It’s been said that necessity is the mother of invention, and no truer sentiment could be said for Trellis’s Co-Founder and CEO, Nicole Clark. Her idea for Trellis and the first version of the platform was born while she was practicing as a career litigator in Los Angeles.
What I love most about Trellis’s story, is that Nicole personally sought out ways to understand patterns and outcomes in litigation. When she first began her quest to build Trellis, Nicole realized that although patterns in judicial decisions can impact a case dramatically, there was no easy path to acquire this information. Instead, almost all litigators begin this quest with an email to their team, asking, “Does anyone have any background or information on (insert judge’s name here?)”
The Google for State Superior Courts
It is astonishing that, despite having access to so many legal technologies and research resources, there is a total lack of access to information at the individual state court level. Every counties court website and database stands alone, entirely fragmented, independent and unintegrated from every other county court website, creating a real challenge for attorneys in search of aggregated results.
The project started with a focus on standardization of court records to make them fully searchable. After that, they worked on increasing functionality, providing the ability to search across state trial courts by legal issue rather than case name or case number. To date, the Trellis: Legal Intelligence Platform has aggregated over 6.5 million records in California, with an expectation to launch in New York by the end of 2019.
Trial Court Specific Legal Research
Quickly realizing the need for accessibility to this fragmented data, Nicole’s vision became to unify court records to allow legal research to be conducted at the trial court level. One such practical use case of researching trial court data is the user’s ability to quickly and easily understand the legal threshold for particular causes of action or legal issues being applied by trial court judges today. Rather than performing academic legal research (at the appellate court level), Nicole challenges attorneys to reframe their notion of adequate legal research and prioritize understanding how their legal issues are being handled by the judges and neutrals that are directly overseeing their cases. Here’s an example we discussed:
Trellis Search: “Motion to compel arbitration and class waiver”
Goal: To determine if the class action waiver provision of an arbitration agreement is enforceable
Immediate results are returned demonstrating how trial court judges are ruling on this very issue. By having access to articulate judicial rulings on specific legal issues and motion types, attorneys have a jump-start on drafting their documents and a much higher likelihood of achieving a successful outcome. Attorneys often find a well-organized ruling on Trellis and use that as the starting place for drafting their motion. Additionally, by clicking on the case number within any ruling, attorneys can access docket information for the case directly within the platform.
Crystal Ball for Settlement Ranges
For class action, or cases where there are multiple defendants, knowing the type and range of settlement amounts and attorneys fees can drastically change litigation and shift settlement strategy. This knowledge also helps to educate clients about set expectations regarding potential exposure. Trellis’s settlement insights include:
- Good Faith settlements: What amount(s) has the judge previously approved in similar cases
- Class claims, class size, and average settlement figures for specific issues
- The average recovery of the dollar amount per class member
- The portion of the settlement that went to attorney’s fees
Docket Search & Search Alerts
Every shred of information counts, so Trellis makes Superior Court dockets searchable by case, party, motion, etc. Need to key an eye on specific legal issues? Trellis makes it easy to set a research alert and let Trellis AI keep researching for you while you handle other matters. When a new ruling has been issued on a particular matter, Trellis alerts will send you an email with new rulings so you’re always in the know. Common search alerts include:
- Judicial decisions on specific legal issues
- Settlements alerts
- Party, Case, or opposing counsel alerts
Trellis’s Judicial Strategy Report
One of Trellis’s most impressive features is the beautifully packaged, Judicial Strategy Report. It’s one thing to offer data that you can cull and search through in order to reach your own conclusions. It is another thing completely to go to the lengths of creating a PDF report that summarizes the history, patterns, and recommendations about how to handle matters before a particular judge.
When time is of the essence, attorneys who use Trellis are able to make quick decisions on whether to “ding their judge,” (ie request reassignment to a different judge). Now, the decision to ding your judge can be based on hard data and made timely. The report, curated by Trellis, includes how each judge rules on important pretrial motions as well as where they are an outlier compared to other judges in the county and state. Where a bet the company case is involved, Trellis can compile customizable analytics specific to the legal issues and players involved. This is an offering that will, no doubt, expand the organization’s growth in the legal market by building deep relationships with some of the nation’s leading litigation firms.
Proactive Representation & Client Management
Nicole and her team at Trellis have set a new standard for what could very well become a client expectation—Proactive Representation. By reviewing the reports Trellis provides, attorneys can predict where the judge will have an issue, how a judge will expect cases to be handled, and their courtroom manner. Further, the ability to set expectations with clients is a difficult skill to master. There is a fine line between building confidence and over-promising results. With Trellis, attorneys are now able to educate a client based on facts and hard data, information that is particularly helpful when deciding whether to advise a client to settle or go all the way through trial. For the first time, attorneys can advise clients based on client based on facts and predictive data.
Strategic Research and Defense
Some sports fanatics would say that the best defense is a good offense. In litigation, every courtside advantage is key to delivering the best representation possible. Another strategic advantage offered by Trellis is the opportunity to research your opposing counsel to gain perspective on how active and or experienced they are on particular case types and use that information to develop a plan for settlement negotiations. Diving deep into how opposing counsel has handled similar matters in the past, what case law they’ve relied on, etc, allows litigators to become proactive rather than reactionary.
Practical Tools for Courtroom Rules/Etiquette & Training
Nearly every lawyer I speak to cites the initial anxiety and panic that working on your first case brings. Without a single resource for each court, hours are spent hunting down simple information that is necessary for that first visit to court. Trellis’ Directory of Courts delivers the following information within seconds:
- General Court Information
- Clerk’s phone number
- Courtroom rules
- Judge’s Background
- Date of appointment
Strategic Business Development
Opportunities appear where you create them. For partners responsible for bringing in business, looking up prospective companies and organizations on Trellis prior to pitch meetings can be a gamechanger. A quick docket search for a prospective client’s litigation matters helps you understand how a client is getting sued, where, and even information about their formal counsel. This allows attorneys to best position their services. Knowing the client and their needs is key to landing them and once you have this information, a case can be made for a particular attorney’s firm, backed up by documented track record of wins and Trellis’s ability to monitor and aid in the preparation of a case through the use of predictive technology and judicial analytics.
Are you serving your clients to the best of your ability?
Consider this. If your client found out that your opposing counsel was using Trellis, and you were not, would they feel that you were at a disadvantage? Furthermore, from an ethical perspective, by not leveraging technology to the best of your ability, are you doing a disservice to your client? These are tough questions, but ones that will become more frequent, as products like Trellis gain popularity in the marketplace. In the words of career litigator and Trellis’s Co-Founder, Nicole Clark:
“Now that this data is accessible and affordable, there is no excuse not to be using Trellis to provide the best representation for your client. These research tools and technology are creating a new standard of care.”
From boutique litigation practices to the largest defense firms, managing partners acknowledge the benefits to both their team and their clients that Trellis’ Legal Intelligence Platform provides, as well as their ethical duty to leverage every research tool to best advocate for their clients. While Trellis may not replace the need for traditional legal research at the appellate level, it is undoubtedly possible that Trellis will quickly become the standard of care for when case research and strategy begins.
To learn more about Trellis or schedule a demo visit them at Trellis.Law.