French Lawyers Embrace Legal Tech to Fight Off Non-Lawyers

The Marseilles Bar in France has now become the second major French Bar organisation to launch a legal tech incubator, in part to prevent non-lawyers from encroaching into their sector.

The Marseilles initiative follows a similar move by the influential Paris Bar to create an incubator that will help lawyers to learn about legal tech and also, where possible, to support the development of start-ups created by lawyers and law firms.

Julien Ayoun, one of the group of lawyers at the Marseilles Bar organising the incubator project which formally launches on 27 March, said: ‘There are lots of commercial legal tech companies where there are no lawyers involved. They may not have the same legal ethics [as lawyers].’

‘Commercial companies [in the legal sector] are not using the same rules [as lawyers]. Some are good, some are not so good,’ he added.

Ayoun said that after seeing the rapid development of new legal tech companies the Bar decided to react by encouraging lawyers to create their own start-up-style responses.

‘We saw that if we didn’t create our own legal tech, that in ten years French lawyers will be in a bad situation,’ he added. ‘In which case we need to adapt, we need to evolve.’

The hope is that the umbrella French Bar organisation, the Conseil National des Barreaux (CNB), as well as several other large regional Bars in France will launch similar initiatives.

The CNB, for example, is hosting a legal tech conference 30 March in Paris, called ‘Robes & Robots’, which will explore the new advances in legal tech and what it means for the profession.

Overall, this suggests a complex position for French lawyers and regulators, who want to embrace new technology, but also feel under threat from non-lawyers offering legal assistance, information and other services via the internet.

On one level this move will no doubt be seen as defensive, perhaps even protectionist. However, it is also a sign that a relatively conservative professional culture has become so impressed by the capabilities of legal tech they feel compelled to create their own tech-based solutions to client needs, and that has to be a good thing.

Whether they will be able to achieve their goal without also forming joint ventures and partnerships with those who are experts in legal tech, e.g. the programmers who are very often not lawyers, remains to be seen.

At present the French stance is a little different to the reaction of some Bar and Law Society approaches to legal tech. For example, the Law Society of England & Wales has openly called for lawyers to embrace not just legal tech, but AI as well, without seeking to differentiate on the issue of whether the legal tech companies are run by lawyers or non-lawyers.

Meanwhile the American Bar Association has also sought to encourage the adoption of advanced legal tech, in part to help increase access to justice.

Though, that said, some legal tech enterprises in the US, such as those that provide downloadable legal documents and also then refer out legal work to law firms, have faced accusations of unauthorised practise of the law over the years.

Ayoun added that in particular, this kind of company was of concern to French lawyers, i.e. where work was dished out by a legal tech company through a web portal controlled by non-lawyers. ‘We don’t want to become slaves [of such systems],’ he added.