There’s a shortage of women in science, technology, engineering and math. And there’s still a 17 percent gender gap in pay—across the board—in all of legal (18 percent at Big Law). But within the legal technology community are many women with thriving careers.
Monica Bay recently interviewed Karen J. Pruitt, age 54. She has been a regional sales director at JND Legal Administration since February 2018. Pruitt is a paralegal whose work focuses on e-discovery.
Current job: The culture at JND eDiscovery is one of trust, support, loyalty and team success, which is one of the reasons I chose to help grow this organization. I am responsible for driving efficiencies for our clients in all areas of electronic discovery, computer forensics, information technology (IT) security, litigation readiness and data analysis. With 20+ years, I work with e-discovery and account management, identifying, targeting, establishing and growing business relationships.
My office is at our family ranch. I work remotely, which allows me to rescue animals that are neglected, lost or just unloved. My kind employers support what I do, and they are equally excited to hear what animals are rescued.
In high school, did you consider a career in science, technology, engineering or math? I dreamed of becoming a veterinarian. My grades in science weren’t good enough, and my ability to make “efficient” decisions about the lives of farm animals was not mature enough. As an animal lover, I would have wanted to save them all, which isn’t always your client’s goal. In farming, for example, the “efficient” decision might mean limiting the medical care you provide to an animal whose purpose is to generate revenue.
Your first paid job? Vinson & Elkins in the litigation support department in 1989. My role was to “code” data from a document onto paper, which was then input into a computer by a data entry clerk. Even then I realized the inefficiency of writing it on paper versus entering it directly into a computer. But in the ’80s, computers were expensive and not everyone had one. Getting the well-known V&E name on my resume helped my career.
First seat at the table? My first leadership role was through my philanthropic work at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. I was chairman of the Wine Committee, responsible for hundreds of volunteers and dollars. That role influenced my life. I became a member of the Bush 41 Foundation Vintner Dinner Host Committee. I am carrying on the legacy of President George H.W. Bush through fundraising at this event. My experience taught me to lead, and when necessary, raise the tough issues and fight for what’s right with the idea of “doing the right thing for the right reason.”
Most flagrant sexism you encountered and how you address it? As a contracts and administrative manager at a large engineering company, I worked with a project manager who was older and very set in his ways, including how he treated women. I noticed a huge pay discrimination issue and immediately took action, which was in my role as the contracts manager and administrator. I identified a female professional “scheduler” receiving less than half of what a certain young man was paid. He filled up the drink machine and cleaned up the place. That guy was the lead engineer’s grandson.
The project manager was not a fan of my efforts to establish fair pay and voiced it repeatedly, both directly and indirectly. He threatened me, saying that this was a classified project and that I was potentially harming the project by involving others. I achieved my goal and got adjustments for many, but when he called me into his office and continued to threaten me and my job, as well as throwing out sexual innuendos. I reported him to the corporate offices who eventually had him terminated. The day I was able to get the salaries fairly distributed was such a great feeling. One woman was in tears of appreciation. I couldn’t believe the impact it had when all I’d done was recognize an issue and correct it.
Managing up: Always keep the big picture in mind. If you want a specific outcome, be sure everyone knows their stakes. Keep your boss informed to the degree they are comfortable with. Some bosses want details; others give you five minutes.
Most important mentor: Peter Arbour, now retired senior vice president & general counsel, Willbros in Houston, Texas. One exceptional mentor was an in-house counsel who always believed in me and encouraged me. He took me under his wing and gave me opportunities to be involved in programs such as the “Presidents Club,” where you can attend a graduate level program at the company. Arbour guided me to move up in the company. After 19 years, I still turn to him for advice and guidance.
Advice for young women: Be yourself yet blend in with your audience. Make your audience/clients feel at ease by finding something you have in common or letting them know something personal about you. I often tell my prospective clients about my work rescuing dogs and horses, or about blogging through my dog’s voice. That always starts a long conversation and begins a lasting personal relationship. Share experiences that help others with their careers such as your success and failure stories so that others may benefit.
Five favorite technology tools:
- Social media: Facebook and Instagram
- Digital cameras: Canon EOS 60D
- Freestyle Libre device for diabetics
- Communication devices: iPhone & iPads are favorites
- The George & Barbara Bush Foundation.
- Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo.
- The Polk County SPCA (Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals)
- Other Presidential foundations including Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
Your mantra: “Do the right thing for the right reason.”
Favorite quote: From The Texas A&M University Alumni center featured on the Integrity Core Values wall: “A person with character has the judgment to know what is right and the courage to act on that knowledge.” – Sara and John H. Lindsey ’44.
Monica Bay is a Fellow at CodeX: The Stanford Center for Legal Informatics. She is a columnist for Legaltech News and a freelance journalist (Alchemizing Law LLC). She is a member of the California Bar. In 2015, she retired from ALM (Editor-in-Chief at Law Technology News). She lives in Connecticut but can get to Yankee Stadium in two hours.