Diversity Spotlight Series: Kristen Sonday, Co-Founder and COO of Paladin
One of the American Bar Association’s core values is a commitment to diversity, which the Law Practice Division aims to reinforce in the legal tech sector. From tech founders and CEOs to small business owners, diverse legal professionals are making a big impact on law and technology in every field. 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 those with disabilities in the legal tech space.
How would you describe your job and what do you love most about it?
As a startup co-founder, I see my job as constantly evaluating how our technology can be most impactful within the pro bono ecosystem (and access to justice system more broadly), and then leading initiatives to execute on those goals. I love that we’re addressing such complex problems and appreciate how quickly we’re always moving to adapt and scale our impact.
What drew you to and how did you arrive at your current role?
My background is with the U.S. Justice Department doing international criminal work in Mexico and Central America, and then serving as a founding team member of a YCombinator-backed tech startup. Through my work with underrepresented communities at DOJ, I knew I wanted to do something related to increasing access to justice, and the tech world taught me that with the right team, I could build and implement an impactful tech solution at scale. That was really exciting to me.
How has mentorship played a part in your personal and professional growth?
As a first gen college Latina (my dad didn’t even finish high school), mentorship has meant everything. From seeing women succeed who looked like me to having other mentors support, vouch for me, or make an introduction, I would not be here were it not for their advocacy.
What has been the most valuable piece of advice given to you, and the least useful?
The best advice I’ve received is to find your competitive advantage–what makes you unique–and double down on it. My Latinidad allows me to relate to our pro bono clients in a way that others in the field can’t, and my professional background also allows me to relate well to our clients. That combination is powerful to me and something that sets Paladin apart. Least useful advice? I try to ignore those!
Is there something that you do in your personal life and community (outside of the office and work) that you think contributes in some way to your professional success?
I actively volunteer for causes that I care about; mostly related to ATJ and supporting diverse founders. For example, I Co-Chair the Legal Services Corporation’s Emerging Leaders Council, which has made me immensely more attune to what legal services organizations are working on and the challenges they face, which I can then incorporate at Paladin. I also mentor for the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s incubator program, served as an EIR for Code2040, and mentor for the Princeton Entrepreneurship Council, which provides great insights into how others’ are thinking about their own startups. All of that in turn gives me new ways to think about how and what we’re building at Paladin.
How do you think employers, organizations, and communities can increase diversity and support diverse professionals, specifically in the legal tech world?
Honestly, we know what we need to do, now we just need to go do it. For the people in the back: hire, invest in, promote, pay, buy from, raise awareness of, and listen to diverse professionals to start.