San Antonio startup uses technology to scrub criminal records
A student trying to get into nursing school turned to Easy Expunctions, a San Antonio startup, after she learned a hard lesson — a run-in with the law, even if it’s minor, can have huge consequences.
Easy Expunctions helps people clear their criminal records for a price, and she was willing to pay it.
According to the company, when she applied to nursing school, the college ran a background check and discovered an obstruction of highway charge, a misdemeanor, on her record. She needed to have it sealed to take classes, the college told her.
After contacting the startup, she created an account online, paid to see whether her charge was eligible for removal, and selected a services package. The company generated the legal documents she needed to petition to have her record sealed, and soon after she was cleared to continue with school, according to Easy Expunctions.
Millions of adults have criminal histories, and the digitization of data means more information is available online than ever. Employers have Google at their fingertips.
“This is something that either affects you or somebody that you know,” said co-founder and CEO Yousef Kassim, who’s also a licensed attorney.
E-Legal Inc., which does business as Easy Expunctions, provides services in Texas and several other states and is growing quickly. The company more than doubled its revenue last year, said Kassim, who declined to disclose sales figures. The startup has raised about $2.4 million since January 2017, including about $1.5 million since September.
The business has 27 full-time employees and plans to hire as many as 33 more over the next two years. Kassim recently moved the company from the Vogue Building on Houston Street into bigger offices at the Court Building, also downtown.
Nearly 100,000 people have created accounts with Easy Expunctions, Kassim said.
The website performs a background check, and customers pay $19.99 to see whether their charges qualify for expungement or nondisclosure.
In Texas, an expunction means someone’s records are obliterated, as though their arrest had never happened, Kassim said. A nondisclosure means the records are sealed and can only be accessed by certain government agencies for specific purposes — for example, if the person is seeking a specialty license.
People who haven’t been convicted tend to be good candidates for expunctions, Kassim said. Someone may qualify for a nondisclosure if he or she successfully completed deferred adjudication for certain misdemeanors.
Depending on the services they want, people can pay $499 for the standard package or $599 for premium package. Easy Expunctions generates the legal documents they need to file, along with instructions. For an expunction, the documents include a petition with a client’s personal information, details about the offense, why that person is entitled to an expunction and what government agencies might have records about the arrest.
Customers also have to pay filing fees, which can run several hundred dollars. All in all, it usually costs less than $1,000.
If someone’s petition is denied, Easy Expunctions refunds the client’s money. The startup’s refund rate is less than 1 percent, said Rommy Kassim, the company’s co-founder and chief marketing officer.
The company relies on automation and big data to generate the documents that customers need, allowing them to represent themselves in court. The Kassim brothers claim their service is cheaper than hiring a lawyer.
But a professional can help guide someone through a “complex and confusing” legal system, said Christopher Cavazos, an attorney at the Barrera, Cavazos & Powers law firm. Clients also might not be able to take time off from work.
“There’s something to be said about having an experienced attorney,” he said. “It helps the process go smoothly and correctly.”
Cavazos’ firm typically charges less than $1,500 for expunction services and takes people’s information over the phone.
People who have been arrested but had their case dismissed often don’t realize it will show up in a background check.
“You forget that there’s this next step,” Cavazos said. “Being able to go out there and not worry about your background check years later is really valuable to people.”
Yousef Kassim’s own brush with the law inspired him to start Easy Expunctions. A misdemeanor the Trinity University alumnus picked up in college was dismissed but stayed on his record. He declined to specify the offense.
It was affecting his job prospects and he couldn’t afford an attorney, Kassim said, so he did his own research to get it cleared.
“It was a really empowering experience,” he said. “I got some final closure on an issue that had been holding me back.”
The wheels started turning, and after graduating from St. Mary’s University School of Law in 2013, he started working on a patent for Easy Expunctions’ method and process of document automation. The patent is pending. He began building the business in Austin with his brother Rommy and officially launched it in 2015.
The brothers were lured to San Antonio in 2016 by city and county incentives.
The package included a grant of up to $100,000, provided that the company conduct business in San Antonio for at least six years and create up to 42 full-time jobs locally, according to the agreement. It also included a $50,000 county grant requiring the business to create at least 20 full-time positions, remain in Bexar County for at least three years and meet wage stipulations.
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Kassim also started fundraising and found an investor in his backyard. The Geekdom Fund, a San Antonio-based group focusing on early-stage companies, invested in Easy Expunctions.
When determining where to invest, the group looks at what a company has accomplished in its infancy and its market potential, said Cole Wollak, a Geekdom Fund associate.
“The market opportunity has to be there, which is something we saw with Easy Expunctions,” he said.
Yousef Kassim’s background was also appealing, he added, and the company had traction.
“He studied law and intimately understood the industry he was going into,” Wollak said. “He’d thought about the idea long before starting (the business).”
In the coming years, the brothers are looking to work with more nonprofits after creating portals for several Goodwill organizations, including Goodwill of Central Texas in Austin.
The services help clients identify elements of their criminal history they may not have known about and determine whether they qualify for expunction, said Rachel Hampton, Goodwill’s director of workforce advancement.
Someone’s criminal history can have a “dramatic impact” on their career prospects, she added. Depending on the industry, it could be difficult to land a position.
“People are more than their worst moments,” Yousef Kassim said. “We’re a lot more than that.”