Diversity Spotlight Series: Kristen Sonday, Co-Founder and COO of Paladin
One of the core values of the American Bar Association is the commitment to diversity that the legal technology department seeks to strengthen. From tech founders and CEOs to small business owners, various lawyers in every field have made a huge impact on law and technology. In keeping with the spirit of progress, the Legal Technology Resource Center (LTRC) is proud to present its Diversity Spotlight Series. Our goal is to celebrate, promote and encourage BIPOC, LGBTQ and people with disabilities in the field of legal tech.
Kristen Sonday, Co-Founder and COO of Paladin
How would you describe your job and what do you love most about it?
As a co-founder of a startup, I see my job as constantly evaluating how our technology can be most effective within the pro bono ecosystem (and access to the justice system in a broader sense) and then leading initiatives to achieve these goals . I think it’s great that we deal with such complex problems and appreciate how quickly we constantly adapt and scale our impact.
What attracted you and how did you get into your current role?
My background is in the US Department of Justice doing international crime work in Mexico and Central America and then serving as a founding member of a tech startup supported by YCombinator. Working with underrepresented communities at the DOJ, I knew I wanted to do something to improve access to justice, and the tech world taught me that with the right team, I could build and implement an effective tech solution on a large scale can. That was really exciting for me.
How has mentoring contributed to your personal and professional growth?
As a first generation college Latina (my dad hasn’t even graduated from high school) mentoring was everything. From the success of women who looked like me to helping other mentors, vouching for myself, or introducing myself, I wouldn’t be here if they didn’t stand up for them.
What has been the most valuable advice to you and the least useful?
The best advice I’ve received is to find your competitive advantage – what makes you unique – and double it. My Latinidad allows me to relate to our pro bono clients in ways that others in the field cannot, and my professional background also enables me to relate well with our clients. That combination is powerful to me and something that sets Paladin apart. Least useful advice? I try to ignore this!
Is there anything you do in your personal life and in your community (outside of the office and work) that you believe will in some way contribute to your professional success?
I am actively involved in matters that are important to me. Mainly in connection with ATJ and the support of various founders. For example, I am co-chair of the Emerging Leaders Council of Legal Services Corporation, which has adjusted me immensely better to the work of legal services organizations and the challenges I will then be able to face at Paladin. I am also mentoring the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Incubator Program, which served as the EIR for Code2040, and mentoring the Princeton Entrepreneurship Council, which provides great insight into how others feel about their own startups. All of this gives me new ways to think about how and what we are building at Paladin.
How do you think employers, organizations and communities can increase diversity and support diverse professionals, especially in the legal technology world?
In all honesty, we know what to do, now we just have to do it. For the people behind the scenes: hire, invest in, promote, pay, buy in, raise awareness of various professionals, and listen to them to get started.