Meet Nicole Clark, an attorney, CEO, entrepreneur, and the woman powerhouse behind Trellis, a law research company based in LA that aims to help inform lawyers using data about past cases.
Trellis recently raised $2 million in funding to predict class-action lawsuit payouts. The platform uses advanced AI and machine-learning technology to assist lawyers with information such as the judge’s history, which Clark noticed was needed in the industry.
“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 intel on their judge and collecting anecdotes internally at their firm,” says Clark.
“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,” she added.
Clark didn’t always know she wanted to be an attorney, in fact she wanted to be a journalist until she realized the limited earning potential. She graduated from University of Massachusetts, Amherst with a BA in Journalism before deciding to go back to school at Rutgers to study law. She’s been a working attorney at various firms before starting Trellis in April of last year.
‘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 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 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 made the right career choice. But in many ways I stumbled upon law,’ said Clark.
So what does Trellis do exactly?
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 your 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,” explains Clark.
To not only Clark but also many lawyers, data is bridging a gap from crowd sourcing information and having records at your fingertips. Data driven law can benefit many lawyers in terms of preparation, and Clark goes so far as to say she hopes one day it’ll be considered malpractice to not do your due diligence and look up relevant data before a case. The information can be more than a person can process alone. Therefore, artificial intelligence and machine learning help make the practice of law easier.
“Law is the best use case for A.I. 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,” affirms Clark.
Not to mention, if your opposition is accessing data, you’re doing your client a disservice if you don’t as well. It’s not only a competitive edge, but it allows for a case to become less about opinions and hearsay but more about fact. Now that the technology has been introduced, it’s not going anywhere and has become a necessity.
“Data driven law isn’t just a fad,” says Clark.
If data is so helpful to the legal system, shouldn’t there already be a tool available? Not for state data. Products like Lexis and Lex Machina provide federal data not state court information, where the ratio is much higher. For every federal case there are 30 state cases.
And yet, traditional legal research products have entirely ignored the court system where the majority of legislators practice. Unlike Lexis and Lex Machina, Trellis claims to provide state court data and judicial analytics based on records that aren’t on other platforms.
Clark worked at a variety of law firms and is licensed in three states. She has defended corporations and employers in complex class action and wage and hour disputes, as well as individual employment matters ranging from sexual harassment to wrongful termination. She has used Trellis in her personal practice.
‘I used Trellis in practice and I won motions I was sure I was going to lose because I could see exactly the way the judge thought about certain issues, the way to organize the motions and the case law to cite. Drafting motions with Trellis is like having the answers to the test. If one attorney has the answers and the other doesn’t it’s pretty clear whose going to have a competitive advantage,’ concluded Clark.