UniCourt Influencer Q&A Series with Jodie Baker

UniCourt Influencer Q&A Series with Jodie Baker

It’s no secret that the legal tech industry is booming on a global scale – and women are having more than just a moment. In fact, the last few years have been banner years as women have risen to the top of a field that combines three traditionally male-dominated sectors – entrepreneurship, law, and technology – and pioneered tremendous innovation in all three realms with the common goal of increasing access to justice.

Jodie Baker is one of those innovators. Hailing from Australia, Jodie is the CEO and Founder of Xakia Technologies and Hive Legal: two companies that are changing the ways that lawyers practice. Xakia is a matter management platform that automates the creation of dashboards, analytics, and reports – issues that save lawyers time, money, and data learning curves. On the other hand, Hive is an innovative law firm that services high-end clients while providing lawyers with the flexibility that is so often absent in traditional firms.

We were thrilled to speak with Jodie about her career path, her role in advancing legal tech, her motivation for starting two successful companies, and how other women can claim their spot in the burgeoning tech field.

UniCourt: Tell us your story. What is your background, and what initially sparked your interest in improving the delivery of legal services through legal tech?

Jodie Baker: My story out of law school was fairly typical, starting as a lawyer in a large law firm. I moved in-house quite quickly and then out of the law altogether to the business side. As a research analyst at one of the globe’s big investment houses, I covered the “Beverages” sector and struggled through site tours of vineyards and breweries. It was tough!

While working in the U.S., I was drawn back to the legal industry during the era that birthed Axiom and Clearspire. This inspired me to return to my homeland and build Australia’s NewLaw equivalent – Hive Legal.

UC: Tell us about the company and platform you started – Xakia Technologies. What initially inspired you to launch this platform?

JB: In 2015, I ran a research project with mid-size legal teams to understand the pains and frustrations of lawyers through to GCs, particularly in terms of the technology tools available to them. Two things became clear. First, every member of a legal team, irrespective of size, struggles to wrap their arms around who is working on what and for whom. Data is disaggregated and visibility is limited. Second, lawyers intensely dislike preparing reports. They are uncomfortable in Excel and “data” does not come to them easily. And so the idea for Xakia was born.

UC: What need or gap in the legal field do you believe Xakia addresses?

JB: Xakia is a very simple tool that captures and centralizes information and then automates the creation of dashboards and reports. Sometimes we call it a fancy excel spreadsheet with a beautiful interface. Of course, that completely undersells the functionality, but we find that many teams are looking to solve this very simple issue before they look at other bells and whistles.

Most legal teams do not have the resources for hefty implementations or lengthy change management programs. We have focused on making adoption as easy as possible and that makes us extremely attractive to teams who want to get started quickly and without fuss.

We also appeal to teams who want flexibility. Many teams have some sort of technology in place and they want a platform they can plug into. Rather than having to manage migrations and change management on a tool they are already using, we give them a way to connect all these tools.

UC: As the Founder and CEO of a legal tech company, what would you say to other women interested in starting their own legal tech companies or working in the legal tech industry?

JB: It’s hard! Be prepared for a steep learning curve. Legal tech is getting noisy and it is getting harder to be seen if you’re not tall, heard if you’re not loud, and valued if you’re not self-promoting. Some of these things are harder for women than for men. But there are also advantages and we can stand out in other ways.

I read this week about a female founder’s need to take an “elbows out” approach when building a business and I would agree that at times it is extremely tempting.

However, in the long run, I have opted for collaboration and cooperation across the industry and I spend a considerable amount of my time as the Chair of the Australian Legal Technology Association (ALTA) promoting all legal tech – including competitors!

UC: In your opinion, where can legal tech be most helpful to in-house lawyers? What about lawyers in traditional law firms? What are some of the most prevalent challenges they face that you believe a tech solution can address?

JB: In-house legal teams vary so much in their practices. We have the privilege of seeing and speaking with an enormous number of teams – they invite us in to understand what they do and how they do it, and we come to appreciate their specific challenges. Each one is unique.

The consistent challenge across all teams is volume (and related to this, resourcing) and knowing which work to prioritize on a day-to-day basis. We believe this is solved best by centralizing the information, understanding the facts (i.e., data) about what your team does, and using this to inform your technology choices.

UC: What is Hive Legal? Tell us about your motivation for starting it, and why you think it’s critical for lawyers to redesign their services and remove barriers to effective, connected thinking.

JB: Hive Legal is named appropriately for its business model. It operates as a Hive – a central location from which all team members can work, but who are otherwise free to operate where and when it is most productive for them to do so. There are no time sheets and all engagements are done on a fixed fee, value priced basis. The lawyers are best-in-class and service a high-end client base in practice areas requiring complex advice and transaction management.

The appetite in the market for a redesign of legal services was the opportunity to give birth to Hive Legal, but my personal motivation was a little different: I wanted to find a way to keep women in their 30s in the legal profession. Too many of my peers had children and then found traditional law firms difficult to navigate. Their experience, knowledge, and skills went to waste as they disengaged or left the profession altogether and the number of women in equity ownership positions in law firms struggled to rise. By providing a model that gave women more flexibility while ensuring that they were servicing high-quality clients on high-quality work, I believed we could keep these women engaged.

To my surprise and delight, the benefits of Hive Legal to its team have not been female-centric at all. While I am no longer involved with Hive, there remains a fabulous, diverse team who enjoy a bundle of different things in their lives, and the flexibility of the model provides the platform from which they can do these things.

UC: What are some of your favorite sayings? Do you have any real-world examples of how you’ve seen these sayings come to life?

JB: These sit on big posters in the Xakia office:

  • Dream Big
  • Get Sh!t Done
  • Have Fun

Xakia has just turned three years old. Our software is 2.5 years old. We have been in the U.S. market for 18 months. We have (almost) 100 corporate clients and a roadmap that we will never feel is “done.” But we have so much fun.

These have been the most exhausting, exhilarating and empowering years of my career and I do attribute an enormous amount of it to living by these guiding principles.

UC: How do you think that the continued advancement in legal tech will facilitate increased access to justice?

The most important part of legal tech is that it continues to improve speed, remove friction, and lower cost. This is relevant to all parts of the legal industry, but none so much as access to justice. The opportunities are endless and I’m relentlessly impressed with the way that legal technologies globally (including Xakia) support the not-for-profit sector with their products to ensure that they can benefit from innovations as quickly as possible.

UC: What are your professional goals for the coming year? What projects are you working on? Are there any upcoming events or conferences in the legal tech space we should be aware of?

JB: Taking on the role of Chair of ALTA will be a key focus this year. Legal tech has exploded in Australia and we are somewhat different from other legal technology associations globally in that we are all about the builders of legal technology businesses. It is the role of ALTA to support these players so that we can ensure that they are set up for success, scale well, and continue to thrive on the global stage. We are extraordinarily lucky to be in a small country of sophisticated buyers who support buying Australian legal tech (because it’s awesome!) which then underpins expansion into new markets.

Making the Law Work for Lawyers

Jodie Baker may be one of many working to change the legal landscape, but her approach is unique: finding tools to make the practice of law more flexible, efficient, streamlined, and frankly, enjoyable. As lawyers begin to abandon old models of managing their practices in favor of new, innovative models, the law will become more accessible and palatable not just to consumers – but to attorneys themselves.