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Health, Science & Tech

Don't Search Until Your Eyes Bleed: Lawrenceville Company Offers Software For Legalese

Reviewing a lengthy legal document can be a long and tedious task.

“Imagine looking at a computer screen for eight hours a day reading legal terms and trying to find the needle in the haystack,” said Alan Veeck, vice president of Denali Group, a Pittsburgh-based procurement service. “Doing that for eight hours makes your eyes bleed.”

LegalSifter, based in Lawrenceville, is offering an alternative. The program ContractSifter uses algorithms to extract certain terms and phrases from thick, wordy, legal documents, said CEO Kevin Miller.

“We had a large finance institution here in Pittsburgh that needed to go through 26,000 procurement documents to look for a very specific term called ‘safer harbor,’” Miller said. “The safe harbor rules were changed in Europe in the fourth quarter of 2015, so the procurement team had the task of understanding which contracts were exposed to this change … We did it in a weekend for them.”

Veeck said Denali spends about 60 percent less time combing through legal documents using ContractSifter. He had some reservations, at first, but Miller said it’s more reliable than someone who’s spent hours staring at papers.

“The computer is much more reliable in terms of finding some of these data elements than a human being (who) might get tired after six or eight hours,” Miller said.

LegalSifter got off to a rocky start. Its first product, launched in 2014, was aimed at freelance software developers reviewing their contracts for fairness and quality. Miller said it gained 4,000 customers in the first week, but they were contacted by a handful of attorneys contending LegalSifter practiced law without a license. Miller said the product was shelved; the company wasn’t ready to defend its position.

In the future, Miller said he hopes LegalSifter could help tenants in disputes with their landlords or any kind of court proceeding where someone isn’t able to hire a lawyer. As the company grows, Miller said he also wants to create more jobs in the Pittsburgh region.  

“We are really nine months into what we hope will be a long career,” Miller said. “And we believe that we’re going to offer the community of Pittsburgh just a terrific global tech story that we can get excited about and be proud of.”

In this week's tech headlines:

  • Graduate students at Carnegie Mellon University have discovered a method for classifying nerve fibers that could accelerate the pace of brain-mapping projects. As part of the University’s first ever neurohackathon, students studying computer science, machine learning and neural computation analyzed large datasets generated by researchers on campus. The two-day event was organized by CMU’s brain research center known as, BrainHub.
  • Samsung is joining the cyborg movement, unveiling a fitness tracker that aims to undercut gadgets from market leader Fitbit. Beyond offering all-day step counting and automatic sleep tracking, the Gear Fit2 comes with GPS sensors for more accurate measuring of distance and pacing. The main drawback: the Fit2 won't sync with iPhones. While Samsung is the world's fifth-largest maker of wearable devices, most of those are smartwatches, where fitness is an afterthought. Fitness is front and center in the new devices. 

The Associated Press contributed to this story. 

*This story has been updated to reflect LegalSifter officials were once contacted by a handful of attorneys contending the company was practicing law without a license.

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