Startup Life/Analysis/

Forget free beer: the hot new startup perk is lawyers on tap

Whether it’s as simple as signing an employment contract or as complicated as visa issues, most people will need the help of lawyers at some point in their lives.

By Selin Bucak

Raphael Jabol, Founder of Ekie

Whether it’s as simple as signing an employment contract or as complicated as visa issues, most people will need the help of lawyers at some point in their lives. But a majority either don’t have access or are put off from seeking advice by the cost and complexity. 

But what if part of your benefits package at work included access to a lawyer? That’s exactly what French startup Ekie is doing. 

The company started off as Avostart, cofounder Raphaël Jabol says, offering its legal platform direct to individuals. But during the pandemic, Jabol realised a shift in business model was necessary. 

“When Covid-19 occurred, legal problems arose more frequently than usual and the legal framework was moving almost every day. We had companies coming to us, like Airbnb, telling us that their customers needed legal help but they didn’t have a service to provide it to them,” he explains. 

Some of these issues included claiming refunds, problems around travel cancellations, making insurance claims and complying with constantly changing quarantine rules.

Jabol saw an opportunity to work directly with businesses to help either their customers or employees, and launched its business-to-business service a year and a half ago.

“Legal [advice] is a pillar of our society yet it’s still hard for everyone to access legal solutions. Legal problems concern everybody and it generates a lot of stress and inequality, it may impact your work,” he says. 

“Legal [advice] is a pillar of our society yet it’s still hard for everyone to access legal solutions”

Research from the World Justice Project in 2019 found that less than a third of people globally who experienced legal problems sought any form of advice. 

Last year Ekie raised €2m from investors including VC firm OneRagtime and BNP Paribas Development. It’s being used by 100 companies including ContentSquare, L’Oreal, LinkedIn and PayFit. 

Jabol says the team is aiming to reach €1m of annual recurring revenue by the end of this year or the beginning of next, and also to launch into new countries. He is particularly looking at Benelux, Germany, Italy and Spain. 

From tenancy issues to family law, employees can use the service for a variety of legal problems. Some of the most common questions are on real estate, public administration and personal finance. But what about when they have issues with their employers?

Jabol says that will depend on the organisation that pays for the platform. Some companies allow access to labour lawyers while others do not. Those that do not usually believe they have sufficient solutions at work to help employees in case of a conflict, he adds. 

Legal services as a benefit isn’t completely new. It’s been provided through insurance companies, similar to health insurance. But they are usually part of voluntary benefits where the employee will typically pay a premium to benefit from the service. 

There are several examples in the US, and a handful in Europe. 

For example, MetLife’s MetLaw plan offers access to lawyers for employees for around $200 a year — much less than an attorney’s average hourly rate. In the UK, online legal document and advice services provider Epoq launched Legal For Life in 2016 for employees. Users can access guides, documents and lawyers for advice through the plan online. 

One feature of the modern HR offer

But when Charles Arkwright, international HR director at L’Oréal, heard about Ekie he knew it was exactly what employees needed — something that could help them through their daily lives and ease some of the mental pressures. He rolled it out to an initial group of employees, and Arkwright says he’s had very positive feedback. L’Oréal is now thinking about how it can offer it to more employees in France and expand it internationally. 

Akrwright says he hasn’t seen any offering as structured as Ekie before.

“They’re really trying to fix something. An issue in the market is that insurance companies are not doing their jobs well. Most of the time you have hotlines to help you, but I’ve done the test myself and it’s impossible to talk to someone or reach them. What I found interesting with Ekie is it’s easy to access as a service,” he says. 

He realises that this will not solve all the legal problems for some employees but if they can address 60-80% of their issues, that’s still a win in his opinion. 

“I saw a lot of people struggling — not really in their working life but in their daily lives — and saw that maybe it was our mission to help them and facilitate this,” he says. 

For Arkwright, offering legal services as a benefit is not a gamechanger, but it’s one lever among others to build a modern and complete HR offer. 

For others, it can mean the difference between retaining your top talent or losing them to competitors. 

Selin Bucak is a freelance finance writer based in Paris. She tweets from @SelinBucak2.

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