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Ep. 41: Kevin Miller of LegalSifter

Summer of 50 PGH Tech Stories
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Despite the COVID-19 Pandemic, LegalSifter continues to grow and add staff. Born of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 2013, a city at the heart of the artificial intelligence evolution, LegalSifter exists because its leaders believe that thinking-reading-writing technology will unlock the potential of the legal profession to become affordable. It has e started with contracts, the most important documents in global commerce. CEO Kevin Miller gives us the whole story.

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Transcription:

So today on our Summer of 50, Pittsburgh Tech Stories, we're talking to Kevin Miller from LegalSifter, a super cool company here in Pittsburgh that I cannot wait to learn more about. Because what they do, it kind of blows my mind a little bit like being able to take all this legal work and be able to put that to where it's like they can easily generate contracts and things like that. I think it is amazing stuff. And we've watched them grow over the years. And before hit the record button on this, Kevin was saying like, yeah, we're still growing, despite this pandemic, which makes me feel so good, because I worry about all our tech companies out there because I know this pandemics been crazy on everybody. But I also know that we got the smartest women and men working in our industry, and they find crazy cool ways around this. I know Kevin 5000 ways around it. So Kevin, man, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me today. It's good to connect again. I'm glad to hear you're doing well. And welcome to the show.

Jonathan, thank you so much for having us and I wish all your listeners out there, all the safety that we can wish on them as we head into the fall season and yeah, it's been a crazy time and I'm happy to be here.

Thanks so much. And if they can't do that hang out with our friends at Comcast here. So we're actually nearing the end of our 50 stories. It's crazy. I think we're like seven or eight more to go but you know what we're gonna be keep telling stories after this because the stories keep coming. I hate to say it it's been way too easy to tell 50 of these things over the summer like to get picky and choosey you know what I mean? And I definitely picked you guys because like I said, you're doing some amazing stuff. So let's start with like an overview of legal sifter and what it's all about. And it's really got this cool story as to how it kind of came together and it just kind of took off.

Yeah, well, I'll tell you about what we do and the problem we solve and then give you a little bit of the history if that's okay,

definitely man. Sounds good to me.

So we you know, we help we make contracts easier with AI and expertise. And you know, contracts are the most important document in global commerce and they are unit versus a pain.

If you go and talk to people about contracts, and you meet you nice when you say that, yeah, you know, if you ask somebody say, Have you negotiated a contract recently, and you just shut up, they will tell you a story. And it's usually laborious and ugly. And, you know, the problems are universal. They're global. And they're and the biggest problems in the contract lifecycle are the ones that we address. And so basically, the the problems we help people with and most of our clients or companies or organizations or nonprofits or small businesses are, are small and local governments all the way up to global 500. And then we also service law firms. But the problems that these organizations have the first problem and the biggest problem we have is in the negotiation cycle. If they're large, they have a process that's usually slowing sales are slowing purchases, which is slowing time to cash or time to cash savings, we worked so hard on improving sales, efficiency and sales cycles. But we really haven't attacked that contract review process afterwards. We got to go. That's right. That's right. So people are like, Can you make that easier because it's a pain. I'm either signing something I shouldn't worried about sign something I shouldn't or got too many people involved, and I can't afford to send everything to my attorney. And then and then after you sign, that's the before you sign problem, and after you sign, they can't keep track of the things right, exactly. Go sign the contract, file this away. It is your lady you're trying to find That's right.

That's right. And so what we've done is we've built a product called legal sifter that was, this was the origin, the company that reads contracts and gives advice and the idea is in the not too distant future, everybody on the planet will not just use grammar check or spellcheck to review these complex documents, but they're going to use a tool that reads the document or reviews it and gives in context Terms and Conditions help and so that's the aldens in it. And so that speeds things up for people. It's like a second set of eyes, or it reduces risk and makes sure you don't sign something you should write. And then that was the origin. That's what we plan to do. That's a SaaS product, and can be bought at the small business level all the way global 500. And then by accident last year, we launched a product called sifter concierge. Because we kept hearing over and over and over again, how people can't organize their contracts, despite the fact that there are 200 contract database companies out there selling databases are real and the issue the issue is databases. The databases are fine. The issue is it's like companies are buying these physical libraries to house their cat, their contracts, these databases, but all the books are on the floor. They can't they can't put them on the shelf. They can't keep them organized. Find them they can't curate them. So we created sifter concierge. It's it's a contract Librarian service. When you sign a contract, you send it to us, we will use people and AI to extract The data you need from the contracts, organize them by amendments and parents and all these things. I'm dropping into a database. If you need a database, we'll provide you one. If you want us to do it on top of your database, that'll be great. Wow. So we're solving the two biggest problems that every organization has a negotiation of these things. It because at least one party in every contract negotiation world is on another party's paper. So everybody's got a problem, right? And then once you sign, I'm just organizing the things that makes me so happy when I hear this because that's the magical things like when you have a startup tech company, you go out and you're solving one problem because that was that that was the foundation of the company. But then as you're done selling the product, you're seeing another opportunity in there. And so the idea that now you're like this full service suite now where you can help make the contracts go through quicker and more accurately, and now you can actually help make sure they stay organized. You can still find them and review them when you need to afterwards. That's awesome.

Well, it speaks to the nature of you know, I think a startup and that you have to pivot around for a while until you figure out what problem you really need. Need to solve and, and whether or not you got enough of a market to sell it to and it's a credit to our co founders, you know, I wasn't the original founder of the company, the company was founded out of Carnegie Mellon, and the co founders, you know, they played around with a bunch of different options for a while in the first year or two of the business. But one of the things they did is they built a really a beta are a, a demo product that read contracts and gave advice. And they launched it way back in 2014, to some software, or freelance software developers who never take their contracts to attorneys because they can't afford them. And the tool, the tool, you know, read the read the document gave them advice from that point of view, and, and and help them out and it was, and it was a really smart idea. And, and when they launched it, just as a trial in August of 14, they got some press and they got like four or 5000 users in a week or two. Wow. But they put it on the shelf, the company put it on the shelf, they just weren't ready to take that to market to fund it to make it all work. And so they did some project work for the next year plus, I came. That's right. So they weren't really selling that product. It wasn't doing much. And they were doing something else. They were extracting data from stacks of contracts. So then I came into the business at the end of 15 2015. And it took us about 18 months to go from that moment to launching legal sifter, but it was it was born of that original idea that said, You know what, something that reads contracts and gives advice that's going to help a lot of people. And so, you know, we just kind of went through a bunch of twists and turns and finally launched that product in 17. And it's been gangbusters ever so we just, we just keep growing. Last year, we grew four and a half times this year, we were supposed to triple right now we're doubling, nearly doubling to COVID.

So we're surviving. And we're you know, we're making away It's not easy, but but we're having some success globally. Absolutely. to back up real fast. So what were you doing before legal shift or what got you interested in being See illegal slipping. That's kind of a risky thing where it's like, here's a start up with some shoulder technology. I'm gonna come in here and figure out i was i was i was really it was an accident really. I mean, I I never wanted to be in a startup if you'd asked me I never wanted to do this it was I said to people, I'm never gonna do a start up. I don't want to do it. But But I you know, I got my started I came to Pittsburgh for a company called free markets that went public in 1999. And know that story and, and that was a big that had a big impression on my life. You know, we went from 300 to 1000 people in like a year it was remember and, and, and I interviewed the day before we went public in 99. So it's a big deal. So I came to Pittsburgh, but I'm also a licensed attorney, and I have an MBA and so I know something about this stuff. So I was there almost five or six years and then I went to education management in town and that thing blew up in a good way. And then and then I left after it was bought by goldman sachs and then and then I spent almost nine year years A great company in town called industrial scientific, which is a safety and technology business that grew from like 60 to $200 million in eight and a half years, and then eventually sold itself to fortive. very successfully couple years ago. So I knew that the business or I suspected the business was going to get sold. And so, you know, I was the chief operating officer of that company, and we had about 1000 people and, and I had a great run. That business was owned by the McElhatton family in town they were just doing well, absolutely. It was terrific. It was terrific work for we were friends to this day. And and, you know, Justin, I got to the point where I was like, you know, do you want to do a start up inside of that apparatus? Or do you want to go find something else? And, and we said, I don't know. And so I say, well, I'll maybe start looking for stuff and we'll see what happens in over the next six months. And one of my first conversations was with Sean Emirati, a bursary or ventures and Carnegie Mellon. Absolutely. And we had coffee and I had gotten to know him a little bit socially and he's like, hey, adult for this business.

I said what do you have? And he's like well I got this great business legal sifter it has no money for employees I'm not sure all of them want to say we have no product and but we think it's gonna be Big Sean what, but then he kind of mentioned this tool that they had built and and I was like well there's some real technology and I've been in around machine learning at national scientific we had something out of Carnegie Mellon for a while so I, I was familiar with technology, certainly familiar with running SAS businesses. We had SAS service hardware and Internet of Things subscription solution. And so for me, you know, I came back to my wife and I said, you know, robotics and AI is a great city to be in that space. I happen to know a lot about this problem, you know, are we gonna find something better and they built a they built this thing that actually is pretty promising. And honestly to be, to be blunt, Jonathan, about the first four weeks I may have taken the business in a different direction. Thankfully, I didn't. Okay and and we stuck to this We built this out and now we now we got a business and our rolling story and no that's awesome. I like for people maybe on all stages no yes great. Great.

Tell me you came home and told your wife and said it could be worse I could have bought a boat.

Yeah, I could have bought a boat or motorcycle. Sorry all motorcycles and boat owners are not judging you. It's just oh my goodness. That's awesome. How many people are legal sifter now?

Well, we have we have I think it's 22 full time employees for posting actually catching me here on August 21. We're gonna be posting six jobs. So everybody's listening. We'll be posting six jobs this weekend, very expanding. And then we have we have anywhere from we flex up and down anywhere from 15 to as many as 3035 contractors that we use around the world to supplement our business. So we're Look into change that mix now and bring more of that work in house into full time. Number roles we have spiked as high as 75 people because of some workload. But right now, you know, that's kind of that's kind of where we are. But we are we are going to be posting six of those jobs. Some of them have to be in Pittsburgh, some could be around. So hopefully, some of the folks that are listening, take a look, that's freakin cool. There's a ton of stories, I love being able to tell that even though all the craziness is going on now, it's like you keep moving ahead because there's no contracts happening, there's still it all has to happen and you have a solution that actually is gonna save people money and time and everything else. So it makes sense that you're still growing like crazy. So we also have a play in consumer and so our mission is to bring affordable legal services to the world by empowering people with AI. You know, one of the problems it, you know, with democracy globally is it's more and more unaffordable for people to have access to justice. You know, we have more people meant to represent the court system themselves more people that can't afford an attorney in situations that they need them. And it's not really the attorneys fault. They have not had technology that scales them that does what they do, or even a little bit of what they do. Natural Language Processing and machine learning forms of artificial intelligence things that can react to novel language is uniquely positioned to allow attorneys to engage that technology in the heart of what they do the same way engineers or marketing people or accountants or salespeople have been engaged for years, they've had tools manufacturers in the heart of that workflow for years. law firms don't have that lawyers don't have that they operate between their ears most of the time, and they have technology on the periphery that helps them with workflow or research or billing, but it doesn't help them do the practice of law. And that's because they have to react to novel language and documents and the like. Well, because NLP and machine learning can react to that net novel language, you can now create solutions in the heart of that workflow and knack can create more affordable solutions. So by example, we have partnered with a local Small law firm here in town, small, small, bigger law. And we launched about a month or so ago, Clover contracts, that tool is born. It is legal sifter reads contracts and gives advice for we're targeting right now college students or graduate students who are signing residential leases without the help of an attorney, or they can swipe a credit card, get the tool to read their lease and get some advice from a lawyer or you know, 69 bucks. Wow, that's a great solution. So awesome.

The consumer market for us is going to be long term huge and we're looking for partners in the legal field, to bring the advice to Mary with our AI, get it out in the hands of people so that people can get to these transactions without having to incur an $800 bill because they're not going to do it. They're not going to buy that transaction transaction. But that comes a level you're not going to do it but for 69 bucks, you're going to do now you're going to do it. And so we think that there's a lot of situations like that and we want to part we're partnering with the legal community to do that. And And that's what's really exciting about the future of our businesses. So how did that mission?

Yeah, how is the legal community reacting? Cuz I'm sure it first becomes one of these things like you can't take my job like, you know, a robot can't do my job. And you know, I'm sure there's pricing resistance at first. But then as they begin to use it, they realize that it's actually freeing me up to do what I do best. It's not necessarily you're reading a pretty basic, like residential, like, lease contract that your normal person wouldn't know what's going on with your lawyer, like, whatever. So I'm assuming that there's been this curve to get people cool with it.

Yeah, there's a lot of education that has to go on in general. And I will say this, I will say that with every passing quarter, the acceptance of these types of tools, and these types of conversations in the legal community continues to grow. Now, there's a movement afoot, and it's slow, but it's moving. In the legal community. It's really kind of been picking up speed over the last two to three years in particular. And, you know, three years ago, we would get an inbound right when our product came out, and And the inbound would say, Hey, I hear you can build me a robot lawyer. Now, you know, which is not what we do. And now it's like three years later, you know, the inbounds are more sophisticated or like, Hey, I hear you can help me with contracts, etc, etc, etc. And here's my problem. And so what we, you know, we it's not to say that we don't walk into a room, particularly of attorneys, and there isn't fear and doubt, right. And, you know, that still exists sometimes unreasonably so. And so we have to push up against that and educate and try to get people to say, well hang on a minute, you know, maybe you were skeptical about Google Maps when you first started using it. Now you use it all. And our point to them is, you know, I don't want to get on a plane where the where there's not an autopilot. I don't want to get in my car and drive around Pittsburgh with all our three rivers without Google Maps. I don't want to buy an attorney that doesn't have you know, a piece of AI looking over your shoulder because I know exactly, you make mistakes, and it's gonna make you a better attorney. No, by the way, it's gonna make you money. And so whatever your incentive, is we can meet that demand, what it's not going to do is replace you. And so I think the replacement conversation it does happen, particularly in larger organizations that have seen that kind of work and other jobs type of works, right, get rid of, but I think so I think we do face some of that unnatural fear in small organizations, we don't tend to find that it's more does the tool actually work? Can it really help me that kind of skepticism which is a much easier frankly, problem to solve? That being said, legal sifter is an early adopter market. Still, it has moved, but we can see signs of, you know, Crossing the Chasm and a lot of great activity because eventually this will become a normal activity for everybody. You're not going to want to review a complex document without the help of exactly yeah, it's just like doing TurboTax these days, right, which walks you through the steps. There's AI checking out your tax returns, right? You didn't mess anything up. This is very similar. And only in Pittsburgh, with a cool company like this happened where the company that's kind of on its on its last legs and you happen to have an opportunity to do something different. You Meet Sean Emirati. And it was it's great.

It's great. And we have a lot of companies in Pittsburgh and moat, you know, still a majority of our users are attorneys. But a growing number of users are in procurement and sales and operations in particularly small business. Small business owners listen to this right now. And they are doing the contract review. This is what we built the tool for, is not attorneys, not just attorneys. And, and you know, Pittsburgh is a great incubator for a business like this, because we have all these industries represented, and we've proven now the last year or two that our stuff works for everybody.

Absolutely. Kevin, what an awesome story. I'm so glad you got to tell it. I think that this is something in Pittsburgh, we should be like really proud about because this is what happens here. And I'm glad we got women and men like you. You're building these types of companies that's making Pittsburgh pretty kick ass man, you're a big part of it. Can't say

thanks so much. First, we're thrilled to be here. It's a great place to be for business, the angel community and the investor community has really supported us and We just couldn't be prouder to be here. Carnegie Mellon particular you know we're margins out of Carnegie Mellon already connection there. It's just a great place to try to incubate this business. And, you know, we're we're alive and COVID hasn't made it easy, but you know, we're hanging in there and the fall is going to be better than ever. Our pipeline is huge.

That's what I want to hear, man. So cool. Thanks for being part of our 50 summer stories with Comcast. Kevin, wish you guys continued luck. As you roll out into the fall and beyond. I know you guys are doing so well. I'm so happy about that.

Thank you so much, Jonathan. I appreciate it.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai