Women attorneys in tech: Maura Grossman talks about her work

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The following article, titled “Women Attorneys in Tech: Four Industry Leaders Talk About Their Work,” originally appeared in the January/February 2019 issue of New York State Bar Association Journal. Grossman, a Research Professor in the Cheriton School of Computer Science, was recently appointed as Director of Women in Computer Science.  

The article, by Mark A. Berman, Editor, New York State Bar Association Journal, showcases four exceptional women attorneys in tech — Shoshanah Bewlay, Gail Gottehrer, Sandra Rampersaud and Maura Grossman.

Reprinted with permission from: New York State Bar Association Journal, January/February 2019, Vol. 91, No. 1, published by the New York State Bar Association, One Elk Street, Albany, NY 12207.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I wear a number of different hats in the technology space. As a professor at the University of Waterloo and at Osgoode Hall Law School, both in Ontario, I bring together graduate computer science and upper-class law students to study Artificial Intelligence: Law, Ethics, and Policy. It is the only course in the legal tech space that I am aware of that is both cross-institution and cross-discipline. In my New York law and consulting practice, I serve as a special master overseeing electronic discovery issues in several high-profile federal court cases. I also serve as an eDiscovery expert and provide technology-assisted review (TAR) services for matters both in the U.S. and Canada.

photo of Maura Grossman

Maura R. Grossman, Cheriton School of Computer Science Research Professor and Director of Women in Computer Science

How did you first get involved in the digital space and how has it changed over time?

I first became involved in technology in late 2006, when the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were first amended to incorporate the concept of electronically stored information or ESI. I was then counsel at the New York law firm, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, and my mentor there, Meyer G. Koplow, astutely foresaw that eDiscovery was going to become a significant and increasingly important part of litigation and encouraged me to pursue this as an area of specialization. Since then, my practice has focused almost exclusively on electronic discovery and legal technology.

Do you need a computer science degree or to have taken courses in computer science to become involved in the digital space?

I do not believe that someone needs a computer science degree, or to have taken computer science courses, to become involved in or successful in the technology space. One does, however, need to have at least a basic understanding of data, analytics, statistics, and machine learning. I did not take my first computer programming course until this past year, but having knowledge of what is involved in programming, how technologists think and how to communicate with them, and understanding how to properly evaluate the output of machine learning systems and other technologies is essential. Most of these can be learned through some combination of reading, attending CLE programs, and experience. That said, if one has the opportunity and the chops to study and excel both in law and computer science, one should go for it, because that combination of skills is rare and would be highly sought after in this day and age.

What advice would you give junior women lawyers who want to pursue a legal career in technology?

I would advise them not to be afraid to specialize. Becoming a “go-to” person in a particular area can make the difference in your career. Read everything available in your area of interest, look for opportunities to speak and write, and seek out mentors in your field. Often, thought leaders are more than happy to correspond, meet for coffee, and make suggestions or introductions. Be persistent and reliable, and don’t be discouraged by naysayers or negativity. Tune out the noise and follow your passions rather than the bandwagon.

What obstacles have you encountered in getting to this point in your career?

The obstacles I have faced are probably no different than those faced by many successful, driven women working in male-dominated professions. They can include a variety of negative reactions for being outspoken and choosing to defy roles and stereotypes typically assigned to the female gender. 

It has been noted by some that women often have to be at least twice as good as their male counterparts to succeed because they are held to a higher standard. It is not uncommon for a woman to express an idea at a meeting only to have it ignored and later attributed to a male colleague as “brilliant.” Despite these kinds of obstacles, there are plenty of men and women who are more than willing to help and to promote women on the merits, and those are the individuals to seek out as you maneuver around the others.

Have you found organizations like bar associations and industry trade groups useful in your career development and what about mentors?

I have found industry and bar organizations to be invaluable throughout my career. When I first started learning about eDiscovery and technology, I joined the Sedona Conference, the preeminent think tank in the area of electronic discovery. I was able to learn from and network with the top thought leaders in the field. Through bar associations, both at the state and city level, I met people who were helpful in securing me speaking invitations, and who wanted to collaborate on writing and other projects. These contacts and opportunities undoubtedly contributed to establishing me as an expert in my field.

Are there any issues you have encountered teaching law students of this generation that are different from when you were a law student?

It remains a challenge to convince most law students that they need a technical education. Many remain focused on securing employment at prestigious Wall Street firms and do not understand how critical technical fluency is and will continue to be moving forward in whatever size firm a young lawyer joins. Social media — which did not exist when I went to law school — has led students to have far shorter attention spans, sometimes resulting in struggles with communicating thoughts clearly, which is critical to excelling as a lawyer regardless of whether one practices in the technology space.

About Mark A. Berman 

Mark A. Berman chairs NYSBA’s Technology and the Legal Profession Committee and is a member of NYSBA’s Executive Committee. He is a partner in the commercial litigation department of Ganfer Shore Leeds & Zauderer, LLP, representing clients in state and federal courts as well as in arbitral forums and in mediations. He is also the Past Chair of the State Bar’s Commercial and Federal Litigation Section and the current co-chair of its Commercial Division Committee. Mark writes the column on New York State E-Discovery issues for The New York Law Journal and is a member of the New York State Chief Judge’s E-Discovery Working Group.

He can be reached at mberman@ganfershore.com and at http://ganfershore.com/attorneys/mark-a-berman/.

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