International Women’s Day Special Series (03)
Written by Deborah Jesus
Startups at the Legal Innovation Zone bring together talented people, each with their own areas of expertise. In today’s blog post we feature two female founders whose diverse experience is making a difference in the legal arena and furthering legal innovation. How is artificial intelligence improving due diligence? Can record-keeping technologies empower sexual abuse survivors to access justice? To answer these questions we have interviewed Laura van Wyngaarden and Lucrezia Spagnolo.
Laura is the Chief Operating Officer and Co-Founder of Diligen. Her startup streamlines due diligence by combining automatic contract review with collaborative project management. Diligen is one of the six startup finalists in the AI Legal Challenge and will be pitching for the chance of receiving seed money totalling $80,000 this Friday, March 23rd, at the Legal Innovation Zone’s AI Legal Challenge Forum.
Lucrezia is the Founder and CEO of Vesta Social Innovation Technologies. Her startup is addressing a growing concern: culture of sexual abuse. Vesta combines clinical and legal expertise with the power of technology to empower survivors to document their story and increase arrest and conviction rates by creating a reliable, time-stamped record of events. Lucrezia believes that giving survivors the ability to take control of how, when and where they tell their story and providing them with access to justice, will encourage more survivors to come forward and report.
Laura and Lucrezia are each on an exciting journey through the legal tech industry. We hope you’ll join us in exploring this further, through a series of questions which they graciously answered.
LIZ: What brought you into legal tech? Do you have a background in technology and/or law?
Laura: While I don’t have a background in legal tech per se, my strength has always been in identifying opportunities to improve processes that could have an impact. It’s something that stems from my background in operations and my previous role as Managing Director at Distility. When I looked at the way lawyers were working, I saw the opportunity to make the slow, tedious process of contract review dramatically better with AI. I knew if we could do that successfully we would have a huge impact on law firms and businesses of all kinds. My co-founder, Konrad, has a strong legal background having spent many years as a corporate lawyer with one of the leading global law firms. Fortunately, we also have many very talented team members on both the technology and legal side.
Lucrezia: No, I don’t have a background in either. My undergrad was in political science and I ended up in the financial services sector. I had an idea that I wanted to empower victims of sexual violence. I didn’t know what I was doing was considered Legaltech until I came to the Legal Innovation Zone. I spent months interviewing victims, social workers, law enforcement, lawyers, crown prosecutors, victim services, judges and observing trials, so that I could map out the process and understand the challenges faced by victims who engage in the criminal justice system and the challenges faced by those who investigate, prosecute or try sexual assault cases.
LIZ: What are the main challenges you faced as a woman in your field? How did you overcome them?
Laura: I’ve had to learn to lead in my own way. I’m sure this is one of the things I will continue to learn about for the rest of my life. Most of our challenges are the same that all growing companies have – right now it’s all about scaling quickly to meet demand.
Lucrezia: I have had my ideas dismissed or discounted, which used to undermine my self-confidence. Now, I try to determine the source of the information. Is the person an expert who is trying to give constructive feedback or is it someone just giving their opinion? If it’s someone who’s opinion or feedback is important, I try not to take the language personally but listen to the content of the message. I am always interested in improving and refining our solution. However, if it is an uninformed opinion, it no longer rattles me as I am confident in my journey and in our research. I am surrounded by a team that believes in our mission and have a great support system of advisors and coaches.
LIZ: What is the main idea behind your business? What drives you and why is it so important?
Laura: Contracts are core to the practice of law. In the past, contract review has been a slow, time consuming and tedious process. In the legal industry at the moment there is a large and irreversible shift underway in the way we handle contracts. Using AI contract assistants like ours will soon become the standard way we review contracts. In a few years we will look back and won’t believe we ever did this work manually. It’s a shift that’s better for the consumer and represents a huge opportunity for the savvy legal service provider. Our machine learning software helps lawyers review contracts faster, more accurately and more efficiently. This helps our clients be more effective and competitive. For my own part, I love growing the business. Also, amazing our clients with the product and impacting their lives is very satisfying. When a client tells me “I did a 100 hours of legal work in an evening with your product, I can now spend the weekend with my family”, that’s the best.
Lucrezia: Vesta’s mandate is to provide thought leadership and create tools for victims of sexual violence. We are creating an end to end platform that combines domain expertise with technology to help victims document their experience while streamlining the reporting and investigative processes. The main idea is to support the victim throughout their journey, whether or not they decide to engage with the justice system. Our main driver is to facilitate better outcomes for victims. If we don’t make it easier for victims to report, if we don’t help streamline the process, then there will be no consequences for offenders. If there are no consequences for offenders, it is statistically probable that they will reoffend putting a strain on victims, their families and their communities.
LIZ: What piece of advice would you share with someone starting in this field or thinking of starting their own business in legal tech?
Laura: Especially in the beginning, building a company requires intense devotion over a long period of time, and that isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. If that sounds good to you, you may really enjoy being an entrepreneur.
Lucrezia: Think long and hard about what is your purpose. What is your why? There will be days when your ideas are going to be challenged, doors will be slammed in your face and people just won’t return your calls. What will drive you to keep forging ahead, knocking on doors and fearlessly moving forward?