Imagine a lawyer with a client who lives in one county and works in another. Or even a lawyer who litigates in multiple states. Both common occurrences, but situations that make it very hard to keep track of legal documents. Essentially, it should be easy to keep track of court records from multiple counties and states – but it’s not.
In fact, it’s pretty awful. Most are hosted online, but each county could have different databases and even different databases providers, making it a huge hassle to constantly search for court records and updates. For example, Ohio has 88 counties, and you have to search each one separately for legal records. It’s such a mess that some lawyers have found it easier to have employees just drive from county to county tracking down records in person.
Enter Legalist – a startup launching in Y Combinator’s Summer ’16 batch. Founded by Eva Shang and Christian Haigh, two current Harvard undergrads, the startup is trying to become a Google for state court records.
They are doing this by scraping these databases and aggregating the documents into one main searchable database. This takes a while – most counties and states have records going back to 1989. For example, the startup is currently scraping 10 different states – a process that is providing them with 400,000 new documents a day.
Besides searchable records, the startup also offers email updates for cases. This means that the site will scrape databases each day for updates to flagged cases and automatically email lawyers with the new documents so they don’t have to manually check every day for case updates.
So far the site is live for users in Massachusetts, Ohio, and Maryland – with more to come soon. These three states have provided the databases with documents for over 7 million cases and 110,000 different lawyers.
The service is also free for any licensed attorney registered with their state’s bar association. However the startup plans on charging for additional features in the future. These include an option to see cases sorted by outcome based on a certain judge – this will help lawyers choose the best litigation strategy in a specific case.
Another future paid feature is “predicted timeline”, which uses their millions of archived cases to provide an estimate on how long a certain case will take. The startup says that lawyers find this feature especially helpful because the first question a client often asks their lawyer is how long the entire legal process will take.
For now, the startup is just focused on state and county records. This is because the vast majority of court cases happen on the state level. Out of an approximately 95 million cases filed each year nationwide, only about 1 million happen in federal court. Plus, federal court records are already organized in a central database called PACER. So while Legalist eventually plans on adding federal records to their database, it isn’t an immediate need.