HI-TRAC: The author’s shorthand for Happiness Index, Infrastructure, Talent, Regulations, Access and Capital. The six pillars that make UAE a great place for a startup. This week’s article is about Infrastructure and Talent.
It’s great to start the New Year 2018 with a truly innovative company. It’s the rare startup that has both a truly powerful social impact as well as a rock-solid business model. Legal Advice Middle East (legaladviceme.com) founded by Suzanna Kalendzhian, an experienced lawyer, along with co-founder Artur Kobozev is one such.
The firm received the Innovating Justice Award from the Hague Institute for Innovation of Law. The Institute estimated that over 10 million people would benefit from the work of Legal Advice Middle East through facilitating access to legal services for a vast number of underserved people in the region. It will also encourage non-Middle Eastern entrepreneurs to go beyond perceptions about the legal system here and profitably set up. Overcoming fear factors and building confidence in the legal system is in itself immeasurable in absolute value.
The industry and customers
Like most other industries, the legal world is evolving rapidly in an ecosystem where digital communications, blockchains and artificial intelligence are converging. The PwC Law Firms Survey 2017 highlights that the highest priority for legal business support services is the increased use of technology.
The size of the legal industry in the Middle East is estimated to be worth more than $20 billion. Over 20,000 legal firms and 300,000+ lawyers provide legal services to organisations as well as a population of half-a-billion in the region, including more than 30 million expatriates. However, there is massive room for improvement in process efficiencies and technology in the region. In the UAE alone, 46 per cent don’t have Websites and barely 10 per cent regularly update them.
Kalendzhian spotted a massive opportunity. As she says, “Our primary goal is to be the best online source of reliable legal advice and information in the region for the general public on the one hand, and the best online promotion and lead-generation platform for Middle Eastern lawyers on the other.”
Kalendzhian has seen the success of Avvo, LegalZoom and RocketLawyer globally and is actively adapting to the Middle East. Caravans, sea-trade routes and more recently, airlines have made this region the melting-pot of people, knowledge, religion, law, literature and science. The Code of Ur-Nammu, the oldest known legal code in the world was written here. The Ten Commandments or the Mosaic Law were received here. Much of Western Canonical Law is based on this. Shariah Law was inspired, written and codified in the region.
Working as a lawyer in Dubai, she saw that there was no trusted and easy-to-access way for consumers and lawyers in the Middle East to find, communicate and transact with each other. Her initial idea was to create a professional forum for lawyers to engage with customers by responding to legal questions online. But she soon found that there was so much more that could be done.
The value proposition
The platform was created by the lawyer with people in mind. The simple and effective value proposition of Legal Advice Middle East works on both the supply and demand side:
. Create opportunity – For lawyers through efficiency in managing processes and reaching clients.
. Build confidence – Strengthen trust in the legal system amongst prospective clients through reliable information and escrow services.
. Create communication – Create a transparent and fully monitored marketplace for lawyers and clients to interact.
. Provide choice – To be the best in the region by including value addition i.e. choice of services and lawyers.
This focus has powered a 20 per cent month-on-month growth in 2017. Over 60 lawyers have subscribed to the platform and actively engage with over 2,000 clients to provide advice. A brief look at verifiable customer testimonials showcase this.
2018 will kick-off with the launch of the paid standardised services which clients can access. The packages will be tailored towards multiple segments including segments as startups, corporations and women. Process automation will benefit both clients and lawyers through standardisation. Escrow account facilities will ensure settlement upon mutual outcome satisfaction. Artificial intelligence will help anticipate requirements some of which may not even be initially considered by the client.
The revenue model
The main source of revenue for the platform is subscription fees paid by participating lawyers. Basic usage of the platform is free for clients allowing anyone to ask a legal question and get free advice from qualified lawyers. Further engagement between client and customer would be on mutually agreeable terms. In the beginning of 2018, the firm will introduce fixed-fee legal services thereby adding transactional commissions.
The firm already has lawyers from across 10 countries in the region. In 2018, the firm plans to grow beyond the Middle East region.
Experience and recognition
In addition, the firm supports startups and entrepreneurs by providing a Legal Knowledge Series for lawyers and clients to get personal engagement and share their expertise and knowledge with each other. The platform was also nominated for Dubai SME Stars of Business Awards and the firm is a media favourite.
Kalendzhian herself has over eight years of experience in the legal field, public relations and marketing. She holds Master’s degree in International Commercial Law (LLM, Hon) and Master’s degree in Marketing. Recently she won the award as the Most Innovative Woman in Legal Technology 2017 & Best Online Legal Advisory 2017.
The writer is founding partner at BridgeDFS, a bespoke digital financial services advisory firm (www.bridgeto.us). Views expressed are his own and do not reflect the newspaper’s policy. He can be contacted at email@example.com.