In order to compete in the legal technology space you have to bring innovation and ROI to the table. In the early days of “the cloud’ it was about cool features, but as the space grows more and more competitive now lawyers are asking “so, how is this going to make me money?”

If you’ve ever had to pull a court record, check the docket, search for parties tied to a case, or try to trace back a Judge’s ruling pattern, you know it’s not the sexiest way to spend your time. In addition, the tools traditionally available were not integrated with all of the courts, so you’re stuck piecemealing things together, or in the old days, giving up and driving to the courthouse to pull the physical record yourself.

At this year’s ABA Techshow Startup Alley, UniCourt presented a brilliant approach to this everyday problem. So, how does this tool make court searches and legal analytics exciting?

First, by tackling the urgent problem of standardization. Every court system, including each state court system and the federal system, does things its own way. Each system uses different terms to describe case types, case statuses, types of parties, types of motions, types of orders, etc. They are all “similar but different.” For example, when comparing personal injury or breach of contract cases at the federal level and across different state courts, it’s a mess. Different courts use dozens of different names to refer to basically the same types of cases the same types of motions and filings. There’s a myriad of case types, and nothing matches up. Which makes it difficult, time-consuming and costly for lawyers to do case research and business development, and nearly impossible to use legal analytics tools to find patterns across multiple cases in multiple jurisdictions.

UniCourt categorizes ALL the data for each case, meaning every case type, case status, every party type, every type of motion and every type of order — all in a standard format that works for all state and federal courts. Then they organize all these cases by case type. Oh, and, and for each case, they track the docket too. Which in the example of family law, could save a small law firm many hours of manually checking court websites every week.

Other time-saving features include the ability to organize cases into folders, and the ability to schedule automated docket searches: instead of manually checking the docket a user can set up an automated search that automatically checks the case docket every day. Set it, and then you’ll receive an email notification when new filings are added to the docket.

Next, UniCourt harnesses the power of the Internet to crowdsource court data. Founder and CEO Josh Blandi spent a few minutes on the phone with me explaining the UniCourt approach to building a crowdsourced court records database that’s open to all users to explore. As Josh said “one of the great things about the Internet is the ability to crowdsource information — just think of sites like Wikipedia — and we are applying crowdsourcing to court data to make more data available to everyone.”

Anytime a UniCourt user pays to download a document from PACER, UniCourt adds that document to the crowdsourced master library. Then the next person to search for that document can get it for free. In other words, if someone else has already paid for that record… you don’t have to. If you are pulling a new record from PACER, UniCourt passes on ONLY the costs charged by PACER — they do not add any markup. To date over 12 Million records have been added to the UniCourt crowdsourced master library, and all of those documents are free to every UniCourt user.

Now that this massive, aggregated, standardized database of federal and state records is ready to use… what makes it worth switching?

How to Turn Data Into Business Development Opportunities.

A growing number of law firms are looking for data to drive business development, but the data is useless unless it is translated in a way that is meaningful. UniCourt gives you the ability to create business development opportunities by finding patterns in data from both federal and state courts.

Here are not one, not two, but ten ways to use court records data for business development:

1. Set up an automatic search to get alerted to any new case filings involving current or potential clients. For example, if you represent the auto or pharmaceutical industry, set up an alert to see new cases involving them. Now you have a reason and opportunity to start a conversation with them.

2. Use UniCourt’s case research tool to find unrepresented parties who have not yet been served, and then use UniCourt’s trademarked “Party Finder™” to find their mailing addresses so you can reach out to them via direct mail. For example, find small-to-medium size businesses who need defense counsel for breach of contract or employment cases.

3. Check for trends using legal analytics, which include: litigation trends, attorney, judge and party analytics. What types of cases are on the rise — or on the decline — in your area so you can devote your energies to the most promising case types and clients.

4. Look for geographic patterns in case filings, and direct your advertising budget to reach those locations.

5. Keep an eye on what competing law firms are doing — see what types of cases they are handling, for which clients and for what types of clients, and in which courts.

6. Look for trends relevant to a particular industry by monitoring all the cases involving the major players in that industry, then share what you’ve learned with current and prospective clients in that industry.

7. For each current and prospective client, demonstrate your in-depth knowledge and expertise by researching a Judge’s history or ruling pattern on a particular case type.

8. Use UniCourt’s Attorney Analytics function to create a report on opposing counsel showing what types of cases they have handled previously, or prepare a report on an opposing party, showing how many cases they have been involved with recently and summarize their strategy.

9. Legal vendors can even get in on the action, the seamless docket tracking tools open the door for service providers such as trial prep services, court reporting, eDeposition or contract attorneys to identify and then reach out to the top-filing law firms and parties.

10. Lastly, my personal favorite: Ideal Client Data. Search for new filings involving past clients, current clients, or wish list clients. Watch what kind of suits that client is involved in (either as plaintiff or defendant), monitor current cases, and see which firms are representing them. Take advantage of data that creates a perfect opportunity to start a conversation about new business.

After my discussion with Josh, it was no surprise that UniCourt was voted one of the “Most Innovative LegalTech Companies” by attendees of the ABA Techshow. He and his team are bringing some seriously fresh ideas and a beautiful interface to an area that sorely needed some renovations. Plus, with their Legal Data API, it will be interesting see who jumps on the opportunity to integrate with them first! (Cough, cough, Clio?)

In closing, the pricing is very reasonable whether you are a solo or a large firm there’s a package for you. Take it for a spin, I know I had a lot of fun searching through Mr. Trump’s case history, which I owe Josh credit for showing me first. So much so, I might put some of my UniCourt searches up on the screen at my next cocktail party and have a legal tech nerd moment.

Check it out, for yourself and let me know what you think!