
CB: Hi Clara, yes of course. Yes, my name is Catherine Bamford. I am 42, which scares me slightly, I still feel about 24, I live in Essex just outside London and by day, I'm a legal engineer, rest of my life, I’ve got a four month old baby, two gorgeous step-sons who are 6 and 8 and a wonderful partner called Paul.
CT: Thank you very much for that lovely introduction. This year’s theme for IWD is DigitALL: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality. As such, could you maybe please tell us a little bit more about your pathway into tech law?
CB: Yes, of course. I started off as a traditional lawyer. I worked for a law firm called Pinsent Masons and I did commercial real estate, real estate finance, corporate support work. When I was about 4 years PQE was when the last recession hit. All of a sudden, law firms were getting less money from clients, clients demanding they do more work for lower fees, and did things faster, more efficiently. I was asked by the law firm I worked for to look at ways that we could do our work more efficiently. I got my hands on some technology which automated the drafting of legal contracts. It was designed so that you didn’t have to be a full computer programmer or software programmer to use it, kind of a low-code tool. I started using it just to automate the documents I was drafting every day and then we rolled it out and it became really really popular with all the lawyers. I thought, this is something that’s going to be really prevalent going forward. There’s no reason why all lawyers shouldn’t be using this. Rather than going back to practising and working for clients, I asked the firm if I could do it firm-wide for them. They said yes, thankfully, it went really well. I scaled it up, we started playing with other technologies to help the ways lawyers deliver their services and finally got to a point that other law firms were getting in touch with me and saying ‘you come and work for us because we want to do this kind of cool stuff with tech’. I realised there was enough asking me that there was a business there. I left the firm I was, very luckily I left on good terms and they were actually my first client. I set up BAMlegal about 10 years ago now to help lawyers deliver their services in a more efficient way using technology.
CT: Brilliant, thank you for this fantastic overview. It sounds like you’ve had a very varied legal journey whether that’s practice in a firm but then also starting up your own company. During your legal journey, did you ever face additional challenges or hurdles and maybe even discrimination because of your gender?
CB: I was thinking about this last night when I was thinking about coming onto this podcast and thank you so much for having me on by the way. It was really lovely to be asked. I have never seen my gender as something that was a detriment. If anything, and that doesn’t mean I don’t feel that I have been treated in certain ways differently compared to a male counterpart. If anything, I’ve always used it as something unique about me in the tech space that gives me an advantage. If I went along 5-10 years to a legal technology conference, there were 100 guys in the room called John, David or Andrew wearing a grey suit and then there was a blonde 5ft3 me in a red t-shirt and converse trainers or a blue dress. I stood out and I thought people spend an awful lot of money to have a brand that stands out and actually, as long as I’m extremely good at my job and my trade and my craft and what I do, being female actually acts as a strength in terms of I’m memorable. I also think that women, and this is a massive generalisation, are extremely good at, or have a higher level of EQ overall: emotional intelligence, overall in general to our male colleagues and friends. I think that when it comes to chain management, which introducing technology often involves, being able to read people and have their feeling about these changes to what they’re doing and some people feel threatened, some people feel uncomfortable, some people feel nervous, I think that’s a huge strength as well. I would just say first off that I think that it’s very easy to get into the mindset of ‘I’m at a disadvantage because I’m female’, ‘I will never reach this position because I’m female’ and it becomes self-serving, self-prophecising. I think that can be dangerous. I don’t think it’s wrong to look at statistics and to call out prejudice and to look at statistics and say it’s wrong that women are being paid this less or not getting the same opportunities and to be activists to change that. But I think we need to be very careful of blaming things on us or almost even going further: letting them hold us back. Have I ever experienced discrimination or a different treatment? It’s always very difficult to say categorically yes but there is definitely two occasions where I feel that I wasn’t promoted because although I was doing the job and was the best candidate on the table, I was a much younger female to the other person that was in the running to get it, who was much older and male. I think if you were to ask the 20-odd people who worked in the team for us at the time who should have got that position, it would have been me. I think that person got it because they were just an older male and more cut the same fit of what the leadership thought the manager should look like or the next whatever the position was should look like. Whether or not that’s the case, I don’t know. It could also be just because I was a little bit disruptive and hard to manage so I don’t know. Who knows? Hopefully that answers the question.
CT: Yes of course thank you and I think you make a very important point about using gender as empowerment and a strength rather than letting it hold us back which it can often happen and I feel that women in the working world or even students, can feel ‘I’m a woman so I’m maybe not worthy of this position’ or maybe ‘I shouldn't even apply because I probably won’t get it because I’m a woman’ but as you say, we should use it as a strength and it shouldn't hold us back and it’s probably a whole mindset shift that needs to happen for us to change our mindsets essentially. Going back to what you previously said, you said that after leaving your firm and practice, you created BAMlegal about 10 years ago. Could you tell us a little bit more about BAMlegal, what it does and why you decided to co-found it please?
CB: Yes of course. So, we help large law firms, all sizes of law firms really, but law firms and in-house legal teams to improve the ways they deliver their legal services to their clients, generally using technology. Improving the process is what they do using technology. The main one example of what we do is we automate the drafting of contracts. Rather than someone going through a 200-page example document and putting in or out relevant clauses based on facts of that particular matter, we design an online questionnaire where we ask the questions such as ‘is liability capped?’. If they click yes, the clause goes in that’s around capped liability or is deleted if they say no and all the definitions that go around it and everything else. We also do more and more things like, we’re looking at automated negotiation which is quite cool and quite cutting-edge, using AI and search tools to do due diligence, to scan thousands of contracts, to pull out various different bits of information, whatever the particular thing that our client is doing, that they say how can we use or how can we improve what we’re doing it and do it in a faster, better, more efficient and safer way using tech? We help them to do that. We don’t actually build software, we design solutions using software that already exists.
CT: Yes, that’s absolutely fascinating and definitely sounds like you’re going the same way digitalisation of law anyways is going nowadays. As CEO and founder of BAMlegal, how do you ensure that you’re striving for gender equality, where possible, and offering equal opportunities to both genders?
CB: BAMlegal is really small I should probably say so it’s not like I’ve got hundreds of employees and it’s about who I hire and that sort of thing. I think anyone I’ve ever hired or found positions for in other places, or even when I’m asked ‘Catherine, do you know a speaker for this panel?’, ‘is there anyone else you would recommend to do this?’, I think it’s just stopping and thinking, because I almost feel that to redress the balance, it’s not at the moment about, I struggle with the words, but I would be more likely to think ‘is there a female that I could put forward for this’ rather than thinking ‘who’s the best person placed for this?’ if that makes sense. So, I’m positively promoting and almost over-putting in female to try to redress the balance because people instantly think of a male for those roles. That would be the main thing that I try to do; just promote the wonderful females working in legal tech that maybe are overlooked because there’s three white males out there that have written books and always get thought of first when there's a presentation to be made, for example, or a job role to be filled.
CT: Yes and it definitely sounds like more of a conscious decision to hire women rather than fitting a quota or something like that; it’s less categorical but more of a human approach which is not usually heard of so I find that really interesting. With regards to women in tech, have you witnessed significant improvements during your career in terms of women’s involvement and place in the industry?
CB: Yes, definitely. When I was at school, it’s a shame that computer science was not promoted at all or explained what it even was. I loved maths at school and particularly algebra. If I'd known that a lot of programming is pretty much algebra, like if x then y, otherwise z, I probably would have absolutely loved it. I came to tech very very late, really more though there must be a better way to do this and then speaking to techy friends and saying ‘what can we do on this?’ or finding software later on. I think nowadays, the act that coding is taught in schools and that generally just day-to-day, men and women are using technology and using low-code tools, I think it's definitely rebalancing the playing field so it’s not just a group of nerdy guys who used to sit in the corner of the computer room and speak to no one else and program. It’s open to everyone. A lot of the tools that we use nowadays are similar to some of the low-code tools people use all of the time to create Instagram posts, it’s like dragging and dropping elements. It’s like ‘I now want to add music to my Instagram story’, well it’s now ‘I want to add this clause to this contract’. It’s very low code and it means that if you’re someone that enjoys creating things, actually using these tools can be really quite enjoyable and really quite fun. I often say that automating a contract is like doing a big digital online jigsaw. If you’re someone that enjoys sitting and doing jigsaws, you’ll enjoy that sort of side of work. As I said, the change management side, that brings in lots more elements as well. There’s a lot of different roles in legal technology these days. There’s the actual building of products themselves, there’s the promotion of products, but then there’s the kind of working with the fellow lawyers and the lawyers in the team to explain to them. It’s a very customer side of things as well. There’s a lot to go at and in today’s world where it’s more difficult to get training contracts for junior lawyers and paralegal positions, legal technology is an area that’s growing, here you can get some really invaluable experience in the legal world. I would encourage men and women out there, but especially more females, to get into it. I definitely think it’s growing but if you were to ask me proportionally, legal engineers for example, male to female, I would say females are still about 15%.
CT: Yes, the stats are definitely still showing a large disparity but as you say, there’s definitely a lot more access to women now and more equal opportunity control in that sense. Now focusing more on you and your awards over the years, I’ve seen online that during your legal career, you’ve been nominated and won several awards, including being named by the Financial Times as a Top Ten Legal Technologist, you’ve won a European WOmen in Law Tech Award in 2020 and were listed as a Woman of Legal Tech 2021 Honoree by the American BAr Association. Congratulations first of all for all these awards!
CB: Thank you.
CT: I’m wondering, in terms of advancing women’s role in tech, do you think that these nominations and awards were instrumental in advancing that? More specifically, do you help you and do you think they could help others?
CB: They’ve definitely helped me, even if it’s just for credibility when I’m speaking to a boardroom full of partners and someone says ‘we should get Catherine in to help us do this project’. If they see that, it definitely helps. I’m very very grateful for those lovely awards and for the people that nominated me for them and some of them have been votes and people voted me for them. I think category-specific women in legal tech awards are needed right now to get the names out of all the fantastic women that are working in this field but I wish they didn’t have to exist. I don’t really want to win a Women in Legal Tech Award, I want to win a Legal Tech Award. There’s still a part of me that’s waiting to win something like that rather than it being a specific category that’s for women. I wish it didn’t have to exist. I do think at the moment, it’s very helpful that they exist because it does create some promotion and some PR for all the wonderful women out there who may otherwise be overlooked.
CT: Yes, I completely agree with you. Definitely creating such a category is probably instrumental in achieving representation but at the same time, we don’t want such a category because we should have women and men assessed evenly and have the most worthy person win that award and not based on their gender. That’s probably the next step in terms of the awards and nominations side of things. In light of your work and your experience, going forward, what is one piece of advice that you would give any of our listeners today who might want to pursue a career in tech law?
CB: Go for it! It’s a growing area, it’s very exciting. Just in the last few weeks, the number of legal products and announcements that have come out here we’re looking at how OpenAI and ChatGPT can be applied to give legal advice, there’s so much to go at. I think there’s going to be more change in legal services due to technology in the next 10-20 years than I think there has been in the last 100 years. Just go for it, enjoy it. The community is very friendly because everyone that’s in this field and in this area are all disruptors who just want change. Everyone’s very supportive. Get on LinkedIn, get on Twitter, follow people, start commenting on things you’re interested in. There’s an amazing website called legaltechtrends that’s written by my Head of Digital Peter Duffey. Definitely follow it, it does a fortnightly newsletter that will give you all the highlights of what’s been going on in the legal tech world.
CT: Brilliant advice, thank you for that. Finally, what is one message that you’d like to share for the purpose of IWD 2023?
CB: Don’t be discouraged that the statistics show that things still aren’t equal. Use your gender as a strength and actively lead by example to change those statistics yourself.
CT: I think that’s fantastic advice, thank you. I’m definitely leaving this interview with you very empowered about my gender so thank you and thank you again so much for joining us.
CB: Absolute pleasure, thank you for having me.
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!