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Your single source for new lessons on legal technology, e-discovery, compliance, and the people innovating behind the scenes.

Stellar Women: The 2020 Innovation Award Finalists

Mary Rechtoris

Stellar Women is excited to sit down with the finalists for this year's Stellar Women Innovation Award. My colleague and Innovation Awards co-host, Johnathan Hill, and I caught up with Lekecia Barclay, Sarah Thompson, and Kenya Dixon on what this award meant to them.

We also discussed their spirit for innovation, advice for supporting up-and-coming leaders in this field, and steps organizations can take to help make e-discovery a more gender equitable field. Be sure to tune into the Innovation Awards (totally virtual, and totally free) on September 23 at 9:00 a.m. Central time as we unveil the winner for Stellar Women and our other categories at Relativity Fest this year.

Lekecia Barclay

Lekecia Barclay

Co-founder, DiscoverySmith
Technology Advisor IRS – Office of Chief Counsel

Kenya Parrish-Dixon

Kenya Parrish-Dixon

General Counsel and Chief Operating Officer
Empire Technologies Risk Management Group

Sarah Thompson

Sarah Thompson

Chief Product Officer
Bluestar Case Solutions, Inc.


Mary Rechtoris: Hey Stellar Women fans. I'm your host, Mary Rechtoris. Stellar Women shines a light on female leaders making their mark in tech. Today, we're bringing you a really exciting episode and are chatting with this year's finalists for our Stellar Women Innovation Award. We have Lekecia Barclay, Kenya Dixon, and Sara Thompson. I had the opportunity to sit down with the Lekecia, Kenya, and Sarah with my co-host for this year's Innovation Awards: Johnathan Hill. Johnathan has been instrumental in developing Relativity Fellows, a program where we work with individuals from overlooked communities to help them start their careers. Johnathan has been key with working with our pipeline partners throughout the Chicagoland area, and has started to place some of our first fellows. Now let's get to the episode.

Johnathan Hill: Welcome, Lekecia, Kenya, and Sarah. All three of our finalists embody this award. What does it mean for you to be a star?

Lekecia Barclay: Oh, gosh, that means so much to me. I started out my life as an attorney. I went to law school and hated every second of it. And I graduated, I was like, “what am I supposed to do? I don't want to practice law.” My husband convinced me that e-discovery was the way to go. I didn't even know what that was, but okay, I’ll give it a try. I looked into it and I was like, “I love this.” It’s so awesome to be recognized as someone in this industry as being stellar at my job. And, you know, I think I'm awesome in my personal life anyway, so the fact that I'm also awesome in my professional life, it means everything to me.

MR: I love that.

JH:  You are awesome.

MR: We could use some more of that. We're all so hard on ourselves, so it’s awesome to hear someone say that.

JH: Sarah, we're coming to you next. I’d love to hear from you. What does it mean to be a stellar woman in this field?

Sarah Thompson: This is just amazing for me. I've worked in this field my entire career. I'm not going to say how long that is, but I'm thrilled to be nominated, quite frankly. And I really think that this award is for women that are out there trying to elevate others. And I think on top of that, when it comes to innovation, there are women like us and people that are up for this award, you know, that don’t accept the status quo. I think we look toward the future and think about ­­how it should be and try to get us there. And that's really what I think a stellar woman is.

JH: I love that you say we're taking everybody along with us along the way. Kenya, I’d love to hear from you. What does it mean to you to be a stellar woman?

Kenya Dixon: First of all, thank you. I appreciate the recognition. I'm very grateful for it. It's interesting. We're living in a time of COVID and so there's a lot to be done. We're doing it in very different ways, and we're trying to find ways to connect with everyone and stay connected with people that we usually have a closer relationship with. So, it means so much to me just because I've spent so many years in different venues, in different environments, trying to bring law firms, corporations, and the federal government along in the e-discovery space. And I think now is the time for us to really start focusing on the planning and the strategy of it all. How does the next best thing work? What are the disruptors in the industry right now? So I spend a lot of my time right now trying to figure that out so that when we are all back running full speed, we have all the resources and the tools necessary to move forward.

MR: Going off what Lekecia was saying earlier, she is stellar in her career and her life. And I think that this award embodies a lot of what people do in their career, but also who they are. So I want to turn this over to you, Sarah, to kick us off here. In your life and/or your career, can you talk about someone that's really made an impact on your outlook on mentorship and leadership and what makes you stellar?

ST: I'll come back to the whole aspect of elevating others. Other people have done that for me. They have really affected my career in very positive ways. And I did not get here alone. I don't think any one of us did. Whether it's from our family members or from our colleagues in the industry, all of us have been supported by people in order to get us to where we are today. And I have to say that in this industry, the support and friendship that I've received, and guidance is just unbelievable and overwhelming. And I don't want to say one person, but I do want to give a call to my business partner—Greg Estes. He’s been my business partner for eight years now. He has supported me in every way and allowed me to be as creative and make as many mistakes as I had to.

MR: Kenya, can you tell us about someone or people that have made a big impact on your career and your life?

KD: I would say that from the very beginning of my career, there has been a champion for me at every level. And interestingly enough, a good chunk of those champions have been men. But some of the people that have been most supportive have obviously been women, mostly because I think women understand the type of challenges that a woman in a professional environment has. Like Lekecia, I went to law school. I practiced law for a number of years. I was a litigator. And in the law firm, I was in Big Law and those firms were mostly men and very few minorities. From the first firms that I worked at, those are the people that ended up being my mentors and friends. And now, many of those attorneys from my first firm are who I've called on most in my career, mostly when I'm in trouble or when something doesn't work. Something's broken or I don't know how to get something. I can always get someone on the phone, [usually a] woman from my past. I can pick up the phone and call and say, “help.” I have found that in almost every position that I've been in, there's been one of my managers, bosses, or supervisors who has taken me under their wing. And I have been very grateful for that. I've learned from them to do the same and to make sure that the people that I work with are better off when I leave than they were when I got there.

MR: Thank you, Kenya. Lekecia, can you talk about someone in your career and your life?

LB: I would say as far as my life, my biggest impact in my life was definitely my mother, just simply because she taught me how to be a strong black woman. You know, that's no easy task. She gave me all the guidance that I needed to succeed be a good person and good human being, not just an employee.  I think that comes first and foremost. But as far as my career itself, kind of like Sarah, there are number of people that have helped me along way that I am eternally grateful for—both men and women that helped me get to where I am. One of those people is my husband. Don't tell him that I told you that. But he's kind of the reason why I got into e-discovery in the first place. And he's always been my champion.

MR: We all mentioned the importance of paying it forward. How have you paid it forward for others, and what advice would you give for those that want to pay it forward and elevate the careers of others?

KD: So it's interesting. In almost every position that I have gone to, I have questioned the staff about what it is that they need or what it is they want. What would make them better at their jobs? What would make them happier? One strand that goes across every position that I've had is that the staff wants training. And I can't tell you how many times I've walked into an organization and found that. It just happens in the federal government that they've purchased tens of millions of dollars’ worth of software but never purchased any training or never sent anyone to training. Or, they don't have a training budget or a budget for the staff to go to conferences and that sort of thing. I slowly learned over the years that in order to leave the staff better off than when I'm gone, I make sure that they're better at their jobs and they're ready for the next level. I try to make sure that every person that I work with is capable of getting a promotion quickly by getting the training for the job and being proficient in the job and being ready to perform the job at the next level. And sometimes, what that means is that people leave. One of the things managers and supervisors and executives like is once they get their staff trained up, they like to keep them. But sometimes, what's best for people is that they find jobs that are challenging where they can learn something new and have new experiences because that makes people feel productive and it makes them happy. And so I think training is something that I consistently bring to every position and to the people that I work with.

MR: Thank you, Kenya. Lekecia, can you talk a little bit about how you've paid it forward for others in the industry and advice you would give to someone who wants to help others?

LB: I have a saying, Mary. If you're winning, I'm winning. I just believe we should all be winning. So whatever I can do to help you win, I'm here for someone. I have colleagues who come to me and they want training. Like Kenya, I do work for the federal government. I also know attorneys on the e-discovery side. And what they want is training on what we do as legal technologists. So whatever I can do to help them, I will do it. If I can train someone, even if it's on my own time, please call me. We can have a session. I'll do whatever I can to help. I just really believe in elevating anyone who wants it. I don't believe in, you know, picking and choosing who should get promotions, who should get the training.  Everyone should get that opportunity who voices that they want to do that. Advice? One thing I would say too is be available. When I came out of law school and I was practicing law, I was looking for mentors. I’d come across these women and they would say they would be my mentors. But, they were too busy.

MR: It’s important to set those expectations from the get-go. You know, I have an hour a week that I can commit. So let's talk every Tuesday at 6:00 or something. Thank you. And Sarah, what about you? Can you talk a little bit about why it's important for you to pay it forward and advice you have for someone that's looking to do the same?

ST: People did it for us. We’ve all had people bring us up so, it’s kind of our turn at this point in our careers. There are two basic things that people need to be successful both professionally and financially. It's self-confidence and it's opportunity. Not everybody has the self-confidence and not everybody has the opportunity. So if we can help out in any way, we need to be able to do that. And I think there's a few ways that we can do that. And, of course, like Kenya said, training 100 percent. I used to be a trainer. I probably trained you at some point Kenya and Lekecia when you were working in the federal government. You probably met me. I used to do that professionally as a career. Whatever kind of knowledge you have, share it. You also learn as well. The second thing is mentoring, of course. And so we were mentored. And as you said, you know, oddly, most of my mentor peers were also men. And I think that's because we are in a male dominant industry. I have my computer science degree. I'm not an attorney, but I've been working in litigation, technology, creating products my entire career. And so, again, a very male dominated field. And they really lifted me up. So I try to be the same for others, especially for women. I think the biggest thing for women is to get out of their own way and to have that self-confidence. Shut that voice down in their head that's self-critical. The voice that's telling you that you can't do it or that you're not smart enough or whatever. I mean, that is really what I feel gets in the way for most people to achieve success. It’s themselves. Give yourself the love that you want to give others. And I think that's really important for people to achieve their true potential. I have two girls who are in third and fourth grade now. I go to their school where I teach product development. So, you know, it's like, well, why do you need to teach them that? Well, it's about teaching them; it’s about showing that it's achievable and doable. It's not that hard. You know, nothing's that hard. I mean, well, things are pretty hard. If people don't believe they're exceptional, they never will be. We should try to just nurture that belief and nurture the knowledge. You know, by training them with skills, that is a really good thing. And finally, it’s really about referring, recommending, and hiring.

JH: How have you innovated throughout your career? And why is it important for you to push innovation in our industry?

ST: For litigation technology and certainly from the review perspective, I've created it, I’ve hosted it, I’ve supported it, I’ve trained it. From all those different perspectives, it was really interesting to understand how people felt, reacted, and interacted with the applications. So from there, I certainly innovated in my role as a product manager and had developers and things like that. But then I decided to kind of put my hat into the ring as well and got together with a few good friends from the industry. We developed a forensic collection tool, which was the first remote forensic collection tool on the market about six or seven years ago. This is a tool that at the time was really groundbreaking. It allowed you to collect computer or cloud data from the comfort of your own home. And I'll give you one guess why we developed it. We all had kids and didn't want to travel. Really, that was what it was. But surely, you know, sometimes I feel silly because I got really passionate about it. I went to Australia a decade ago and was talking to some attorneys over there. In Australia, there's really just like a handful of law firms and they're very large. I mean, you have a bunch of small practitioners. So typically when a sole practitioner is going up against one of those large law firms, there are just buried. They cannot win. There is no real justice or fairness or anything like that. So when I saw that, I really felt like we need to democratize e-discovery. We need to make this more affordable. This forensic collection tool was part of that. It was saying, “Hey, you don't need software, you don't need to be in IT. We made a really easy tool for you to use to collect your data in a forensically sound manner from anywhere.” So, those people that were sole practitioners and performing self-collections, they got rid of all that risk of spoliation that has really been there for the past decade. My focus is that e-discovery for all. We’re all trying to make legal tasks easier and more accessible. So we're doing that, in my opinion, to have a more just and equitable society.

JH: I love that—leading with compassion. The opportunity wasn't a big financial return. It wasn't that you would get—the fame or the glamour that comes with it. It truly was leading with compassion. Coming to you next, Kenya, how have you innovated throughout your career?

KD: Interestingly enough, this field never stops changing. It's a constantly evolving industry. You have to be willing to be innovative, think ahead of the curve, think outside of the box, and be flexible. We've had to move very aggressively toward cybersecurity, because before you even get your data into this repository where you're going to do all of this review and you're going to tag it and you're going to produce it before you even get there. You've got to secure that data. And I remember someone several years ago saying e-discovery is moving towards cybersecurity. And I just said that's not going to happen because cybersecurity is a completely different field that's over there. Those people are in that room down there—but, that's really not how it works. How it works is your total environment has to be secure. Your connections have to be secure. The network, the bandwidth, all of that has got to be secured. You've got to make sure that your hardware and your software are hardened and secure. You've got to make sure that that means that you know who accesses the data; when they access to data; how long they access the data; all of that has to be secure. Cybersecurity has moved into the e-discovery space so rapidly that you have to become familiar not just with the language, but the protocols and the law. We saw a law roll out of New York and then all of a sudden it was a federal law regarding cybersecurity. There will be more laws and there will be court decisions around our industry in cybersecurity. So the innovation is you move to the left and you move to the right. You don't just get more embedded into moving down in the e-discovery area. You have to broaden your view of where your data starts out and where it ends up. With of those tools with cybersecurity, IT, legal—well, not so much the legal field—but anything that's technical is ever-evolving and changing. It happens so quickly that if you're not paying attention, you're not innovating. You’re not even keeping up. I think innovation is training. It's learning. What else is out there? It's going to conferences. A lot of times at conferences, someone on the panel mentioned something you've never heard of. It leads you back to go get the training, do more research, look up articles, and find out who's an expert in that space. Then, you reach out to that person, use that person as a consultant or an expert. Being willing to learn anything in the field, no matter what it is, even if you can't go dig all the way down to the bottom of that particular field, at least having a surface recognition of what it is so you can pull experts into that space. We hear judges say, “bring your geek.” We're going to find out that they're going to be specific geeks for every piece of the data's lifecycle and that you're going to have to become familiar with that. In my company, that's what we are trying to do—make everything cybersecurity-centric as it moves through the legal lifecycle.

JH: Talk about having a learning orientation and learning from all around you. Lekecia, taking it to you, how have you innovated throughout your career? Why is it important for you to push innovation in our industry?

LB: I think my big contribution to innovation is when my husband and I started our own e-discovery company creating automated litigation support in conjunction with Relativity. That was a huge thing for us to get into. Entrepreneurship. Just to create something that makes our jobs easier and more efficient, because I really do believe in working smarter, not harder. That's how we've innovated so far. As far as why innovation is necessary, like Kenya said, you have to stay ahead of the curve. You don’t want to get left behind, or it's going to cost more time, more money, and more resources. You have to stay ahead of what's going on in the industry and what's going on in the world altogether. Technology is ever changing, like every other week. There's some new app coming out or something new coming up where you are going to collect data. So you have to stay innovative just in order to basically do your job. It's just that simple. If we don't stay innovative in our careers or in our field, we will be left behind. Because this is the legal field, it is so very important to the fabric of this country and we can't afford to do that.

MR: In terms of legal tech and e-discovery, there's been some progress in terms of becoming a more gender equitable field. But, there's still a long ways to go. I've spoken with some different women in the industry as to why this is because some have said it's almost was better 10 years ago and they're seeing fewer women in leadership roles. So I think people have different opinions on this. But Lekecia, starting with you, how can the field promote gender equity and how can organizations retain and hire top talent?

LB: I was always say be like Nike and just do it. Part of it comes down to getting past all of our unconscious biases, because we all have them. If we could all just agree that we all have unconscious bias, then we could recognize those and figure out how to move past them. I think that would go a long way.

ST: If you want to attract top talent, it all comes down to a company's culture. I don't think that money motivates truly talented people. I think being part of something and really having the ability to affect change is really what motivates top talent. I'm not talking about the exec team. I'm talking about right from the beginning, right out of college or whatever. You see that ambition and that that desire to win, whatever it may be. And then that's a cultural thing. I think with the company, you have to really give your give your team purpose here. Make them feel like they're coming to work for something. It's not Groundhog's Day. They're moving forward and they're contributing to something. They're feeling value. They're feeling, “I did something today and I feel great about it.” That's how you really attract and retain top talent. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it's really lucrative, too, to actually build your business with a good culture so that you attract this diverse set of people. We all see the world through our own lenses. We are built from our backgrounds that impact who we are. I'm a Canadian white woman from Ottawa. Whatever. I see the world through my lens based on my experience. And Kenya sees it through hers, Lekecia sees it through hers, Johnathan, and Mary, you see it through yours. But having all those different views in the room and at the table when you're building something, you can only have a more comprehensive solution for your clients. You might as well just be the only person in the room if you're going to have the same perspective from everybody there.

KD: My mom used to say it takes all kinds to make the world go round. Have diversity of people at the table. As Sarah said, that really does provide you a more complete view of whatever the workflow is that you're trying to create, whether it's building something, creating something, or assessing something. And, women still make a lot less money than men. And money does matter. So pay women, give women the higher positions. There is a saying that women work twice as hard for half as much pay. Put women in positions of power because women will work very hard for those, for you, for the company, and for the client. Pay women because the money gives you the opportunity and the options to do things that allow you to stay in the workplace. It is very hard to take care of children and households and pets and parents and all of that without the money. So the money helps you get the job done. What I would say to executives in this field is: Pay women. Pay us what we deserve for the work that we do, the same way you pay men. And remember that in this country now, women are heads of household, even when we're married, even when we have children. Money counts. I think allowing women a seat at the table [is important] when decisions are being made. Anyone that's in a conference room where I'm leading a meeting, don't sit up against the wall. Pull up to the table, get a chair, and contribute to the conversation. Be heard because every voice counts. And women tend to say, “Well, I'll listen and see what everyone else says.” We’ll very softly put forward an idea. What happens then is a man takes your idea and runs with it or takes credit for that idea. Pulling up to the table and allowing women to get a seat at that table I think is very important. And you'll find that women get back into the workplace when there's enough money, there's an opportunity, and we think we're going to be heard. We get in and we contribute. We produce and we do very well for our companies, for our law firms, and for our clients.

MR: Thanks so much for joining Jonathan and me. It was so awesome talking to you. A huge, huge congrats to Lekecia, Sarah, and Kenya, our Stellar Women finalists for 2020. Listeners, be sure to tune into the Innovation Awards at Relativity Fest this year. You can learn about our finalists and see all our winners for our people-centric awards on Wednesday, September 23 at 9:00 a.m. CT. And, with that, for Stellar Women, I’m Mary Rechtoris, signing off.

Mary Rechtoris is a senior producer on the brand team at Relativity, where she's always collaborating and looking for new ways to develop and socialize stories.