The rise of the French Legaltech
The surge in French start-ups in the legal sector over recent years challenges the expectation that the French legal market would lag behind in terms of innovation.
It is true that this a fairly new phenomenon, in particular compared to the US, where digital solutions in the legal sector have been thriving for more than a decade. Nonetheless, a new breed of tech company – the Legaltech – is now reshaping the French legal market dramatically.
Narrowing the access-to-legal services gap
In the same manner as in North America and other EU Member States, French entrepreneurs and the French public often do not obtain effective assistance with legal problems, either due to a lack of knowledge or insufficient funds. Recent surveys have shown that the French public has little confidence in its ability to access lawyers. A very large majority has little to no confidence that they would be able to afford their services [Survey OpinionWays/Avostart, November 2015].
In this context, online resources and other recent innovations have gradually enhanced the delivery of legal services. The French public increasingly perceives online legal services as a useful add-on to lawyers’ traditional services. Although official data is not yet available in this respect, the market share of online legal services providers in the French company incorporation business could already be well in excess of 15%. The range of online legal services available to both SMEs and individuals is now widening at a fast pace.
Mapping out the French Market
A quick glance at the legal sector shows a tremendous acceleration of tech projects over the last few years.
A first wave of players developed B2C online dispute resolution solutions. Demanderjustice was the first to come to the market with a successful value proposition for small claim litigation. A second wave, including the likes of Weclaim and ActionCivile, focused on the digitalization and optimization of French class actions (actions collectives).
In parallel, SaaS has become a common delivery model for a number of legal services, in particular for the creation of legal documents. This is the case of Legalstart.fr, which provides interactive software programs allowing French SMEs to deal with both legal documents and paperwork (for example incorporating a French LLC or filing a trademark). Legalstart’s very rapid growth (+50.000 users in less than 3 years) is an example of the radical changes affecting the French market and can be explained by a strong demand for simplified and less expensive solutions to consumers’ legal needs. This is combined with another structural trend consisting of unbundling of services and disaggregating legal matters across multiple providers.
A number of Internet-based attorney-client matching platforms have also recently emerged. The idea is to lower the cost of obtaining relevant information about price and quality of legal services. Sites such as Wengo and Alexia were pioneers. More recently, French courts have sanctioned a number of players for being non-compliant (legalup). More interestingly, new players such as avostart.fr, are introducing a new approach to attorney review and rating, which remain very controversial issues in France.
Finally, B2B solutions are now on the rise such as new legal research browsers adapting big data processing technology to legal material (doctrine.fr) or predictive tools (case law analytics).
Empowering Legal Professionals
French attorneys and other legal professionals are increasingly using new tools to improve their service delivery process and to gain exposure to a wider audience. After years of skepticism or on occasion even strong opposition, lawyers are gradually embracing digital innovation.
Thousands of them are already using, directly or indirectly, legal platforms. Business partnerships between lawyers and the French legaltech sector have also been recently concluded, such as the new website for French notaries (through Notaires Conseils Entrepreuneurs - NCE) powered by legalstart.fr which was launched in March 2016.
Interestingly, the French Bar Association (Conseil national des barreaux) has also been innovating by acquiring an existing online legal services matching platform (Myavocat.fr), a site describing itself as a “legaltech firm”. Similarly, the French national Chamber of Court Bailiffs (Chambre natinale des huissiers de justice) has launched, earlier this year, a platform offering an alternative method for dispute resolution, another example of French lawyers being proactive about digital innovation
Ultimately, the French legal market should, in the coming years, become more transparent and accessible. Alongside Government funded legal assistance programs, legal platforms will continue to address consumer demand for cost-effective and efficient services. Beyond that, the rise of the legaltech will provide French lawyers with an opportunity to modernize their services and revisit their traditional methods of operating.
Author: Pierre Aïdan, Co-Founder of Legalstart.fr, the # 1 provider of online legal services to French SMEs