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Basha Rubin was in labor when she negotiated the term sheet for her Series A.
In May last year, Rubin hashed out investment details for Priori Legal, an attorney hiring platform for companies, clutching her phone as her partner drove them to the hospital.
“They were on these curvy roads and she had the phone like this,” said her co-founder Mirra Levitt, holding her palms out in front of her face. “It was like watching a video game.”
Experiences like Rubin’s are not uncommon among working women, who often face hurdles that their male colleagues don’t. This is especially the case in law and tech — two industries that have historically struggled with diversity. Women make up only 31% of nonequity partners and 20% of equity partners in the 200 largest law firms, per data from the American Bar Association. In the tech world, just 28% of startups have a female founder, according to a 2019 Silicon Valley Bank report.
The numbers are bleaker when you look at the intersection of the two industries: There are only 14.5% female founders of legal tech companies, according to a study by Kristen Sonday, cofounder of the legal tech platform Paladin.
Female legal tech founders receive less funding
Although venture capital investments in startups increased by 13% last year, women-founded companies received only 2.2% of funding in 2020, according to data from Pitchbook.
“The tech world seems so male-dominated not necessarily because there are so many more male founders. It’s because the male founders are so much more well-funded than the female founders,” said Rubin.
Priori Legal, which raised $6.3 million in its Series A, was “tremendously lucky” to have the backing of the female-founded accelerator HearstLab, according to Levitt.
“It’s odd because the legal industry still felt like more of a safe space for me, where I felt like people were more open to treating me as a professional as a woman,” said Alma Asay, founder of Allegory Law. “When I was raising money, I remember one investor saying, ‘You’re new to Palo Alto. You’ll meet a lot of great guys out here.’ And I thought, why are we talking about this? I’m trying to pitch you.”
Three founders told Insider that investors asked them about their family plans during pitch meetings.
Hearing comments like these made Asay feel deflated. “I could take all the advice in the world and change my pitch deck, the way that I presented, but the one thing I couldn’t change is that I’m a woman,” she said.
Erin Levine said she held off on raising money when she first launched Hello Divorce because she expected to face this kind of bias from investors. Instead, she did a lot more bootstrapping, “partly because we had to, since women don’t get funded as much as men do.”
Laura Safdie, a lawyer who founded Casetext, said she didn’t encounter sexism while pitching to investors. But she says that’s “very possibly” because her cofounder and CEO is male.
‘Clients feel more comfortable hiring companies that are male-run’
Legal tech female founders face similar challenges when pitching their products to clients, a task that’s already made difficult by the relatively tech-resistant legal industry.
“As a female-run business, it’s very apparent that clients feel more comfortable hiring companies that are male-run,” said Nicole Bradick, the founder of Theory and Principle. She recalled an instance when a chief information officer of a firm said he won’t meet with women unless other people aren’t in the room, because he didn’t trust them otherwise.
Bradick said she once lost business because she rejected a romantic advance, but added that these “horrendous” incidents are not common.
On the other hand, acting as a salesperson in legal tech can be an “equalizer,” said Julia Shapiro, founder of Hire an Esquire.
“You’re the main salesperson as the founder. Law firms are used to both men and women selling products to them,” Shapiro said. “They can be equally mean to both — they’re skeptical of vendors in general, and will cross-examine them.”
Pushing for diversity in legal tech
Despite the barriers they’ve faced in the tech world, the women who spoke to Insider said they are taking steps to instill diversity within the companies they run — and the industry writ large.
Asay said she placed particular emphasis on hiring women at Allegory Law, though it didn’t come easy given the dearth of female engineers and some of her own internal biases.
“I almost didn’t extend a woman an offer because the way she was coming across wasn’t as assertive, self-promoting, and confident as a man would,” she said. “I had to check myself, because this right here is the problem. Women have some imposter syndrome and don’t themselves up as much, but it doesn’t mean that they don’t have the same — or more — talent.”
In addition to ensuring accountability among partners at law firms and from clients, the growing community of female founders in legal tech are taking steps to support diversity within their companies.
“As a female founder, one thing that’s really empowering is to build a company and set a culture that aligns with my values,” said Casetext’s Safdie. “It’s not easy. It’s something you have to keep doing over and over and not let backslide.”
Boulder prosecutors this week pushed back against arguments made by defense attorneys representing the alleged King Soopers gunman that there should be a gag order on the case prohibiting district attorneys and law enforcement from talking about the investigation.
Public defenders representing an Arvada man on multiple murder counts last week asked Boulder Chief Judge Ingrid Bakke to prohibit law enforcement and prosecutors from discussing the case in public or with reporters moving forward.
They argued the media response and interest in the case has been “overwhelming” and “unprecedented,” which could taint a jury pool and prevent the 21-year-old man from getting a fair trial.
“The trial courts must take strong measures to ensure that the balance is never weighed against the accused,” wrote Megan Ring, head of the Colorado Public Defenders Office, in a filing, along with several other attorneys representing Alissa. “The continuing media coverage has begun to taint any potential jury pool. There is no legitimate purpose, at this stage of the proceedings, for the District Attorney, his agents, or law enforcement agencies to be making any public statements concerning the case.”
“To the extent that the People responded to questions posed by the media regarding the above listed topics, the responses were limited and in compliance with all ethical requirements regarding public disclosures involving a pending case,” Dougherty wrote. “While every criminal defendant maintains the right to a fair trial, the public has the right to remain informed regarding cases of interest to the community.”
Dougherty wrote that in the days following the shooting, he reminded all law enforcement agencies helping with the investigation that they were under rules of professional conduct.
“Please ensure that all law enforcement officers, officials and staff who may interact with the press have been reminded of these rules,” Dougherty wrote to law enforcement officers and attorneys helping with the case on March 23. “Our failure to comply with the above ethical obligations would likely have a negative impact on the prosecution of this case.”
In the brief filed Monday, Dougherty said if there was going to be any precedent on pre-trial rules, the judge could look to how District Court Judge William Blair Sylvester ruled in the Aurora theater shooting case, in which an Aurora man was found guilty of a mass slaying in a movie theater.
Because of the number of people killed, and the unusual circumstances, that case drew international attention far greater than the shootings in Boulder.
Judge Sylvester published pre-trial publicity instructions that required all attorneys — both defense and prosecutors — to follow professional conduct rules, which govern the type of statements they can make outside of court to the public and news media, while still allowing them to answer some questions.
Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida sought “blanket pardons” for himself and his political allies from President Donald Trump shortly before Trump left office in January, The New York Times reported Tuesday.
The Times, citing two people familiar with the discussions, said Gaetz asked the Trump White House, in its final weeks, to grant him immunity for any crimes for which he might later be convicted.
Gaetz is currently being investigated by the Justice Department over whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and paid for her to travel with him, and broke sex trafficking laws by doing so.
The department began investigating Gaetz late last summer as part of a broader inquiry into the former Florida tax collector Joel Greenberg, who was indicted last August on 14 felony counts, including carrying out the sex trafficking of a minor between the ages of 14 and 17. Last week, it was reported that the girl at the heart of the Gaetz inquiry is the same one who was involved in the sex trafficking charge against Greenberg.
Federal prosecutors started investigating Gaetz under then Attorney General William Barr’s tenure, and Barr and several other senior Trump appointees at the Justice Department were briefed on the probe. The Times reported that it was “unclear” if Gaetz or the White House “knew at the time of the inquiry, or who else he sought pardons for.”
The Florida Republican “did not tell White House aides that he was under investigation for potential sex trafficking violations when he made the request,” the newspaper said.
Gaetz has fervently denied the allegations against him and said the investigation is part of an elaborate, multimillion dollar extortion scheme against him and his family.
However, Gaetz said he first learned of the alleged extortion plot in March, while the department’s investigation into the sex trafficking allegations had been underway for months. This doesn’t necessarily mean Gaetz’s claims of an extortion scheme are untrue, but it does indicate the department’s probe was not opened as a result of any such scheme.
The Florida lawmaker made headlines during Trump’s term in office for his full-throated defense of the former president and his endorsement of Trump’s outlandish conspiracy theories. But in the days since news of the Justice Department’s investigation broke, there hasn’t been a peep from Trumpworld.
In fact, as Insider reported last month, some in Trump’s orbit are secretly celebrating the conservative firebrand’s predicament, with one former White House staffer saying they “feel a little vindicated.”
“He’s the meanest person in politics,” this person told Insider.
A former Trump campaign aide echoed that sentiment to Politico, telling the outlet, “Anyone that has ever spent 10 minutes with the guy would realize he’s an unserious person.”
Others pointed to Gaetz’s defense in the wake of the allegations against him, and in particular his interview last week with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, which Carlson himself admitted was “one of the weirdest” he had ever conducted.
One Trump confidant agreed, telling Politico the interview was “an absolutely embarrassing trainwreck.”
Spokespeople for Gaetz and Trump did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.