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Start-ups: Legaltechs are gaining momentum in Africa

By Quentin Velluet
Posted on Tuesday, 31 August 2021 15:16

Nafissatou Tine from Senegal, Dieudonné Lankoande from Burkina Faso and Youssouf Ballo from Côte d'Ivoire, founders of Sunulex Africa, and Legafrik respectively, are three young companies with a bright future. LINKEDIN

The scene took place in Dakar, on a morning at the beginning of 2021. The Senegalese council of ministers was meeting, as it does every week, with Macky Sall at the palace of the republic. By way of introduction, the head of state asked his team about the agenda.

Like a ritual, the list of texts to be discussed was broken down point by point, until one of the government members asked: “This text rings a bell. Didn’t we already talk about it a few days ago?”

As there was some doubt, the subject was put aside to be checked up on later. A few days later, the government secretariat informed the President and minister concerned that the text in question had indeed been promulgated a few days earlier.

A law database

How could this incident, as comical as it is true, have taken place within the top levels of the state, during one of the Senegalese republic’s most solemn and well-prepared meetings? The fault lies with the archives and documentation.

In Senegal, as is the case with its West African neighbours and beyond, legal texts are rarely recorded with rigour and – in fact – are difficult to consult. This is mostly due to either negligence or self-interest.

Lawyer Nafissatou Tine, who trained in France and Belgium, saw this in her daily work. “When I returned to Senegal in 2014, I wanted to practice Senegalese law and regularly needed access to legal information. I found an almost complete lack of access to such online sources. This confused me,” she says. This was the inspiration for Sunulex Africa.

She had originally created this service with the sole aim of digitising all the Organisation pour l’Harmonisation en Afrique du Droit des Affaires (OHADA) law texts.

However, it now hosts a directory of lawyers and more than 70,000 legal documents from 15 French-speaking countries that were recorded one by one. A true archaeologist of African law since 2017, the Dakar-born lawyer now devotes 70% of her professional time to her business and works with six lawyers to continue her research as well as her work of digitising African law.

For the past year, she has been diversifying her revenue sources by marketing her platform on a subscription basis to universities and large companies, most of them foreign.

Tine has also developed a legal advice service for companies wishing to set up on the continent.

Remote contracts and lawyers

According to an Afrobarometer study published in 2017, only 57% of the population said that they had confidence in the justice system, while 13% report having had to deal with the courts in the past five years. As a result, it is hardly surprising that few legal start-ups – or “legaltechs” – have been set up in the region.

However, this has not prevented young entrepreneurs from developing services aimed at improving the justice system’s reputation, as well as bringing people and businesses into closer contact with the legal authorities.

Dieudonné Lankoande is motivated by these ideals. This 34-year-old lawyer, who holds a degree in public law from the Université de Ouagadougou, created in 2020.

A new version of this pioneering platform, which is still in development, will be available on the web and via a mobile application in a few weeks’ time. It brings together various legal services ranging from requesting an appointment by videoconference with an expert (lawyer, notary, bailiff or jurist) to providing information and drafting contracts.

The service is intended to be easily accessible. “Orders are placed via SMS or WhatsApp for formalities relating to the creation of a company or the drafting of a contract. We insert the clauses that the client wants and send everything back via the same channel. Payment is made via mobile money,” says the entrepreneur, who attended a legaltech programme organised by the start-up in Paris.

Lankoande is also a member of Legal Tech Africa, an association that tries to make the voice of legaltechs in Africa heard by public authorities and investors. Although Sunulex Africa and are currently knocking on the doors of investors and ministries, others have already taken off.

Education needs

In May 2021, the Ivorian start-up Legafrik, of which counts France’s Legalstart and the German’s GreenTec Capital as investors, received financial support from the French company Investisseurs et Partenaires (I&P), headed by the former director of the Agence Française de Développement, Jean-Michel Severino.

This online business-creation and digital-signature platform, which was co-founded by lawyer Youssouf Ballo and developer Daouda Diallo, is active in 17 countries in the OHADA space. In addition to seed funding, the amount of which remains confidential, it will benefit from the team of investors’ support.

Legafrik’s client portfolio includes Julaya, a French fintech company that provides accounting solutions to businesses on the continent and which has just raised €2m ($2.4m).

There is still a lot of education to be done with citizens, public authorities and even lawyers so that everyone realises the importance of having access to legal information. Currently, only a tiny number of local law firms have complete and up-to-date information,” says Sunulex Africa Tine.

Many start-ups are launching a similar model to Sunulex: Judy in Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya, He Lawyer in Benin and Lexware in Zimbabwe.

In Algiers, Walid Ghanemi’s company hopes to establish itself in 12 other African countries soon.

Legal Doctrine has been specialising in legal monitoring since 2018 and is also a database (case law, doctrine and legal texts…). Its clients include Société Générale, Cevital, Sanofi, Sonatrach, Siemens, Total, Citibank, Ericsson, Djezzy, GE, Schlumberger and Renault.

The start-up is also targeting law firms via a tailored programme that applies subscription discounts for any legal decision uploaded to its website and application. This is a way of optimising collective intelligence.

In English-speaking Africa, where the legaltech sector is more established, lawyers have clearly seen the value of using these services. In 2018, South African law firm Bowmans acquired a stake in Kira Systems, a Canadian service that designs artificial-intelligence systems to facilitate mergers and acquisitions (M&A), and compliance processes on behalf of private-equity investors.

Its competitor, Webber Wentzel, has been using a similar service developed by UK-based Luminance for the past three years, which simplifies document verification in M&A transactions.

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