UniCourt 2020 Year in Review

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UniCourt 2020 Year in Review

Despite all of the chaos, tragedy, and disruption into our daily lives and livelihoods this year, 2020 has been a year of persistence and steady growth for UniCourt. 

Throughout all of the challenges that 2020 presented, UniCourt made a seamless transition to our workforce going completely remote, we added more state and federal court records into our system than in any other previous years, we pushed forward on new enhancements and releases to our APIs, we continued to champion the open legal data movement, we added some new furry employees into the UniCourt family, and we made many other notable accomplishments during one of the most difficult years in modern memory.  

LSC 2020 Innovation in Technology Conference

While we were not able to attend many conferences in 2020 due to COVID-19, we were fortunate enough to attend the Legal Services Corporation’s annual Innovation in Technology Conference (LSC ITC) at the beginning of the year in January.

As our first time attending the LSC ITC, we could not have asked for a better lineup of speakers, topics, and panel discussions. In his last speech as the President of LSC, Jim Sandman’s voice filled the grand ballroom of the Hilton in downtown Portland, Oregon during the Opening Plenary session of the LSC ITC, exclaiming that “it is an outrage that millions and millions of Americans year after year are unable to assert and vindicate their legal rights. This is the United States of America, and that is wrong.” 

Sandman has long been an outspoken and passionate advocate for closing the “yawning justice gap” in in the US, and his final speech, the “Five Requirements for Realizing Technology’s Potential to Improve Access to Justice” should be required reading for anyone who is interested in the intersection of technology and access to justice. 

In addition to Jim Sandman, there was a whole host of excellent speakers at the 2020 LSC ITC, and while there are too many to list here, one in particular embodies the collective hope we all have for a better day beyond the never-ending decade of 2020.

As part of his Rapid Fire Tech Talk on reimagining the way we provide legal services to those in need, Tom Martin of LawDroid managed to throw in a reference to Baby Yoda and Darth Vader, and reminded us that even in the midst of an ever-widening access to justice gap, it’s important to retain some levity as we continue to push forward in the battle between light and darkness. 

You can read more of our takeaways from the 2020 LSC ITC here

LSC 2020 Innovation in Technology Conference

Dogs of LegalTech

Well before the pandemic hit and our workforce went completely remote, UniCourt has maintained a very pet friendly office, because we care about our employees’ well-being and happiness (and because it’s hard to say no to adorable dogs). 

To ensure our #DogsOfLegalTech get the credit they deserve for all of their hard work, we want to share the newest additions to our furry UniCourt employees in 2020.

Dogs of LegalTech

You can catch all of their latest adventures on UniCourt CEO, Josh Blandi’s Twitter account

UniCourt Influencer Q&A Series

One of our favorite recurring series that we carried on into 2020 from 2019, is our UniCourt Influencer Q&A series. This year as part of this ongoing interview series, we’ve heard from leaders in the legal industry across the spectrum from artificial intelligence experts, to open source software developers, knowledge management gurus, and legal tech founders and CEOs. 

Here are some nuggets of wisdom from this year’s Influencers:

“The biggest challenge is normalizing internal data. All data is not equal, so librarians and information professionals need to be involved in helping law firms identify and evaluate data products.” – Jean O’Grady

“Improving your productivity requires an honest reckoning with your capacity.” – John E. Grant

“There are huge shifts coming in our industry, and the attorneys that find themselves on the right side of history are going to be those that maintain the trust and confidence of the people they are meant to serve.” – Natalie Anne Knowlton

“The biggest impediment to reforming the civil justice system is cultural, not logistical. If we adopt a relentless curiosity about how we could design better systems, there is a tremendous potential to make radical change for the better, using many of the tools and resources we already have.” – Shannon Salter

“A lot in life is just showing up and getting started. You may fail at something at first, but you just show up and keep going. Show up at meetings, show up at training, show up at customer sites, show up on calls, show up for employees. Simply get going.” – Jonathan Reed

“If you’re thinking about (or have already started) building a legal tech company, reach out to other founders. The legal tech community is incredibly supportive, and you can learn so much before you start. Your company is solving problems in a unique and innovative way, but many of the base challenges we face with getting a business off the ground are the same.” – Dorna Moini

Here’s the full list of all the Influencer Q&As from 2020:

UniCourt in the News

This year has also been an excellent year for UniCourt when it comes to publishing online and advocating for open legal data, the expansion of open source software in legal, and the use of structured, normalized data for business development, knowledge management, and competitive intelligence.

In 2020, we were featured again in Above the Law, Attorney at Work, and Legaltech News among other legal publications and we placed our first article in the Legal Marketing Association’s Strategies+ Blog.

ABA Law Technology Today 

Above the Law

Attorney at Work

Legal Business World

Legal Marketing Association’s Strategies+ Blog

Legaltech News

Awards, Partnerships & Collaboration

What made 2020 an exceptional year beyond all of the challenges and obstacles UniCourt faced and overcame, were the accolades, partnerships, and collaboration we saw throughout the year. 

Of the most significant awards we received this year, was UniCourt’s CEO, Josh Blandi being recognized as a 2020 Fastcase 50 honoree. Started by Fastcase’s CEO, Ed Walters, in 2011, the Fastcase 50 designation is awarded to lawyers, legal technologists, policymakers, judges, law librarians, bar association executives, and others who represent the law’s smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries, and leaders.

Here’s an excerpt of the superb bio Fastcase wrote for Josh as part of his being recognized:

“Josh Blandi is a uniter. He knows the importance of legal data, and has been a leader in collecting and disseminating quality data from various corners of the U.S. legal market. Josh is the founder of the PACER Collective, a tight-knit group of legal data companies (including Fastcase and a number of Fastcase 50 honorees) that equally contribute and share in the collection of certain Federal court records.”

We were also excited to be selected as a finalist for the Enterprise Award of the 1st Annual American Legal Technology Awards in August of this year, and to be named as the runner up for the Enterprise Award in early September.

UniCourt has a diverse range of Enterprise clients from financial institutions and insurance firms to investigation firms, news agencies, government agencies, educational institutions and academia, and nonprofits, and we were grateful to be recognized as a leader in providing the core infrastructure Fortune 500 companies and AmLaw firms use for API access to structured and normalized data.

To cap off the awards we received this year, UniCourt also established significant partnerships and collaborations with leaders in legal education, matter management software, and legal technology onboarding. 

2020 marked multiple important milestones, as UniCourt began the year in January with our first official partnership with a law school – BYU Law – to provide their law students, faculty, and law librarians with access to our application and our Legal Data APIs.

Later in July, we also established a first of its kind integration with legal tech company and matter management solution AdvoLogix to provide their customers with real-time access to court data and on-demand document downloads.

And last, but not least, at the end of November, UniCourt became an approved, featured solution for court data management and legal research within Reynen Court, a legal tech app store built for and funded by some of the largest global law firms, including Clifford Chance, Latham & Watkins, Orrick, and Nishimura & Asahi.

Expanding Access to Court Records

UniCourt remains committed to improving access to court records and making them more organized, accessible, and useful. 2020 has been an incredible year of expansion in terms of court onboarding, as we’ve brought on more new courts this year than in any other previous year since our inception. 

While trial level court data has been and will continue to be a central focus of our court onboarding efforts, in 2020 UniCourt brought online multiple state supreme courts and state appellate courts, including California, Arkansas, and Oklahoma, and we also onboarded the Supreme Court of the United States.

On top of the appellate court data now available in UniCourt’s CrowdSourced Library™, this year we went live with state court records for Cook County, Illinois, South Carolina, Virginia, and Wisconsin, as well as new counties in California and Florida. And we also made strides in expanding our federal court data coverage with the inclusion of the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation and the Patent Trial and Appeal Board

To make it easier to see exactly what state and federal court data we have in our legal database, UniCourt recently announced the release of our new Court Coverage tool. With this new tool, you can quickly view the number of cases we have for any particular court for the past 30 days, the total number of cases for that court overall, the total number documents we have available from that court, and whether or not we provide access to civil, criminal, family, and probate cases.

The Push for Open Legal Data

On April 27th, 2020, SCOTUS declared once and for all in Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org that “no one can own the law,” making a landmark ruling that states and private companies cannot copyright the law or any materials like the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA) that were written by legislators or judges. 

Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority, stated that “[i]nstead of examining whether given material carries ‘the force of law,’ we ask only whether the author of the work is a judge or legislator,” and that “whatever work [a] judge or legislator produces in the course of his judicial or legislative duties is not copyrightable.” 

This historic rebuke of attempts by Georgia and LexisNexis to copyright the law and restrict access to public information would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of Carl Malamud, the veritable “open-access ninja” and “Rogue-Archivist” who continues to push ahead in making information and knowledge freely available to all. And as part of that push, Carl and UniCourt have now posted the OCGA in beautiful HTML online for free as a GitHub repository, along with the code behind the RTF parser we created to transform the OCGA from ugly .rtf files into nice-looking, accessible HTML.

Beyond this important ruling from SCOTUS, the other most notable push for open legal data this year came from the very recent passing of H.R. 8235, the Open Courts Act (OCA), in the United States House of Representatives on December 8th.

Earlier this year, lifetimes ago in October, UniCourt hosted our first ever Twitter Chat on Open PACER Data. Our Chat sparked several important and needed conversations with leading advocates in the open legal data movement on why removing the PACER paywall is so crucial and what the OCA would mean for lawyers, legal professionals, legal tech companies, and the public at large. You can find our Twitter Chat online with the hashtag #UniCourtChats.

At the beginning of December, UniCourt, along with 19 other legal tech executives, wrote an advisory letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi in favor of the passage of the OCA, which as it stands would ultimately eliminate the PACER paywall and significantly modernize access to federal court records.

While the OCA did not pass the United States Senate in 2020, the bill that was passed in the House earlier this month was the most significant step forward for taking down the PACER paywall thus far, and there is continued momentum to see the bill taken up in the 117th United States Congress.

The Legal Memes of 2020

To end with some levity as we head into 2021, here are some of our favorite memes and GIFs produced by our social media team this year:

Where to Next in 2021

At our core, UniCourt is a Legal Data as a Service (LDaaS) solution providing API access to court data for business development, competitive intelligence, analytics, machine learning models, and process automation, which is why we’re excited to share that we’ll be releasing a new V2 of our Legal Data APIs in Q2 of next year.

These new APIs are focused on providing a better user experience for our clients and even more structured, standardized, and normalized legal data that can be used for a wide range of use cases across a swath of diverse industries. 

In addition to the release of our new APIs, we’ll also be onboarding several new courts in 2021, including state courts for Connecticut, the District of Columbia, and the Florida Supreme Court and Florida District Courts of Appeal, as well as federal courts, such as the U.S. Court of International Trade, and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

And to kickoff 2021, we’ll be hosting a Twitter Chat on Data Driven Business Development on January 15th that will center on how legal technology and organized, structured, and normalized legal data are changing the way legal professionals handle business development and legal marketing.

From everyone at UniCourt, including Olivia, Max, and Toby, we wish you and yours a Happy New Year!