Even though Courtroom5 co-founder Sonja Ebron has a PhD in electrical engineering, she still felt out of her depth the first time she represented herself in court.
“I was shocked because I thought I was pretty smart,” says Ebron, adding that on her middle-class income, she couldn’t afford a lawyer after she was sued in a debt collection case. “It’s like there’s a rule book somewhere that the average person doesn’t even know exists.”
Over the years, Ebron returned pro se to court with her Courtroom5 co-founder and wife, Debra Slone. They gradually learned how to navigate civil procedure. Intent on demystifying the process for people representing themselves, Ebron, who also has a background in artificial intelligence; and Slone, who has a PhD in library and information science, launched Courtroom5 as a subscription-based platform in 2017. “We realized we both knew how to represent ourselves capably in court,” Ebron says. “We had seen tons of people who weren’t able to do that. And so we just decided to solve the problem.”
An estimated 30 million people go without representation in state courts each year, according to a 2019 survey by the Justice Lab at Georgetown University Law Center. Legal Services Corp.’s April 2022 Justice Gap report suggests that low-income Americans either get no legal help or not enough for 92% of their civil legal problems. The report states many civil legal needs are intertwined with protecting basic needs, including housing, education, health care, income and safety.
When it comes to addressing the justice gap, Courtroom5 is a drop in the ocean. But Ebron and Slone, neither of whom practices law, believe their tool can help.
Ebron says Courtroom5 stands apart because of the breadth of training and resources it provides on civil procedure. Subscribers have access to unbundled legal services if they want a lawyer for a specific issue in their case.