Nicole Clark is known as a business litigation, labor, and employment attorney who has handled cases in both state and federal courts. While watching lawyers struggle to find information on judges and past cases, Clark came up with a solution. A first-of-its-kind legal database app that makes superior court records searchable.
It’s no secret that many industries fail to utilize technology in a productive way, and the legal field is one of them. Clark found that many lawyers basically had to send a variety of internal emails to gather information on the judges seeing their cases or similar past rulings. Finding it incredible that in this age of tech there’s no sufficient and data-driven way for lawyers to do research, Clark founded Trellis: Legal Intelligence.
Grit Daily got a chance to sit down with Clark and talk about the recent $2 million in seed funding, the science behind the project, and the immediate success of the app.
Grit Daily: Why did you become a lawyer?
Nicole Clark: I didn’t set out always knowing I would be an attorney. I wasn’t one of those students that imagined themselves practicing from a young age. Instead, when I graduated undergrad I realized I was very quickly maxed out in potential earning power as a journalist. I went to law school because I knew I needed further education to have better-earning potential and I needed a more challenging career that was mentally stimulating. I did a cost-benefit analysis as to whether grad school or law school would ultimately be a better choice and landed on law school. Within 30 days I decided to take the LSAT and was applying to law schools. Of course, I ended up graduating from law school in 2011 which was the epicenter of the effects of the financial crisis on the legal industry, a time when it was near impossible to find traditional associate positions. It turns out I ended up really enjoying law school and ultimately made the right career choice. But in many ways, I stumbled upon the law.
GD: How has your practice helped illuminate the need for tech like Trellis?
NC: Practicing made the need for Trellis epically apparent in my day to day practice. At every firm I was at, I would watch attorneys send around an email at the start of every case asking for any intel on their judge and collecting anecdotes internally at their firm. They would then make strategic decisions based on those anecdotes. It blew my mind, here we are in an industry with such great resources and so much data and we’re collecting information via email. Being able to make strategic decisions based on hard data from the courts you are actually appearing in, is a total game changer for attorneys. You can make decisions from what motions are going to be most effective in understanding what case law your judge finds most persuasive. I used Trellis in practice for two years while we were growing our data set and Trellis was my secret weapon to impress partners and clients.
GD: How can AI and machine learning help make the practice of law easier?
NC: Law is the best use case for AI. Here you have an industry with giant volumes of data that a human could never parse and gain insights from on a broad level, but with machine learning and natural language processing this data comes alive and becomes actionable.
GD: How can it assist specifically within your practice areas?
NC: Trellis helps throughout the life span of a legal matter. The second you get assigned a case, instead of sending around an office email asking about you judge, attorneys are now printing their judicial strategy reports and seeing how their judge rules on important motions and issues. This can help guide whether you should request assignment to a different judge within the limited time frame you have to make that decision. Additionally, you should Trellis search your judges’ rulings to see how they and other judges have dealt with case dispositive issues in the past. This way you are prepared to proactively litigate rather than scrambling and taking shots in the dark.
GD: What makes Trellis effective?
NC: Data-driven law isn’t just a fad, its a shift in the industry that clients are beginning to demand. Anecdotes are no longer acceptable, if data is available, affordable, and accessible, and your opposing counsel has access, you need to have access as well. Not accessing data that helps you understand how to best advocate for your client may mean that you are falling below the standard of care.
GD: How does it compare to LexisNexis and products like Lex Machina that also provide legal analytics?
NC: Lexis and Lex Machina only provide federal data, not state court information. There is a 30 to 1 ratio of cases filed in state court to federal court. For every one case in federal court, 30 are filed in state court, and yet traditional legal research products have entirely ignored the court system where the majority of litigators practice. Unlike Lexis and Lex Machina, Trellis provides state court data and judicial analytics based on records that aren’t available on other platforms.