As readers of Big Law Business know, women remain underrepresented in the partnership ranks of Big Law, and many women lawyers pursue alternative career tracks within the legal industry because they feel frustrated by a lack of growth opportunities or equal pay. But that’s not always the case.
At this year’s Legalweek conference in New York City, I had the opportunity to speak with Haley Altman, a 36-year-old mother of two children who recently left an equity partnership at Ice Miller to start her own legal tech company. Her story struck me as something of a rarity. Altman said didn’t leave because she was unhappy. In fact, she loved being a lawyer.
Below is an outline of her career path, which notes some of the factors that contributed to her journey, including support from her former law firm, which helped land her a $2.2 million seed financing round to start her company.
- Altman joined Ice Miller in Indianapolis after finishing law school at Indiana University in 2006. She briefly moved out west to Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati’s Palo Alto office, but returned to Indiana after a few years servicing the tech industry.
- She was an associate when she came up with the idea for Doxly, a transaction management software that claims to streamline the diligence and closing processes for time-strapped attorneys. The idea came late one night when she and another associate scrambled to find a missing signature page that threatened to hold up a multi-million-dollar closing.
- Altman says she kept her eyes on partnership even when she took time off after the birth of her two children in 2011 and 2014. She told me this was only possible because she had the support of her husband, who works as an attorney in the public sector. “His schedule is really an 8:30 to 4:30 job,” she said. “He has a little bit more of the flexibility and that gives me the opportunity to build a career.”
- When Altman and another female colleague made partner at the end of 2014, it was the first time in seven years a woman had been made partner in Ice Miller’s business group. Just a year later, Altman was elected to the firm’s equity partnership.
- Even though Doxly would eventually become the reason she left Ice Miller in 2016, Altman said members of the firm’s leadership were supportive as she developed her plans for the start-up company, even introducing her to software development vendors along the way.
- The firm also connected her to High Alpha, a start-up incubator founded by ExactTarget CEO Scott Dorsey. In September, Doxly announced a $2.25M seed financing round with investments from Nextlaw Labs, Hyde Park Venture Partners, and High Alpha Capital. Ice Miller was one of her first customers, along with Dentons.
- Altman said she hasn’t ever felt like an outsider in the tech industry because she’s a woman. Rather, she said she’s sometimes had to play catch-up because she’s a lawyer. But all of that is made a bit easier by the fact that the Indianapolis tech scene is far less cutthroat than Silicon Valley. “In the Midwest, companies help each other,” Altman told me. “I can call on a number of CEOs or COOs at other companies and get their advice.”
- So will she ever go back to practicing law? It’s too early to tell, although she does miss her clients. In the meantime, she says Doxly is right where she wants to be: “I love being a lawyer, and so I love doing something that makes the practice of law better.”