Almost 20 million people represent themselves annually in court. In fact, in 86 percent of the civil cases involving low-income Americans, those litigants received inadequate or no legal help.
With a rise of pro se litigants across the nation—”pro se” is Latin for “in one’s own behalf”—Durham’s Courtroom5 is trying to alleviate the stress, demands and uncertainty in the legal world. The two-year-old company was co-founded by Debra Slone and Sonja Ebron to provide services for pro se litigants.
Slone is a Ph.D. librarian and former professor, while Ebron has a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and experience in entrepreneurship.
While the Co-Founders aren’t lawyers, they founded a company to help people like them, Ebron said. Both women have represented themselves in multiple civil cases from traffic regulations to debt collections.
“We have lost a lot over the way but picked up enough knowledge to understand the playing field and what to do and what to research,” Ebron said. “We are both former academics and we realized that we can represent ourselves, so why not transfer this knowledge to a large base of people who need help, too?”
Courtroom5 services are “for pro se litigants by pro se litigants,” meaning, it’s teaching clients to represent themselves.
Through dozens of cases, Ebron and Slone discovered the power of applying basic knowledge as non-lawyers to lawsuits. They learned the importance of building a litigation strategy, staying organized and concise, doing research on precedents, and doing whatever else it takes to win.
So, with a little training and the right tools, these women realized they could make things happen in their cases that few lawyers could—or, at least, few lawyers who are affordable. As a result, they built Courtroom5 to do exactly that for the millions of people who go to court without a lawyer.
The browser-based platform helps clients represent themselves through pro se training and peer advice networking. Through a monthly subscription service, users can learn how to search for cases in their field, compile document templates from summons to complaints and take online courses to learn the basics of civil litigation and procedures.
The self-serve basis gives users the resources needed to succeed, Ebron said.
“We don’t track success rates but we have exit surveys and a large number of them end up with favorable settlements,” Ebron said. “From the cases we gather, they were typically settled on terms that members can live with or were more favorable than they expected.”
Over the last six to eight months, the company has grown its revenue by 20 percent month-over-month. Courtroom5 is looking to reach $2 million revenue in 2019, which is definitely possible, Ebron said.
The bootstrapped company was one of five companies to win an NC IDEA grant of $50,000 in the most recent cohort in December 2018. They will soon be looking to raise a pre-seed round from angels or other investors across the state.
With over 20 million pro se litigants that Courtroom5 could serve, the company is looking to revamp its user experience within the next 12 months and partner with lawyers or like-minded people in the profession.