UniCourt CEO Josh Blandi Joins the LAWsome Podcast Hosted by Consultwebs

on Topics: Future Law | Legal Data API | Legal Tech

UniCourt CEO Josh Blandi Joins the LAWsome Podcast Hosted by Consultwebs

Gathering intelligence from data is something businesses in every industry are grappling with to ensure their continued growth and profitability. For law firms, it’s no different, but gathering intelligence from legal data presents its own challenges for firms to overcome. 

UniCourt’s CEO and Co-Founder, Josh Blandi, recently spoke with Tanner Jones, Vice President of Business Development at Consultwebs, on the LAWsome Podcast about some of the issues law firms face with building their data infrastructure, how firms can differentiate themselves by using public court data, how litigation data can be used for better legal recruiting, and much more.

The LAWsome Podcast is a weekly show for lawyers, law firms, and legal industry professionals with the goal of informing, educating, and entertaining the legal community on the latest industry updates. LAWsome is hosted by Consultwebs, a digital marketing firm focused solely on helping law firms and their clients connect online. Consultwebs offers a “comprehensive, multi-faceted digital marketing approach” that combines “law firm seo, social media, custom content, pay-per-click campaigns, outreach and creative asset development to maximize the benefit of a law firm’s activities both on and offline to help them get more cases from the web.”

Highlights from Josh Blandi’s Interview on the LAWsome Podcast

Using Court Data to Differentiate Your Law Firm

Tanner Jones: “So let’s jump in. For those listening this is an interesting concept when it comes to just harvesting data. Data feels limitless; it seems like it’s all around. Court data can be found in PACER, Public Access to Court Electronic Records, and obviously also state court document systems. But if data is available and public for everyone, how can its use be a differentiator factor for a law firm today?”

Josh Blandi: “That’s a great question. Just a little bit of background, PACER is a system that’s reserved for just the federal courts and is probably the most advanced. It’s one of the original systems developed for accessing court records back in the late 80s early 90s. But imagine we have 18,000 plus courts, including administrative courts, in the United States, and some of these are online and somewhat accessible and lots of these aren’t, especially in underserved communities like rural areas or smaller counties. Even if they’re publicly available or online, it doesn’t mean they are easily accessible or searchable or useful, and that’s primarily because every court does things differently, has their own nomenclature and data structure, which ultimately has to be normalized. Imagine now you have these 18,000 courts and every system operates independent of the other systems, so it’s very siloed and fractured. 

What we do at UniCourt is aggregate this data through our platform across all of the federal courts, all of the PACER courts, and an ever-growing list of state courts… and we normalize this data using machine learning to classify different data objects or data points. So, for example, something we classify would be the type of case, the case status, or the cause of action. 

We also do a lot of normalization of entities involved in litigation, which I think is particularly important for that business development aspect of taking an attorney, law firm, or corporate business and accounting for all the variations of their name, not only within a court system, but across court systems, and now tie them to a real-world entity, so then you can aggregate all the cases they’ve been involved in, what types of cases they’ve been involved in, where they’ve litigated… And I think that’s the main point – courts do what they do best, which is the administration of justice, but they’re not data companies, so that’s where we come in.”

How Law Firms Can Use APIs

Josh Blandi: “One of the things we do with our data after we collect it, structure it, and organize it is make it available through our APIs, so there’s one set of standard APIs that firms can plug into to pipe structured court data out into their infrastructure. And I think that’s where you get this 1+2=5 scenario, where firms have very valuable data, client data, sitting on their side, and by itself it’s valuable, but when mixed with a larger data set like a court records data set, now you can drive some profound intelligence. 

For example, you can see for each of your clients what type of litigation they’ve been involved in, where’s this litigation taking place, who’s handling this litigation, where do we fit in that picture as a firm, and do benchmarking against other firms. From there, you can develop a strategy for your clients to say, hey we can do this more efficiently, we can take on more practice areas for you and drive efficiencies. 

Another big use case for our APIs is entity tracking. Firms will upload a list or give us a list of their clients, or sometimes we’ll provide it to them, because we have a more comprehensive set of records from the courts themselves on who they’ve represented say over the last 5 or 10 years, and then we’ll create searches that automate identifying when one of their clients or potential clients is involved in new litigation. They can then get alerted and get access to that docket and case, and be the first person to see it.”

Building Your Law Firm’s Data infrastructure

Tanner Jones: “You mentioned the infrastructure, basically how your platform drives the data back into the law firm’s infrastructure. Can you give examples of what that infrastructure could be?”

Josh Blandi: “Imagine our APIs will typically connect to a client experience or a matter management platform within the firm itself or a practice management platform. Imagine you represent Citigroup, and they’re involved in a new lawsuit and we send that data over to your client experience platform, so that an attorney gets alerted that Citigroup is involved in new litigation, and then they could click on Citigroup as an entity and they can now see all types of analytics on them that could be produced from our data – where is this litigation taking place, who are the top firms representing Citigroup for this type of matter, what are the cases we’re working on for Citigroup, what are the cases we’re not working on for Citigroup. Any opportunity firms have to help educate their clients on issues that they’re seeing in their industry, new trends they’re seeing in their industry, brings immediate value to the clients. 

Maybe you represent Google, and one of the things that has been trending for a long time now is privacy lawsuits. You can help educate Google on the amount of privacy litigation that’s taken place in the United States on privacy issues, and these are the trends. You can help craft strategies for Google to better address that type of litigation, which will ultimately lead your firm to picking up more of Google’s business for privacy litigation.”

Using Litigation Data for Legal Recruiting

Josh Blandi: “Recruiting is a great use case for litigation data… It’s an important business development tool for law firms looking to expand their client roster, build different practice areas, and open offices in new locations. So, think about how firms can take advantage of the growing availability of litigation data to gain insights into which laterals to hire, which practice areas to grow, and more importantly, which practice areas to avoid. 

To give you an idea of some of the questions that can be answered when looking for candidates using litigation data, for example, you can be looking at a candidate and see what’s their average caseload year over year. Did they have any increases or decreases in their case volumes producing noticeable trends? Who are their top clients? That relationship is typically owned by an attorney or set of attorneys. 

Are these clients your firm would be interested in bringing on, and do they have any conflicts that would prevent them from working with those clients? Conflicts can sometimes make or break a lateral move from one firm to the next. So finding out early on, before discussions even begin with a candidate, can save a lot of headache and dealing with impossible conflicts down the road. 

Other things that come to mind for lateral candidates is have they moved from law firm to law firm frequently? If so, have their top clients followed from one firm to the next, so that will tell you how likely it is that those clients will follow them to a new firm. Or if you brought on that lateral hire, how likely are they to leave your firm? Do they have any specialties or specific practice area expertise that stands out? Do they handle run-of-the-mill cases or complex litigation? Are they a good fit for your firm’s practice group? So, I think litigation data gives you a really good picture of whether an attorney fits within your firm’s vision and mission and if they can add new profitable clients and practice areas.”

Three Actionable Steps for Law Firms

Tanner Jones: “If you were to prioritize three actionable steps that someone can take right now to uncover opportunities or maybe even diagnose weaknesses in their markets, what would those be? Is there anything you’ve learned over the years in this industry that you could point to that are tried and true?”

Josh Blandi: “For the initial step, law firms are no different than any other industry. Law firms are going to increasingly rely on data, both internal and external data, to power intelligence, business development, litigation strategies, and other important aspects of their business and profitability. The sooner firms are willing to make that leap to investing in data infrastructure – this requires resources and technology – the better off long-term they’ll be to adapt to where law is going, which is going to be very data driven in the future.  

So that’s one step. The second step is once you get this data into your data infrastructure or data lake, then you can begin to create various process flows to push this data to different practice areas to empower them with specific information. So now that it’s in your data lake, the next thing you can do is to push it to your matter management system or your practice management system or your client experience system, depending on which system a firm is using and how they’re pushing the rest of their internal data. Once you get it into those systems and your data lake, then you can harness that data for intelligence. 

So in review, invest in the data infrastructure and the resources required to get outside data into your firm. Invest in the internal platforms you need to be able to use this data. And third, develop the analytics and tools you need to be able to power some intelligence so you can make data driven decisions.”

What Can You Do with UniCourt’s Apollo APIs

Josh Blandi: “We’ve been working on the latest version of our APIs, which are really remarkable. I can give a little bit of a backdrop for this. We had this idea that we saw a lot of legal data and litigation data sitting out there mainly behind paywalls and embedded in various applications, some of which were helpful for firms and some which were not, but at any point it did not give firms the flexibility to use the data in various ways that their practice areas needed.

We had this theory going back to 2016, that if we opened up this data with APIs that an ecosystem would develop for people wanting to consume legal data, innovate, and drive business off of that. So for the last two years we’ve been developing what we call our Apollo APIs, which are our next generation APIs that include not only access to court data, but also all kinds of other super valuable information and analytical data. 

For example, now a firm can say ‘who are all the law firms this client has ever retained, and have they retained them as plaintiff counsel or defense counsel?’ They can say things like ‘hey, we’re thinking about putting an office in this jurisdiction and we have these practice areas, how much litigation actually takes place in this area of the country versus other areas of the country.’ So these Apollo APIs not only allow you to produce legal analytics, where you can pipe that aggregate data out, but they’ll also produce venue information – does this jurisdiction produce mega verdicts compared to other jurisdictions? What are the demographics of this court? There’s a lot of intelligence that can now be pulled out of these Apollo APIs. 

We’ve had a group of about 120 engineers working on the data pipeline of these APIs for almost two years, and we just launched it into Alpha. It’s very, very powerful what firms can do with them. Probably the best thing to end with is that, I’ve found that investments in technology in the long-run pay really high returns. And legal is no different than other industries in that it increasingly is and will become more and more data driven. The time to make those investments should be now.”

Learn More and Get In Touch With Us

We really enjoyed getting to speak with Tanner and the team at Consultwebs on this episode of LAWsome. You can watch the full interview with Josh Blandi here.  

You can also listen to the LAWsome Podcast on Apple, Google, and Spotify

If you’re interested in learning more about UniCourt, how you can use APIs, or have a question for Josh, Contact Us and we’ll be in touch.