The challenge of managing a legal function remotely has forced GCs to think creatively. Xae Hoyy Loh, general counsel and compliance officer of agribusiness giant Pilmico International shares his insights.

Legal technology is something we have been exploring since long before COVID-19 arrived, but the current pandemic has certainly forced us to fast track projects that we had been planning for the future. I would not say that we are using sophisticated systems - in our market sector it is not necessary to be at the cutting edge - but we have found ourselves using much more technology.

At the beginning of this pandemic there were obstacles to overcome, because we just didn't know what to expect. No one knew how long the 'work from home' situation would last, but I don't think anyone expected it to last for so long.

As general counsel and compliance officer for the entire food group at Pilmico, I am essentially managing legal work throughout the region. This can be difficult, especially as I am dealing with a range of jurisdictions with different laws on a daily basis. There is no real legal or regulatory alignment across the ASEAN region, which is certainly an obstacle to introducing new tech-enabled processes.

Most legal tech innovations I have come across have originated in Singapore. This is of course partly the result of Singapore's strong culture of innovation, and the generous funding available for such initiatives, but it also depends to some extent on the regulatory environment. For example, Singapore recognises e-signatures, while countries such as Indonesia do not. As such, a platform which is supposed to lighten the burden by implementing e-signatures is not much use to a business that has a pan-Asia-Pacific footprint.

From an operational perspective, things can get even more tricky. Remote working has impacted our operations throughout the Asia-Pacific region, which means we not only have to focus on tools that can help our employees at headquarters in Singapore, but for all our staff across various markets.

Over the past few months, technology-driven developments and initiatives designed to make working from home easier have been prioritised. We have rolled out a new console system within the team to help us manage legal files. This has been very useful in making sure we retain and track important documents. This system was initially going to be introduced in the second half of next year, but we fast-tracked the initiative to help assist the transition towards working from home.

The experience has helped me see that in many areas we were still working in a very traditional way. For example, I would review a Word document, send it via email to the other party for review before receiving a marked-up copy for further review. When you look at documents being reviewed in this way, you end up creating many drafts and different versions of one document.

Being forced to adopt new solutions has certainly shown me that it is not the only way to do things. Even something as simple as Google Docs can help solve this issue, but I am increasingly interested in exploring the more sophisticated solutions that are available, such as a one-stop-shop that assists with drafting, reviewing, signing and retaining documents, as well as assisting with contract templates.

The biggest impact technology has made during the lockdown is in terms of how we share information and knowledge. We are now using virtual meeting platforms on a daily basis, sometimes several times a day. I suppose that shows that, for many tasks, there is no substitute for personal contact. We still need to discuss and exchange ideas, but perhaps the way in which we deliver our services will continue to evolve. However, I would say that we now spend more time interacting with our colleagues outside Singapore than ever before. If anything, the inability to travel has brought the wider team closer together.

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