Bench IQ raises $2.8 million CAD in pre-seed funding with buy-in from Maple VC, Haystack

Bench IQ co-founders (left to right) Jeffrey Gettleman, Maxim Isakov, and Jimoh Ovbiagele.
The minds behind Ross Intelligence are back.

Legaltech startup Bench IQ raised $2.8 million CAD ($2.1 million USD) in pre-seed funding to scale its artificial intelligence (AI) software and gain market share in the United States.

The Toronto-based company secured the funding in September, with Maple VC and Haystack co-leading the round. It also saw participation from Ironclad CEO Jason Boehmig and Applied Intuition CEO Qasar Younis, and US-based law firms Cooley, Fenwick & West, and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.

“We’re providing [law firms] with insight they can’t get anywhere.”

Bench IQ CEO Jimoh Ovbiagele

In an exclusive interview with BetaKit, CEO Jimoh Ovbiagele said Bench IQ’s software currently uses large language models to build a dataset that hosts “100 percent” of US federal judges’ rulings and deploys AI to offer insights into those rulings.

“We’re providing [law firms] with insight they can’t get anywhere,” Ovbiagele said. “Bench IQ helps lawyers understand how their judge thinks about legal issues so that they could build stronger arguments that lead to the outcomes they desire in court.”

US judges publish written opinions for about three percent of all rulings, according to Ovbiagele, and law firms use these opinions to help build their cases and gain a better understanding of legal precedents and how a particular judge thinks and interprets previous cases.

Bench IQ is the brainchild of Ovbiagele, CTO Maxim Isakov, and vice-president of legal services Jeffrey Gettleman, a former partner at Chicago law firm Kirkland & Ellis. The trio, currently the only employees at the company, founded the startup in August 2023.

In January, the founders launched a beta of the product, which currently focuses on US commercial bankruptcy law. Bench IQ claims it currently counts 12 of the top 100 US law firms as its clients. Ovbiagele said the company won’t need to raise “for a while,” and that he’s chasing expansion down south and using the funds to build the company’s engineering and sales and marketing teams.

“There are more lawyers in New York than there are in Canada as a whole,” he said. “We can have a greater impact if we start with the United States, but we have international aspirations, including offering a service in Canada.”

He added that the platform is agnostic to any area of legal practice, and while it currently focuses on the US federal court system, there are plans to expand to state-level courts.

Bench IQ isn’t Ovbiagele’s first crack at a legaltech startup. In 2014, he founded Ross Intelligence along with its CEO Andrew Arruda, and Isakov joined as its founding engineer. Ross offered a platform that helped lawyers search through case law and find relevant details, speeding up an arduous process that can take days or weeks.

In 2020, Thomson Reuters filed a lawsuit against Ross alleging that the startup committed copyright infringement by using material from Reuters’ legaltech platform, Westlaw. Speaking with BetaKit recently, Ovbiagele said that the allegations are false and that Ross filed a counter anti-trust lawsuit against Reuters.

The litigation costs forced Ross to shutter operations at the end of 2020 and a trial is set for August this year. Arruda is also an investor in Bench IQ’s pre-seed round, along with another former Ross investor, Inovia Capital.

The lawsuit hasn’t deterred Ovbiagele and Isakov from the space. “Our passion for the legal technology space has pushed us to launch another company and build upon everything we learned the last time around,” the CEO said.

UPDATE (02/29/24): This story has been updated to clarify that Maxim Isakov was Ross Intelligence’s founding engineer, not its co-founder.

Feature image courtesy Bench IQ.

Bianca Bharti

Bianca Bharti

Bianca Bharti is the newsletter editor at BetaKit, where she spearheads coverage and analysis of tech news in related products. Before BetaKit, Bianca covered the nexus of markets, industries and policy in a variety of formats as a reporter for the Financial Post. There, she won silver in SABEW's 2021 Best in Business Journalism Awards in the personal finance category for one of her pieces. In her free time, she enjoys swapping her reporter hat for a baseball cap to hit up some hiking trails with her dog. She also weirdly loves debating monetary policy.

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