Ambitious Effort to Digitize State Trial Court Records Provides Unprecedented Insight (Article)

Trellis opens the door on overlooked state courts.

Arguably the most annoying part of my career involved going to state court. Federal court had a genteel order to it. The only difference between the Southern District of New York and a random district elsewhere was the courthouse.

But state court was a wild mess. Hours of cattle call appearances. County clerk offices that functioned like personal fiefdoms. And impossible to search records. It’s hard to get a handle on a court system with depths you can’t plumb.

When we first talked to Trellis back in the early days of the pandemic, the company had an ambitious plan to gather the ungatherable — digitize state court documents and put them all under one searchable roof. At the time, the project had made impressive inroads into a few choice jurisdictions. Catching up with CEO Nicole Clark at Legalweek, the company’s come a long way in a very short amount of time.

Today, Trellis has the court documents from 17 states — or, given the power of county clerks to support or obstruct the process, it’s fairer to say 475 counties. There are over 100 million searchable filings.

And with a lot of documents comes a lot of opportunities for powerful analytics.

At the trial level, efforts to unravel a state court judge always suffered from a lack of reported opinions to analyze. With the vast Trellis library, the system can provide ruling and grant rate analytics, projected case and motion duration information broken down by subject matter, and insights into the judge’s experience drawn directly from their docket. The system provides similar insights on opposing counsel and expert witnesses.

Analytics like these aren’t necessarily new to the industry, but past efforts presented the state court picture through a glass darkly. Published state trial court opinions are few and far between and only provide part of the picture. With a full accounting of the docket, Trellis gets a clearer look at how judges manage their matters.

With all the documents under the Trellis roof, users can also take advantage of a practical brief bank tailored to the court they need. Find model jury instructions and motion language specific to the judge’s taste. 

Meet Lawyer Entrepreneur Nicole Clark CEO Of Trellis — The Google Of Legal Analytics


Sharpening the Sword of Damocles: Verdict Data in New York State Courts (Article)

(Photo: Shutterstock.com)

The suspension of jury trials during the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the strategic role played by the unknowable jury. Like the Sword of Damocles, the jury acts as a trump card, pushing plaintiffs and defendants to reach for more certain (albeit less advantageous) settlement options. But things are changing.

Justice looks different inside a global pandemic. It starts. It stops. And then it starts again. Within this rhythm, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York has held more than 100 jury trials since the start of the pandemic, relying on an aggressive, multi-pronged safety protocol. This effort is partly technological, with non-contact digital thermometers authenticating the health of all court visitors. It’s also architectural. Attorneys and their clients communicate through telephonic devices that allow them to whisper to each other from a distance. Attorneys and witnesses address the court from Plexiglas booths, a setup that enables them to remove their masks and show their faces.

But it’s not just the architecture of justice that has changed. So have its tactics. Matt Haicken, an attorney based in New York, recounts a recent case. In 2020, his client, an elderly woman, tripped on a piece of wood while walking along a closed access road outside Manhattan’s Stuyvesant Town. She took a hard fall on the concrete and severely damaged her wrist. The accident was captured by a high-definition surveillance camera, which also showed that the piece of wood was left near the median by a construction crew member. Legally, there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about the case. Still, by March 2021, Haicken, who had filed a lawsuit on the woman’s behalf six months prior, had made little headway in his negotiations with the contractor and its insurance company. This was unusual. “[I]f it’s on video, they usually make some effort to settle early,” he says. “But they’re not returning my calls.”

The problem? He lost his leverage. The closure of courthouses and the suspension of jury trials gave the defendants little incentive to settle with the plaintiff. The action lingered indefinitely.

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In-house counsel are leveraging state trial court data to help them navigate through uncertain legal terrains (Article)

In-house counsel are leveraging state trial court data to help them navigate through uncertain legal terrains

By Nicole Clark

Nicole Clark is CEO and co-founder of Trellis.

My Cottage BBQ & Brew is located in Port Dalhousie, a quiet waterfront community nestled on Lake Ontario, a 30-minute drive from Niagara Falls. This is where Kristen Cass slipped on September 2, 2007, falling to the floor and injuring her ankle.

The incident quickly transformed into a legal proceeding against the building’s owner, the Port Dalhousie Vitalization Corporation (PDVC). The case and its arguments remain unremarkable—a standard personal injury liability claim that enabled the PDVC to dismiss the action through summary judgment.

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But then something interesting happened. Justice Alan Whitten of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice capped the costs awarded to the defense, writing that the use of artificial intelligence would have “significantly reduced” counsel’s preparation time. In the end, Justice Whitten lowered the starting point for disbursements by $11,404.08.

“What we are seeing from the bench, at least, is that the courts are mindful of the use of [artificial intelligence] and are grappling with what it means for the litigation process,” attorney Carole Piovesan explained at the time. 

And the courts aren’t alone. AI-powered legal analytics has become a necessity for the contemporary practice of the law, and the in-house counsels employed by corporate legal departments are taking heed, leveraging state trial court data to help them navigate through uncertain legal terrains.

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