Startup Spotlight: Attorney-turned-software geek bets on GreenLine Legal

Attorneys often have their heads buried in massive amounts of legal documentation. But a new Seattle area startup called GreenLine Legal wants to help lawyers sort through the clutter more efficiently.

Started by 31-year-old attorney Ehren Brav, GreenLine Legal is attempting to apply text analytics to legal language in order to help lawyers find what they need. Quickly.

The first application, which is being launched today in conjunction with Seattle law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, allows entrepreneurs and early-stage investors to analyze a term sheet and instantly compare it provision-by-provision against market standards.

“It gives you a much clearer sense of whether the proposed terms in your deal conform to the widely-accepted models out there and we’re hoping it will find wide use among entrepreneurs, investors and their legal counsel,” says Brav.

There aren’t many attorneys who’ve made the leap from a legal career to software development. (We’re aware of HiveBrain’s Michael Schneider who switched to iPhone app development, but few others). We chatted with Brav about that transition and to get a better sense of what GreenLine Legal is all about.

Ehren Brav is trying to change the way attorneys work

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “GreenLine is Web-based software that searches for, recognizes, extracts and analyzes legal provisions in contracts, making it easy to see how an agreement compares to market standards or what terms a company has agreed to in the past.”

Inspiration hit us when: “I started my career as an associate in a large New York law firm. There were so many times, always for some reason late on Friday night, when I’d need to find a certain provision from a big stack of agreements. This would happen again and again – either you needed to review the contracts to see if any would be implicated in a transaction or you were drafting something and needed to find the right model. I would have killed to get something like GreenLine. It just makes this task so much easier, so you can focus on the critical legal issues. This is good both for lawyers and for clients.”

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “We’re self-funded to date, but plan on raising an angel round.”

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “We’ve developed a machine learning algorithm to reliably recognize thousands of legal provisions. Legal text is almost always based on precedents, so it tends to be quite consistent over time. We combine this new technology with a deep understanding of the problems lawyers face every day in their work.”

The smartest move we’ve made so far: “By far, it’s been engaging the right partners and mentors.”

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Starting out, I was trying to do too much by myself. It’s so important to find the right people, delegate real responsibility to them and trust and support their work. Not only does that multiply your productivity, it ensures the team is motivated and challenged by what they do.”

Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Bezos. I’m amazed at Amazon’s ability to enter new lines of business before anyone else and execute on that vision. We want to start with one big idea and then opportunistically expand into additional lines of business that leverage that idea – there are just so many applications or this tech. I’d love to have Bezos advising us on that process.”

Our world domination strategy starts when: “Redlining (or diff-ing for all you software geeks) is something transactional lawyers do every day. When greenlining becomes just as ubiquitous, we’ll have accomplished our vision.”

Rivals should fear us because: “Our product is easy-to-use, cost-effective and solves a painful problem. It takes about 30 seconds to get started using it, which is a big contrast to much of the other legal tech software out there.”

We are truly unique because: “I don’t think there are many attorneys who are also software developers (let me know if there are any out there…I’d love to talk!). After I founded the company, I did the bulk of the initial development myself. Usually you don’t have a domain expert who also does a lot of the coding - that’s great since there is no gap between the business requirements and the technical implementation.”

The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is:  “Getting the technology to work – getting computers to recognize text is hard. This took many, many experiments and a lot of patience.”

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “You’re in it for the long term. Everything will be harder, take longer and be more expensive than you’d expected, even if you’ve already factored this into your calculations.”

Startup Spotlight is an occasional look at a Seattle area statup company. Have an interesting new venture you want spotlighted in GeekWire? Fill out the questions above, send a couple photos of the founder(s) and company logo to tips@geekwire.com. Past profiles can be found here.

  • Ashsea

    Love this idea.  Going to share it with all my nerdy tech transaction cohorts!

    • http://twitter.com/ehrenbrav Ehren Brav

      Many thanks – we’re always looking for more folks to help beta our new features…let me know if you guys are interested!

      • Ashsea

        That would be great!  (BTW, turns out we have a mutual cohort in the Seattle area.  I was telling him about your software, and he said, “Oh, you mean Ehren’s project?”)  

  • Anonymous

    Really smart move Ehren.  Legal software is usually horrible because the people making the software don’t understand how it is going to be used.  Best of luck with the venture.

    • http://twitter.com/ehrenbrav Ehren Brav

      Thanks, Michael – it’s really too bad that lawyers end up spending so much time fighting with their tech.  Sometimes it’s easier finding something on google than on your own knowledge management system, even at a big firm.

  • Mason B.

    There are lots of patent attorneys that have been or still are software developers.  Since patent attorneys have to have an engineering degree, having an engineering career first is a common path in that industry.  I spent 7 years writing code at Microsoft before I switched to the legal world, and I’m still working on several software projects in my limited free time.  Glad to see work like the above to bring the legal space into the current century.  In general, it is still a profession that does a lot of things in very old ways. 

    • http://twitter.com/ehrenbrav Ehren Brav

      Right – good point.  I hope some of them decide to become entrepreneurs!  

  • Bill

    Very interesting solution. I’d be curious to see how it works. Who is it being marketed to? Law firms are tough sells for anything that they could possibly charge attorney or paralegal time for costs them money, which is the largest reason who law firms are so inefficient in their adoption of technology. In-house legal teams value efficiency but often have very small IT spend budgets. 

    Each time Ehren wasted his time comparing documents to precedent, it was typically billed at $8 per minute or more if he was at a major New York firm. Then the real secret sauce is having access to market data and precedent for comparison, so it is hard to get a good data set for comparison even with the right tool. I’m curious how they get the data for comparison.

    • http://twitter.com/ehrenbrav Ehren Brav

      With term sheets, it’s easy since there are several well-recognized models out there.  Likewise with SEC-filed agreements – you can always pull the latest significant deal to compare against.  Other than that, a firm can use our software to compare agreements against internal precedents.  

      I believe there’s a shift underway in the legal services industry – levels of alternative fee arrangements are rising and firms are under pressure to demonstrate technological efficiency.  Jason Mendelson has written an great analysis of this here:
      http://www.jasonmendelson.com/wp/archives/category/law-firm-20

      I think on a micro-level, lawyers are frustrated with how much time they spend hunting around for the right language or trying to get a handle on firm-wide or company-wide practices.  You just spend too much of your time on these ancillary tasks.

      • Bill

        Thanks Ehren. I subscribe to Jason’s theory, but believe the practice is far different as you get to mid-sized and larger firms. I think it is a really interesting product and I may ping you separately to learn more.

        • http://twitter.com/ehrenbrav Ehren Brav

          Please do – look forward to hearing from you.

  • http://twitter.com/bruce_2b Bruce Wilson

    Interesting concept, seems like it has a chance of becoming a “must have”–if it works as advertised. So, it “recognizes” concepts. Is there a training component (like semantic clustering), then, which enables users to focus on their specific practices?

    • http://twitter.com/ehrenbrav Ehren Brav

      Yes, similar to clustering but applied in a novel way.  There is indeed a training component that we do ourselves now but soon hope to crowdsource.  So if you have particular language that you always focus on, you’ll soon be able to “teach” GreenLine to pull that out for you.  

  • Chirag

    Awesome Ehren!

    • http://twitter.com/ehrenbrav Ehren Brav

      Thanks, Chirag

  • http://www.puzzazz.com Roy Leban

    Great to hear of the excellent progress and public launch. Best of luck!

  • Pelos1

    Are you still in business? I can’t find your website and I am very interested in your product. Even if not in business anymore, I would like to speak to you regarding your offering.