The legal industry and technology field have something in common: Female professionals who struggle to reach the top in male-dominated workplaces.
It’s a double-whammy when you put both industries together, according to women who work in the high-tech electronic discovery field, which uses technology to assist lawyers in identifying, collecting and reviewing electronically stored information that’s responsive for production in a lawsuit.
Years ago when Lana Schell Pellegrino worked as an e-discovery consultant and traveled frequently to Washington, D.C., she stuck out at law firm meetings, surrounded by all men. In fact, she only knew one other female in the e-discovery field at the time. That’s why in 2007, Pellegrino co-founded a “sisterhood” for women in her industry, a nonprofit trade association called Women in eDiscovery.
She saw great demand from the get-go, as 40 women attended the organization’s first meeting in May 2007.
“It just exploded from there,” said Pellegrino, who earned her law degree from Widener University Delaware Law School in 2001 and has worked in legal tech since 2006, currently as director of Casepoint, a cloud-based eDiscovery platform based in Tysons, Virginia.
Women in e-discovery has grown to the point this year that it hosted its first organization-wide conference in Austin from May 8 to 10, and it sold out at 250 attendees, said executive director Amy Juers. Today, the all-volunteer organization has grown to comprise 3,000 members–half are attorneys and the remainder are legal tech providers–within 26 chapters spread across the United States and two international chapters. There are chapters in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, New York City, Philadelphia, three Texas cities and five California locations.
Juers, founder and CEO of Edge Legal Marketing in Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota, explained that chapters, which don’t charge dues, host monthly meetings for members to learn about e-discovery topics like artificial intelligence, machine learning and information governance. Members gather career advice such as how to take risks to move to the next level and how to negotiate to propel their careers. The networking opportunities at chapter meetings have opened job opportunities for members, she added.
Pellegrino, the group’s co-founder, said the reason so many female e-discovery professionals have flocked to the organization is because the technology changes so fast that they need frequent education to keep up to date. Yet in the male-dominated industry, at these meetings when they’re surrounded by other women, members feel more comfortable opening up and asking questions about topics that they don’t understand.
She said Women in eDiscovery has benefited its members in many ways. Pellegrino recalls women getting new jobs or promotions at their existing employers because of the group. Other members have met at chapter meetings and eventually come together to launch their own companies.
Lora Ramsey said she previously worked at a big firm and all her colleagues were men, so she turned to Women in eDiscovery’s Atlanta chapter to find a place to learn and network with female professionals in her field.
“The job I have now, I got at our holiday party,” said Ramsey, the litigation support manager at Arnall Golden Gregory in Atlanta.
After helping to launch a chapter in Nashville, Frankie Mohylsky moved to New York City and joined the local chapter of Women in eDiscovery, where approximately 45 members typically attend monthly meetings, she said. Mohlysky, the senior vice president of business development at Cicayda, a cloud e-discovery company, said she most enjoys sessions where the group brings in judges to discuss what they’re seeing in e-discovery and what they expect out of litigants, as well as lessons on personal career advancement.
“They are very welcoming,” Mohylsky said. “I’ve met great friends and people you can trust and respect.”