Engineering consultancy WSP relies on technology to keep ahead of the industry. In an office full of
tech-savvy engineers, lawyers can struggle to keep up. Chee Hoong Pang, head of legal for WSP's
Asia Pacific operations tells us how the team has adapted to 'eat, breathe, sleep' technology.
For GCs, technology is very much a love-hate relationship.
We love using technology and are increasingly reliant on
it, even though we hate to admit it. The pressure every
business has been under to work remotely is showing us how
much we rely on technology to operate, which was a trend that
started long ago.
Within the legal function we are now using technology for
everything from e-discovery to data mapping and analytics. Even
beyond front-end legal work, we are using technology to update
our insurance certification or take care of our invoicing and
billing. Really, we could not operate as a function without this
technology. The question, then, is not whether legal technology
will become important - it is already essential to the way we
operate - but how it will change what we do, and whether it
will replace certain tasks. As far as I can see technology will not
replace lawyers, but it will open up new ways of working and
allow us to see things that were previously invisible.
Working within a rather lean legal team means that each
person has to draw on whatever resources are available to
maximise his or her benefit to the business. I am a certified
data protection officer and sit as the designated privacy
representative for the Asia region. I'm also a certified enterprise
risk advisor, a certified business continuity manager, and
have just sat the anti-bribery exams. Having that broad-based
training is one way of maximising the range of matters I can
cover. The other is using technology effectively.
I estimate that our use of technology allows each lawyer to
double their workload, so this is not an inconsiderable benefit
to the team. The other big benefit technology brings to our
legal work is that it allows us to take a more systematic, joinedup approach to risk. The ability to search documents quickly
and reliable is one of the best ways to identify and mitigate risk
patterns in litigations, investigations, complaints and a many
This is a fast-moving area of legal tech and one where we
really need to keep our eyes open. For example, investigations
require detailed knowledge of the underlying facts, and
increasingly sophisticated software is being developed all
the time. As lawyers, we have to be very open-minded to the
possibilities this software will unlock. We almost have to forget
that we are lawyers for a moment and think of it as a data
mapping task rather than a legal task.
To use legal tech effectively you cannot be afraid to fail. You
have to explore new technologies, launch new programmes
and initiatives, and start working in different ways, but you also
have to know when to abandon software and strategies that
are not effective. This requires a fundamental shift in thinking
for most lawyers.
Open yourself to new ideas, trial new software and ways
of completing legal tasks, but don't be afraid to admit that
something isn't right for you. You have to be very careful,
because not every technology will suit your use-case. Try and
test as much as possible before determining whether you can
actually implement it for use in the long-term.
When it comes to identifying and procuring new technology,
we are fortunate to have a supportive IT function. New
software is purchased by IT at group level, but every decision
follows close discussions with the various business units and
support functions to make sure a product will do or can adapt
to what we need it to do. My experience is that IT are always
eager to explore new tech and are happy to find things that
will make your life easier. Building that relationship with your IT
people is essential to getting the right tools. But of course, as
GC I also need to be involved in the process because only the
front-line legal staff can truly stress-test a system.
While there have been big changes in the market for legal
tech, most law firms remain quite conservative here and tend
to focus on legal skill sets at the expense of other ways of
working. However, there are signs of change. New business
models that offer on-demand legal staff or a mix of outsourcing
and technology-based solutions at competitive price points
are becoming more accepted. Ten years ago no one thought
it would work, particularly in this market. Now they are
threatening the traditional firms. The lesson here is clear. Both
in-house and private practice lawyers must be more receptive
to new ways of defining products, markets and clients.
Technology itself will not leave us behind, but our inability to
adapt to its consequences certainly will.
'This kind of concern is being raised, but it is
not a major concern right now. What may be
an ethical concern is the data itself. The real
problem arises only if you use confidential
information, or if the data could be used to make
correlations,' he says.
As everyone knows, life after COVID-19 will not simple return
to normal. New working arrangements are here to stay, and
that means technology will become an increasingly important
aspect of working life.