February 6 2020

Legal Tech: what's next for Singapore and the Asia-Pacific?

Josh Lee K. Thong

Singapore is situated in one of the most economically-active regions in the world. How does this affect the Singaporean legal market, and the need for Singapore and its region to stay ahead of legal technology trends? Josh Lee, co-founder of LawTech.Asia and Chairperson of the Steering Committee for the Asia Pacific Legal Innovation and Technology Association, shares some insights with us.

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Renowned for its well-developed free-market economy on the local and global scale, Singapore continues to attract the biggest international law firms and experienced professionals worldwide. How does the modern Singaporean legal market look like nowadays?

According to public statements from the Ministry of Law, the legal industry plays an important role in maintaining Singapore’s position as an international financial and commercial centre, and gives businesses the confidence to invest in Singapore. Singapore has a relatively developed legal market. Over 80% of the legal industry comprises small law firms (1 - 5 lawyers), while 2% comprises law firms with more than 31 lawyers. This ratio has not shifted much in the last 4 - 5 years. Based on an overview provided by the Legal 500, it was also noted that Singapore has been able to attract international law firms, while still maintaining a robust and independent local legal profession.

Singapore’s legal market has constantly been embracing change. In fact, according to the State of Legal Innovation in the Asia Pacific Report (for which I was the co-Chief Editor), legal innovation in Singapore can be traced back to the 1990s with the use of online platforms for legal research (in 1990), the launch of digitally-connected technology courts in the Supreme Court (in 1995), and the launch of an e-registry system (in 1997). In 2017, this trend was further boosted when the Legal Technology Vision was released, which set out a developmental roadmap for technology in the legal sector in Singapore. This has been accompanied by a budding and active legal-tech market, with legal tech firms such as Asia Law Network, Intelllex and Rajah & Tann Technologies being some of the local companies leading the legal tech charge.

Looking forward, it is likely that technology will continue playing a game-changing role in the legal industry. Based on a survey carried out by the Ministry of Law and the Law Society of Singapore in 2018, three-quarters of law firm decision-makers believed that they needed to increase the level of technology adoption. Adoption of legal tech in Singapore also looks set to rise, with more than 2-in-5 decision makers saying that they will invest more in legal tech in this year and the next. The picture is similar for in-house counsels - nearly 60% intend to implement new technologies by 2020.

As a well-connected economy and legal industry, Singapore must take global changes and trends as they come. Hence, Singapore’s legal profession is expected to be continually shaped by the forces of technology, by regional business trends, and by the increasing sophistication of legal service consumers.

Quite recently, on 5 September 2019, the Asia-Pacific Legal Innovation & Technology Association (ALITA) was successfully launched at TechLaw.Fest Singapore as the first-of-its-kind legal collaborative platform in the region. Could you tell us more on this?

ALITA fills a gap that’s been existing in the region, especially on the “Asia” side and in terms of coordination within the region itself. Up to the establishment of ALITA, each jurisdiction pretty much worked on legal innovation on their own and at their own pace. Interestingly, however, there has been remarkable convergence in the solutions that each jurisdiction has arrived at. These points simply show that there is immense potential in helping to unify the legal innovation and technology efforts for the region. ALITA does not intend to dictate how each jurisdiction will advance in legal innovation. But intends to create a platform for stakeholders to convene, to learn, and to propagate legal innovation and technology to the region. How does ALITA intend to do this? Among our initiatives, we are looking at setting up a live-streaming function for legal tech events across the region. This will allow, for instance, people of a member organisation in Hong Kong to view a legal-tech conference in Canada or the US - which will in turn raise further interest in the legal tech conference. The platform will also provide for curated content on legal innovation and technology to be accessible 24/7. This means material and insights can be accessed by members around the region anytime they need it. We also intend to allow member organisations to contribute to the State of Legal Innovation in Asia Pacific Report, which we hope will be another way for member organisations to raise awareness and inspire others with their innovation journeys.

Article author:
Josh Lee Kok Thong

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