As the pandemic worsens and safety nets vanish, millions are on the brink of financial ruin.
Some are facing the threat of eviction or foreclosure. Most can’t afford a lawyer to represent them.
That’s where Courtroom5 comes in.
This Durham-based, Black-owned startup offers a step-by-step “legal toolbox,” powered by artificial intelligence, for handling your own civil case in the courts.
“This is not ‘Judge Judy.’ Folks are losing their homes, or having their wages garnished for years on end,” says co-founder Sonja Ebron.
“If we could get everybody a lawyer, that would be great; but that’s not the reality,” Ebron says. “So it’s important for us to be able to stand in the breach.”
Ebron, an electrical engineer, and her business partner, Debra Slone, a Ph.D. librarian, know first-hand how tricky navigating the civil justice system can be for the average person.
Both had to represent themselves in court “too many times.”
“We got beat up,” Ebron recalls. “As academics, we felt a responsibility once we figured out how to navigate the system to share it with others.”
So they built Courtroom5 — an educational site launched in 2017, which eventually grew into a full-fledged case management platform.
For a $30 monthly fee, members can access video courses, workshops, and community forums — covering everything from how to file a motion to how to address a judge in court.
The platform also keeps tabs on individual cases, providing specific legal forms and instruction at every stage.
Since the start of the pandemic, Ebron says her site has seen a surge in traffic — “probably tripling” since April — with almost 1,000 active users.
Many are disproportionately people of color, she adds.
That figure could skyrocket as nationwide moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures, as well as other relief measures, are set to expire on Jan. 1.
Courtroom5 is scaling to meet the demand.
It recently landed an undisclosed sum from Silicon Valley-based Precursor Ventures, and hired Jesse Okiror, former CEO and co-founder of Suprabook, to serve as its own general counsel. He will now oversee product development and provide legal insight to the site’s users.
This January, it’s also launching a revamped site to bring small and solo law firms onto the platform to serve customers on a “piecemeal basis.”
A seed round to raise an additional $1.2 million is also on the cards in order to “double down on digital marketing.”
“There are so many people who need what we’re offering. It’s just a question of making them aware of it.”
Along the way, Courtroom5 has also earned some accolades along the way. It landed an NC IDEA grant, as well as coveted spots in the Techstars Kansas City Accelerator, and Google for Startups Black Founders Exchange.
It also won the Black Founders Exchange Demo Day competition last November.
Meanwhile, the success stories keep piling up.
Ebron reports one member who was facing foreclosure was able to drive a settlement to keep her property. Another was able to regain custody of her children.
“When we get that sort of feedback from our customers, it keeps us going,” she says.