Kitchener startup Beagle helps make sense of legal contracts

If you're not a lawyer, legal documents can be a tough slog to get through, like walking through knee deep snow

Company is part of Microsoft Ventures Digital Work Accelerator in Seattle

The Beagle team at the Microsoft Ventures Office in Seattle. From left to right: Iulius Curt, Henry Goddard, George Lifchits, Cian O’Sullivan, Samantha Hunter and Bogdan Ivanov. (Cian O'Sullivan)

If you're not a lawyer, legal documents can be a tough slog to get through, like walking through knee-deep snow.

But a new Kitchener startup called Beagle has come up with a way to zero in on the most the important parts of a contract.

"Contracts suck. And everyone knows it and everyone has to deal with it," said company founder Cian O'Sullivan. 

"The purpose of Beagle is to increase your comprehension of an agreement very quickly, to be able to carve through all the language that is not necessary to what you need to do."

To use Beagle, a user uploads a contract at the company's online site. Beagle quickly scans the document, going through each page in half a second, and gives you the results in easy-to-understand graphics. The result can be best described as a heat map of liability that shows which parties are most liable and in which areas. 

The point of the program isn't to say if the contract is good or bad, or violates any laws - you'll still need a lawyer for that. Instead it's a fast way to understand how a contract is set up, and who is responsible for what, and how easy or not it is to get out of it.

An example of results Beagle can provide when a contract is uploaded and scanned. (Beagle)

"That's the good thing about the legal language is that in order for those clauses in a contract to be enforceable they have to be objective," explained O'Sullivan. "In order to be written objectively, that kind of narrows down the number of ways you can construct that sentence from an English perspective."

Beagle also allows multiple users to collaborate and edit documents in real-time, and that will save everyone time, according to O'Sullivan.

"There's got to be a better way."

The idea came to O'Sullivan – who went to law school in Ireland and worked as the principle negotiator for Kitchener software company Desire2Learn – after a friend asked him to  take a "quick look" at a 90-page contract over the weekend. O'Sullivan estimated it took him the entire weekend to go through it and he got about four hours of sleep.

"I kind of was looking over it at the weekend and I said 'There's got to be a better way to be able to do this. I mean, we put people into space,'" he said.

"If I had Beagle at that time, that would have taken me two and half hours," said O'Sullivan. 

"It's..hard to say it's 80 or 90 per cent time savings, because people are like, 'Come on, it can't be that good,' but it is."

O'Sullivan says that while Beagle is still in beta or testing mode until the beginning of November he already has clients in Waterloo Region, as well as two clients in Australia.

Demo Day

The eight-person company is currently finishing up a four-month stint in the Microsoft Ventures Digital Work Accelerator program in Seattle, one of just 14 startups accepted for the current cohort.

According to O'Sullivan, Beagle was among 600 companies that applied. Startups in the accelerator get mentorship to help grow and and market their companies plus $25,000 for expenses.

On Friday, O'Sullivan will be pitching his company to the public for  for the accelerator's Demo Day in Seattle, when startups present their hard work and try to attract investors. The event will be livestreamed online by TechCrunch.