“What is the worst that could actually happen?”
That’s a question that faces many would-be founders, and one that Jonathan Crook needed to answer for himself as he weighed whether to leave a safe and profitable career as a lawyer for the uncertainties of a startup.
His response to the question: “No one is interested, everyone thinks it’s dumb, and I go back to being a lawyer.”
After considering the seemingly small risks and not-the-end-of-the-world downside scenario, Crook said he felt he had to give his idea a real shot.
Thus he launched Raleigh-based Blue Pencil Box—a subscription-based knowledge management system for restrictive covenant law—in August of 2022. The startup is a semifinalist for one of NC IDEA‘s $50K SEED grants.
As a natural problem-solver, Crook said he’s always wanted to start a company. And after practicing contract law for nine years in North Carolina, he found an issue he felt needed attention.
That problem is an absence of streamlined knowledge for non-compete and restrictive covenant law across different states.
“Just knowing what the law is, is actually quite difficult,” Crook said.
Although many think that the law is purely based on legal statutes and formal regulations, many states are largely driven by common law, he noted.
He used North Carolina’s nuanced rules for contract enforceability as an example of confusing contract law. Through Blue Pencil Box, he is daily reviewing, sorting, categorizing, tagging, and ultimately delivering state contract law to his subscribers.
The root idea behind the startup is to provide legal companies operating in many states with a better grasp of differing state regulations. He said the project is “essentially a running newsletter.”
Blue Pencil Box gives subscribers the necessary updates in state law so lawyers can accurately draft compliant contracts.
But outside of his startup, Crook thinks there should be more systemic changes to make the law more equitable. One of which he agrees with is removing or limiting paywalls.
Every federal case is available on an electronic database called Pacer, for instance, but filings apart from court orders cost a substantial amount of money to access.
“I’m of the opinion that no citizens should have to pay anything to access the law that literally controls their behavior and conduct,” Crook said.
He noted that many companies have capitalized on monetizing the collection of law sources and advertising them to attorneys and citizens.
The process of legal data collection and analysis isn’t incredibly capital-intensive, which is why Crook felt confident leaving his lucrative, guaranteed attorney salary to found Blue Pencil Box.
The company is still a one-man show and is completely bootstrapped. Though Crook isn’t currently focused on obtaining investment funding, he is excited to be a semifinalist for NC IDEA’s $50K SEED grants, which are non-dilutive.
In the future, he hopes to expand into other areas of law that are governed by frequently shifting state laws. Crook also wants to expand legal information beyond the reach of current legal databases.
“I think the future is going to be a system where everyone has access to what the law is,” he said.