PUBLISHED:March 15, 2021

Kelli Raker profiled as one of year's Women of Legal Tech

Kelli Raker, coordinator of the Entrepreneurial Law Program and managing director of the Duke Law Tech Lab, was named to the seventh annual “Women of Legal Tech” list by the Legal Technology Resource Center, part of the American Bar Association’s Law Practice Division.

“Kelli is not only the nerve center of the Duke Center on Law & Tech but also the hub of many spokes in the legal technology ecosystem,” said Jeff Ward, associate dean for technology and innovation and director of the Duke Center on Law & Technology.

“For those who know her, this should be no surprise. People seek her guidance because she’s kind, preternaturally supportive, and always thoughtful. She keeps the human in legal tech and inspires all of us to keep working toward a law that works better for all people. I learn so much from her.”

LTRC’s Women of Legal Tech initiative, now in its seventh year, identifies innovators and leaders, encourages diversity, and celebrates women in legal technology. Raker and 11 other honorees were chosen from nearly 200 nominations. They were recognized at the 2021 Women of Legal Tech Summit, held virtually March 3-4.

Kirsten Bleiweiss ’22, research assistant with the Center on Law & Technology, called Raker “one of the most consistently helpful, resourceful, and personable individuals I have had the pleasure of getting to know at Duke Law. Whether I need to know who to connect with about a technology-related legal practice or how to get the most out of an event, Kelli always has the answer. Kelli also advocates for and puts into practice inclusion and diversity. This sort of everyday commitment to improving institutions and encouraging others to do the same has been an important influence in my legal education.”

“Kelli is proof that when women support each other, incredible things happen,” said Simone Spence, founder and CEO of Athena. “I am not sure that I can think of another woman who has built alongside so many other women, supporting them and raising them up.

Raker discussed her work and current projects in an interview with the Legal Technology Resource Center:

What are three points that describe you?

I believe that we can solve hard problems facing our society when we invest in people and give everyone opportunities and support to experiment, fail, learn, and grow.

I’m not a lawyer or a technologist! I am an educator and facilitator, and I strive to be a community organizer. I also bring my experiences working in and volunteering with nonprofits and my passion for equity to my work in legal tech.

I try to integrate hard work, connection with others, and laughter on a daily basis.

How is telework/quarantine going for you?

I’m grateful for the safety of working from home while still being able to help others. The Duke Law Tech Lab has been mostly virtual in the past (other than Demo Day), so that part of my work doesn’t feel too different. In fact, remote work is easier now that more lawyers have gotten comfortable with virtual meetings.

While I miss seeing my law school colleagues and Duke Law students, we’ve found some creative ways to connect. For example, I host an informal weekly coffee hour for staff on Zoom and I joined a staff development committee to plan virtual social and professional development events. I enjoy trying out new tools, so it has been fun to increase my tech skills, help others become more tech-savvy, and collaborate virtually in new ways.

How did you become involved in legal tech?

I was hired at Duke Law in spring 2018 to help run the Duke Law Tech Lab. While I wasn’t new to cohort-based leadership programs, I was new to legal tech. I quickly learned from my supervisor, Jeff Ward, and many others what “legal tech” and legal innovation meant. Since it is such a niche field, I was able to frequently practice my elevator pitch about legal tech and our accelerator. My background is in education, and I often bring an outsider’s perspective on the legal profession and the challenges facing legal tech startups. Now that I’ve worked with three cohorts of legal tech startups, I’m thrilled to be able to share the knowledge I’ve gained.

What projects have you been focused on recently?

This past cohort, we intentionally focused the Duke Law Tech Lab resources exclusively on companies with a mission to increase access to legal services. I always have more to learn about the challenges facing legal tech entrepreneurs, especially those in justice tech, and the ecosystem keeps evolving. I’ve been exploring new ways to listen to current legal tech entrepreneurs about their experiences and potential entrepreneurs—people who have an idea for a legal tech company but have not yet built a prototype or started a company.

Another project I’ve been focused on is incorporating human-centered design (HCD) into several initiatives and projects at Duke Law and the University, which has been a fun and wonderful experience. I work with a great team of faculty and staff who have attended different trainings and are bringing HCD into coursework and programs. I find it particularly rewarding to help law students and lawyers understand problems in new ways and get creative in finding solutions.

Is there a legal tech resource of any kind that really helped you when you were starting out in the field?

I found LawGeex’s In-House Counsel Legal Tech Buyer’s Guide helpful when I was new to legal tech; the charts that describe the different types of tech helped me get a sense of the ecosystem. When it comes to justice tech (or A2J legal tech) I have appreciated the wisdom shared on The Self-Represented Litigation Network (SRLN) listserv about what is happening on the ground across the country.

What do you see as the most important emerging tech, legal or not, right now?

Natural Language Processing is one of the most important emerging technologies and also one of the most challenging because of the way language is regional and fluid. I’m curious to see how it evolves, and I am hopeful about its potential to increase accessibility. I also think that we have a lot of work to do when it comes to the privacy questions raised by this technology, and we need to wrestle with them as a society and set standards to protect consumers and their data.

What advice would you give to other women who want to get involved in legal tech?

We need your ideas! We’re not going to solve the challenges in access to justice without your perspective and creativity. There is an impressive set of women who have founded companies and traveled this path. Get connected to them, whether on Twitter, at conferences, through a mutual colleague, etc. Learn from them and be willing to take calculated risks to make your ideas happen.

Give a shout-out to another woman in legal tech whom you admire or have learned something from!

I admire Felicity Conrad and Kristen Sonday for their leadership in running Paladin as a Public Benefit Corporation. I regularly look to them for their advocacy in access to justice, especially Felicity’s focus on funding for justice tech and Kristen’s focus on diversity and equity in legal tech. Felicity serves on the Duke Law Tech Lab Advisory Board; she has been immensely helpful to the program, to me, and to our founders. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention all the women who have been part of the Duke Law Tech Lab, since I continually learn so much from them: Erin Levine, Elizabeth McMillen, Elizabeth Stone, Sonja Ebron, Camila Lopez, Devshi Mehrotra, Simone Spence, and more!