Part 1: The puzzles that made KassaiLaw—my personal story
More and more people reach us at KassaiLaw and express their appreciation of its freshness, unconventionality and uniqueness. Usually they finish the sentence with “it must have been hard to achieve that as a woman”. In all honesty I was slightly surprised at the outset when I heard such feedback, even though the above conversation did actually happen to me once.
The reason for our company being as it is, is that for me, personally, there is no other reasonable way. This is how I see the future of work, this is how I see the future of lawyers, and if no one else will, then I just have to create that environment for myself.
Anyhow, these voices made me think and evaluate the experiences and impressions I have gathered across the years. What made me end up working in tech and entrepreneurship, to become a leader in a business field where women are so underrepresented, and to create KassaiLaw which is so pioneering in this traditional industry? As I see it now, the answer to these questions is again that for me, personally, there never was any other way possible.
When I tried to recall the very beginnings, the first thought that popped into my head was that I must have missed the memo on the playground gate about gender stereotypes because I loved playing both the ‘girly’ toys like dolls, or dressing up like a princess just as much as I did the ‘boyish’ toys like building blocks, Lego, or the early versions of computer games. I also always enjoyed watching my dad repairing dysfunctional machines or software that just did-not-want-to-work. Thinking of which, my parents must have missed that notice, too. These memories made me think about how much these so-called gender roles really matter. Most of the stories of women in tech that I’ve read, do start with them saying they were very much ‘like a boy’ in their early years. This suggests that those who do like the stereotypical girly things are maybe less likely to choose a career in tech later on, or just simply put, are less likely to ‘make it’. In my opinion, this kind of thinking only reinforces stereotypes and definitely does not help the cause of women. My childhood tells a different story: that a ‘girly’ approach determines the way less than one would think. We women can enjoy cooking a delicious dinner, putting on a nice skirt, AND building a company or becoming the family’s official resident repair-person for dysfunctional technology gadgets.
However, tech was not actually my first choice of career, despite having had a very tech-savvy father, I grew up always surrounded by all the latest tech gimmicks. I grew to love, admire and always try to understand all the new, modern technology (Oh my! How a voiceover in dulcet tones presenting the latest robot or transparent television on a huge stage at a tech conference sends shivers down my spine!). Yet, despite the strong interest, I wanted to become an attorney. Yes, another male-dominated field—despite the gender ratio of law students tend to be in favour of females, most lawyers and attorneys working on prestigious projects and cases or being at the top of the legal hierarchy are usually men (The percentage of female trainees in US firms averaged ao 56.6%, and female associates came in at 50.4% – but at partner level females made up a mere 21.8%. These are industry-wide problems: although women account for more than 50% of law school graduates, they made up only 20% of law firm equity partners in 2018). But I obviously wasn’t thinking about that at the time. I had been keen on becoming a lawyer ever since I was only 8 years old and, as it turns out, such single-mindedness and willpower were traits that became essential later on. When I got into law school, as usual, I had a strong idea of what I expected from it, but the harsh reality was definitely far from the picture I had imagined for lawyers.
For me, the legal profession, in the civil area at least, is supposed to be people-centred, serving them: solving their issues and assisting them in attaining their goals and visions. For some reason however, it transformed into this rigid, unfriendly, schematic environment—also reflected in the education leading towards it—where it’s socially acceptable to take a high-handed attitude and speak in a mannered or arrogant way, or where competence is measured based on who can create the longest, most complicated documents and twist words in ways that eventually no one can actually understand (Jeez! What’s that about?!).
The KassaiLaw approach of being ‘personal and professional’ aims to fill this gap regarding the lawyer experience for clients. The regular event of a client sharing a happy remark about never having had such a personal and easy-going experience with a lawyer before us, couldn’t be a nicer validation. Looking back now, the fact that I wasn’t aware of what being a lawyer actually means in practice, turned out to be fairly beneficial. Had I known that, had I been socialized into the traditional mentality of the legal field, I most likely wouldn’t have been able to follow the same, seemingly groundbreaking path that for me is actually nothing but entirely natural.
Our digital by default company culture stems from my first—and personally only—corporate experiences. After finishing law school, I started my three years as a trainee lawyer—which everyone who wants to become an attorney has to go through in Hungary, before taking the Bar exam—in an international law firm. I just call them legal corporations, since all the major deficiencies of the huge corporates are also clearly visible in these organizations. Soon enough, I was forced to realize that I could never identify and get on board with this kind of environment.
Just to name a few issues I take with it: I have never understood why I have to sit there every morning at 9 am when I am a night owl and I cannot achieve that much in the morning (no more 9 am call bookings please. Please!) but can work wonders at midnight (a call at 10 pm is obviously no problem 😉 ). I have never understood why I need to sit in the office when I am not able to focus and concentrate while having to listen to my colleagues through the cardboard walls, but I am super efficient working from home in silence. We work on projects with our brains and laptops not with our personal presence, so what is the whole point of that? Instead, I have always believed in an individualized and hybrid future for work, and not in squeezing every single person into one standard box, created before the age of the internet (who initiated that, honestly, I wanna meet him and discuss this). The remote working culture, with one office day a week and flexible, individual, also part-time working hours at KassaiLaw are obvious answers to these mysteries (thank you Covid for coming and making my life easier by showing the world that there is indeed life beyond the office walls—it is so refreshing not to have to explain this concept every day). Not to mention that being able to do the laundry, receive the furniture delivery whenever they manage to arrive or work from the summer house whenever you feel like it serve for a better work-life balance and also the needs of genZ for increased independence (yes, let’s just face it, they have entered the labor market and have some very good points, we’d better listen).
Looking back now to my trainee years, my most hurtful question mark on the structure and core existence of these big organizations must have been that I have never understood the outdated hierarchy based on ‘paper’ and age instead of actual competences.
My entrepreneurial skill set, including critical thinking, does not come in handy in those places. No one cared about my skills or knew where to place me to eventually achieve more results for the company. I am fairly convinced there were not even good management skills back then to even realize this layer of successful team building, employee motivation and work allocation. Instead they were trying to force me into a—for me—prison, for which I am not suited. Since I am not the type of person who breaks under conventional expectations, I realized very soon that there was no way I could fit into the traditional society of lawyers. When I founded KassaiLaw in 2012, I created a competence-based holacratic organisation built on trust, where the emphasis is on the quality of work, on meeting deadlines and on responsible adults being able to structure their own work, instead of on appearances, control or externally limiting circumstances.
My aim is never to break my colleagues into old-fashioned pictures of employees from the last century, rather to listen to the voices of the future.
I also put extra emphasis on their personal development with tasks systematically broadening their skills and professional horizon. In all honesty, there is nothing more rewarding and heart warming for me than to listen to them at the Christmas dinner and realize how far they have actually got within a year. Even if I was not fortunate enough to have guidance from my workplace like this, I do my best for my colleagues to at least compensate them for my lost years.
Not long after the second wave of—this time work-related—disappointment hit me, sometime around 2010, I had my big epiphany. I saw a movie at an event organized by an accelerator in Budapest which took the viewer on a journey throughout a startupper’s life. I was captivated and inspired by the dynamics, creativity, flexibility and challenging nature of being an entrepreneur. I knew right there that there was no turning back: starting my own firm with the unique mindset of the entrepreneurial lawyer is the only way for me, serving and advising entrepreneurs to help them make their visions come true. In other words, I realized that my actual path is to build my own dream so that I can help others realize theirs.
Working at the junction between law and technology creates a whole new level of diversity issues. Stay tuned for the second part of my post where I will share my personal experiences about that. What do you think? Where is it harder to ‘make it’ as a woman, in law or tech?