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As lawyers continue to shed their long-held technophobia by embracing new technology, a pair of former big-firm associates are attempting to get a piece of the action. Heeding the siren call of entrepreneurship, Jonathan Henes, who spent three years as a bankruptcy associate at New York’s Weil, Gotshal & Manges, and Melissa Gerardi, a former corporate finance associate and business development specialist at Shearman & Sterling, have left those firms to start a software company called BlazeVentures. Founded in January, the business is designed to allow law firms and their clients — or any other group of physically disparate parties working together — to manage documents and communicate instantly on a single secure Web-based platform. The company’s software is being tested by lawyers at Weil Gotshal, with an anticipated launch date of early next year if all goes according to plan. “The simplicity and the beauty of BlazeVentures is it takes the cliche and makes it true. It literally puts everybody on the same page,” said Christopher K. Aidun, a lead partner in the emerging company and venture capital practice at Weil Gotshal and a member of BlazeVentures’ board of advisors. “To be able to do that in a secure environment is going to make things a lot easier and a lot more functional.” Henes, who started at Weil Gotshal in 1996 after graduation from Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, said that BlazeVentures was inspired in part by his work in the firm’s business finance and restructuring group. “Working with clients in distress, I really got a chance to see why they were in distress,” he explained. “I saw the problems these companies had and most of it was in communication and exchanging information.” But his initial idea for the company was somewhat different. When Henes gave notice at Weil Gotshal last November, it was with the intention of creating an Internet marketplace that would help start-up companies find the professional service companies they needed. Henes stayed two more months at the firm, writing an informational business plan on what an emerging company needs from its law firm. In the meantime, he raised money. And with a circle of acquaintances that is thick with lawyers (his wife, Pamela, is an associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett), law firms were at the top of the hit list. Henes said that the vast majority of the $500,000 he has raised to date has come from law firm partners. One partner at Weil Gotshal has raised a total of $150,000 for BlazeVentures. Gerardi, who had worked with Pamela Henes when both women were at Shearman & Sterling, joined Henes in May. But as the pair pursued the original marketplace idea, they found that their enterprise was becoming so wide-ranging that they needed a better way to communicate and work with their far-flung business partners. NEW BUSINESS MODEL When their technology consultants at Juxta Digital told them this summer that the distant parties could be unified simply with a desktop application on the Web, Henes and Gerardi realized that they had stumbled on a business model more viable than the one they had started with. As Henes colorfully put it, “Since we were going to be eating our own cookin’, we could sell our cookin’ to other companies.” That sort of midstream change is not unusual for Internet startups, but Henes and Gerardi made the switch at a time when market conditions had become much less favorable. Formerly free-flowing venture capital money has all but dried up in recent months. The pair acknowledged experiencing a bit of panic. But they said that while the swoon has made for a less receptive atmosphere, investors’ overall faith in technology as a means of making businesses more efficient has not been dulled. “We feel that we’re right on the next step of technology and how it’s going to help people work,” Henes said. In addition, since BlazeVentures has had only a limited amount of personally raised money on hand, the operation is lean, with only two other full-time employees, at a time when investors are demanding it. “Blaze has a great concept and I believe they’re going to make it,” said Stephen Schulte, a founding partner of Schulte, Roth & Zabel and a BlazeVentures director. “This is an opportunity that didn’t exist a few months ago, but the wheat has been separated from the chaff. [Blaze] is wheat.” The finished product of the software will function as a complement to companies’ existing computer systems, with applications including document storage with version control, group calendars for scheduling, instant messaging, and discussion forums for threaded exchanges on a topic. Each of the applications will be synchronized for every user, and each corporate customer will have a personalized version of the software. Now the job for Henes and Gerardi is to find those customers. They have had several meetings with law firms to discuss the software, and they see it as a natural fit for any sort of professional service firm. In addition, they are in talks with venture capital firms to initiate a round of financing. “Today in the V.C. world, people are betting on the jockey not the horse,” Schulte said. “The jockeys here are John and Melissa, so they have to ride well.” OUTSIDE COUNSEL BlazeVentures has hired Weil as its outside counsel (with a standard fee arrangement), although it took a circuitous route to do so. Henes originally hired Aidun when he was at Loeb & Loeb, and then followed him, first to Winston & Strawn and then to Weil. In addition, by devoting the resources to host the testing of the software, Weil Gotshal has prepared itself for a long-term relationship. “What I think Weil has been conscious of, and I think it’s really smart, is they’ve really done things quickly for us. They never overlawyer,” Henes said. “I think they see potential in BlazeVentures and realize they can really help themselves have a great client.” In the meantime, as their former law firm colleagues rake in year-end bonuses that look like annual salaries, Henes and Gerardi said they have no regrets at all about leaving their firms. “I don’t think you can put a price on what I’m doing,” Gerardi said. “That’s what equity can do.” And besides, Henes said, he can almost see the payoff in the distance. “We’re thinking long-term,” he said. “These bonuses are going to be nothing.”

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