Camila Lopez wanted to use her law degree from Cardozo School of Law when she graduated to help a lot of people as a mass torts lawyer. But after spending time observing small claims court in New York City, she realized there was a way to help far more people.
“We saw that people were procedurally unprepared for their small claims hearing like having not filed it correctly, and they were unprepared with their evidence,” said Lopez, CEO and co-founder of People Clerk.
Lopez had watched as one small claims defendant or plaintiff after another lost their case or had their cases delayed because they weren’t fully prepared for court. “Their receipts were stuffed in their purse or backpack, having judges go through text messages on their phones.”
Help For Millions
“My co-founder Gustavo Lozano said, ‘Imagine if you had the technology and could use your law degree to help millions of people. So, when he explained the magnitude technology could bring, I took the leap,” recalled Lopez.
The result was People Clerk, an online software application to prepare defendants and plaintiffs for their day in small claims court. Lopez and Lozano launched the company in August 2020 in California, followed by New York. Texas and Pennsylvania are next.
“You would be surprised to realize just how unprepared people are because they underestimate the court process,” said Lopez. “How you win in small claims court is to be completely prepared so when you go in front of the judge, you are ready to present all of your evidence.”
Most of the cases are tenant-landlord or car wrecks.
Clients go to the People Clerk website to do an intake, which takes less than 15 minutes. “They are asked why they are suing, how much they are suing for, how they calculated that, and who they are suing. Clients then upload from their phone or computer all their evidence, pictures, text messages, contracts, receipts, and everything they have to prove their case.
People Clerk software then creates their court documents and organizes their evidence into a judge-friendly evidence pocket. The client then reviews and approves or makes changes. They then approve their documents for filing, the lawsuit gets filed, and it gets served.
“Once the lawsuit has been served, the app helps you prepare for the hearing through our content. We have video and checklists, so you know what to say and what to expect at the hearing. There is no discovery, so you have to be 150% prepared at the hearing,” explained Lopez.
People Clerk’s support line offers technical assistance on how to use the software but not legal advice. “If they need the help of an independent attorney to review, depending on the state, we have an additional add-on where they can, through the People Clerk software, connect with an attorney who will review their court documents and evidence and answer up to three questions in writing.”
Since its launch, People Clerk has empowered thousands of individuals and small businesses to navigate small claims. People Clerk tracks the percentage of cases that have a successful verdict and provide a portion of their fees back to clients if they lose. People Clerk costs $148 per case plus court filing fees plus serving costs.
Lopez said the key to People Clerk’s success will be the ease of use by people who are not law or computer savvy. She wants it to be easy enough for her grandmother. “As we do user testing, that’s how we’re going to make the software as accessible as possible.”
Portions of the People Clerk app are in Spanish. The goal is to offer it in multiple languages.
Dire Consumer Need
“People Clerk is a great example of a Justice Tech startup that directly addresses a dire legal consumer need,” said Maya Markovich, executive director of the Justice Technology Association. “Small claims courts are designed to resolve disputes quickly and inexpensively, with simplified rules and an informal hearing process where attorneys are generally not allowed, but in practice, small claims litigants often must navigate through inefficient and confusing rules, forms and procedures.”