Duke Law Tech Lab Demo Day grand prize goes to public defense video transcription service
This year’s cohort included four early-stage legal tech start-ups focused on increasing access to justice.
JusticeText was awarded both the $5,000 grand prize and another $1,000 as audience favorite at Duke Law Tech Lab’s annual Demo Day pitch competition. The company offers a video transcription service for public defenders and other criminal defense attorneys.
The start-up was one of four early-stage companies in the 2020 cohort of the Center on Law & Technology’s summer pre-accelerator program for early-stage legal tech companies. Recognizing the national focus on social justice issues, this year’s DLTL cohort exclusively focused on start-ups developing products that expand access to legal information and services. The program, now in its fourth year, annually culminates in Demo Day, which was held before a virtual audience Sept. 25.
Don't Get Mad Get Paid was named runner-up by Demo Day judges for its self-guided solution to recover unpaid child support and received $2,500.
Devshi Mehrotra, co-founder and CEO of JusticeText, said the connections she made during the program were invaluable in moving the company toward taking its product to market.
“Participating in Duke Law Tech Lab allowed me to connect with mentors, researchers, and fellow entrepreneurs who are similarly motivated to expand access to justice in light of the stark inequities in our civil and criminal legal system today,” she said.
The presentations were judged by Kim Bart Mullikin ’02, senior director of the NC Bar Foundation; Jeff Pfeifer, chief product officer at LexisNexis; Sara McKenna, managing counsel at Travelers; and Chris Martin, lead innovation and technology solutions attorney at Latham & Watkins. The latter three companies are sponsors of Duke Law Tech Lab.
“As the access to justice gap widens, our profession needs to invest in more and different ways to address unmet legal needs,” Bart Mullikin said. “New technologies promise to deliver access in creative ways that harness the energy of entrepreneurs motivated by a commitment to both service and bottom line success.”
The other DLTL participants were People Clerk, which guides pro se litigants in California through the small claims process, and Yo Tengo Bot, an AI-based solution to automate interactions between immigration law firms and potential clients.
During the three-month program, founders expand their networks, learn to navigate the legal tech environment, and move their business plans forward via mentoring, online resources, and weekly live remote presentations by legal tech leaders, subject matter experts, and key industry players. Having completed DLTL, three of the companies — JusticeText, Don’t Get Mad Get Paid, and People Clerk — have gone on to the LexisNexis Legal Tech Accelerator, a 10-week program. JusticeText also is currently participating in the 500 Startups accelerator.
“This year’s cohort has left me inspired,” said Clinical Professor Jeff Ward, director of the Duke Center on Law & Technology and associate dean for technology and innovation. “Together the teams painted a compelling picture of how the law — fueled by the thoughtful use of people-centered technology — can work better for everyone. Each one of our teams started from an all-too-common starting place: real stories of justice denied. That makes them especially compelling and important.”
JusticeText, founded by Mehrotra and Leslie Dove-Jones while they were computer science majors and student activists at the University of Chicago, helps defense teams process evidence by providing transcription for sources such as body camera footage, interrogation videos, and courtroom proceedings. It is sensitive to low audio quality recordings and its algorithms are tailored to the unique lexicon of law enforcement and the legal system.
“The criminal legal system typically relies on technology that is decades out of date, and that often impacts inadequately funded public defenders and their clients most of all,” said L. Neil Williams, Jr., Professor Brandon Garrett, faculty director of the Wilson Center for Science and Justice. “JusticeText’s work to facilitate data analysis of video discovery could improve the quality of defense work.”
JusticeText will be piloting its software in public defense offices in Queens, N.Y.; Washington, D.C.; Cincinnati; Las Vegas; and Atlanta in upcoming weeks, Mehrotra said. It will market the product at an affordable price to public defense offices across the country and later expand to private practices and continue to add features and applications that will expand its value beyond transcriptions.
After two years of working part-time on JusticeText, Mehrotra said she and her partner are looking forward to devoting all their energies to the company and building their client base.
“The idea of building something from the ground up has interested me from the beginning,” she said. “Being able to take the leap and make this my number one priority is really exciting.”