Benoit Charpentier: Co-Founder and Director, MeilleursHonoraires.com
#BakersDozen is a series of interviews with leading professionals in the fields of law, consulting, finance, tech, and more.
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be in (or a customer of) the legal business?
My name is Benoit Charpentier. I am 35 years old. I was a practicing lawyer for 5 years. I also worked as an in-house lawyer for 5 years. I gained my professional experience mainly in the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg.
What do you do for a living right now?
I am co-founder and MD of MeilleursHonoraires.com, a web platform that allows any user (natural or legal person) to select a lawyer through a tender procedure. This “app-as-a-service” has been designed to facilitate the access to lawyers. We launched our Web Application back in December 2016. Our panel is open to lawyers practicing in France, Belgium and Luxembourg. Our users are French speaking citizens residing in the EU.
The business model? The service is completely free for lawyers. The receipt of all anonymized service offers is free. Only if the user wishes to select a service offer, a broker commission of 20 € (VAT excluded) is requested. The contact details of the selected lawyer are then transmitted to the user.
What has been your greatest triumph and your greatest success in the legal services field and what did you learn from each?
The development of www.MeilleursHonoraires.com is certainly the greatest achievement of my professional career. It took us (my co-founder Astrid Lesguillons-Charpentier – who happens to be my spouse as well – and I) 2 years to develop and implement an expert solution that is easy-to-use and fully complies with the ethics of the legal profession. I learned that implementing a complex project is like a slow decanting process. Ideas re-arrange themselves with the time and one might end-up with a completely different project than the one originally anticipated.
I am also very proud of the LinkedIn group “Legal Innovation and Technology” that I founded and on which I contribute regularly. The group now counts 6885 members. Since creation, 12 new members are signing in per day. This group started almost by accident. 2 years ago, I knew that I wanted to set up a legaltech company, but I didn’t know the technologies and innovations on the legal market well enough. I started to observe on the internet what where the big innovative trends impacting the legal sector. Then I realized that the content I gained access to might also be of interest for others. So I decided to open up a Linkedin group and started sharing articles. Curating information is a daily challenge. I learned that – on the web and elsewhere – content is king.
Do you think the legal industry is headed in the right direction, the wrong direction – or which direction?
The legal market is heading towards areas where the needs are unmet. All initiatives to match the needs of legal consumers should be praised. The time will tell us whether these solutions were meaningful and brought enough value to buyers. The market reshuffles and corrects itself every day.
Who – or what – inspires you – and why?
Ideals are my fuel. My only professional goal is to serve ideals of “access to legal services” and “bridging the justice gap”. Without ideals, my motivation would not be so strong.
Others’ experience inspires me a lot as well. It helps me realize and understand some underlying rules, challenges and / or obstacles. Without taking benefit from others’ experience, I would waste a lot more energy in my actions.
What advice would you give to the younger generation contemplating law as a career?
I would advise to gain experience on the battlefield through internships and listen to more experienced practitioners to make a reality-check of their expectations. I would also advise to learn informatics.
How ready for change do you think the legal industry is?
So far, there are a limited number of incentives for the traditional players to change. Pace of change is rather slow. But I am convinced that the arrival of non-traditional players may catalyze the “change readiness” of traditional players in the years to come.
Is more – or different – leadership required? In what ways?
The shifts in the value perception forces leaders to gain competence in other disciplines than law. Some skills – which were absolutely not valued 5 years ago – are today a must. A lawyer should be able to put himself in the client’s shoes and explain in clear words to pros and cons of each envisaged strategy, understand the rationale of his client’s industry, know the history of his client and make sure that his client’s expectations are satisfied. He should be able to federate his team around strong values and make sure its work-life balance is at equilibrium. He should also get insight in the technical solutions available on the market that could offer competitive advantages to his law firm and to his clients. The challenges aren’t lacking!
How deep do you think will be the inroads of technology in the industry?
Tech and legal are already today strongly interconnected. Progress of IT and AI let us envisage new applications full of promises.
Technological competence becomes mandatory for lawyers as the ABA model rules are progressively implemented by Federal State Bars. No doubt that this new ethical duty will also appear in the EU countries in the years to come.
There’s probably one important constraint to keep in mind while considering the adoption of tech by lawyers: at the end of the day, the lawyer will bear ultimate liability for services rendered. As a consequence, a cautious audit and a solid command of each new tech solution is strongly advised!
In ten years, do you see an industry much as it is – or do you see new players, new technology and an altered state?
A lot of new technologies and new non-traditional players will continue to appear.
These non-traditional players will structure themselves as a new professional corpus.
There will be a strong consolidation of the market.
Traditional players reaching critical size will start diversifying their activities.
Spending in technology will dramatically increase.
Smart contracts will be the new standard.
Litigation finance will continue to gain traction.
In order to accelerate procedures and reduce running costs of the judicial system, all civil and commercial cases (where the amount claimed is below a certain threshold) will be settled by electronic courts.
Are consultants and lawyers looking increasingly similar? Should the distinction continue?
Consultants and lawyers share common DNA in the sense that they sell intellectual services and human judgment is at the centerpiece of their practice.
BigLaw may launch consulting practices in the future. The legal arm of consulting firm will still be subject to bar requirements. Distinction between lawyers and consultants is here to stay.
Billing practices of consultants and lawyers will converge and fixed fee will be the predominant model.
What are your thoughts on the increasing availability of data to guide client-side procurement of legal services?
This is exactly the starting point of www.MeilleursHonoraires.com. Before selecting a lawyer, one should be able to compare offers, have access to critical data like the seniority of the lawyer, the geographical distance that separates you from the lawyer, total fee, terms of payment, number of client recommendations, win rates. Such access should be – to the largest possible extent – free.
Lawyers have typically regulated to keep non-lawyer investors out but that’s a two-edged sword these days. What are your thoughts?
One cannot blame the legislators for not letting non-lawyers invest equity in law firms. It is a prudent approach.
One downside effect of this prohibition is that it may detrimentally affect the innovation culture of law firms and the emergence of new products, services and business models. Indeed, attracting and retaining talented non-lawyers despite this prohibition might turn out to be more difficult for law firms..
Another disadvantage is of course that all the money invested by venture capitalists in the legal sector will exclusively flow into legaltech companies.
What’s the one most significant factor that will drive change in your view?
Are we seeing the demise of the “profession” and the real emergence of the “business” of law?
I don’t believe in “doom and gloom” forecasts for the legal profession. The value that will eventually be destroyed by innovation and technology will re-appear in other forms. The lawyers have already gone through massive changes over the past decades and I am convinced that they are able to adapt to the challenges of the digital revolution.
The legal market is a market with strong specifics. However, like in any other industry, under the pressure of demanding clients, sellers’ efficiency is questioned and price competitiveness is requested. The law firms need to rationalize their organization in order to match these buyers’ growing expectations.
What do you consider is the greatest challenge facing the industry?
Closing the justice gap.
What do you see as the greatest opportunity for the sector looking forward?
Digitization and automation.
Do you think law can improve its track record on diversity and inclusion? How?
There’s a lot to be improved. Simply look at the salary differences, shareholding and board composition… One should either sanction discriminations and / or incentivize diversity and inclusion initiatives.
Will the current regulatory framework around law help or hinder it in the future
Regulation is a must. It helps ensure that minimum standards are complied with by the different players.
Just like in the financial sector, it becomes urgent to put in place an independant regulatory body supervising all legal professions (lawyers, notaries, legaltech companies etc.) with a simple mission: protecting the interests of the consumers. It would, to a large extent, prevent us from unnecessary arguments between the different professions.
Who do you think are the greatest influencers on the industry these days?
Just to name a few of them: Andrew Arruda (Ross Intelligence), Bob Ambrogi (Lawsitesblog.com), Richard Burcher (Validatum), Silvia Hodges Silverstein (Buying Legal Counsel), D. Casey Flaherty, Ivan Rasic (Legaltrek), Mary Juetten (Evolvelawnow.com), Mark A. Cohen (Legal Mosaic), Ron Friedmann (Prismlegal.com), Mark Britton (Avvo), Thierry Wickers (CCBE) and Clarisse Berrebi (11-100-34.com).
Many others influenced me. No offense if I didn’t mention them here.
If you had to do it all over again, would you? Or what would you do differently?
No one changes the past. Let’s keep it the way it is and focus on what needs to be done!
If a law firm was a startup pitching for investors, would you be an investor?
If the approach is innovative why not!
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
I would be employee as an in-house lawyer (not very wild on this one ;-).
What would you like to be known for?
The co-founder of MeilleursHonoraires.com, the App that facilitates the selection of a lawyer.
What would surprise everyone if they knew (they may now).
I never watched the Star Wars trilogy!
What’s your favorite hobby or activity outside of law?
Spend time with my family.
What’s your favorite sports team?
France national soccer team.
What’s your favorite city?
What’s your favorite food?
What’s your nickname?
The opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee, and not of their affiliated organizations or of High Performance Counsel.