Josh Blandi is the CEO and Co-Founder of UniCourt, a SaaS offering using machine learning to disrupt the way court data is organized, accessed, and used. UniCourt provides Legal Data as a Service (LDaaS) via our APIs to AmLaw 50 firms and Fortune 500 businesses for accessing normalized court data for business development and intelligence, analytics, machine learning models, process automation, background checks, investigations, and underwriting.
Tell me a little about your background and journey to what you do now. What were some of the biggest lessons you learned and why?
My background as an entrepreneur and in the finance and legal spaces have propelled me to what I’m doing now in legal tech. In 2008, I started my first company, CountryWide Debt Relief. We went on to develop a successful high-volume, low-cost legal services model through developing partnerships with law firms across the United States to help consumers consolidate and ultimately eliminate their debt.
Beginning in 2012, after we’d seen a lot of success in helping consumers with debt relief, we started looking at court data to find more consumers to assist in handling their collection litigation and achieving the debt relief they needed. What we discovered was that getting bulk access to court data on the trial court level, let alone streaming real-time court data feeds, was not available from any of the larger legacy legal research providers or it was otherwise astronomically expensive and still lacking in data coverage.
With no real viable options for bulk access to court data available, we started building extractors to grab it from online public court portals. Eventually, what began as a project to find more business leads and opportunities to help consumers grew to be much more than just a project. Having seen and experienced first-hand the need in the market for Legal Data as a Service (LDaaS), we formed UniCourt in 2014 with the mission to provide easy access to court data in a real-time, structured format.
Some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned along the way, are that once you are onto something good that’s worthy of your time, stay the course. Don’t get distracted with all the shiny ideas out there. Stick with seeing your vision and company through. Don’t let it daunt you that it will most likely take 10-20 years to build a great company. And don’t fall into the VC trap - that you have to raise to be successful, because you don’t. You can grow organically, and in most cases it’s preferable, since it forces spending discipline and for you to make tough decisions like not trying to tackle everything. It forces you to stay focused.
Another important lesson I’ve learned over the years is that a company is a collection of people, and great companies are a collection of great leaders. If you’re going to build a great company, you need to hire great leaders, and if you’re a technology company, you’re going to have to invest a lot in building your engineering leadership.
Tell me a little about UniCourt. What is its purpose and how do you see it fitting into the legal ecosystem?
UniCourt is a leader in making court data more accessible and useful through our Legal Data as a Service (LDaaS) via our APIs and online app. We aggregate, structure, classify, and normalize court data from state and federal courts and provide real-time, on-demand access to that data for business development and intelligence, litigation analytics, litigation tracking, case research, investigations, background checks, due diligence, compliance, underwriting, machine learning models, and process automation. We serve a diverse group of clients across a range of industries, including legal, insurance, finance, investigations, and news media, each with their own unique use cases for leveraging legal data.
UniCourt has grown significantly from where we started, as a company initially providing access to state court data, to adding all federal court data, and later other public sources of legal data. On our journey of moving toward Legal Data as a Service and becoming one of the leading providers of legal data in the US for state and federal courts, we’ve put together a world-class engineering team based out of Mangalore, India, led by our amazing CTO and Co-Founder Prashanth Shenoy.
UniCourt’s purpose is tied directly to our mission to make court data, public records, and the law more accessible and useful. UniCourt unlocks the potential of court records by connecting and linking them to other public data sources like attorney bar data and Secretary of State data, so we can identify the real-world attorneys, law firms, businesses, and judges involved in litigation.
We see huge potential in creating a legal ecosystem that runs off our Legal Data APIs and powers the next generation of applications, products, and services. To help spur innovation in the legal industry, we kicked off our first annual Legal Innovation Contest earlier this year and we also launched UniCourt Legal News to continue our mission to improve access to the law.
What are some things you think that people get right and get wrong when it comes to understanding technology and the legal world?
What I’ve seen people get right, is the move to integrated platforms that have shown to be very valuable. Whether it’s matter or practice management platforms, legal research platforms, contract lifecycle management platforms, or investigation and due diligence platforms, the legal world can be complex, and platforms allow for the complex nature of legal work to be streamlined through better process flows and automation technologies.
What I’ve seen people often get wrong, and especially as it relates to legal technology, is not accepting that just because there is a problem, does not mean that there is a market for a solution. I’ve seen a lot of legal tech companies over the last decade try to create solutions for problems that simply don’t have a large enough market, and without a real market, it’s quite often not worth the investment needed to create, sell, and support a product.
What are your thoughts on law school's teaching technology skills?
Technology education is lacking for most law schools and, overall, law schools should be doing a better job. The legal profession is undergoing profound changes and the only constant is the adoption of more and more technology. We need to do a better job preparing our future lawyers on how to become better technologists. Law students don’t have to be experts in everything, but they should have a high-level knowledge of technology and how it can be used within the legal profession.
The need for technology education also applies to better understanding of data and data science and their applications within the practice of law. Lawyers need to be educated on the sources of available data for their own benefit to develop more profitable law practices and to also ensure they’re giving their clients the best legal representation possible. From litigation data to marketing data, client and matter management data, and so many other types of data, there are countless intersections where the practice of law can’t move forward without a better understanding of data. If the purpose of law schools is to prepare the next generation of lawyers, then there’s no way to escape the growing need for law schools to better address the technology education needs of the legal profession.
What would be your three pieces of advice to a newly minted lawyer?
Take the time to force yourself to learn technology; you’re going to need it. The practice of law will change so much over the next 30 years, you’ll hardly recognize it. Challenge yourself to spend time to learn of new ways technology can make your job easier and improve legal services delivery for your clients. Don’t limit yourself by the number of billable hours in a day and leverage technology to scale your efforts.
Have you considered working in legal tech? There is a growing demand for attorneys who want to apply their domain expertise using technology to improve the practice of law. You might find it gives you the freedom and challenge you are looking for, by allowing you to use your legal education to solve some of the most important problems facing the legal profession.
Lastly, don’t forget to use what you’ve been blessed with - your skills as a lawyer and your legal knowledge - as a force for good. Find ways to get connected to your community and help other people. In the process, you’ll become a better attorney and a better person.