Spotlight on Malin Männikkö: Legal tech enthusiast with passion for building communities

Zefort’s Spotlight series introduces inspirational individuals and innovators from the legal profession. This time we’ll get to know Malin Männikkö, a Legal Innovator who builds communities and advocates technology that helps teams and individuals.

Imagine a young law student moving to a foreign country and a new city with essentially no contacts and professional networks. How on earth could that individual set up a new community, start a blooming career in legal technology and become an awarded legal innovator in just a few years?

Well, that’s Malin Männikkö’s story.

First, let’s rewind back to the year 2009. Malin Männikkö, a sixth-grader living in Kirkkonummi, Finland, was convinced that one day she would study to become a lawyer. This vision persisted in her head and guided her course selections throughout her upper secondary school years.

Then one day, she applied to the University of Helsinki Law School – and didn’t get accepted.

Far from disheartened, Malin went for her Plan B, which meant packing up her bags and moving over to Stockholm, Sweden, to study law at Stockholm University. So, she finally got to take her first steps toward her dream profession in 2017.

Studying law and living in Stockholm felt good on all accounts, but Malin soon realized that something was missing. What was her own, personal angle on law? How should she steer her career path going forward?

Enter legal technology.

Starting a legal tech community in Stockholm

Back in 2018, a “new” technology called blockchain was all the rage. It also caught Malin’s attention and the law student started to read up on it. What possibilities and problems would this technology introduce? What could blockchain mean specifically from a legal perspective?

While googling for information, she came across a concept called legal technology – an intersection between law and technical solutions designed to help legal professionals do their work better. What’s more, there was an international community called Legal Hackers – a movement of like-minded people exploring how technology and law could work together.

“I found my passion for legal technology.”

Since there was no Stockholm chapter for Legal Hackers, Malin decided to contact Jameson Dempsey, one of the board members of the movement.

“By chance, a member of one of the Spanish chapters of Legal Hackers was in Stockholm, and we met up for a fascinating evening filled with discussion on technology and law. Right then and there, I immediately knew that I had found my spark for legal technology – and a community to share that passion with.”

Malin Männikkö

Malin Männikkö with Calin Capitanu, Project Lead @ Stockholm Innovation Bootcamp

Before long, that spark led to founding the Stockholm chapter of Legal Hackers and a series of events such as Stockholm Innovation Bootcamp, where students from various fields got to solve problems and innovate in the legal field.

“I was lucky to find the right people early on to start growing the community.”

Organizing events and building communities came quite naturally for Malin as she had a long-term history of volunteering and leading as a member of the scouts.

“Early on, the number of legal tech enthusiasts was fairly small. Luckily I found just the right people early on – for example, the wonderful people at the law firm Synch shared my vision for engaging and nurturing a growing community.”

When it comes to organizing events, Malin confesses to having an ulterior motive.

“Originally, I came up with meetup themes and invited people based on what I personally wanted to learn and know more about. Maybe I had a good sense for interesting topics since others joined the events, too!”

Joining DLA Piper in Sweden and making a career out of legal tech

Malin found her current employee, global law firm DLA Piper, in a way that feels quite natural for her – by attending an event and talking with people about her passion, legal technology. A conversation with DLA Piper in Sweden’s HR director soon led to another talk with the company’s partners.

“DLA Piper in Sweden needed someone to drive their digitalization project forward. It sounded like an interesting, hands-on opportunity, so I decided to take up the challenge.”

Malin worked for a couple of years as a Legal Technologist and after graduation, she became a Legal Tech Associate at DLA Piper in Sweden.

“At first, my work was mapping out where we were in terms of tools and competence in Sweden. The first specific development area was sourcing a template management solution and getting that set up for the company.”

“Today, I do legal tech and tech law as a full-time job.”

Little by little, Malin’s responsibilities grew and she worked on various technology projects. Today, the function is led by a Head of Legal Tech and Knowledge Management and the team has grown to 4 members.

“Right now, I have a hybrid role: half of my time I do legal tech development while the other half is dedicated to client work. That work includes consulting our clients in various legal tech matters, like helping them select the right solutions. I work almost exclusively with tech-related topics.”

Malin Männikkö

Malin Männikkö with Eero Kemppinen, Tech Lead @ Legal Design Summit

What’s going on in legal tech today and tomorrow

According to Malin, the biggest buzz in legal tech right now is – not surprisingly – artificial intelligence and how AI can help legal work. Companies are looking into various tools and trying to figure out how to stay ahead of the game.

However, this is also the time when previous investments in things like knowledge management really pay off.

“Companies that have done good groundwork can reap the most benefits of AI.”

“If you have done your due diligence on knowledge management, you are in a great position to try out various AI solutions and discover what works for you. If you haven’t done that foundational work, introducing new AI tools won’t really get you that far. Also, if you want AI to improve your processes, you first need to understand what those processes actually are.”

Malin is a big fan of experimentation where you try something out, get immediate feedback, re-think your experiment and try again. You should not introduce new tools just based on hype value, instead you should figure out what provides the best value with reasonable investment.

“Individual lawyers need solutions that meet their personal needs.”

While there is a need for company-wide technology solutions, Malin thinks that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for helping individual teams’ or lawyers’ work.

“Someone might need smart clause libraries for making contracts, others might benefit more from having personal assistance in summarization of large volumes of information. We are individuals and the tools we use should add value on a personal level.”

Also, technology keeps evolving – fast. What was cutting edge just a few years ago, has now become baseline. At the same time, legal professionals should be open to that change and take a positive attitude toward technology.

“I really hope lawyers take an open, curious mindset. Investing some time now to understand how AI works, for example, pays off down the line. In the future, we’re going to have to constantly update our skills and take a critical look at how we work – and whether technology can help us do better.”

Awarded Legal Innovator who cares about the future generations

As recognition to her grass-roots work on communities and pushing the legal design movement in the Nordics, Malin Männikkö was awarded the Legal Innovator Prize at the 2023 Nordic Legal Tech Day in Stockholm.

Legal innovator

Nordic Legal Tech Day 2023 in Stockholm

“I was amazed to hear my name being announced as the winner. It’s an honor that I owe to everyone I’ve had the privilege to work with over the years.”

According to Malin, today’s law students are in a great position to benefit from the community and the new career opportunities open to them.

“Students have the power to get involved and shape their careers.”

“If you don’t identify as the stereotypical corporate lawyer, join the community and the events and see if legal design or legal tech is your thing. Learn design thinking principles, meet people with different backgrounds and learn how legal, business, technology and all other disciplines may benefit from each other.”

Based on her experience on giving lectures on legal tech, Malin feels that students should get more information about technology earlier on. After all, these kinds of skills are something that future employers are looking for.

“Get to know tech by making AI your personal assistant, for example! It’s a tireless helper that can stay by your side, relieving stress, giving ideas and helping you to solve a problem, for instance.”

Top resources for legal professionals

Here are Malin’s top tips for everyone who wants to learn more about technology or get involved with the community:

  1. Get involved with Legal Hackers – find out if there’s a local chapter in your city or get one started yourself!
  2. Check out the Helsinki Legal Design Summit and maybe volunteer as an organizer!
  3. Take the LEGIT Prompting Strategies or the Elements of AI course to get a good understanding of what makes AI tick.
  4. Browse the Legal Technology Hub for great global resources ranging from Knowledge Management to Legal Tech and Legal Design.

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