How Court Buddy Shut Out The Naysayers And Improved Access To Lawyers: On Mogul Watch
This is one in a Moguldom original series that shines the light on the founders featured on MogulWatch, a comprehensive list of startups that have received venture capitalist funding. Find out news and data about their company.
The odds of being successful in court are much higher with an attorney, but up to 90 percent of litigants are unrepresented in some states.
Attorney James Jones Jr. and his marketing expert wife, Kristina Jones, founded Court Buddy in Miami to change the way people access legal assistance, regardless of financial status.
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“In some states, as many as 80-to-90 percent of litigants are unrepresented, even though their opponent has a lawyer,” the directors of the Center for Access to Justice at Georgia State University College of Law wrote in 2017.
When tenants represent themselves in New York City, they are evicted in nearly 50 percent of cases, according to the report. With a lawyer, they win 90 percent of the time. Experts agree the odds of being successful in court are much higher with an attorney.
James and Kristina tapped into an enormous pool of potential customers, creating a new way to help lawyers find clients, clients to purchase à la carte legal services, and garnering the attention of West Coast investors,
The Jones moved Court Buddy to San Francisco, where they’ve been recognized by the American Bar Association. The startup has raised more than $6 million in Series A funding with 13 investors including Kapor Capital and NFX, according to LawSites. Additionally, Kristina made history by being one of the only 14 black females to raise more than $1 million in venture capital.
Moguldom spoke with the Jones about starting Court Buddy, going into business together and shutting out the naysayers.
When we launched Court Buddy, we had sales within the first few days so we know we had a viable product.” — James Jones Jr., co- founder of Court Buddy
Moguldom: Why did you start court buddy?
James Jones: It was really an observation of experiences I had in court. I practiced law for 10 years in Florida, and I’m still a Florida licensed attorney. I was able to see up close and personal how self-represented litigants were being treated by the courts. During my visits to court, I would make small talk with some of the people waiting to go before a judge. From the conversations I would have, it became evident they didn’t understand the seriousness of what they were facing nor what was about to happen to them. Many times, they were about to lose their home, or children or family members. I would always ask, “Why didn’t you hire a lawyer because you have a pretty complex case and are about to risk losing something major?” Their response was usually, “l am not going to pay a $10,000 to $15,000 retainer.” Some of these were people that have money and knew how effective a lawyer could be, but they just didn’t want to pay a bunch of money not knowing if the outcome would be in their favor. These encounters along with my experience of trying different business models for my own practice – whether flat rates, hourly or retainer, made me start looking at providing legal services in a different manner. I spoke with colleagues and asked how they obtained clients. Some would say they spent $40,000 to $50,000 on radio spots but couldn’t say if their leads came from those ads. I would share these conversations with Kristina, and we came up with Court Buddy.
Kristina Jones: At the time, I was working in advertising on campaigns for Walmart, Sea World, Disney and others to name a few. My brain is always in solutions mode. So, when James would tell me about these issues he was seeing, I just started going into solution mode and started asking him questions. Seeing how he was running his firm and noticing how he was really trying to work with his clients’ budgets, coupled with the fact courts were now allowing attorneys to appear for single court appearances and legal document-drafting attorneys no longer had to appear for the full case. It just seemed like this could be a good way to reduce the extreme expense of hiring an attorney by providing a flat rate for an à la carte service. We tried it out. I tapped some developers I knew and we launched in Miami. We would go down to the courthouse and tell people about our company and we quickly started to gain traction. We started to see requests from other counties in Florida. So we decided to open it up to the state in just a couple months after launch. Then requests from Texas and California came in and now we are in 46 states.
Moguldom: There are other websites that provide directory listings for each type of law. What makes Court Buddy different?
Kristina Jones: Yeah, as you said, there are sites that list all the attorneys in your county, but it’s just like doing a Google search and getting 2 million results back. Where do you even start? How do you even know if you can even afford the attorney? With Court Buddy, we instantly match people with solo attorneys based on the client’s budget, their need, and their location. You also get to know immediately what type of fee structure the attorney will charge. Our attorneys are not allowed to charge retainers, they only extend a flat rate, so it makes it a lot more affordable and predictable.
James Jones: Court Buddy focuses on court-related matters – litigation. So, I think that’s another differentiator. We also handle all the transactions and communications. We were the first to do that in the legal tech space as well as help to provide financing to consumers for their à la carte legal needs.
Moguldom: When you first got married, did you ever think, “I’m going to go into business with my spouse?”
Kristina Jones: Never.
We made sure the site could run without us. Right now, even if everyone on the team were to stop working, people would still be getting matched and could continue communicating. Everything is automated.” — Kristina Jones, co- founder of Court Buddy
James Jones: Before we got married or maybe two weeks afterward, pre-Court Buddy days, I had decided to start my own law firm. I hadn’t even spoken to Kristina about it. She was away and I gave her a call and told her. She said she told one of her friends, “What is James doing?” Her friend said, “Look, everything’s going be OK.” Kristina could tell it better.
Kristina Jones: She actually said, “This is going to be the best thing that ever happened to you.” And she was right.
James Jones: By starting your own firm, you think things are going to go well. You’re going to have all these clients and you will be a big law firm. Kristina was there with me launching the firm and saying, “Look, let’s get this done.” We did the marketing and we were able to get clients for the firm. The firm was doing well, but we started thinking about a bigger picture. And with Court Buddy, it was really let’s stop talking about what we’re experiencing in court and let’s figure out a way to solve the problem. I don’t think either of us or anybody around us could have predicted that we’d be where we are with Court Buddy today. I mean we were just focused on trying to help people. And you know what happened — a great accident, right?
Moguldom: What are some of the most memorable challenges starting Court Buddy and scaling it?
James Jones: I think when you’re launching a company or a new service, there’s always a little bit of over-optimism. I think one of the challenges we had early on was to really get the market to understand what we offer. We both had full-time jobs at the time. So finding the time to gain the feedback of colleagues and others to understand the market’s interest and pricing model was a challenge. A challenge from the standpoint of you taking feedback and constantly improving. I don’t think that is a challenge that ever goes away. When we launched Court Buddy, we had sales within the first few days so we know we had a viable product.
Moguldom: What are your thoughts on building a good team?
James Jones: We have always had a process when it comes to hiring. I think it really comes down to a gut feeling, right? You, of course, meet with the potential candidate to share your values and understand theirs. We want to know why they would want to join a company like Court Buddy. For example, if they value helping others, they could be a good fit because that’s something we do on a regular basis for thousands of people across the country. It’s really a matter of searching for the character of the person when it comes to figuring out if they would be great for the team.
Kristina Jones: I think our most successful hires have been people who are interested in this space and are dedicated to helping it. It made the hiring process much easier and the employees enjoy their job on a daily basis because they know how many people they’re helping. As founders, it’s a matter of knowing what our values are, and the culture we want to build for Court Buddy. We want to make sure we’re bringing on the right people for not only the company but for our customers as well.
Moguldom: You have participated in several accelerator and competition events. How do you continue to organize yourself to participate in these programs while still balancing growing products and revenue?
James Jones: I think that’s one of the benefits of having co-founders, right? For example, we were in 500 Startups. At one point there was a lot of programming coming at us and so we had to divide and conquer. One of us would be in a session, take notes, and then come back, and talk about them. It’s about balancing.
Kristina Jones: In the early days, we made sure the site could run without us. I mean, right now, even if everyone on the team were to stop working, people would still be getting matched and could continue communicating. Everything is automated.
The team sees how we listen to their ideas and how quickly we move to implement the ideas. This helps them to get excited and eager to create more new things because they know they’re a part of the future of Court Buddy.” — Kristina Jones, co- founder of Court Buddy
Moguldom: What do you guys do to help keep the creativity flowing so you’re making the best product and service for your clients?
James Jones: We’re collaborative. We involve the entire team in creating new ideas to either improve the overall shopping experience for customers, the workflow efficiency for our team members, and growing the team. We have regular ideas meetings. That’s a moment for everyone to really come together and discuss ideas. We debate the ideas and try to pursue the ones that make sense. Of course, working with customers and their feedback helps us as well.
Kristina Jones: The team sees how we listen to their ideas and how quickly we move to implement the ideas. This helps them to get excited and eager to create more new things because they know they’re a part of the future of Court Buddy.
Moguldom: What advice would you want to give to someone just starting their business?
James Jones: I know one thing I would say is to build something that creates value at scale and focus on that. You will make mistakes along the way but learn from those mistakes.
Kristina Jones: This is going to sound weird, but I would say you need to turn off the naysayers. Share your ideas with people who think like you and don’t share with people who have limited thinking. James, and I went into hiding while we were building Court Buddy for three or four months. We shut it all down. Our parents nor our friends knew what we’re building. I think that is part of our success story. If we were vocal and let people into the process early, I don’t know if Court Buddy would exist. I think that’s really important to go into your own cave and build.
James Jones: A huge component of launching a business, regardless of what space you’re in, is mental. You have to mentally prepare yourself for the naysayers that Kristina mentioned and for the setbacks. A large part of entrepreneurship is perseverance — being determined to get through those tough times. And, don’t forget to celebrate the great times. It’s all a part of the process. That’s a huge part of whether or not you’re going to be successful — the mental aspect of it.
Kristina Jones: And knowing there’s no playbook. I thought there was one, but now looking back I see there was none.