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Court Innovations expanding access to the court system, one click at a time

6.15 Feature Court Innovations Photo 1
6.15 Feature Court Innovations Photo 1

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Court Innovations, the first company to spin out of University of Michigan Law School, is expanding access to the court system, one click at a time. Its online platform, MatterhornTM, frees citizens to resolve outstanding issues without going to court. Matterhorn is currently in use at several Michigan courts, and Court Innovations has grown to 10 employees and interns in the last year.
There’s no denying the need for an innovative approach to handling the backlog of cases that judges and the courts currently experience, and that offering a new way for citizens to interact with the court can improve the judicial process. This truly transformative opportunity is what inspired JJ Prescott, a law professor at University of Michigan and his former student Ben Gubernick, to found Court Innovations and push the technology to market.
The chance to make an impact attracted MJ Cartwright, Court Innovations’ president, to the company. She said, “Building a company that can make a huge impact on our court infrastructure, including the ability for all citizens to access the judicial system, is an exciting opportunity.”
As part of building the company, Cartwright and Prescott worked with University of Michigan’s Office of Tech Transfer. The team also attracted one of the first investments awarded by University of Michigan’s Third Century Initiative, a $50 million/5-year initiative to develop innovative, multi-disciplinary teaching and scholarship approaches.
Tracy Davis, Court Innovations’ product director, explained that the company is perfectly positioned to educate the public on what justice means in today’s judicial system. “We have a great, unique opportunity to help people understand what courts do. We tend to see courts as the ‘punishing’ entity, but courts exist to ensure that we are heard, and that justice is served.”
Davis, a former journalist who was a fellow of University of Michigan’s Knight-Wallace Journalism program, joined Court Innovations after Ideomed, a start-up based in Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor, was closed earlier this year. She jumped at the chance to work for another software company in Ann Arbor.
“The software scene in Ann Arbor is rapidly growing. It's a great time for people who are interested to get involved,” Davis explained. “I started in software as a content developer after the Ann Arbor News closed in 2009. I chose to leave journalism, and that was a hard decision, but it was the right one. Bottom line: If you have a spirit for teaming, a thirst for knowledge, an aptitude for learning and gray space doesn't freak you out, there's a place for you in the tech world.”
For Saaed Fattahi, Court Innovations’ CTO, being able to work for a tech company in Ann Arbor was a welcome opportunity. Saaed, who graduated with a bachelor’s and a master’s from University of Michigan, worked in Silicon Valley since 1990. After commuting to Silicon Valley for more than 20 years, he has been looking for the right job opportunity here in Michigan.    
“I never thought that I’d be able to find the type of VC-funded software start-up that is so common in the Silicon Valley here in Michigan,” Fattahi said. “I’ve always wanted to find an exciting start-up in Ann Arbor and work locally. Ann Arbor offers a great variety of art, academic and cultural events, great culinary choices and a diverse population. The entrepreneurial atmosphere in Ann Arbor is definitely in high gear. Working in downtown puts me at the heart of it all.”
“Downtown Ann Arbor is a positive draw in recruiting talent,” Cartwright added. “It’s a dynamic town with a lot of diversity and culture. Plus, Ann Arbor has a strong start-up support infrastructure that includes businesses, talent and universities.”
Court Innovations’ UI/ UX expert, Andrew Iacco, a Michigan State University graduate, concurred with Cartwright on the company’s location in Ann Arbor and its positive influence on his decision to join the team. “Ann Arbor has smart, interesting people, great food, great schools, downtown, and decent traffic and commute. I’m committed to stay in the Ann Arbor area for the foreseeable future.”
“Ann Arbor’s a unique city for software companies,” Iacco added. “It’s got this unique mix of people and resources that makes it a hotspot of innovation. Over the past 10 years I’ve seen an explosion of new companies start and grow, or relocate to the Ann Arbor area. I’m really excited about the future; Ann Arbor could be the Silicon Valley of the Midwest.”
Being able to find talent like Tracy, Saeed and Andrew has helped propel Court Innovations’ growth. In the coming year, the company plans to use its experience in Michigan to expand to new states, and having a strong team in place will make that growth -- and fulfilling Court Innovations’ mission to increase access to justice -- possible.
“It is not easy to find the right people with the right combination of talent, passion and start-up interest,” Cartwright explained. “Working for a start-up is hard work. We don't have ‘peeps’ -- we have each other, our passion and we all have to dig in to make it work! But the resulting rewards, when we are able to implement changes with the courts, and see the benefits to all the involved parties, is totally amazing!”
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