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2 Chapel Hill tech companies chart path for legal innovation

Posted November 18, 2019 5:00 a.m. EST

Jury-X and iTicket.law are leveraging tech to ease the experience of attorneys and their clients. (PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek/Big Stock Photo)

This article was written for our sponsor, the Town of Chapel Hill.

Digital disruption is occurring in every industry, and the legal sector is no exception. While much of the attention the Triangle receives with regard to innovation is focused on healthcare and IT, technology-based legal innovation is also happening right in our backyard.

Two companies in Chapel Hill, Jury-X and iTicket.law, are leveraging tech to ease the experience of attorneys and their clients.

Jury-X, for one, is a startup that analyzes potential bias in jurors. The journey of Jury-X from idea to thriving business is a homegrown fairytale of sorts.

After receiving a master's in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Tiffany Devereux, the company's founder and CEO, started TDx Media, which provided archived articles and historic photographs for tobacco cases.

While running TDx Media, Devereux recognized a need for attorneys to better understand potential juror bias. Shortly thereafter, she submitted her idea to Launch Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill's startup accelerator program, and was accepted into a cohort in 2016.

Devereux's stint in the program equipped her with training, resources and a powerful network of mentors from which her COO, Dina Rousset, would eventually come. When Rousset, who served as Launch Chapel Hill's program manager, decided to leave a full-time role in 2018, Devereux​​​​​​​ offered her the position. Rousset now focuses on building systems and processes to scale the company.

At its core, Jury-X is a team of big data analysts identifying the best jurors for attorneys through social media, public records and other online presence data, leveraging technology in an industry that's been slow to adapt.

"Most attorneys, still, when picking a jury, have a giant book that they draw boxes on and move sticky notes from place to place as jurors are excused for cause or hardship," Rousset explained. "People have tried to build apps for this, but they usually aren't good for lawyers, even if they're technologically strong."

Jury-X pairs deep industry knowledge with technological expertise, providing a solution that's palatable to the market. To be fair, Rousset said the lag in legal innovation isn't a fault on the part of attorneys, but is inherent to the sector.

"It's antiquated. I laugh with the development team because they'll ask me, 'How does that part of what you're doing work?,' and I'll answer 'It depends!,'" she said. "There's law, but it's the judge interpreting the law. I liken it to a movie: the pieces are the same, including a script, lights, sound and actors, but how they're brought together depends every time."

Jury-X successfully navigates this ambiguity by automating common similarities across cases while incorporating flexibility. Another key factor in Jury-X's success is the diversity of its staff.

"Chapel Hill provides us with access to an incredibly talented and diverse pool of employees that bring different perspectives," Rousset said. "We're trying to predict how a juror might think about a case, so having a diverse set of people who can understand the case, the defense, the plaintiff, and how sex, education, political factors and socio-economic backgrounds come into play is key. It's a microcosm of all of those things right in downtown Chapel Hill."

Whatever their recipe, it's working. Last year the company had 77 trials, and this year they're on par to assist with more than 100. The average win for Jury-X clients in 2017 was $6.5 million, according to the company's website.

Jury-X is located in the former Daily Tar Heel building on Rosemary Street, which is, as fate would have it, also home to another company charting new territory in the legal industry, iTicket.law.

iTicket.law is a technology company built on top of a law firm. The website focuses on lessening pain points for clients with traffic tickets across the state. Daniel Hatley, the founder, had the idea for the company while in law school.

"I got a ticket in Harnett County and paid an attorney to handle it. I didn't hear anything for six months and then got a letter that the attorney had resolved it with his preferred method," Hatley said. "I hadn't been contacted throughout the entire process or consulted. It was a black box. I was happy to see it resolved in a good way, but I felt disconnected from the process."

After graduating from law school in 2008, Hatley started his law firm. In 2014, the ticketing experience was still on his mind, so he joined a cohort of entrepreneurs at UNC's Kenan-Flagler Business School to refine an idea related to it.

Just a few classes in, he was approached by the professor who said, "You've got a product, you've got a company, stop wasting your time here, and go out and do it."

While Hatley needed to remain focused on his firm, that nudge encouraged him to hire Tom Kuell, now CEO of iTicket.law, to bring the idea to life.

Today, Hatley and Kuell have taken the entire experience of dealing with a lawyer for a traffic ticket online. The iTicket.law website works as a portal where clients can hire an attorney and track the status of their ticket from submission to resolution. The service is available in 68 North Carolina counties.

"I wouldn't be surprised if we break into Virginia and start moving into that market as well," Hatley said.

Perhaps the most memorable aspect of their approach, however, is the emphasis on the customer.

"This is a stressful experience for people. Trying to hire an attorney puts a bad taste in your mouth," Kuell admitted. "So we thought, what if we could change the mindset and the experience for folks so that it's positive?"

It seems they've successfully accomplished that mission. With more than 3,000 unsolicited five star Google reviews across different locations throughout the state, the company's impact on North Carolina citizens has elicited thousands of paragraphs of positive feedback.

"Basically, we're a customer service company that happens to practice law. The focus on customer service is our secret sauce," Kuell said. "And the technology serves that goal."

iTicket.law employs people who are as young as sophomores in college and want real-world experience in a law firm. Some end up taking gap years between undergraduate and law school. iTicket.law currently has 11 full-time employees, five part-time employees and 18 attorneys on staff across the state.

"You're only as good as your people," Kuell said. "Being in Chapel Hill, specifically downtown, allows us to get incredibly talented people."

It's evident that Kuell and Hatley want to pay homage to the university and the town that's shaped their careers and family lives. Originally from Kannapolis, N.C., Hatley came to law school in Chapel Hill in 2005 and didn't want to leave.

"I just love it. It's a fantastic place. I wanted to start and raise a family here, which I've done," Hatley said. "But the real reason we stayed here is because of the availability of an intelligent and high-quality workforce at our fingertips."

This article was written for our sponsor, the Town of Chapel Hill.

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