Interview with Mark Torchiana, CEO of Courtroom Insight

As with any field of human endeavor, the field of law firm knowledge management continues to evolve and become increasingly specialized. With enormous advances in the areas of e-discovery, document search technology and even in the Internet itself, each advance seems to spawn a new approach never before considered or even technically possible.

A perfect example: law firm knowledge management has given rise to the field of litigation knowledge management. And, inevitably and as should be expected, there are now trends pointing to greater concentration, focus and specialization within the field of litigation knowledge management.

An interesting new company has emerged onto the scene that represents yet another example of increasing specialization. Courtroom Insight, a San Francisco-based company founded in 2009, has created a software platform that supplements a law firm’s existing litigation knowledge management system. The platform’s mission is to allow litigators fingertip access to information about judges, neutrals and expert witnesses.

Having inked a contract with Amlaw 100 firm Littler Mendelson, Courtroom Insight is getting significant play as being on the cutting edge of this new and emerging field.

The Interview

Mark, please explain how you came up with the idea?

I started my career as a litigation consultant and forensic accountant. Several years ago, my business partner, Everett Harry, and I were brainstorming ways to market our expert witness services to hiring attorneys. We discussed typical marketing ideas such as authoring journal articles and presenting relevant accounting issues to groups of attorneys. We also considered paid advertising. We observed that a multitude of print and online expert witness directories existed, but none of them contained relevant performance information. Based upon this discussion, we identified what we believed to be an opportunity to bring the type of rating and review systems already available to contractors, professors, lawyers and others to the world of expert witnesses and litigation professionals.

What was your initial vision of what the company’s primary mission and product would be?

Our initial goal was to build an online directory and review system where attorneys and clients could share valuable performance evaluations about persons with whom they have worked. To encourage a fair and honest exchange of information, attorney and judge users are verified before they are allowed to write reviews and all users are allowed to post anonymously. We hoped this would bring transparency to the litigation space.

We launched public directories of expert witnesses, arbitrators and mediators in 2010. Subsequently, we created and published a judges directory which includes federal, state and administrative law judges.

Could you explain how that vision has changed over time and why?

Our goal to bring transparency to the industry has been slowed by attorneys’ hesitancy to publicly share performance reviews on Courtroom Insight. Whether by nature or by training, attorneys are risk averse and therefore less likely to offer opinions about experts and judges publicly. However, attorneys do rely upon their colleagues to share valuable information informally. After speaking with a few different law firms, we recognized an opportunity to develop a private version of our platform specifically for use within a particular firm.

Recently, law firms have invested significant resources into building internal systems for sharing legal knowledge within the firm. However, firms have failed to invest in similar systems for capturing, organizing and sharing knowledge about the many experts, neutrals and judges with whom they interact. Even the largest law firms in the country still typically rely upon email communications to share information about litigation professionals. “Does anybody know…?” emails are an extremely ineffective system for sharing information due to low response rate, lack of timeliness and failure to create a historical record of experiences.

This lack of institutional knowledge sharing leads to mistakes. I’ve heard several stories about attorneys being surprised in the courtroom when an opposing expert discloses during cross-examination that he or she has previously been retained by the firm. I’ve also heard from attorneys who wish they knew more about a judge’s courtroom preferences prior to appearing in court. Courtroom Insight’s private solution for law firms is a superior system for tracking and organizing this critical information.

What are the key features and benefits of your product and the ones that most excite your new customer base?

Law firms typically face a build or buy debate when it comes to our system. Firms may utilize in-house developers and existing software to build a database which can be used internally to share experiences. However, these systems start out with little to no information and must painstakingly be built from the ground up both in terms of coding and content.

Courtroom Insight leverages its public directories of 100,000+ litigation professionals as a starting point. Our customizable templates offer firms an opportunity to begin capturing valuable firm-wide information immediately. We also add significant value by providing additional fully integrated content not available elsewhere. Publicly posted performance reviews, expert witness challenge data and inexpensive custom expert witness research are all available directly from Courtroom Insight. Our value proposition stems from this combination of a ready-made software platform with unique, integrated content.

When you’ve encountered resistance to selling your product, what have been the primary objections?

The primary pushback we hear is that attorneys are unwilling to write reviews – even if those reviews are only shared within the organization. However, this objection is flawed. First, our initial installation at Littler demonstrates that attorneys are willing and able to write reviews when it becomes a firm priority. Second, we developed alternative methods to gather and contribute content. For instance, paralegals, assistants, librarians and others have the ability to start or even complete evaluations on behalf of attorneys. Attorneys are sent email notifications and retain the ability to edit those reviews. In addition, Courtroom Insight will work with firms to develop strategies to extract useful information regarding prior appearances and retentions from existing documents. This is an effective method to capture useful information regarding which professionals have previously been retained by the attorneys at the firm.

Where do you go from here?

It’s exciting to be on the cutting edge of litigation knowledge management because firms are coming to us with new ideas regarding content, services and integration with existing firm software. For instance, our new document sharing feature and directories of EEOC investigators and administrative law judges are a direct result of client input. We love working with such forward-thinking firms because our joint efforts result in a growing and constantly improving solution that benefits all of our users.

In addition to product enhancements, Courtroom Insight is focused on expanding into the insurance industry. There is a real opportunity for corporate counsel and claims groups to utilize our solution to leverage the knowledge and experience of internal staff and outside counsel. Similar to our start with large law firms, we are working with one forward-thinking insurance company to pilot our software. This will lead the way to improve litigation knowledge management within the insurance industry.