I have talked before about legal tech products that either try to do too much or are so nonintuitive that lawyers who bill by the hour won’t use them. One problem often begets the other: in attempting to do too much, a product often becomes too cumbersome to learn and use. I have found examples though of legal tech developers that get it right. Casepoint, for example, which I have written about before. More recently, LexisNexis’ Product Liability Navigator has found the sweet spot as well.
Add to these examples the platform being offered by a company called Trellis. Trellis provides a litigation data analytics product that at first blush appears similar to those offered by the bigger players like LexisNexis (Lex Machina) or Thomson Reuters. So when I talked to founder and CEO Nicole Clark recently, I was a bit skeptical whether there was room in the market for another and smaller competitor.
I found Clark to cordial and articulate with an excellent command of the problems most litigators face in mining state court data. Underneath her pleasant dement lies a laser vision and a steely resolve. Clark and Trellis are singularly focused not on the ocean of litigation data but only on a segment of it: state trial court proceedings. Yes, the big players have been eyeing this segment and making inroads here. But no, none is focused only on state trial courts to the exclusion of anything else. That’s what makes Trellis different and competitive. Says Clark, “We want Trellis to be the Google of state trial court analytics.”
Clark related how she came up with the idea for Trellis. As a young associate, she was given the assignment to write a brief on a motion pending before a state court judge. She fumbled around for a while but then got the bright idea to collect previous rulings from the judge handling the matter on the same issue. The result: a win for her client. She told me she thereafter used this practice for all her writing assignments. As a result, she pretty quickly developed an enviable record that made her pretty valuable to the firm and her clients. Like many successful entrepreneurs, Clark saw a problem and point of friction and developed a plan to provide value.
Trellis is building state trial court legal intelligence and judicial analytics for legal teams. It mines state trial court data, makes it searchable and analyzes it to give insight into the way judges are ruling. It enables Google type searches of state trial court records. And it helps uncover important information on such things as opposing counsel, motions, rulings, dockets, and other legal issues.
Let’s face it, most litigators practice in state court. (Clark estimates there is 30 times more litigation in state court than anywhere else.) Obtaining valid state court data on which to run analytics is the holy grail of litigation data analytics. And one that is also the most vexing. Many state courts do not have useful digital data. They are in jurisdictions that require e- filing or, if the jurisdiction does require it, the data does not go back very far.
The very nature of state courts and state judges is different than federal and other courts in ways that aid analytical development
But Clark and her team have thought this through. They have rightfully concluded that the very nature of state courts and state judges is different than federal and other courts in ways that aid analytical development. Unlike federal court judges appointed for life, many state court judges face reelection. They often only serve on the bench for a relatively few years. This more limited service period makes the need for data going back 20 or even ten years less important. Trellis is also being strategic in how it prioritizes the collection of the data. They started in California and plan to move to areas of high volume litigation next. Places like New York City and select locations in Texas and Florida. Chicago. This strategy enables the Trellis team to learn as it goes and collect data from where there is the biggest quality.
Will they ultimately get data from every state court that is useable and valuable? The Trellis team plans to. But that’s a tall order. But no matter what, having access to some data is better than having access to none. And because Trellis is singularly focused, the team has already collected and digitized state court data going back several years. They claim no other service has as vast a data set.
And having data from select state trial courts can still answer lots of questions lawyers have. Knowing whether the party on the other side has been sued in a high volume jurisdiction is essential. Knowing whether the lawyer on the other side has tried cases to verdict in a high volume jurisdiction may not tell you everything. But it does tell you something.
Another offshoot from Trellis’s single focus: like Product Liability Navigator, Trellis has put together an intuitive dashboard. This dashboard lets lawyers quickly get their hands on the information that is most relevant. Information like rulings by particular Judges, verdicts, information about lawyers practicing in a specific jurisdiction. Settlements where public.
Nothing excites me more than solving the state court analytic gap problem.
And in an interesting marketing twist, the Trellis data and analytics will pop up when a lawyer does a Google search on the judge, the opposing lawyer etc. Clicking on the Trellis link will take you to the Trellis site. There you will find some analytics offered for free with an invitation to subscribe to the service in chief to get more. Based on what I have seen, Trellis is fairly generous with the free material, at least for now.
Two comments of Clark in our discussion stand out. First, she told me it’s her desire for Trellis to own the state trial court space. And second, she said, “Nothing excites me more than solving the state court analytic gap problem.” With this kind of desire to solve a real problem and provide good value, I wouldn’t bet against Clark and Trellis.