If innovative technology solutions are the key to addressing gaps in our justice system, Duke Law Tech Lab (DLTL) is a place where these solutions come to life.
Friday, October 22nd, three teams presented on their work, supported by DLTL, to change the way that legal services are delivered. And the presentation had more at stake than just educating the attendees. Real cash prizes were on the line – voted on by a panel of judges and even audience members – to provide even more funding for these startups.
The three teams were accepted out of dozens of applications to work with the DLTL, according to host Jeff Ward (JD), Director of Duke’s Center on Law and Technology and Clinical Professor of Law. The Lab looks for early-stage companies striving to increase access to legal solutions to offer monetary support, but the missions of the DLTL initiative go far beyond that. DLTL is building a community for creative entrepreneurs in the legal tech space, connecting start-ups with valuable partners and mentors, and fostering a space of growth through tailored resources and support.
First up at the 2021 Law Tech Lab Demo Day was Creators’ Legal. “The traditional legal solutions simply don’t work for the modern content creator,” said Eric Farber, founder and CEO of Creators’ Legal. Farber’s company is seeking to help what is now the second-fastest sector of the world economy: Content creators. Content creators are people who generate revenue by sponsorships and advertising, often through social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, or TikTok. This market is huge and expanding, but “completely underserved” with legal solutions, said Farber.
Because content creators can go from production to distribution within just a few hours or less, traditional entertainment legal that is filled with time-consuming, expensive, and unresponsive lawyers is not a viable option.
Farber says that “Industry Standard Agreements and deals are hidden behind the doors of [this] traditional legal.” By creating a platform that has easy-to-use contract templates, eSignatures, and a digital briefcase for storing files offered on a by-contract or subscription-basis, Creators Legal wants to be a company that serves the gaps left for content creators.
Next up was Justice Innovations, represented by its CEO, Sasha Davenport. Davenport and Justice Innovations want to rearrange the workflow associated with the process that happens from the time a crime takes place to the person who has been arrested for the case makes their initial appearance in court.
“This [at the initial appearance] is where things get really interesting for me,” said Davenport because about 40% of cases are dropped for no-actions. This leads to a huge number of wasted time, effort, budgets, and more. By creating and integrating a software system that they are dubbing Vet-IT, the company wants to increase data-sharing across agencies that should be on the same page with each other but often are not.
Through the data-sharing platform, information would be entered about a case from the first moments of crime investigation to help decide if this is a charge that would even end up being prosecuted or not. The benefits, according to Davenport, including filtering out bad cases, deflecting more people from entering the carceral system, decreasing jail populations, expediting redirection for individuals in need to mental health interventions, and, potentially, improved community-police trust. Justice Innovations were inspired to pursue this idea because of the great success that Harris County Texas has had in producing few no-action cases. Harris County achieved this by a process of phone-trees across agencies for the last 50 years.
Last, but not least, was SAEF Legal Aid. Eamonn Keenan, company Founder and Executive Director, laid out the team’s legal tech solution. There is a systematic problem of finding the legal support that one needs before it is too late, bringing with it immense challenges and large expenditures of time. Keenan became aware of this issue while working at a legal aid help desk. SAEF Legal Aid’s solution is to leverage practical tech to more accurately diagnose user’s legal problems and facilitate access to free or affordable legal solutions via reliable referrals and strategic partnerships.
In doing this work, the team hopes to help low-income families more immediately, starting with family law services and expanding out. A large part of their solution also includes building partnerships with “word-of-mouth marketing” to embed the service in high-need communities. “People without internet access might need legal help the most,” Keenan said. SAEF Legal Aid hopes to cut through the lack of staffing for legal aid advice desks and bypass the waiting game of larger legal aid providers who often have high turn-away rates and long waiting periods for attorney follow up to resolve the barrier that intake causes in gaining access to legal help.
At the end of the presentation, Justice Innovations walked away with the Audience Favorite prize and SAEF Legal Aid took the Grand Prize. Regardless of prizes, these three teams will inevitably continue to be part of the solution to gaps in justice as they carry their work forward.