When Armenian-Ukrainian Suzanna Kalendzhian started practicing as a lawyer in the Middle East in 2011, she saw a gap in the market.
Rather than getting bang for their buck she saw that regional law firms were missing opportunities when it came to advertising their services. They were wasting dollars on traditional advertising mediums, like radio and billboards. There were seemingly no digital strategies.
So finding a lawyer when you needed one was tough.
“Working as an attorney in Dubai, I realized that there is no effective, trusted way for consumers and lawyers to find, communicate and transact with each other online,” she told Wamda.
There was no single platform that aggregated MENA law firms and lawyers. So, combining a concept in the vein of California-based Justia, she took her knowledge of the local market and created Legal Advice Middle East in 2015.
Like many startup founders before her, Kalendzhian admits that leaving behind a traditional job to launch a startup wasn’t an easy path. After surviving some trying times during the early days, her persistence paid off towards the end of 2016.
“It was a difficult, sometimes even painful, journey. But finally, our efforts were rewarded,” she said.
One of those rewards was the Innovating Justice Award from the Hague Institute for Innovation of Law - it has afforded the startup the chance to gain international recognition.
When assessing the global legal marketplace community, some standouts include both firmly established tech platforms like Legalzoom in Los Angeles, and rising stars like Paris-based Ejust.
Kalendzhian is now focused on transforming legal services in the MENA region in a similar way.
As of this year, the MENA startup community is having niche services offered to it thanks to lawyers that are familiar with its nuances and needs. One of them is Chad Fox, a startup lawyer who founded Disruptive.Legal in January 2017.
“Disruptive.Legal and The Bench are legal consultancies that have altered the traditional business model to be able to support startups, SMES and anyone else who is tired of the status quo,” said Fox.
According to Kalendzhian’s research there is a $10 billion legal market in the MENA.
With more than 15,000 law firms and 100,000 lawyers providing services to almost half a billion people and organizations in the region, the opportunity for the penetration of web technology is huge but still at a low level.
Kalendzhian found that in the UAE 46 percent of law firms didn’t have a website and only 10 percent of those who did actually updated them regularly. Additionally a live chat option is available on less than three percent of them.
She noted the following statistics about the legal market in the UAE.
• $2 billion legal services market
• 765 law firms
• 6,800 lawyers
• 8.8 million expat population (88 percent)
• 300,000+ SMEs
Plans for the platform include providing lawyers and their clients a way to carry out transactions through the platform. The goal is to monetize the platform and reach break-even by Q3 2017.
The site’s services for lawyers and firms include video blogs showcasing their expertise, monthly speaking events, and exposure to media outlets.
“It is generally difficult explaining to prospects exactly what my firm does and how it can benefit them,” says Ahmed Odeh, head of legal operations at Modern International Office, one of Legal Advice Middle East's users. Odeh says he now has the opportunity to be connected with companies and individuals that require immediate legal advice.
For dispute resolution specialist Nikhat Sardar Khan, a partner at Kochhar & Co, it’s about ‘giving back’. “I believe that by responding to the queries sent to the platform for free, it is my way of giving back to society.”
Feature image via Wikimedia Commons.