International Women’s Day Special Series (04)
Written by Deborah Jesus
With the month of March coming to an end, we’re also wrapping up our International Women’s Day inspired blog series. During the past four weeks we’ve enjoyed getting to know our female founders: what motivates them, the challenges they face in a male dominated industry, and their advice for aspiring entrepreneurs and women in legal tech.
To conclude the series, we interviewed Faiza Malik and Nargiz Mammadova this week. Both leaders have a deep understanding of the need for easier and faster access to legal services. They also recognize the biases related to being a woman in the field, the importance of talking about it. We think you’ll find encouragement and inspiration in their personal approaches to these challenges.
Faiza is the Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Splyt. Her startup combines artificial intelligence and automation to provide guidance with the divorce application process, walking users through each step of the application and auto-filling the various court forms required.
Nargiz is the Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Destin AI. Her startup is developing a messenger based chatbot that will provide fast and accurate answers to immigration related questions for aspiring immigrants to Canada. The goal is to close the gap between lawyers, immigrants, and access to information in an unbiased, affordable, and convenient way.
Faiza and Nargiz recently participated in the AI Legal Challenge Forum for a chance to win $80,000 in total seed funding and other supports to further develop their businesses. We hope their journey, along with Renata’s, Mona’s, Lucrezia’s, and Laura’s, will inspire you to keep pursuing your passion and succeed in your own career in the field.
LIZ: What brought you into legal tech? Do you have a background in technology and/or law?
Faiza: My background is in law. My passion has always been access to justice.
It was a series of events that led naturally to me founding a legal tech start-up, and these included: talking more to my co-founder Syed, whose background is in software development, about the processes in the law that could be improved using technology; participating in some amazing initiatives at Ryerson such as the LPP where I was first introduced to this idea of “doing law faster, cheaper, better” and attending a legal innovation boot camp hosted by the LIZ where I first encountered the concepts of design thinking and how they could be applied to the practice of law; actually observing in my work as a lawyer how some of these techniques are being implemented in the real world, and tuning in some more to the increasing dialogue around the importance of innovating law using technology.
Nargiz: I have a combination of expertise in the consulting, media, and technology industries. After working for around 7 years in Europe, I decided to come to Canada to pursue a Master’s degree at Queen’s School of Business. At that time, I was unaware of the option to apply for a visa online, so I applied with pen and paper with no support from any embassy in my country. Because I was not familiar with the Canadian immigration process, it was stressful to wait for my visa without being certain that I would get it in time for my classes. After I finally arrived in Canada, it was also challenging to find information about the Post Graduate Work Permit that I needed in order to stay in the country. When my work permit expired I did not know what to do. Finally, with the help of friends of friends, I found a lawyer who provided me with legal advice and then applied for Permanent Resident status.
To make a long story short, I figured out that I am not the only one. Many people go through the same struggle. There is a lot of information available online, not all of which is accurate. Not everyone can afford to have a lawyer taking care of their case. When I looked at the current solutions, I realized that they do not always align with people’s expectations. and that’s why I decided to create my startup. My goal is to be able to help people on their journey to come to Canada. That’s how I found myself in the legal technology field.
Currently, we are collaborating with more than 10 lawyers in order to prepare the solution we are building and we also engage daily with a team of developers.
LIZ: What are the main challenges you faced as a woman in your field? How did you overcome them?
Faiza: I think that as a woman, and as a visible minority, I am always going to face implicit biases, whatever profession I’m in. The legal profession is known for being unfriendly towards women, especially in the higher-level positions, as well as towards young lawyers who are just starting out in the field (new calls). Technology is an industry in which “the diversity problem” is at least being talked about and discussed more openly.
You overcome these challenges by just being the best you that you can be, and surrounding yourself with supportive and like-minded individuals, both male and female. I personally find a lot of inspiration from other young women who are succeeding in leadership, people such as Nargiz. I also think that for young women, whether they’re lawyers, technologists, entrepreneurs (or whatever combination) one of the biggest hurdles is “imposter syndrome”, where we don’t believe enough in ourselves. In these situations, it is helpful for me to ask myself “What would so-and-so do?” with so-and-so being one of my many woman entrepreneur heroes.
Nargiz: When I enter a room of investors or attend competitions, getting pointed out as a female founder is a bit surprising to me. I wish we were just treated as a normal human being: that would be cool. Together with my team I focus on producing good results and a good product, making sure that we add value to the ecosystem. I overcome those challenges by continually working hard and trying to be a good example for others, especially for the younger generation.
LIZ: What is the main idea behind your business? What drives you and why is it so important?
Faiza: The main idea behind Splyt is that consumers of legal services are literate and savvy enough to be able to fill out some forms themselves; all they need is a little bit of guidance through the process. Splyt enables that using a user-friendly platform, and in doing so, makes applying for an uncontested divorce a much more affordable thing. My drive is to demystify the law a little bit.
Nargiz: We are easing people’s lives on their journey to Canada through Artificial Intelligence. We are creating an AI powered chatbot and platform to close the gap to access to lawyers and legal information.
Many people have experienced the challenges of the visa process, but since I also went through them personally, the solution we are creating is especially dear to my heart. Recently, the Canadian government announced that they will grant around 1 million people Permanent Resident status. The Canadian population is expected to increase because of these new immigration policies. Our solution aims to serve the demand among these immigrants for a hassle-free visa experience.
LIZ: What piece of advice would you share with someone starting in this field or thinking of starting their own business in legal tech?
Faiza: Surround yourself with supportive and like-minded individuals, both male and female. Build up that support network and lean on them heavily, because you will have bad days. Take mentorship wherever you can receive it, and sometimes this will be from industry experts, but sometimes people who are outside of either legal or tech can help you see something clearly as well. Believe in yourself, and in your own achievements.
Nargiz: Overall creating a startup and growing it is a dynamic and challenging process. First of all, you need to ask yourself why you’re doing it and whether or not you are ready for this journey. Every day will be different. On one day you might be meeting with investors; On another day you might need to prepare your product, or convince a potential team member to join your company. You also need to be patient: change in the legal technology industry doesn’t happen overnight.