As part of our Women in Legal Tech event on the 2nd & 3rd November, we are releasing a series of interviews with inspiring women. Their stories offer advice and guidance for anyone thinking of entering the world of legal tech. Following the event, we will be collating all of the interviews in a free e-book. Keep an eye on our social media to get your copy.
More details of the Women in Legal Tech event can be found here.
Shannon Salter is the Chair of the Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT). It is the first online court for civil disputes, and has been serving the people of British Columbia since July of 2017.
We spoke to Shannon about the challenges she faces innovating in the public sphere. Shannon offered us advice on building partnerships and driving change. She also offered some words of wisdom to anyone thinking of taking the plunge and applying for a new job.
What led you to developing the civil resolution tribunal?
I came from legal background, having worked as a lawyer in BC. I also sat on administrative tribunals. So I really came from a legal judicial perspective with a focus on access to justice. This fascination is what really led me to the CRT. The idea to connect people through technology was born out of a small group within the Ministry of Justice. They saw it through legislation which was passed in 2012. I was then appointed in 2014 when the project was ready to be implemented. The CRT team worked closely with the Ministry of Justice and our technology partners, and we were able to launch in July 2016. I’m happy to say that thus far everything has gone really smoothly! There have of course been challenges but the technology side has worked really well and the public has been positive. Credit has to go to the great team I am lucky to work with!
Do you think there should be a different approach when designing tech for the public sector rather than the private?
Yes, I do. There are a number of key differences when working with the public justice system. The private sector can pick their market segment and aim a project at certain group. You can’t do that in the public sector. It has to work for everybody and be accessible. We developed some unique strategies to make sure we leave nobody behind. This meant a lot of community testing and advocacy. It also meant designing things for people in the most difficult situations first. You have to ensure that the most vulnerable aren’t left behind.
What was the biggest challenge for you in developing the CRT?
Its novelty has been challenging. The legal sector is deeply sceptical towards novelty.. It means that the change management component is the biggest challenge. I spent a lot of time building relationships with stakeholders to develop trust. You have to invite yourself in, and I went to hundreds of presentations and meetings. It’s important you aren’t afraid of negative feedback and difficult conversations. If you move towards people in a collaborative way, they respond to that.
Do you foresee a movement towards private companies offering legal tech services on behalf of the government? Or should governments attempt to keep court legal tech separate?
I don’t think it needs to be either / or. It’s key that governmental bodies keep tight control over private subcontractors, but in-house IT development can be risky and prone to failure.. To me, it’s essential you have a risk mitigation strategy. Namely, what can you buy off the shelf that requires as little as possible customization? For example, we use salesforce and customised it with two other applications developed by our technology partners.
What are your plans for the CRT over the next few years?
At the CRT, we focus on developing technology incrementally. So, we roll out new features every few months. I want to ensure we keep doing that while keeping a very close connection to the public. People, the nature of their problems and the technology itself are constantly changing. I want to ensure we can use data to figure out how to refine our processes and innovate further, so that we are constantly improving.
What piece of technology/software has made the biggest impact on your working life in the last five years?
My iPhone. It’s a pretty expected answer but it allows me to navigate all parts of my life. Sometimes I feel a bit too tightly attached to it though! My entire team works remotely so free tech like join me is also a game changer.
What do you see as the biggest challenge for legal tech in the next five years?
In the public side of things it’s not so much a tech challenge as a cultural one. Legal systems around the world are slow to understand that the world has changed significantly, and justice systems must keep pace. I hope we are able to use technology to meet those needs effectively in time.
If you were to start your own technology or legal tech business what would it be?
In an ideal world, I’d invent an app to clone yourself so you can balance family, work and other obligations!
How do you maintain a good work/life balance? And does technology help you with that?
I wish I knew!! The great thing about the CRT is that I have a degree of flexibility. I can drop the kids at school, pick them up and get home in time for dinner, but the trade-off is that I usually work again when the kids are asleep, late into the evening.. My advice for working parents is to go easy on yourself. For employers, it’s worth noting that if you offer that flexibility you can recruit exceptional talent.
What advice would you like to have had during your career (that you had to find out for yourself)?
Apply for everything. Don’t ever think something is above your experience level or you’re too junior. I do quite a bit of hiring. Women are reluctant to apply for positions even though they are qualified. Women hold themselves to much higher standards than men (which we see regularly backed up by research). Often they don’t apply because they fear the rejection. Let the company decide if you’re good enough for the job, rather than counting yourself out.