Harvey, which uses AI to answer legal questions, lands cash from OpenAI

Harvey, a startup building what it describes as a “copilot for lawyers,” today emerged from stealth with $5 million in funding led by the OpenAI Startup Fund, the tranche through which OpenAI and its partners are investing in early-stage AI companies tackling major problems. Also participating in the round was Jeff Dean, the lead of Google AI, and Mixer Labs co-founder Elad Gil, among other angel backers.

Harvey was founded by Winston Weinberg, a former securities and antitrust litigator at law firm O’Melveny & Myers, and Gabriel Pereyra, previously a research scientist at DeepMind, Google Brain (another of Google’s AI groups) and Meta AI. Weinberg and Pereyra are roommates — Pereyra showed Weinberg OpenAI’s GPT-3 text-generating system and Weinberg realized that it could be used to improve legal workflows.

“Our product provides lawyers with a natural language interface for their existing legal workflows,” Pereyra told TechCrunch in an email interview. “Instead of manually editing legal documents or performing legal research, Harvey enables lawyers to describe the task they wish to accomplish in simple instructions and receive the generated result. To enable this, Harvey leverages large language models to both understand users’ intent and to generate the correct output.”

More concretely, Harvey can answer questions asked in natural language like, “Tell me what the differences are between an employee and independent contractor in the Fourth Circuit,” and “Tell me if this clause in a lease is in violation of California law, and if so, rewrite it so it is no longer in violation.” On first read, it almost seems as though Harvey could replace lawyers, generating legal arguments and filing drafts at a moment’s notice. But Pereyra insists that this isn’t the case.

“We want Harvey to serve as an intermediary between tech and lawyer, as a natural language interface to the law,” he said. “Harvey will make lawyers more efficient, allowing them to produce higher quality work and spend more time on the high value parts of their job. Harvey provides a unified and intuitive interface for all legal workflows, allowing lawyers to describe tasks in plain English instead of using a suite of complex and specialized tools for niche tasks.”

It’s powerful stuff in theory. But it’s also fraught. Given the highly sensitive nature of most legal disputes, lawyers and law firms might be reluctant to give a tool like Harvey access to any case documents. There’s also the matter of language models’ proclivity to spout toxicity and made-up facts, which would be particularly poorly received — if not perjurious — in the court of law.

That’s why Harvey, which is currently in beta, has a disclaimer attached to it: The tool isn’t meant to provide legal advice to nonlawyers and should be used under the supervision of licensed attorneys.

On the data privacy issue, Pereyra says that Harvey takes pains to meet clients’ compliance needs, anonymizing user data and deleting data after a predetermined amount of time. Users can delete data at any time on request, he says, and take comfort in the fact that Harvey doesn’t “cross-contaminate” data between clients.

It’s early days. But already Pereyra says that Harvey is being used “by users across the legal landscape,” ranging from law firms to legal aid organizations.

It faces some competition. Casetext uses AI, primarily GPT-3, to find legal cases and assist with general legal research tasks and brief drafting. More surgical tools like Klarity use AI to strip drudgery from contract review. At one point in time, startup Augrented was even exploring ways to leverage GPT-3 to summarize legal notices or other sources in plain English to help tenants defend their rights.

For one, Brad Lightcap, OpenAI’s CCO and the manager of the OpenAI Startup Fund, believes Harvey’s sufficiently differentiated. It’ll also benefit from the relationship with OpenAI; OpenAI Startup Fund participants receive early access to new OpenAI systems and Azure resources from Microsoft in addition to capital.

“We believe Harvey will have a transformative impact on our legal system, empowering lawyers to provide higher quality legal services more efficiently to more clients,” Lightcap said via email. “We started the OpenAI Startup Fund to support companies using powerful AI to drive societal level impact, and Harvey’s vision for how AI can increase access to legal services and improve outcomes fits squarely within our mission.”

Harvey has a five-person team, and Pereyra expects that number to grow to five to ten employees by the end of the year. He wouldn’t answer when asked about revenue figures.