Lawyers across the world like to talk about rubber stamping things, even though few who qualified in the last 15 years will have seen a rubber stamp let alone used one to certify a document. But, as we found out speaking to GCs across Asia Pacific for this special report, when a lawyer in that region talks about rubber stamping something, they often mean it literally.
'Most documents I deal with require physically stamping,' lamented one Indian GC. 'Even if you want to automate some part of that process in the end you will need to get a stamp. That means a trip to another office, a taxi ride somewhere else in the city, a long wait in a queue. All to get that piece of paper stamped.'
India may be notoriously bureaucratic, but the problem was far from unique to that country. GCs from Japan, Korea, Indonesia, and even ultra-efficient Singapore told us of cultures rooted in face-to-face contact, deference to senior decision makers and established hierarchies. As a result, even that simplest of legal technologies, the electronic signature, had failed to take root.
The obstacles facing GCs who wanted to introduce technology felt unmovable. Until a pandemic hit. After nearly a year of lockdown, businesses across Asia have embraced new ways of working.
To understand just how much lawyers have adapted to tech in these strange times, GC magazine teamed up with World Services Group to survey over 100 of Asia Pacific's leading general counsel. We asked them about everything from the impact of Covid-19 on the legal team's efficiency to their use of AI, how they find the right software (and the money to buy it), and their expectations of outside counsel when it comes to technology.
We found evidence of a region that is almost uniformly embracing technology, a region where even the most entrenched cultural habits may be coming to an end. But let us not get carried away.
Any discussion of how GCs in the Asia Pacific region are using legal tech is liable to fall into the trap of focusing on culture first. Certainly, this special edition shows much evidence of country-specific traits that are restricting or encouraging the use of technology, but it also shows that GCs the world over are facing the same issues when it comes to technology.
Broadly, there are three steps involved in the acquisition of legal tech, all of which are things lawyers have historically struggled with: Knowing what's out there; understanding and benchmarking the capabilities vs the cost, and convincing the business that it is going to save time and money. Until GCs get to grips with these procurement-driven approaches to buying technology their successes in finding suitable platforms is likely to remain limited.