This week’s Woman on a Mission is Camila Lopez, Co-Founder & CEO of People Clerk
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do professionally.
I’m originally from Cartagena, Colombia and I’m a graduate of Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, a California licensed attorney, and a consumer advocate. I started a company called People Clerk that educates and empowers everyday people to represent themselves in small claims court, so they can get the justice they deserve without paying massive attorney fees. As the CEO of a startup, I wear a lot of hats, but my main role is helping people understand that there is a better way to approach the U.S. court system — a way that works for everyone — through the power of justice technology.
What do you enjoy most about your profession and why did you choose it in the first place? What was the inspiration for your company/project?
I love what I do because I’ve always had a real drive to stick up for the little guy. That sense of internal justice I think has always been there. It was actually after seeing the Erin Brokovich movie with Julie Roberts that I knew I wanted to be an attorney. The inspiration for what I do now is a continuation of that same thread. Knowing I wanted to help the underdog win against the big guy, I went to law school to be a consumer advocate. During law school, my friends and family members would always ask me for help with their own legal issues. They needed help getting their security deposit back, or figuring out what to do about a bad contractor. They were usually real financial and legal issues, but they knew it wasn’t worth it to seek legal help, because their issues were too small, monetarily, to justify the huge cost of hiring a lawyer. That’s why I started People Clerk.
Tell us about any projects you have currently or coming up.
I’m most excited about a feature we’ve rolled out — our demand letter generator tool. Demand letters are the foundation for any lawsuit, and most of the time, you’re required to send one before actually filing your case. However, most people don’t know how to write one themselves, and think they need to pay an attorney. That’s where our tool comes in — it helps you quickly and easily generate a demand letter for free, bypassing the time and expenses and jumpstarting your lawsuit.
What is a typical day like for you?
In general, it’s helping our users navigate the platform, strategizing on what projects and builds to prioritize, and finding new ways to get the word out — usually with a good number of high-fives and laughs scattered throughout. That being said, I think any startup founder will tell you that there’s no such thing as a “typical day.” Because we’re constantly trying to improve how we operate and scale up to help more people, I have to be highly adaptable and willing to try new things. If I were to distill a common theme out of my work days, though, it would be learning. Every day, I learn something new, and I work closely with my team — either because I’m learning from them, or because what I’m learning is factored into their work. To that point, each day also involves a little bit of camaraderie. The People Clerk team is an incredibly group, so I would say that a typical day involves mastering new tasks, helping our users, and most importantly, celebrating each other’s wins.
Tell us about your community involvement – what you are passionate about outside of work and home and why/how you participate?
I’m a huge believer in giving back. I’m so thankful for the communities that I’ve been a part of over the course of my career, so I always want to try to provide that sense of community and mentorship to the next generation. For me, that means education, so I’ve spent a lot of time working with high school students to help them find their passions and get a leg up on professional development. I’ve also spoken at schools like my alma mater, the Cardozo School of Law, as well as Stanford, Western New England Law School, and others. There wasn’t always a clear path for me to get to where I am now, which is why I’m really thankful when I get opportunities to help guide others.
What is the biggest risk you ever took professionally and/or the biggest obstacle you have overcome?
Honestly, starting a company is one of the biggest risks I’ve taken. As a female founder and a Latina, there are a lot of statistics stacked against you. Women face a lot more doubt and scrutiny when fundraising than men do, even with the same ideas and qualifications. There’s a misconception in the startup world that we’re in more of meritocracy, and if you have a good idea, you’ll naturally secure the funding you deserve, but even today, there is a ton of unconscious and inherent bias around what a startup founder should look like. Companies led by women raised only about 2% of all invested venture capital last year, and that number is even lower for people of color. Working against all of this has been a huge effort — but not just by me. We’ve found champions and cheerleaders in our incredible investors, as well as in the fantastic team we’ve assembled. I think the real obstacle we’ve overcome is finding that support network, because there’s still a lot of work to be done to make the system equitable.
From where do you draw inspiration? Who have been your role models, mentors, etc?
When I need inspiration, I always look to other women in justice tech! My role models are Kristen Sonday (founder of Paladin) and Erin Levine (founder of HelloDivorce). Both of them lead awesome companies with similar missions to People Clerk’s in that they’re all about expanding access to legal recourse that has historically been too complicated or expensive for everyday individuals. There are so many brilliant female founders, both in this industry and beyond, so I never feel like I have to look far to find someone inspiring.
What do you do to keep yourself sharp? What one thing have you done in the past year that has made a significant difference in your life/your business?
Going back to the “typical day” question, I’ve recently begun winding my days down with a long post-work walk, either on the beach or just around my neighborhood. These give me so much clarity, and they’re just a nice way to keep my body moving. Because of how busy work is, it’s easy to feel like I’ve been running around all day, when really I’ve been sitting in meetings or working at my desk for most of the time. Taking a walk is a great way to remind myself of everything outside of work, and to connect with it in a physical way. It helps me come home with a clean slate rather than carrying my work back with me.
What one thing would you like to learn this year?
I’m hoping to get better at gardening! I have some tomatoes and a passionfruit vine currently, and I’m hoping to pick up new tricks to help them grow. I also want to try other fruits and veggies, eventually.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I think ideally I’m right where I am now, with People Clerk continuing to grow and serve more people. But more importantly, I see myself 5 years down the road surrounded by more B2C justice technology companies. The future I want is less about me and my personal success, and more about knowing that our mission has succeeded; that everyone has a resource to turn to when they have a legal issue.
What do you do for fun/relaxation/entertainment?
Definitely my gardening! Like I said, it’s something I’m growing into, but I’ve always loved learning, so developing my green thumb while taking care of my little garden has been such a joy.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Yes! I’m really proud of this — at People Clerk, we have a whole library with scores of educational articles about different legal topics that you can access for free. We even have them broken down by certain states and counties, which makes it a lot easier to track down exactly what you need. I want to thank my team for their work on this content, and I also want to make sure that everyone knows about it! If you’ve ever had a question about small claims lawsuits, there’s an article for you on PeopleClerk.com.
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