Imagine this scenario: You have just weeks to file an appellate brief. The record in the case is enormous. The trial lasted five weeks, generating more than 40 reporter record volumes of testimony and trial exhibits and another seven clerk record volumes containing pleadings, motions and other filings.
Out of that voluminous record, you need to find the evidence that supports your arguments, then draft your brief citing to that evidence, and then double-check and mark your citations against the record and build a table of authorities.
In addition, you need to review your opponent’s brief and verify the accuracy of its citations to the record.
For the lawyers, it is an enormous amount of work on a tight deadline. For the client, it is a potentially costly legal bill.
But in precisely that scenario, Amy Falcon, a litigation partner with a mid-sized commercial and litigation law firm in Houston, says she was able to cut the cost of preparing the brief by 20%, and she attributes that savings entirely to the legal technology product, Clearbrief.
Finding the Best Evidence
Last year, I wrote about the launch of Clearbrief, an innovative legal technology product designed to strengthen legal writing by instantly finding the best evidence in the record to support your argument.
As I noted then, the company boasted a notable roster of seed investors, including Mark Britton, the founder and former CEO of Avvo; Bryan Garner, legal writing expert and editor of Black’s Law Dictionary; and Bill Neukom, longtime Microsoft general counsel.
A subsequent seed round raised the total investment in the company to $3.5 million and brought in additional notable investors, including Reign Ventures, the Black-women led VC firm; Court Lorenzini, DocuSign’s founding CEO; Jack Newton, CEO of legal tech company Clio; Amy Weaver, Salesforce’s president, CFO and former chief legal officer; Hadi Partovi, founder of Code.org and an early investor in Facebook and Airbnb; and Lata Setty, legal tech founder and founding LP at How Women Invest.
Clearbrief was also a participant and winner in this year’s Startup Alley at ABA Techshow, which is where Falcon discovered it.
(Disclosure: I organize the Startup Alley competition.)
An Antiquated System
As for Amy Falcon, that major appellate brief was already on her radar when she went to Techshow last March and met Clearbrief’s founder Jacqueline Schafer.
Falcon is no newbie to tech. Practicing law is her second career. Before going to law school, she was a computer programmer who worked as an information technology project manager at Shell Oil Company.
After graduating from South Texas College of Law in 2008 at the top of her class, her first job was as a briefing attorney at the Texas First Court of Appeals, where she was first exposed to the problem of the voluminous records appeals often entail.
“I worked for a judge on the First Court of Appeals and got exposed to all things appellate in the court system – including giant paper records,” Falcon told me in a recent interview. “I mean, literally, they would bring me volumes of reporters records and clerk’s records while I’m doing an appeal. So that was my first exposure to how antiquated the system was, and that was 2009.”
From there, Falcon went to her current firm and began her career in business and commercial litigation, handling both trials and appeals. While she acknowledges that the tech available to support her practice has improved over the years, she had found nothing that helped with that same problem she had first encountered as a briefing attorney – the time-consuming tedium of having to sift through voluminous records.
“Over time, the technologies have grown to be more assistive, of course, particularly in document review, but in other ways as well,” Falcon said. “But I still have that experience from the First Court of Appeals where I’m dealing with this giant record, trying to find things, trying to verify what the parties are telling you, and having to sift through the record if something doesn’t seem quite right.”
So when she went to Techshow and saw Clearbrief, she was immediately intrigued.
“I thought to myself, ‘This sounds really interesting, the fact that you can check the other side’s brief, and you can use Clearbrief to help you do your own brief.’ I decided to go back and talk to my tech team about trying this out on this case.”
Try it out she did, and the experience of using Clearbrief to write her brief and analyze her opponent’s was “just night and day different” from what she had done before.
Falcon – who also has an LLM in litigation management – and her team used it primarily to help find the record cites that they needed to support their appellate brief. Once the brief was done, and just three days before the filing deadline, they continued to use it to make sure all the citations were correct.
“That usually entails somebody going back through every citation that’s been made and pulling up all the volumes and double-checking them. Using Clearbrief, we got through – I think we had 497 cites in our brief – and we got through that in just a few hours.”
Without Clearbrief, that cite-checking process would have taken at least 15 hours of attorney time, she estimated.
“When we looked at what our budget had been for the appeal, versus what we spent on the appeal, we saved about 20% of the dollars on that particular brief.”
Although Falcon has not yet had an opportunity to use Clearbrief in another case, she has assisted other appellate lawyers in her firm in using it for their appeals. She has also advocated for litigators in her firm to use it for summary judgment motions and witness outlines and has set it up for other attorneys to use in those contexts.
Falcon also used Clearbrief to review her opponent’s brief, and said she found it enlightening to compare the opponent’s citations to the record to the actual record. It helped her better understand the documents and testimony they relied on and therefore be more prepared to respond in her own brief.
A feature of Clearbrief is the ability to create linked briefs, linking the citations in the brief to the record and enabling lawyers and judges have the brief and record side-by-side as they read.
“As I read opposing counsel’s brief, the source documents are right there,” Falcon said. “I can make notes regarding evidentiary or legal weak points in their arguments and identify the factual bases for our own counter-arguments with Clearbrief’s ability to suggest record cites.”
Ease of Adoption
Recognizing that Falcon came from a technology background, I asked her if she thought Clearbrief would be easy to use for other lawyers who lack that background.
Every technology tool takes some getting used to, she said, and lawyers’ comfort levels with technology vary widely.
“But I find that if you sit down with somebody and you walk them through the process and you take the time to have them do it while you talk them through it, it’s not that difficult. It follows or flows into the natural order of things for lawyers who are used to dealing with Microsoft Word.”
“It’s another tool on the ribbon that you pull up and it’s pretty straightforward. You just need about 15 or 20 minutes to really get the hang of it.”
While learning it is simple, Falcon said, lawyers also have to be diligent about using it.
“It’s just like any other technology. You learn how to use something once, but if you don’t use it for six months, you’re not going to remember how to do it.”
I also asked her if she thought there were particular types of cases for which Clearbrief is more or less appropriate.
In a very simple case, there may be no value in using Clearbrief, she said. But, at the same time, she added, there are other uses for it that go beyond reviewing a brief.
For example, she said that she is using it to help in preparing a demand letter to an insurance company. With Clearbrief, she can provide citations to all the documents that support her demand, and then package and link all those documents so they will go to the insurance company along with the letter. As the insurance company’s representative reads through the letter, they will be able to click through and read the supporting documents.
“That gives them the comfort that you’re not just trying to blow smoke at them to get them to pay your claim,” Falcon said. “They see there’s a real issue here, and here’s the stuff that backs that up.”
As for her clients, Falcon said they may not necessarily understand the “magic” of a product such as Clearbrief, but they do understand when their invoice is 20% less than expected.
“If I tell them, ‘We used Clearbrief to do that,’ they may not understand what that means. But they do understand that when the invoice came in, it was 20% less than what it was budgeted to be, right, and so they were appreciative of that.”