A few years ago, Denver attorney Jay Hermele was working on personal injury cases when he realized every client had the same billboard-ready question: What is my case worth?
“It got me thinking about how there’s a lot of demand for the answer to this question and not a ton of great answers out there that are available to the consumer,” he said.
So, with a small bit of funding from family and friends, Hermele developed an artificial intelligence website that seeks to deliver data-driven answers to that question.
CaseYak, which will compete against other legal startups at an American Bar Association competition March 1, uses a decade of jury verdict data to estimate the value of vehicle injury cases, then connects injured motorists to CaseYak’s clients: local lawyers.
Injured drivers and passengers fill out a questionnaire at CaseYak.com with details about them, their accident and their injuries. When they’re done, they can choose to send that information to a nearby law firm. CaseYak operates in Colorado, Florida, California and Kentucky.
“This is a nice intermediate step to get a little more information about your case before you decide whether you want to go that route” of hiring an attorney, Hermele said.
Law firms, meanwhile, receive easy case referrals and an estimated value of each case. A half-dozen firms have signed on as CaseYak clients so far, according to Hermele. In Colorado, they pay $499 per month for the service; prices vary by city and state.
“Take a drive down any street in any city and you can figure out that personal injury is a pretty competitive space when it comes to advertising and it’s dominated by a few major players,” Hermele said of ubiquitous billboards and bus ads. “So, the smaller and medium-sized firms have been pretty receptive to an alternative marketing channel.”
Evan Banker, a fellow Denver lawyer and legal tech entrepreneur, is a CaseYak client. His personal injury firm Chalat Hatten & Banker incorporates CaseYak’s case calculator into SettleUp, a program that streamlines insurance claims after a car accident.
“I really like his technology, I like where his head’s at, I like what it does,” Banker said.
Expect much of this information to make its way into a presentation Hermele will deliver next week at the opening night of the American Bar Association’s Tech Show in Chicago. CaseYak is one of 15 finalists in the ABA’s annual startup pitch competition.
“We get three minutes on stage on opening night of this conference to pitch our company and tell them why we’re going to shake things up in the legal industry,” Hermele said.
The winner gets a package of marketing and advertising products, according to the ABA.
“But just being up there and getting that attention and having the chance to talk to a large room of pretty influential people, we view that as a huge win in itself,” Hermele said.
The University of Denver graduate, who has been a lawyer here since 2011, hopes CaseYak grows into a Kelley Blue Book of law, providing the public with definitive data on what personal injury, workers’ compensation and employment law cases, among others, are worth.
“The more data we can get our hands on, the better the predictions become as we continue to help the machine-learning model learn,” Hermele said. He expects CaseYak will “facilitate negotiations and add transparency to what is a somewhat complicated and opaque process.”
Hermele, 39, is a sole practitioner who focuses on business law and doesn’t currently have any injury cases. His firm partners with the Denver firm Glade Voogt Lopez Smith Felser.
Hermele said the person he was in law school would be surprised to see that a tech startup is taking up much of his time and could, one day, lead him to move past practicing law.
“In law school, you don’t get a ton of opportunity to learn about the business of law,” he said. “As I got a little deeper into my career, I realized I am a little more suited to that approach.”