Many things can change over a year in the life of a startup; Courtroom 5 is no exception.
Just over a year has passed since Sonja Ebron and Debra Slone, co-founders of Courtroom5, won the $5,000 grand prize at the 2019 Duke Law Tech Lab Demo Day.
In that time, Courtroom5 also participated in several other high-profile accelerators: first, the LexisNexis Legal Tech Accelerator in 2019 and then Techstars Kansas City in 2020, where they raised $120,000.
Sonja and Debra continue to be recognized for their innovative company that helps people go to court without a lawyer. Just a week after the Duke Law Tech Lab Demo Day, they took home the grand prize at the 2019 Black Founders Exchange Demo Day in Durham, hosted by American Underground and Google for Startups. Additionally, this fall Courtroom5 was among 76 recipients of the Google for Startups Black Founders Fund, receiving $50,000 in non-dilutive funding as part of a total $5 million being awarded nationally to startups led by Black founders.
“It’s been a great year” said Sonja Ebron, when we caught up with her on October 27. These accelerators have “gotten us in front of people who have helped get the work done” — resulting in exciting growth like adding two advisory board members whose former stomping grounds include Avvo and LegalZoom. Sonja has also taken on national leadership roles that include serving on the LSC Leaders Council and as an advisory board member for the Redefining Criminal and Civil Justice Tech project, organized by American Family Insurance Institute and Village Capital. By sharing her own experience of how capital can be leveraged in the justice tech ecosystem, Sonja is paving the way for the next generation of legal innovation.
While these public acknowledgements of their success, including critical funding, have been valuable to the success of the company, it’s the difference Courtroom5 makes to their customers which keeps them in business. If the statistics on the high unmet need in the United States for legal information don’t convince you of the need for Courtroom5, just read a few questions on their blog from all the individuals going pro se. Since beginning operation, Courtroom5 has helped thousands of people represent themselves and have access to justice that otherwise they would not be able to have.
“The pandemic is having a tremendous impact on our country and also on Courtroom5,” Sonja noted. “I’m glad we can have a positive impact on the economic consequences of the pandemic.”
Even as business rapidly changes due to the pandemic, Sonja shared that some things are the same: their empathy for customers, for one, “We started this because we are them. We know the struggle.” If anything, Sonja and Debra’s empathy with their customers has deepened, and their commitment to solving the problems in the justice system remains as strong as ever.
Another thing that’s different since they finished the 2019 Duke Law Tech Lab program? They’ve hired Jesse Okiror, co-founder of Suprabrook, as Courtroom5’s first Product Director and General Counsel. Jesse and Sonja first connected during the 2019 Duke Law Tech Lab. Jesse noted that he was impressed by the Courtroom5 team whenever the cohort got together (virtually), and after the program ended, they “helped each other out when we could. When I started thinking of teams I’d like to join after my previous startup, Sonja and Debra were the first people I contacted.”
Not only is Jesse’s experience running a legal tech startup a valuable asset to Courtroom5, its clear that his empathy for customers and commitment to empowering litigants is a great fit: “A lawsuit is such a scary and confusing thing to happen to someone, and I say ‘happen to someone’ intentionally because very few people go looking for lawsuits. Most of the time, the lawsuit finds them and, in too many cases, the process rolls right over them. Courtroom5 gives people power in that process, and I’m thrilled by the opportunity to push that mission forward.”
In addition to these changes to the Courtroom5 team since the end of the 2019 Duke Law Tech Lab, Sonja says she is different, too: “We’re still a small organization but I’ve learned a lot more about leadership.” As the CEO, she maintains focus on operations, but in 2020, she says that she has learned more about delegating, leading, expressing her vision, and talking to investors. “We have a clearer and broader vision of what we can accomplish in the world.”