Legal Services Go “Uber” In France

Lawyering up
Lawyering up
Valérie de Senneville

PARIS â€" Technology is changing the way people secure legal services, turning clients into "consumers" by allowing them to bypass traditional law firms. Need help drafting that shareholders agreement? There's an app for that â€" at just a fraction of the normal cost!

The past few years have seen a boom, in France, of "legal tech startups," companies that like to think of themselves as the "Airbnb of legal services" or the "TripAdvisor of lawyers." And as their numbers grow, so too does the scope of the services they offer.

Together these startups are shaking up the market, carving away at a monopoly long held by traditional attorneys. The companies refuse, for now, to say just how much they're earning. But it seems that in some cases, these platforms are growing by as much as 500% per year, an increase that thrives on the growing demand for legal services and on the paradox between its abundant complexity and the automation of basic legal acts.

But are they reliable? Can an entrepreneur, for example, really trust a website that, for just $150, promises to handle all the paperwork needed to register a new company?

Lawyers in the Paris region typically charge 10 times that amount for the same services. Little wonder, then, that they're calling foul and filing "illegal activity" suits against what they see as "law poachers." Most of time, though, they lose.

One of the biggest pet peeves for French lawyers is, which handles minor disputes up to 10,000 euros, has 20 employees, and initiated close to 300,000 procedures since its creation in early 2012. And as proof of the interest such initiatives attract, an investment fund put more than $1.5 million into the website last year.

"Legal tech startups are setting up a new approach to legal services," says Blandine Jugé, who wrote a professional thesis on the subject. "They're scaring a profession that refuses to evolve." Jugé says that more than half of small and medium-sized businesses in France don't turn to professionals when they need legal advice. "These sites have filled out a void," she says.

Philippe Wagner, co-founder of a company called Captain Contrat, says his model is about collaborating rather than competing with lawyers. He says that by handling run-of-the-mill things â€" like tax-exemption documents, accounts approval, recruiting or dismissal paperwork â€" the startups allow traditional lawyers to focus on more complicated, "value added" assignments.

Captain Contrat raised more than $1 million in the spring, and dreams to become "the digital legal department for small and medium-sized enterprises." Its purpose is to be the middleman between lawyers and companies. "We automate all essential tasks with low added value," he says.

Platforms that connect clients and lawyers often toe a fine line by disguising their work as technical support service. And they don't, they insist, offer "counsel," a mission that is by law limited to lawyers.

Participating lawyers also find themselves in a tricky situation, happy on the one hand for the extra work the platforms provide, but reluctant, for obvious reasons, to offend the legal authorities. Some take issue as well with the TripAdvisor-like grading system used by certain sites. And they lament that the new model "drags prices down."

In the United States, where these services began to appear more than a decade ago, LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer and LegalMatch are market giants. In California, 25% of new businesses are created via LegalZoom.

These figures are an inspiration to French startups like Legalstart, created by three friends from Harvard. The platform, which offers an automated legal-document-creation service, had its 100,000th client in June. And like its competitors, Legalstart's co-founder and CEO. Timothée Rambaud, insists his company isn't "stealing" clients from the lawyers. He's not entirely wrong. About 90% of Legalstart's clients are companies that would never have set foot in a legal office. The startup just signed a partnership with Uber and manages all things legal for its drivers.

But for now, French companies only have work in France. Only one site, Wonder.Legal, came up with the winning algorithm to be able to write legal documents not only in France, but also in Brazil and Italy. For now, the magic formula remains a secret.

"We sort of act as a public-domain writer, we provide the digital solution that lawyers use to create documents," the company's founder, Jérémie Eskenazi, says.

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Running of the Bulls in Tafalla, northern Spain

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Здравейте!*

Welcome to Monday, where an apparent coup is underway in Sudan, Colombia's most-wanted drug lord gets caught, and Michael Jordan's rookie sneakers score an auction record. We also focus on a report that the Thai government is abusing the country's centuries-old law to protect the monarchy from criticism (lèse-majesté) to target pro-democracy activists and protesters.

[*Zdraveite - Bulgarian]


• Developing: Sudan leaders arrested amid military coup reports: Soldiers have arrested several members of Sudan's transitional government as well as civilian leaders, and Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok has reportedly been put under house arrest, in what the information ministry called a military coup. Pro-democracy protesters have taken to the streets of the capital city Khartoum where there are reports of gunfire and clashes.

• Colombia's most wanted drug lord to be sent to U.S.: Colombia's most dangerous drug trafficker, known as Otoniel, was caught after a joint army, air force and police operation and faces extradition to the U.S. He led the country's largest criminal gang, and was on the U.S. most wanted list for years.

• Xi speech marks China's UN anniversary: China's President Xi Jinping marked the 50th anniversary of Beijing's entry into the United Nations with a speech calling for greater global cooperation, adding that issues like climate change, terrorism and cyber security needed multilateral solutions. Taiwan was not mentioned.

• German ISIS bride jailed for crimes against humanity: A German court has sentenced a German woman and former member of the Islamic State to 10 years in prison for letting a 5-year-old Yazidi enslaved girl die of thirst in Iraq. The case is one of the world's first trials to prosecute a war crime against the Yazidis.

• COVID update: The Beijing marathon scheduled next weekend has been postponed until further notice as China seeks to stamp out Delta variant outbreak and return to zero cases ahead of the Winter Olympics next February. Meanwhile, coronavirus cases in Eastern Europe have surpassed the 20 million mark as the region fights against its worst outbreak since the pandemic started and vaccination efforts lag.

Goodbye, Gunther: U.S. actor James Michael Tyler, best known for his role as the barista Gunther on the TV show Friends, has died at 59 of prostate cancer.

• Sneakers record: A pair of Michael Jordan's white-and-red Nike shoes, which he wore during his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls in 1984, sold for $1.47 million — a new record price for sneakers at auction.


"The end of a boss," titles Colombian daily El Espectador, reporting on the arrest of drug lord Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as Otoniel, who had led Colombia's largest criminal gang and had been on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's most wanted list for years. He was captured in a raid and will be extradited to the U.S.



A Georgia man is being prosecuted for wire fraud after spending most of his business's COVID relief loan to buy one Pokémon trading card for $57,789.


How Thailand's "Lèse-Majesté" law is used to stifle all protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

👑 Thailand's Criminal Code "Lèse-Majesté" Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family. But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

🚨 The recent report "Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand," documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations." The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

💻 The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them. Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind.

➡️


"Children are going to die. People are going to starve."

— The United Nations warns that Afghanistan verges on a "total breakdown" as millions of Afghans, including children, could die of starvation unless urgent action is taken by the international community. The agency calls for the release of frozen assets to avoid economic and social collapse, despite concerns over the Taliban government. A recent report said that about 97% of Afghanistan's population may sink below the poverty line, and World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley warned that more than half of Afghanistan's population of 39 million were facing acute food insecurity and "marching to starvation" in comparison to 14 million two months ago.


Dutch cities have been secretly probing mosques since 2013

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talked to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Are you more Chicago Bulls or running of the bulls? Let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world!!

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