Networking can be essential for anyone with an eye on corporate leadership but finding the time to do so was sometimes the last thing on a busy lawyer’s mind. As times change in the region, networks are becoming a targets and increasingly important way for GCs to engage with legal tech, increase skill sets and form key relationships not only within the region but across borders globally.
Networking, as any diligent MBA-holder will tell you, is
essential for an eye on corporate leadership. But finding
the time to network is often the last thing on a busy
How things change.
Several months into lockdown, finding effective ways to
network has become the only escape route from sliding into
set ways of doing things. 'Remote work is the future of work',
says Amar Sundram, head of legal for RBS India. 'That means
we need to come up with new ways of forming and building
relationship and keeping on top of changes in the way other
organisations are doing things.'
Nowhere is this truer than the world of legal technology. For
many GCs, keeping up with the pace of new technology was
challenge enough. The pandemic has only made that job more
difficult. As a result, a growing number of GCs are seeking
out new forms of community building, networking and peer
learning to help them cope. Suddenly, professional learning
networks (PLNs) have become all the rage.
Across Asia Pacific, a raft of dedicated tech networks aimed at
training and educating GCs has sprung up, from the Australian
legal Technology Association (ALTA) to the Future Law
Innovation Programme (FLIP) in Singapore. These organisations
do many things, but all of them aim at a common goal. As
Josh Lee Kok Thong, chair of the Asia-Pacific Legal Innovation
and Technology Association (ALITA), puts it, they 'encourage
lawyers to take learning into their own hands, to be more
interested in the technology and other disruptive forces that
can affect their work'.
As peer networks become an increasingly important way for
GCs across Asia Pacific to engage with legal tech, we canvas
some of the leading institutions, and their members, on what it
means for lawyers' engagement with technology.
Among the largest informal member networks is the
aforementioned ALITA, a regional coordination platform that
seeks to promote legal innovation and technology initiatives.
The organisation launched in 2019 with a bold mission
statement to make Asia a hub for legal innovation. It is, says
ALITA's Singapore-based chair Josh Lee Kok Thong, the first
truly Asia Pacific wide legal tech forum.
'This was a great chance to bring together a vibrant ecosystem
and show the significant advances in the development of
legal innovation and technology in all countries across Asia
Pacific.'rather than AI taking over the
role of lawyer.
'While each country has its own legal tech networks, we felt
the cross-border interaction was missing. We wanted to give
a voice to the region, to promote collaboration opportunities
across the region. The results so far have shown just how much
progress can be made when GCs and thought leaders from
different countries work together to share experiences, context
ALITA has grown rapidly to around 150 member organisations
in 20 countries. The membership includes some of the
world's largest law firms and technology companies, as
well as universities, think tanks, legal tech companies, and
governmental or quasi-governmental organisations. It is also
fast becoming a leading platform for the region's general
Narae Lee is a Seoul-based lawyer at Bliss Law Office and an
organiser at Seoul Legal Hackers, a separate discussion forum
for issues arising at the intersection of law and technology.
She recently joined ALITA's steering committee and says the
regional focus will be invaluable to the GC community.
'Legal Hackers is an international organisation, so I already had
the benefit of that cross-border perspective. However, when
it comes to the use of legal technology there are nuances of
context that matter. As counsel in Korea I will have a very
different set of pressures, expectations and possibilities to
someone based in Europe or the US.'
'Generally, it's useful to have a forum that looks at what other
people facing these same issues are doing. The best way to
learn about legal technology is to speak with others who are
using it and know what it can and can't do.'
Though still relatively young as an organisation, ALITA is
already expanding its activities to create what Josh Lee Kok
Thong describes as 'probably the world's first legal tech
'Just as an observatory contains a set of tools that help
stargazers absorb data and information, draw patterns, and
observe movement, we are creating a set of tools to help the
legal community scan the Asia Pacific region. Above all, we want
to make it a live observatory that feeds people with information
on the initiatives that are taking place across Asia, so that
actionable insights can be drawn.'
These ground-up attempts to share information sit alongside
more formal initiatives to develop awareness of legal tech
organised by the region's academic institutions. Perhaps
the most advanced of these is The Future Law Innovation
Programme (FLIP) run by the Singapore Management University
and the Singapore Academy of Law. FLIP has issued a series of
roadmaps on the future of legal innovation in the Asia Pacific
region, which were highly praised by the GCs we spoke to for
Australian institutions have also been notable for their activities
to promote legal tech. The country's largest postgraduate legal
practice education provider, the College of Law, runs the Centre
for Legal Innovation (CLI), a legal innovation and tech think tank
focusing on emerging legal practice, future legal tech, innovation
and entrepreneurship in the legal industry.
The focus throughout these activities, says CLI executive
director Terri Mottershead, is on practical actions, and while
CLI is actively monitoring market trends, it is 'more interested
in understanding how to those trends can be translated into
solutions.' For example, CLI offers a programme called Reinvent
Legal Business, which looks at the various changes that have
been taking place in the industry, covering everything from
in-house initiatives to the work being done by law firms and
alternative legal service providers.' One of the biggest shifts
across the profession, says Mottershead, has been the growing
interest in technology among lawyers.
'We have seen a real shift in the uptake of technology,
particularly in the wake of Covid-19. As part of our Digital Literacy
series we are looking at how we can provide support for lawyers
to use technology effectively and help them understand how it
can be incorporated into their practice.'
CLI, which has branched out from Australia to establish bases
in New Zealand and Singapore and, more recently, the UK,
does not operate like a traditional network. It offers the bulk of
its courses and services for free 'to help promote the sharing
of information''. Recently, it has been devoting more time to
vendor-led demonstrations of the newest legal tech from around
'It's not intended as a sales pitch', says Mottershead. 'It is an
opportunity for tech developers to explain the gap they sought
to bridge and how they did it, while also giving them a chance to
listed to the needs and feedback of end users.'
'In fact, we have noticed that many lawyers are receptive
to seeing how the technology works. The demos have been
popular, and we have been holding more and more of them to
help meet demand. That suggests to me that lawyers have a big
appetite to understand the systems and tools that are available
Sheldon Renkema, general manager for legal at industrials
conglomerate Wesfarmers and the Australia regional co-lead for
the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC), has a similar
take on the value of per-to-peer learning in a fragmented legal
'One of the great things about CLOC is that you can very easily
learn from what others are doing, so that you're not reinventing
the wheel. You are learning from others' experiences so it's a
really good forum for embarking on that journey, connecting
with people who've been through similar experiences and being
able to benefit from their experience [of] the things that have
gone well or not gone well in that specific context'.
'It's very difficult to actually objectively assess whether what
[legal tech providers] are saying their product or service delivers
is actually what it delivers. Being able to leverage the experience
of people who have used those products and services to see
what the actual output is very helpful'.
Across Asia Pacific, universities and academic institutions are
rolling out a variety of courses that bring aspects of IT and
computational thinking skills to a legal audience, alongside a
much wider number of courses that teach lawyers about the
business impacts of tech and innovation. Some, such as the
Singapore Management University, have gone further and now
offer combined law and technology degrees.
Haebin Lee, research manager of the crypto finance division
at Korea-based Block Crafters, agrees, and gives weight to the
idea that membership organisations are the best way for GCs to
move the industry forward:
'There should be more a lot more discussion on how we should
shape legal tech, and which direction we should take with new
technology. That's what we've been striving to do through Seoul
Legal Hackers and ALITA: open up a room for free discussion.'
New ways of working
Near universally, the global pandemic
has forced a fundamental rethink as
to how many of us live our lives, be it
personally, professionally or otherwise.
The legal sector in Asia Pacific has
proved no exception, with the past
year providing an impetus for innovation
and an acceleration of technology-based
'Technology is not only changing how lawyers work
on a day-to-day basis; it is reshaping some of the
most fundamental aspects of law,' says Vinay Ahuja,
partner - Indonesia, Lao PDR and Thailand and head
of Indonesia practice at DFDL Tax & Legal.
'Consider the huge changes that have taken place
in courts across Asia. As someone who grew up and
practised in India until 2005, I can safely say that it has
come as a big surprise to see India's courts embracing
While virtual courts may be one of the most
immediately recognisable changes to legal practice -
particularly for those outside of the legal sphere - for
both in-house counsel and their law firm counterparts,
the day-to-day differences in regular work habits are
perhaps even more pronounced.
'Today, law firms are typically arranging for client
meetings and negotiations to be carried out via video
conferences, while webinars are frequently being
arranged for a range of purposes, including external
seminars for clients, as well as internal training sessions
for lawyers within the firm,' says Zhuowei (Joyce) Li, Partner at Han Kun
'The COVID-19 pandemic has made organisations
more reliant on technology than ever and as a
result, when using technology tools for remote work,
privacy and security have become a more critical
Concerns around privacy and security are
unsurprisingly not limited to law firms. Cybersecurity
was one of the most frequently cited concerns related
to technology that the in-house counsel who took part
in the research for this report raised, with the sensitive
nature of legal work, in addition to the risks associated
with data breaches, both front of mind.
‘With the emergence of new technologies and more broadly, changes in business trends, in-house clients are increasingly moving towards technology-enabled services,’ says Jane Toh Yoong San, partner at Shearn Delamore & Co.
‘This has resulted in new and different inquiries coming from clients, with advice sought on issues around data security and risks associated with the use of technology-enable services, as well as an uptick in the number of clients conducting risk assessments of third-party technology providers before consideration of services for contracting can begin.’
These issues speak to the need to establish new
frameworks to deal with technology-related issues
and are translating to a rise in new types of work for
private practice lawyers. Multiple WSG member
firms have reported that they are being instructed to
advise clients on legal issues arising from the use of
technology in remote working scenarios - including
the issuance of guidelines for video conferencing
software and collaborative working applications
- a trend that all expected to continue to evolve as
businesses and law firms alike come to terms with
new ways of working.
State of the future: Singapore's
bid to become a legal tech hub
The Government of Singapore has set its
sights on a new and unexpected industrial
development plan: developing the island
state into a legal technology powerhouse.
GC speaks to the people looking to make
these plans a reality:
Since gaining independence in 1965, Singapore
has pioneered an economic model like no other. By
combining a free market and open-economy with
strong government involvement, the island state has
grown at a breakneck speed to become, on a percapita basis, one of the wealthiest countries in the
The lessons of this economic model, poured over by
policy makers and business analysts ever since, break
down to three things: decide what you want to be
a world leader in, back the industry so it has all the
conditions needed to thrive, and stay the course.
Singapore's legal market has been following this
rule book for at least two decades. First, in the early
2000s, foreign lawyers were permitted to set up
Joint Law Ventures (JVLs) with local firms, a move then
Attorney General Chan Sek Keong said would make it
a 'one-stop shop' for cross border transactions. Since
then, the government has been a staunch supporter of
its legal industry, developing a world-class arbitration
infrastructure and a judiciary that is unparalleled in the
When Singapore launched Asia's first legal technology
start-up accelerator in 2019, it was legal tech's time to
take the limelight. Backed by generous research grants,
ambitious accelerator programs and direct financial
support, Singapore's legal tech providers had become
the latest champions of future prosperity.
If you build it, they will come
When it comes to legal technology, GCs often face
a dilemma. While many know what they would
like technology to do, they often find themselves
disappointed by the marketplace. In short, there is
a huge gap between the legal technology that is
available and effective now, and technologies with the
potential to be truly disruptive.
It was precisely this dilemma that led Singapore
to establish The Future Law Innovation Programme
(FLIP). Now under the aegis of the Singapore
Academy of law, FLIP first emerged out of discussions
at the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE),
a governmental body founded in 2016 to help
Singapore's economy adapt to the market conditions
likely to prevail over the coming years.
Paul Neo, Singapore Academy of Law's chief
operating officer, says the initiative helped draw
attention to the economic potential of legal tech.
'A lot of people knew there were all these bottlenecks
in the legal market caused by poor adoption or
adaption of technology, but the hard evidence was
missing. We needed to take the lay of the land and
understand the market through surveys and discussions,
which we distilled into our "101 Industry Problem
Statements". That had a number of positive effects in
terms of understanding the market, but it also allowed
us to show potential investors the huge demand out
there, emphasising the rewards available should these
problems be solved.
'A lot of technologists focus on fintech rather than
legal tech, so this initiative helped to display to them
the opportunities available in legal tech innovation.
While there were already a lot of tech accelerators in
Singapore, none of them were focused on legal tech,
which has its own unique issues. To build one, we had
to partner with existing accelerators who knew how
to scale companies and had general business knowhow, to which we added in our legal expertise.'
Gordon Liu, vice president, legal for Dell Greater
China, says he has been fortunate in his ability
to draw on a comprehensive suite of workplace
That led Neo to found the Global Legal Innovation
Digital Entrepreneurship Program (GLIDE). In its early
days, the initiative was aimed at Singapore's investors,
but the ambitious attempt to turn legal tech into an
investment class has caught the attention of investors far
beyond the island state's borders.
'Whenever I visit London, law firms and legal
community builders want to know about the marketing
work being done by the FLIP program', says Chan Zi
Quan, co-founder and CEO of Intelllex, a Singaporebased law tech startup offering an intelligent
knowledge management system that allows lawyers
to search for, store and share knowledge. Quan, who
sat on the minister's committee during the early days
of FLIP. 'They can see the beneficial effects it is having
and are interested in replicating its success.'
Quan, who sat on the minister's committee during the
early days of FLIP, says that while the idea of legal tech
providers receiving state funding may seem unusual, it
was exactly what the market needed to take off.
'The legal industry is rather fragmented when
compared to other sectors. For example, in shipping or
manufacturing there is much more consolidation and
it is not at all unusual to see the government step in
and offer support. But for a tech provider that caters to
all sort of businesses, from SMEs right up to blue-chip
global companies, it is much more difficult to make a
case for that level of support.'
'This sort of government support has really boosted our
legitimacy. The due diligence they conduct on suppliers
has really helped grow community trust.'
While Intelllex itself was deemed too mature to benefit
from FLIP or GLIDE – it was, says Quan, 'founded
before there was even a term like "legal tech" to
describe what we were doing' – it was recently
approved as a preferred supplier by Tech-celerate For
Law, a support scheme for the adoption of technology
solutions launched by the Law Society of Singapore,
in partnership with Ministry of Law, Enterprise
Singapore and Info-Communications Media
Development (IMDA). The programme aims to help
Singapore-based legal entities compete in the global
marketplace, underlining the government's commitment
to its vision of a tech-enabled legal marketplace.
Under the Tech-celerate programme, Singaporebased legal practices are awarded 80% of the costs
for any new technology implemented for the first
year of use, allowing vendors much-needed time to
establish proof of concept and refine their offering.
The infrastructure put in place by the government of
Singapore has also attracted tech talent from other
markets. Workflow automation software provider
Checkbox was founded in Australia in 2016. It has since
grown at an impressive rate, tripling its user base over the
past year. But, says co-founder and CEO Evan Wong, its
experiences in Singapore were transformational.
'We were part of a competition at TechLaw.Fest that
involved a number of rounds of pitching at the conference
after a rigorous vetting process. After winning this, it really
helped to lift the profile of the company and allowed
us to move into the GLIDE program. From there, things
started to really take off for Checkbox in Singapore.'
The road ahead
Even more ambitious plans are underway to make
sure Singapore is at the forefront of legal tech. The
government has made a bold statement through its
S$15m National Research Foundation grant to the
Singapore Management University (SMU). This will
see the creation of a new Computational Law Centre
and research program at SMU, fulfilling SMU Principal
Investigator Wong Meng Weng's strategic vision for the
development of legal technology at the University.
The Computational Law Center ambitious flagship
project will attempt to build a domain-specific
language for law, something Jerrold Soh, assistant
professor of law at SMU, says has far-reaching
implications for the legal industry.
'The analogy I would use is that we are doing
something similar to what Adobe did with PDFs.
Computational law is essentially expressing legal rules
as computable units that can be calculated through
logical operations. Our project starts with a basic tool,
the domain-specific language, and builds legal tools
on top of this. For example, someone writing a contract
would be able to define the terms and mechanisms in
a code-like language so it can be understood by the
system. You could then run a check to see if it contains
logical errors or has terms not defined'.
'More importantly, you could also port this code-like
language over to various natural languages. Once
you have it in a condensed, pure logical form it's easily
translatable between different languages at once.
Mandarin to English is doable, for instance, which will
have many applications'.
These developments in computational law would not
only improve the efficiency of legal tech, but could
represent a sea-change in the capabilities of humanmachine interfaces more broadly. But, as with most
ambitious projects, it remains a moonshot. 'It sounds
like we've got it all figured out, but we haven't' says
Soh. 'It's a big research project that will take a lot of
time and effort to accomplish'.
With the Government of Singapore
now backing legal tech, finding the resources to
accomplish these ambitions should not be a problem.
Path of least resistance
Free discussion and knowledge sharing are changing the way
GCs learn about and interact with legal tech, but at a certain
point this enthusiasm for change hits hard problems. As Nilanjan
Sinha, head legal for Indian multinational banking and financial
services company ICICI Bank, observes:
'Legal tech, perhaps because of the mindset of lawyers, is not
as disruptive a space as it could be. The problems have been
identified, and various solutions have been proposed by service
providers. The hope is that as people become more used to
using tech and working from home there will be a greater
uptake, but there remain obstacles.'
'Senior management needs to buy in to a particular way of
working for new practices to become widespread. As GCs we
have a big responsibility to oversee and facilitate that change
within the team.'
An even bigger problem, and one identified by many of
the regional organisations we spoke to, is that lawyers'
mindsets need to shift before the profession embraces technology.
As Sinha notes, 'It may take time but there will be greater
efficiencies on an ongoing basis if we make the effort now.'
There are signs that this resistance to change is slowly fading,
however. Josh Lee Kok Thong, himself a millennial, says a new
generation of lawyers across Asia is coming to the table with
quite different expectations from their predecessors.
'The millennial generation is going to be key. We are going to
hold key decision making roles in organisations, law firms or
in-house departments in a few years' time. Once that happens
there will be a fundamental shift in thinking in terms of how legal
services are going to be provided'.
Besides which, the writing is clearly on the wall. Technology will
play an increasingly important role in how lawyers deliver their
advice, whether lawyers like it or not. But more importantly,
when it comes to the law, the medium is the message. As
'At the moment, we see legal tech as a tool that assists us in
doing things more efficiently, but over time, that will develop or
will actually provide different ways of delivering legal services
altogether. It will inform decision making processes and create
the opportunity for additional or new revenue streams.'
At which point, even the most conservative of lawyers will see
their interest piqued.