Last year, I did a quick run through LegalTech, the trade show for businesses with a lifespan of about a month to show how cool their legal technology is. It was the “swag report,” and it was for fun, though some of the vendors who got caught on video didn’t think it was funny at all. Defectum humoris non curat lex.*
I didn’t return this year. One year of wading through that crap was enough. It was a crashing bore. And there was someone who will follow my lead, saving me from any thoughts of having to suffer LegalTech again.
But there are others who not only went to LegalTech this year, but did so because they wanted to go. I know, but it’s true. My old pal, Niki Black, was there. She has an interest in legal technology that I don’t necessarily share, which is cool. Each to their own. And she decided to test these “innovators” while she was at it.
After talking to all of these innovators, I decided take a tour of the Exhibit Hall. But instead of seeking out booth swag, I decided to recreate an experiment that I conducted at the ILTA conference last fall.
The rules were simple: I would slowly walk through all sections of the Exhibit Hall and try to make eye contact with and smile at those manning the booths. Anyone who provided a verbal response to me, even one as simple as “hi,” made the cut. I walked through each section of the Exhibit Hall, which housed over 160 vendors, three times. It took me nearly 1.5 hours.
During her leisurely stroll, she ran into some friends, who agreed to act as a “control” for her experiment. They were, of course, male.
So just to sum up, both Tim and Jack walked by a section of booths only one time, not three, and between the two of them they walked by approximately 50 booths. They were acknowledged eight times total.
I walked by 160+ booths at least three times and was acknowledged a mere six times.
Not exactly a scientific experiment, but I feel fairly comfortable declaring this: Houston, we have a problem. It’s called sexism. And it ain’t pretty.
Niki understates the problem. There are a handful of people who have a significant influence on how these “new, proved, greatest thing EVER!!!” innovators are perceived in the blawgosphere. There aren’t a whole lot of lawyers who give a damn, and fewer still who have sufficient interest to note their existence. And Niki is one of those few, and one who would be inclined to look favorably toward what others would be less inclined to promote.
In other words, if there is anybody whose ass these innovators should kiss, it’s Niki’s. It’s like Restaurant Per Se treating the New York Times food critic like dirt. These budding businesses should have had a picture of Niki in hand so that they could gush on her in the hope of currying her favor.
Instead, Niki was largely ignored.
I also walked away wondering if I’d somehow acquired the superpower of invisibility.
But was it sexism? The nature of innovators tends to be rather progressive, so that one would suspect that they were acutely aware of issues like sexism, and would be attuned to its insidious nature. Were these just the stupid or venal misogynist innovators?
Or did it relate to another facet of the nature of innovators, that they couldn’t care less about anything other than their mutt of a tech product gaining traction and money? But that doesn’t explain why, seeing Niki walking through the tech Kasbah, they would assume that she had nothing to offer them. Was she not worthy of giving them a purchase order? Was her insights on the internet not important enough to spread the good word about their business? Why not? Why was this titan of legal technology treated as if she was . . . a girl?
Having been through the LegalTech Exhibit Hall, and suffered the pitches about nothing of any consequence, I’m constrained to concur with Niki’s conclusion. She was ignored because she was female. She was ignored because the exhibitors didn’t think some woman walking through was worth enough to their potential bottom line to even bother with a quick “hi.”
But there is a different message to this sexism that shouldn’t be ignored. It’s easy to say you’re not sexist, and to sincerely believe in gender equality, when there is no money on the table. The Exhibit Hall folks were busy doing what the desperate and clueless do, scanning for the person they thought most likely to give them something of benefit. Screw their gender politics. They want money. How quickly such banal concerns as stereotyping go out the window when there’s a buck to be made.
When they saw Tim Baran and Jack Grow, they plugged them into their prejudice and figured it was worth their while to pretend to give a shit that they existed. When they saw Nicole Black, not so much.
Money knows no gender, but stereotypes die hard. By ignoring Niki Black, these innovators really blew it. When it comes to the choice between equality and a buck, progressive innovators made their choice to go with the guys.
*Hat tip to David Post.