This Startup Turns Your ‘Plain Language Legal Questions’ Into Actionable Steps

While working in the court system in Raleigh, North Carolina, digital project managers Samuel Tate and Michael Lotz worked together to redesign the system’s website. Courthouse staff and employees statewide used the site, as did the general public.

As the project progressed, they saw a large gap in the regular citizens’ access to legal knowledge. Going to court can be stressful, especially when navigating confusing forms — and sluggish timelines can quickly add to that.

“People who are going to court face many hurdles beyond the legal system itself,” Tate tells Hypepotamus. “Working with attorneys is a foreign concept and of course, which forms to use. People with disabilities [also] have issues accessing the right information with their screen reader. It’s a massive bottleneck.”

Initially, Tate says, their first product was a Turbo Tax-like software designed for the courts. The courthouse staff would upload their forms to the system and citizens could access those forms through their phones to fill them out.

During the soft launch, however, the team quickly realized that most regular citizens don’t know which forms to fill out in the first place.

“If it were a linear process, the first step is ‘I have a problem, now what? What do I do before I even get to the form? That’s when we pivoted to a tool that’s public-facing,” says Tate.

As a result of that pivot, Tate and Lotz co-founded legaltech platform Civvis to not only make courthouses paperless, but to provide necessary legal information to the public as well.

The natural language platform connects consumers to trusted legal solutions. Through Civvis, people can ask the conversational search engine legal questions in plain language. Based on their questions, the platform will match up their answers to their local courthouse and deliver specific court logistics to follow, including the necessary forms. No more messy handwriting.

The platform also matches them with local attorneys, law firms, and B2C legaltech companies that can help them on their legal journey. People with disabilities can also access all of this information by using the tech tools they use every day, such as screen readers.

“We’re big on plain language. With our AI-powered search features, people can ask ‘my kids got taken away, what do I do?’ and the result says, sounds like a child custody case so here are a few attorneys in your area and if you’re representing yourself, here’s how you can do that,” says Tate.

During the customer discovery phase, the team found that attorneys were also having issues with their lengthy client onboarding processes. To alleviate this, every lead receives a prompt to fill out paperwork ahead of time, similar to going to a new doctor. For example, if the lead needs a family law attorney, the prompt will include family court forms.

The team is also working with local clerks to add content in Spanish to the system to further save people time.

“It helps fast track the onboarding process for all parties,” says Tate. “From there, it’s up to them to develop the relationship with the consumer in need.”

The startup operates on a B2B2C revenue model. Civvis generates hot leads for attorneys, law firms, and legaltech startups. They have a monthly subscription and charge per lead.

Civvis joined the latest LexisNexis Legal Tech Accelerator cohort and went through Duke Law Tech Lab pre-accelerator’s third cohort as well.

The team is currently bootstrapped and will be opening their seed round in early 2020.

Civvis is currently in beta with ongoing pilots in Raleigh and Charlotte, North Carolina and will expanding them in January 2020. “We’re going to iron out any wrinkles that we discover and begin expansion plans across the Southeast, including Georgia and South Carolina,” he says.