In December 2014, Mbye Njie was pulled over in his own Atlanta neighborhood by a police officer. Four days later, he was again pulled over at a stop sign for not pausing for a full five seconds.
A week later, on his way to work, he got pulled over once again on the highway. The police officer informed him that he had a warrant out for his arrest. Shocked, Njie explained that he had been stopped twice already by officers in the same county and they didn’t mention it.
During the time he was detained, he was unable to contact his family or alert a friend about the situation. After a while, the officer came back with the news that it was an invalid warrant. He was released.
According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics survey, black drivers are about 31 percent more likely to be pulled over than white drivers. They are also nearly twice as likely to not be given any reason for the traffic stop.
After filing a complaint with the department for racial profiling and seeing similar incidents on the news, Njie started thinking of a way to alert family and friends of such a situation and provide your rights during detainment. That’s how the Legal Equalizer app started coming to fruition.
“I just wanted to show people what it looked like when I got pulled over and see that I was polite with the police officer and followed directions,” says Njie.
Njie pulled his savings together and had a developer friend build a workable MVP. He also launched a $25,000 GoFundMe campaign.
“It took off! It started off with my friends on Facebook donating money, but then one of my good friends from college, an editor at Huffington Post, saw the campaign and wrote up a story.”
The campaign raised more than $50,000 and they were able to do a complete build out of the app, says Njie. The app allows the user to record encounters with law enforcement that are admissible in court, see a quick list of their rights, and provide a SOS button that instantly shares your location with your chosen five emergency contacts.
“The first thing I do when I get pulled over is text my mom or a friend to let them know where I’m at,” explains Nije.
The founder didn’t let his non-technical background stop him as he scaled his idea, instead surrounding himself with team members that could fill in the gaps on both the technology and legal side.
“It’s not that we were qualified to build the app, it’s that we were passionate about it,” says Njie. “I told people freely that my background was in sales and I didn’t know the technical aspects of building an app. Instead, I brought in someone to develop the code and a friend who went to law school to oversee the law requirements. After we raised the $50,000, we kept donors updated on progress and alerted them about the release on the app store.”
Following a live release in November 2015, the Legal Equalizer beta received upwards of 100,000 downloads. With their idea validated, Njie and his team started streamlining the user experience within the platform to make it easier to use.
Emergency situations now include police stops, domestic violence disputes, general emergency (think weather disasters), immigration issues, and active shootings. While adding features, the team has stayed in contact with law enforcement officers as well as local organizations to find the best ways to work together and the right steps to follow in these situations.
“I stay tuned to the news to see how we can help. With domestic violence disputes, it could save a life,” says Njie. “Somebody within their family and friend group already usually knows what’s going on. There’s a way that this person could hit a button quietly and let them know.”
Njie has also added a bilingual option for Spanish to help immigrants stay safe and be aware of their rights. An immigrant himself from West Africa, he understands the pain points behind those encounters.
“Most immigrants don’t know their rights. I didn’t when I arrived here. If they hit that button, their families will be alerted and they can help them somehow.”
The freemium app gives access to an on-demand network of attorneys categorized by legal issue — criminal, civil, and immigration. Legal Equalizer charges attorneys a sign-up and monthly fee to gain access to the app, post their profile, and offer their services to the users before, during, and after encounters.
Currently the app has 10 lawyers available for hire with a goal of 1,000 by this summer.
After completing the Ascend2020 Atlanta startup curriculum and winning three pitch competitions in the last year, the Legal Equalizer team is ready to accelerate their organic growth. Up next, they’re looking to raise $1 million in funding to gain more traction.
“We want to expand the team, launch a marketing plan, and add a few improvements to the app.”