Charting tech development for the legal industry till 2030
This is the eighth in The Straits Times series by Senior Law Correspondent K.C. Vijayan on legal issues, with each edition tied to an area of law. Today's articles are themed on legal technology, its reach and the rise of legal technology firms. Also, with driverless or autonomous vehicles in the works, a Singapore Academy of Law paper considers liabilities involving such vehicles when traffic accidents occur.
The Ministry of Law (MinLaw) will be launching a road map of plans to support Singapore's legal industry in innovating and tackling tech challenges up to 2030.
The Technology and Innovation Roadmap (TIR) "identifies technologies that will impact and change legal services, and suggests various ways to support the development and adoption of such technologies", said a MinLaw spokesman.
The TIR is scheduled to be launched by Second Minister for Law Edwin Tong on Friday, the final day of the five-day TechLaw.Fest 2020, an annual conference on law and tech that goes online this year.
More details on the TIR will be released following the launch.
The move comes at a time when legal technology companies here have surged and the Covid-19 pandemic has spurred more use of data automation systems and tech.
Legal technology, or legaltech, employs information and communications technology tools to enable legal service providers to enhance productivity and deliver greater value to clients and access to the justice system.
Updated research due to be presented at TechLaw.Fest by legaltech firm Alpha Creates shows there are now 49 legaltech companies in Singapore - the third-highest number after Australia and India in the Asia-Pacific region. Last year, there were 25 such firms here.
A recent joint survey, Singapore's Best Law Firms, by The Straits Times and German-based market and consumer data firm Statista, due for release later this year, also showed that some 63 per cent of 754 respondents said digitalisation is the development that will most influence their law firms in the years to come, way ahead of other factors such as globalisation or legislation. The question was one of several posed in the survey.
"There is consensus within the legal sector on the necessity and impact of technology. MinLaw has built on this foundation by partnering the sector to reduce the cost barriers to adopting specially curated technology solutions," said the ministry's spokesman.
Among other things, MinLaw has launched schemes such as Tech-Start for Law and Tech-celerate for Law, with partners such as The Law Society, over the past few years to help Singapore law practices adopt baseline technology as well as advanced solutions.
The spokesman added that the ministry has helped law firms venture into legal technology through the establishment of innovation and technology development teams within Singapore-based law firms such as Rajah & Tann Technologies, and the advancement of legaltech start-ups in Singapore such as Tessaract and Intelllex.
Mr Lin Yuankai, a partner at RPC Premier Law, a joint law venture firm, said: "The drive to promote legal technology should be welcomed with open arms.
"A common saying in the service industry is: We offer three kinds of services - good, cheap and fast, but you can pick only two.
"Legaltech has the potential to create efficiencies and cost savings in legal services, such that lawyers and clients may no longer have to settle for two out of three. The desire to adopt technology and innovative practices by both law firms and their clients can only become greater in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic, where virtual meetings and hearings have become the norm."
He added that clients at his firm are now much more interested in exploring how legal technology such as document automation systems can assist in streamlining work processes.
MinLaw said: "Covid-19 has accelerated a shift in mindset of both practitioners and clients. Beyond Covid-19, many firms will likely segue into hybrid office-home working arrangements. Legal work will also continue to be increasingly cross-border."
Mr Josh Lee Kok Thong, chairman of the Asia-Pacific Legal Innovation and Technology Association, said that if the pandemic had occurred two decades ago when the technologies were not as ubiquitous or developed, at least half of the global legal industry would have been vanquished.
He made this point in a foreword in the Global Legal Tech Report Asia 2020, which was jointly produced by legaltech firm Alpha Creates and the Australian Legal Technology Association.
Mr Lee added: "Thankfully, with the technologies available today, the legal industry has been able and willing to switch to a digital mode of business in a matter of weeks.
"The message is clear: As many in the legal technology industry appreciate, innovation is not merely a pastime in the good times. It is a life-saving investment, for both good times and bad. These developments will have longer-term implications."
Public access to justice online
A MinLaw spokesman said measures to enhance public access to justice through digital means, such as the Automated Court Document Assembly and Generation system and online legal talks, play a key role in improving legal awareness and flow of legal information.
Legal tech initiatives being implemented by other agencies include:
LAW SOCIETY PRO BONO SERVICES AND COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT COUNCILS
Legal talks - held and uploaded online, so participants do not need to be physically present amid Covid-19 measures.
COMMUNITY JUSTICE CENTRE
Automated Court Document Assembly and Generation - an online tool to help litigants-in-person fill in certain court forms, by answering simple questions.
Litigation Assist - online portal to help litigants-in-person with the generation and submission of documents and draft court orders
OFFICE OF THE PUBLIC GUARDIAN/MINISTRY OF SOCIAL AND FAMILY DEVELOPMENT
Lasting Power of Attorney - changes to the application process have allowed for appointments to be accessed electronically since Aug 1 last year.
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Photo caption: Pactly is among the 49 legaltech firms currently in Singapore, compared with just 25 last year. Legaltech employs information and communications technology tools to enable legal service providers to enhance productivity and deliver greater value to clients and access to the justice system. Photo: PACTLY