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21 February 2020

More women must enter male-dominated legal tech to guard against AI bias, conference hears

Former UK law society president warns of risk of bias being hardwired into AI

By Dr David Cowan

More women need to pursue careers in legal tech

Christina Blacklaws is chair of the Lawtech Delivery Panel and former president of the Law Society All Things Business

There is an urgent need for more women to pursue careers in legal tech to help ensure bias doesn’t get “hardwired” into AI-assisted decision making, a legal tech conference has heard.

Delivering the keynote address at this month’s Global Legal Forum in London, Christina Blacklaws, the immediate past president of the Law Society of England and Wales, said legal tech was weighed down by systemic bias and “cultural and social expectations of what women can and should do”.

Blacklaws, who recently joined the advisory board of alternative legal service provider Elevate, urged more women to pursue careers in technology and said the stakes were particularly high due to the danger of data containing gender bias being used to train AI.

“In a computerised world, it [diversity] should get better,” she said, but warned “it could get an awful lot worse” if bias in society was “hardwired into decision making”.

Virginia Clegg, senior partner at DAC Beachcroft, told the conference there was a need to change the culture within the legal tech sector and tackle the stereotypes that permeated it.  

“We need to change the narrative,” she said. “It’s not about coding, building processes, it’s about what happens. We need to get the story right and ask what we are trying to do with tech.”

Olga Mack, CEO of San Francisco-based contract management platform Parley Pro, told The Global Legal Post: “Legal tech combines the worst of legal and tech. Historically, and even to some extent today, investors dread investing in legal tech. This relative scarcity of funding makes the existing networks of mostly men even tighter and harder to penetrate for women in legal tech.”

She called for the creation of more legal tech-focused funds generally and more funds specifically focused on increasing “diversity of thought” in the industry.

She also urged buyers of legal tech to put pressure on suppliers to improve diversity.

“Buyers, whether in a law firm or in-house, should definitely ask hard questions related to diversity and inclusion,” she said.

Earlier this week the European Commission published a white paper on AI regulation that promised to ensure that AI is “fair and compliant with the high standards Europe has developed in all fields”.

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