French Legal Start-up, WeClaim, Pioneers Semi-Automated Litigation

WeClaim is a partially automated dispute resolution system founded by former French lawyer, Frédéric Pelouze. The platform seeks to meet the huge unmet need in the legal market, helping individuals to make small claims and to join class action consumer law suits against corporations.

Although the former Bredin Prat lawyer is based in Paris, the WeClaim platform has now been translated into four other languages, after French, and operates across web-based platforms in the UK, France, Germany, Belgium, Italy and Spain.

At present the model is not to use AI, but to use logic trees to guide the user through a series of stages so that they can make a claim, for example to demand compensation for a missed flight. The operation is heavily automated, with plenty of useful information provided to an individual as they interact with the system.

screen-shot-2016-12-12-at-07-32-42That said, it’s not using a chat bot interface yet. Nor is it using natural language processing to read the information inputted into the claims mechanism by individuals. Moreover, when it comes to actually handling the claim then lawyers still need to be involved, even if WeClaim’s software helps to manage the flow of information and sends back any compensation to an individual, minus 25% as a success fee.

At first glance this may not seem to be that disruptive. But WeClaim is perhaps a pioneer of far greater change to come, especially as the process of dispute resolution becomes more automated and self-guided.

It is also a very important step into the world of unmet legal need, which is considered by experts to be worth tens of billions of dollars globally. That is to say, a huge number of potential legal actions, such as small claims, go uninitiated because the individual cannot pay for a lawyer to take on the matter at a cost that would be reasonable for the lawyer and the overheads they carry.

Pelouze explained more about this. ‘The idea is to build this so we can approach the defendant [electronically] and then be able to settle the claim online,’ he says.

‘In the future we may have a system where the defendant can see they may lose a claim as WeClaim will show the data on past cases of a similar type. And as the aim is to reach an equilibrium in the legal dispute the defendant will seek to settle,’ Pelouze continues.

‘Or,’ he adds, ‘they can then click and the case will go to court.’

What this would then lead to is a more truly automated form of justice, with claims sent very rapidly once they have been analysed by the WeClaim system, communicated to the defendant and that person or company then agreeing to settle on the spot as they can see verified legal data on past cases and the types of damages usually paid out.

Of course, the big question is whether we can get to a stage where a company like WeClaim can omit the need for lawyers entirely?

There are already lawyer-less dispute resolution systems at work in the world, such as on Ebay to resolve spats between buyers and sellers. Meanwhile, in the UK at least, one can have non-lawyer mediators bring a dispute to a close without resorting to the use of a law firm, although these are often used in family law cases where no-one really wants to go to court.

Of course, even if WeClaim and other start-ups could drive the lawyer-less dispute resolution system forward to meet unmet need, will the legal regulators allow it? Pelouze, as a former French lawyer, is very aware that the Paris Bar, for example, is not excited about the idea of non-lawyers providing people with legal services.

However, his approach is to engage with the regulators, rather than confront them with a fait accompli (as they say in France). In fact he has gone as far as to help create the Paris Bar Incubator, which works directly with the Bar to foster new legal tech.

‘The Bar wants to look good and be pro start-up. But some are fighting it. At least now there is a lot of debate about the subject [of legal tech],’ Pelouze says.

‘The challenge with the law is that it is a permission based system with a powerful gatekeeper. It’s not an innovation model. Often we see little competition and high prices.’

‘For example, there are no low cost lawyers [in France]. People may prefer a lawyer at €50 an hour, not €350 an hour, but there are none in France,’ he concluded.

But what does the Bar think about We Claim? Pelouze notes that so far the Bar has not been that worried and say that because the focus is small claims and this unmet need, they don’t really see it as a threat.

‘The lawyers are not there [in this unmet need market], so they are not against us,’ he states.

It certainly seems that WeClaim, which only launched last year, has really got everything to play for and can grow in many directions in the years to come.

And given the way his and other ‘new wave’ legal tech companies are expanding and multiplying this is just the beginning.

[Great to see such an ambitious legal tech company growing in France and across Europe. If you also run a legal tech start-up in the EU (or elsewhere), especially in the field of automation or if experimenting with machine learning and natural language processing, please contact Artificial Lawyer, it would be great to hear from you. Merci!]