Nov
20
2020
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Onit acquires legal startup McCarthyFinch to inject AI into legal workflows

Onit, a workflow software company based in Houston, announced this week that it has acquired 2018 TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield alum McCarthyFinch. Onit intends to use the startup’s AI skills to beef up its legal workflow software offerings.

The companies did not share the purchase price.

After evaluating a number of companies in the space, Onit focused on McCarthyFinch, which gives it an artificial intelligence component the company’s legal workflow software had been lacking. “We evaluated about a dozen companies in the AI space and dug in deep on six of them. McCarthyFinch stood out from the pack. They had the strongest technology and the strongest team,” Eric M. Elfman, CEO and co-founder of Onit told TechCrunch.

The company intends to inject that AI into its existing Aptitude workflow platform. “Part of what really got me excited about McCarthyFinch was the very first conversation I had with their CEO, Nick Whitehouse. They considered themselves an AI platform, which complemented our approach and our workflow automation platform, Aptitude,” Elfman said.

McCarthyFinch CEO and co-founder Whitehouse says the startup was considering whether to raise more money or look at being acquired earlier this year when Onit made its interest known. At first, he wasn’t really interested in being acquired and was hoping to go the partner route, but over time that changed.

“I was very much on the partner track, and was probably quite dismissive to begin with because I was quite focused on that partner strategy. But as we talked, all egos aside, it just made sense [to move to acquisition talks],” Whitehouse said.

The talks heated up in May and the deal officially closed last week. With Onit headquartered in Houston and McCarthyFinch in New Zealand the negotiations and meetings all happened on Zoom. The two companies’ principals have never met in person. The plan is for McCarthyFinch to stay in place, even after the pandemic ends. Whitehouse expects to make a trip to Houston whenever it is safe to do so.

Whitehouse says his experience with Battlefield has had a huge influence on him. “Just the insights that we got through Battlefield, the coaching that we got, those things have stuck with me and they’ll stick with me for the rest of my life,” he said.

The company had 45 customers and 17 employees at the time of the acquisition. It raised US$5 million along the way. Now it becomes part of Onit as the journey continues.

Sep
05
2018
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McCarthyFinch AI services platform automates tedious legal tasks

McCarthyFinch sounds a bit like a law firm — and with good reason. The startup has developed an AI as a Service platform aimed at the legal profession. This week, it’s competing in the 2018 TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield in San Francisco.

The company began life as a project at a leading New Zealand law firm, MinterEllisonRuddWatts. They wanted to look at how they could take advantage of AI to automate legal processes to make them more efficient, cost-effective and faster, according to company president Richard DeFrancisco.

“They were working on leveraging technology to become the law firm of the future, and they realized there were some pretty tremendous gaps,” he explained. They found a bunch of Ph.Ds working on artificial intelligence who worked with more than 30 lawyers over time to address those gaps by leveraging AI technology.

That internal project was spun out as a startup last year, emerging as an AI platform with 18 services. MinterEllison, along with New Zealand VC Goat Ventures, gave the fledgling company US$2.5 million in pre-seed money to get started.

The company looked at automating a lot of labor-intensive tasks related to legal document review and discovery such as document tagging. “Lawyers spend a lot of time tagging things with regards to what’s relevant and not relevant, and it’s not a good use of their time. We can go through millions of documents very quickly,” DeFrancisco said. He claims they can lower the time it takes to tag a set of documents in a lawsuit from weeks to minutes.

He says that one of their key differentiators is their use of natural language processing (NLP), which he says allows the company to understand language and nuance to interpret documents with a high level of accuracy, even when there are small data sets. Instead of requiring thousands of documents to train their models, which he says law firms don’t have time to do, they can begin to understand the gist of a case in as little as two or three documents with 90 percent accuracy, based on their tests.

They don’t actually want to sell their platform directly to law firms. Instead, they hope to market their artificial intelligence skills as a service to other software vendors with a legal bent who are looking to get smarter without building their own AI from scratch.

“What we are doing is going to technology service providers and talking to them about using our solution. We have restful APIs to integrate into their technology and do a Powered By-model,” DeFrancisco explained.

The startup currently has 10 trials going on. While he couldn’t name them, he did say that they include the largest law firm in Europe, largest global provider of legal information and the fastest growing SaaS company in history. They are also working on agreements with large systems integrators including Deloitte and Accenture to act as resellers of their solution.

While they are based in New Zealand, they plan to open a U.S. office in the Los Angeles area shortly after Disrupt. The engineering team will remain in New Zealand, and DeFrancisco will build the rest of the company in the U.S as it seeks to expand its reach. They also plan to start raising their next round of funding.


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