Ekie offers employees legal advice as a benefit

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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 to it or are deterred from seeking advice because of the cost and complexity.

But what if part of your benefits at work included access to a lawyer? This is exactly what the French startup Ekie is doing.

The company started as Avostart, explains co-founder Raphaël Jabol, offering its legal platform directly to individuals. But during the pandemic, Jabol realized a change in business model was needed.

“When Covid-19 happened, legal issues came up more frequently than usual and the legal framework was changing almost daily. Companies have come to us, like Airbnb, telling us that their clients need legal help but they don’t have a service to provide it,” he explains.

Some of these issues included refund requests, issues with trip cancellations, insurance claims, and adhering to ever-changing quarantine rules.

Jabol saw an opportunity to work directly with businesses to help 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 but it is still difficult for everyone to access legal solutions. Legal problems affect everyone and it generates a lot of stress and inequalities, it can impact your work,” he says.

“Legal [advice] is a pillar of our society but it is still difficult for everyone to access legal solutions”

Research from the Global Justice Project in 2019 found that less than a third of people worldwide who encountered legal problems sought some form of advice.

Last year, Ekie raised €2m from investors including venture capital firm OneRagtime and BNP Paribas Development. It is used by 100 companies, including ContentSquare, L’Oréal, LinkedIn and PayFit.

Jabol says the team aims to hit €1m in annual recurring revenue by the end of this year or early next year, and also to branch out into new countries. He is particularly interested in Benelux, Germany, Italy and Spain.

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

Jabol says it will depend on which organization is paying for the platform. Some companies allow access to labor lawyers, others do not. Those who generally don’t believe they have sufficient solutions at work to help employees in the event of a conflict, he adds.

Legal services as a benefit are not completely new. It was provided by insurance companies, similar to Medicare. But they are usually part of the voluntary benefits where the employee will usually pay a premium to receive the service.

There are several examples in the United States and a handful in Europe.

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

A characteristic of the modern HR offer

But when Charles Arkwright, international director of human resources at L’Oréal, heard about Ekie, he knew it was exactly what employees needed – something that could help them in their daily lives and alleviate certain mental pressures. He rolled it out to an initial group of employees, and Arkwright says he got very positive feedback. L’Oréal is now considering how to offer it to more employees in France and to extend it internationally.

Akrwright says he’s never seen an offer as structured as Ekie before.

“They are really trying to fix something. A problem in the market is that insurance companies are not doing their job well. Most of the time you have direct lines to help you, but I took the test myself and there is no way to talk to or reach anyone. What I found interesting with Ekie is that it’s easy to access it as a service,” he says.

He realizes that it won’t solve all of some employees’ legal problems, but if they can solve 60-80% of their problems, that’s still a win in his opinion.

“I saw a lot of people struggling – not really in their professional life but in their day-to-day life – and I saw that maybe it was our mission to help them and make that easier,” he says.

For Arkwright, offering legal services as a benefit does not change the situation, but it is one lever among others to build a modern and comprehensive HR offer.

For others, it can be the difference between retaining your best talent or losing it to competitors.

Selin Bucak is a Paris-based freelance financial writer. She tweets from @SelinBucak2.

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