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Navigating a Future Disrupted by Legal Tech

As smart Industry 4.0 technologies become a growing reality in today’s business world, technology is also inevitably transforming all segments of the legal ecosystem. Legal professions are increasingly turning to and deploying technology to solve business challenges, enhance productivity and meet customer demand.

In fact, the Law Society’s 2018 Survey of Legal Practitioners on Legal Technology (Legal Tech) in Singapore revealed that 82% of respondents felt that technology is crucial for their firms to stay competitive in the legal sector. Additionally, almost three-quarters of respondents believe that they need to increase the level of technological adoption at their firms[1].

At the same time, the Legal Tech industry has grown tremendously in value, rising to an estimated US$16 billion globally according to a market report by Catalyst Investors[2]. With such signs of positive development and growth, some observers have even prophesised the end of law firms, noting that Legal Tech firms will be taking their spot instead.

As this technological disruption continues to grow, a sea change is expected to sweep the legal profession, presenting stakeholders in the industry with a formidable challenge on several fronts. Yet, these changes need not signal a gloomy outlook for all involved.

The impetus to evolve

The legal profession is at an inflection point in view of the growing need to harness new technologies, and with it, new ways of doing things. This will have profound implications for how firms and their lawyers operate and how future generation of lawyers are taught.

At the same time, law firms must also recognise that their clients are also implementing and navigating technological changes of their own. Today’s technologically empowered clients will likely demand more from their legal service providers. As such, it will be in the law firm’s and lawyers’ interests to empower themselves with the knowledge and skills needed to enable the adoption of cutting-edge Legal Tech. After all, these tools will not just help firms meet the needs of their clients but also serve as the firm’s unique value proposition in the market to stand out against their competitors.

Another impetus for legal firms to adopt technology comes from the Millennial workforce, which demands that technology and innovative practices be a part of their preferred workplace. In a poll conducted by Microsoft, 93% of millennial workers noted that working for a company with updated technology, services and solutions is important to them, with almost half — 48% — saying it was “extremely important”[3]. Taking steps to adopt Legal Tech remains central to attracting tomorrow’s best talent.

To this end, many legal firms are already integrating technology into their processes. Dr Daniel Seah, Lecturer at the School of Law, Singapore’s University of Social Sciences, notes that there is a prevailing trend towards automation by most law firms in Singapore — including small entities.

Dr Seah explains, “From a litigation perspective, there are clear strides being made by large firms in how evidence and facts are being collected by analytics and automation in a process called e-discovery.”

Under this process, evidence in electronic formats and electronically stored information such as emails, instant messaging, chats and databases are exchanged between the defendant and the prosecution. Beyond just sorting and storing these documents, certain E-discovery software can also gather insights and carry out analysis by sifting through these massive amounts of data.

As a result of such automation, legal firms can avoid spending precious capital on a traditionally labour-intensive process involving many lawyers and man-hours.

‘Tech-celeration’ also needed in legal education

With technologies like E-discovery playing an increasingly vital role in the legal profession, the function played by lawyers will likely change, along with the approach law firms take toward litigation. Dr Seah advises, “Tech and project management teams will become more prominent as solutions architects to serve a client’s needs.”

This has also created the need for firms to either hire adequate manpower to facilitate this transformation and integration or offer suitable upskilling opportunities. To this end, the Legal Tech arm of one of Singapore’s leading law firms, Rajah & Tann Technologies, has partnered with SAL Ventures to launch the first e-discovery certification course in Asia[4].

On a wider scale, schools must start adopting new pedagogical approaches — especially one empowered by technology — to nurture a strong foundation to help students thrive in a radically different legal landscape.

Dr Seah points out that at SUSS, the school’s approach is to use the innate qualities of a technology to support and produce a targeted learning outcome. In his own course about torts and evidence for instance, Dr Seah is implementing Virtual Reality (VR) tools to illustrate how facts can be framed in circumstantial evidence.

He explains, “VR is a technological affordance because I am using its technology of immersion to simulate a real situation that allows a student to see abstract concepts. Concepts that are often described in chunks of text in the Evidence Act, transforming them into something real which students can see.”

In the foreseeable future, VR will also be adopted to help students who are pursuing the forensics module. Dr Seah notes that VR will be used to convert spatial concepts — such as blood stain pattern analysis — into something “reasonably real”.

That said, schools should also not lose sight of also imbuing law students with practical skills which will allow them to hit the ground running on their first day at work. Dr Seah adds that SUSS’ School of Law continues to adopt a practical slant, applying it to the school’s approach to educating law students.

Future-proofing the legal industry — today

The trend of law firms adopting smart legal technologies is not likely to slow anytime soon, and it is likely that law firms — especially smaller entities — will need financial help to take this technological leap into the future. As a result, a multi-agency support scheme has been launched by the government to ensure Singapore Law Practices (SLPs) can invest and adopt technological solutions.

Called Tech-celerate For Law, qualified SLPs can receive up to 70% funding support to supplement the cost of adopting Legal Tech solutions during the first year of implementation[5]. Launched by the Ministry of Law, the Law Society of Singapore, Enterprise Singapore, and the Infocomm Media Development Authority, SLPs stand to receive a combined S$3.68 million boost[6].

Collectively, these efforts in policymaking, along with continual updates to the pedagogical strategies taken in developing and training the next generation of lawyers will bode well for the industry at large.

Safeguarding the future of this vital public service requires a collaborative effort to ensure no one shies away from taking the necessary, and perhaps painful, steps to adapt to changes.

As for students who are on the cusp of entering a world of disruption in the legal profession, Dr Seah advises, “One point bears emphasis — Stay humble. The more successful you become, the greater the need for humility because a lawyer's tiny act such as something he or she says casually, can exert disproportionate consequences on the vulnerable.”

[1] The Law Society of Singapore (2018): Legal technology in Singapore 2018 survey of legal practitioners  

[2] Catalyst Investors (Nov 2017): Legal Tech Market Report 

[5] The Law Society of Singapore (2019): Tech-celerate for Law


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