How the Government is Encouraging Tech Adoption amongst Singapore Businesses

Mr Gregory Vijayendran, SC, President of Law Society 
Distinguished guests 
Ladies and gentlemen


Introduction

1. I am pleased to join you this morning at this event to launch the SmartLaw Guild. I must say that I find myself in somewhat unchartered waters here today. So far in my career in the private sector and the public sector, I have had the opportunity to benefit from legal advice from lawyers, work with them on contracts and legislations, and occasionally lament the fees that they charge. But I never imagined I would be talking to a group of lawyers about technology, about digitalisation, and its impact that would have on the legal community. It is an important initiative and one that is not unique to the legal community, it is an initiative that cuts across the entire economy, and one that will have profound implications for quite some time to come. So I think this is a timely set of initiatives undertaken by the LawSoc, working together with various government agencies and I welcome that. I think we need to put our best foot forward to take these initiatives to greater heights. 

Advent of digitalisation and its wide-ranging impact 

2. Technological advances and the digitalisation of our economy have a profound impact on our lives, the way we work, on business models and industry structures. You just have to look at the recent experience and by recent I mean in the last ten years. For example, companies like Nokia and the mobile industry, Barnes and Noble, or companies that used to sell compact discs. These are examples of quite dramatic changes that are taking place and the message is simple -  To stay relevant and competitive, we all - individuals, companies and governments - must adapt to these shifts and seize the new opportunities that they create.  The legal profession is no exception.  

3. We are also confronted at the same time with issues relating to the use of new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), such as how to eliminate bias from machines, and how do we protect ourselves from unintended consequences.  A trusted ecosystem is key to the development of Singapore’s digital economy, and to that end we have been working on several AI initiatives. 

4. One example is the AI Governance Framework, the release of which I announced in Davos at the World Economic Forum in January this year.  This Framework provides private sector organisations with guidance on how to address key ethical and governance issues when deploying AI solutions.  They are being used, and are being used, in a much broader way. It is important that enterprises understand their implications and have a framework that guides the usage in practice. 

5. The legal fraternity has an important role in the evolution of a regulatory architecture and the creation of legal solutions to deal with these challenges.  Hence, as part of the effort to build the trusted ecosystem, the Government funded the establishment of a Centre for AI and Data Governance in the Singapore Management University’s School of Law.  This Centre supports the work of the Advisory Council on the Ethical Use of AI and Data, which is chaired by former Attorney-General V.K. Rajah, SC. So in the area of new technology, we are approaching it from different perspectives – R&D, a council that is thinking of the issues from a policy perspective and at the same time, we are also developing frameworks for individual companies so that there is a practical way forward as we address the larger issues. 

Helping every business become a digital business

6. Since the first industrial revolution, the world has witnessed, all too vividly, how technological developments have disrupted and transformed the operating landscape for many industries.  Time and again, experience has shown that those who embrace rather than resist technological trends, and those who move swiftly and adapt, are the ones that will gain a distinct competitive advantage and prevail, by overcoming the challenges and reaping the rewards of technological advancements.  It is no different in this age of digitalisation or what some call the 4th industrial revolution. 

7. It is with this in mind that the Government launched the Digital Economy Framework for Action in 2018.  Our aim is to ensure every citizen is digitally connected; every worker is digitally-skilled; and every business is digitally-empowered.  And I think all of these efforts are important because they contribute to the overall evolution of the digital economy and digital society. 

8. I understand that some stakeholders in the legal sector have already seized the initiative and started to integrate the use of technology into their work.  The Singapore Academy of Law, or SAL for short, operates LawNet, which is the go-to online legal research tool for lawyers in Singapore.  The academy is now working with the Ministry of Law to transform LawNet into a knowledge and transactions platform that can better serve the needs of lawyers in the digital age.  Within the year, we can also look forward to seeing Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) into LawNet Legal Research, to allow technologists to access legal data to conduct R&D, and to develop new products and services.

9. The Judiciary has a long history of leading the charge in court technology, such as the use of technology for filing of documents and managing of cases, and the use of video-conferencing for conducting certain hearings.  More recently, the Judiciary has started exploring the use of AI. 

10. At the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC), a Legal Technology and Innovation Office pilots and deploys technology solutions.  AGC is taking significant strides forward by implementing advanced document and file management systems.  In addition, the team is exploring the use of text analytics to improve knowledge management and enable more efficient review of large volumes of documentary evidence.    

11. These are just a few examples of how fellow stakeholders in the legal community are leveraging technology to bring about cost and/or time savings, and fundamentally change the way legal work is being carried out. 

12. The impact of technology adoption by the legal sector also derives broader systemic benefits, as your clients will stand to benefit from greater access to justice, a quicker resolution of disputes, and more consistent outcomes. So even as we embark on these initiatives for the legal community’s benefit itself, it also has broader implications in that it can uplift the value proposition of the broader economy because legal services impact every sector; it is a critical part of our economic ecosystem. 

How Singapore law practices can respond to digitalisation

13. This now brings me to another important stakeholder in the legal sector - Singapore Law Practices, or SLPs for short.  The vast majority of SLPs are small and medium sized firms, and it is quite understandable that they may require some help to adopt technology. This is not unique to the legal community. We have 200 000 firms in Singapore, over 90% of them are SMEs and Enterprise Singapore and IMDA have embarked on a major effort over the years to reach out to the broad base of SMEs, recognising that it is a challenge for them, but also recognising the essential need for that transformation to take place if these companies are to stay competitive. 

14. This was why, two years ago, LawSoc, the Ministry of Law and Enterprise Singapore jointly launched Tech Start for Law.  The aim of this programme was to help defray some of the SLPs’ initial cost and kick-start the adoption of baseline technologies, such as online legal research systems and practice management systems. The idea is really on one hand solutioning – finding solutions that can be used on a plug and play basis, but also to help defray some of the costs so that the barrier to start adoption is lowered. 

15. Collectively, 115 SLPs, around 12 percent of all SLPs, have adopted 143 technology solutions.  One such SLP is Covenant Chambers LLC which has subscribed to three solutions under the scheme – CoreMatter (a practice management system), Intelllex (an online legal research system) and Asia Law Network (a marketing platform).  Their adoption of these cloud-based solutions have allowed Covenant Chambers LLC to streamline their work processes and increase the exposure of their lawyers and law firm to people and businesses who require legal services.  More importantly, their lawyers and support staff are now able to work flexibly anywhere, anytime.

16. While we have made some progress, it is clear that more can be done.  According to the 2018 Legal Technology Survey, commissioned by LawSoc, more than 80 percent of SLPs agree that technology helps to improve the delivery of legal services and that it is also crucial to the future development of the legal profession and sector. What this means is that a larger group of SLPs, beyond the 12 percent that have already come on board, see the value of adopting technology solutions but have yet to make the move. 

17. Therefore, LawSoc and the Government recently launched Tech-celerate for Law, which is a step-up from Tech Start for Law.  This name change reflects what we are hoping to do in the next phase of our programme.  Previously, the focus of Tech Start for Law was to achieve mass adoption of baseline technology solutions by SLPs. 

18. We now want to accelerate the adoption of technologies in two ways.  The first is to broaden the use of technology within the legal sector, by having even more SLPs come on board to adopt a wider range of legal technology.  Secondly, among the firms that have already started using technology solutions, we want to accelerate their adoption of advanced solutions, such as document review and automated client engagement solutions, so that they can realise even greater benefits. 

19. Under Tech-celerate for Law, $3.68 million has been set aside to provide SLPs with up to 70% funding support for both baseline and advanced digital solutions, which are funded by the Productivity Solutions Grant and the Local Enterprise and Association Development fund respectively.  These technology solutions will empower SLPs to enhance the delivery of legal services, strengthen their capabilities, and increase their competitiveness in the regional and global landscape. 

20. To make things simpler for SLPs, IMDA, in consultation with its three partners (LawSoc, MinLaw and ESG), evaluates and pre-approves solutions that have a proven track record and demonstrated positive outcomes to SLPs. We do this for many other sectors as well so for example in the retail sector, IMDA has worked with solution providers to pre-approve payment solutions and solutions for online marketing as these are high priorities for retail. This effort is no different in that regard; it is tailored to the needs of the legal community.  This reduces the lead-time required for SLPs who are keen to adopt technology solutions, and you can adopt any pre-selected solutions and immediately qualify for funding.  SLPs can apply for the baseline solutions through the Business Grant Portal and for the advanced solutions through LawSoc.

How lawyers can respond to digitalisation

21. Let me now move on to perhaps the most important element in this effort – the lawyers.  Practising law in the digital economy will require a blend of traditional skills, such as deep subject matter expertise, advocacy prowess and business acumen, with millennial skills like the strategic use of technology and constant innovation. Again, this is not unique to the legal community. Manufacturing, financial services, healthcare – they all had to deal with this and practitioners in all these domains had to reconcile traditional skillsets with the demands of a digital economy and acquire new skills that meet those demands. So what we need therefore are   both aspiring lawyers and those already in practise, should seek to build up their technology skills, and to apply them effectively to their work. 

22. At the undergraduate level, IMDA has worked with SMU to introduce a joint law and computing degree.  This will help create a new generation of lawyers who would be adept at bridging law and technology. But perhaps more generally, we are seeking to infuse digital technology knowledge and some basic modular understanding for all disciplines at our universities and polytechnics because this is an essential skill so that whatever domain we are in, we know how to ask the right question, and at least be in a position to evaluate at the fundamental level. 

23. For practising lawyers, like those in many other vocations, you can benefit from the range of technical skills training that is available through IMDA’s Techskills Accelerator initiative, or TeSA.

24. Firstly, legal professionals can acquire knowledge and skillsets in emerging areas such as AI, Cyber Security and Data Analytics, through courses that are supported by TeSA’s Critical Infocomm Technology Resource Programme Plus, or CITREP+ for short.  Secondly, TeSA is working with trade associations like the Singapore Computer Society to reach out to professionals in non-tech sectors to encourage them to pick up digital skills. 

25. LawSoc has also been organising workshops and seminars, to provide its members with training on cybersecurity, legal technology solutions and technology adoption strategies.  The point on cybersecurity bears emphasis. You have seen a heightened awareness of the need for cybersecurity initiatives, not just because of the more recent incidents, but also because as you digitalise; as you plug in more to the digital network, you have to ensure you have the appropriate cybersecurity safeguards as well. They go hand in hand to ensure the overall resilience of your own systems within the firm, and the broader legal community. Over the last two years, over 1,000 law firm employees and lawyers have participated in LawSoc’s technology-related training sessions and I think that is a very good start and we should build on this.

26. Beyond training, it is also important for LawSoc to introduce platforms where legal professionals can meet and exchange ideas on the latest developments and best practices in legal tech, innovation and the business of law. 

27. It is timely that we launch the SmartLaw Guild today.  All SLPs that are certified under LawSoc’s SmartLaw Recognition Scheme, which recognises SLPs that have adopted technology to improve productivity and increase business capabilities, and/or are beneficiaries of LawSoc’s technology support schemes, will be included in the SmartLaw Guild.

28. This platform brings together like-minded SLPs who want to reinvent themselves and future-proof their legal practices. We have seen this in other domains as well where the most important move in the digitalisation of our economy and enterprises is the realisation, recognition and commitment to change at the leadership level of those enterprises. Once that step has been taken, we find that the consequential actions become quite natural.  There will be networking and learning opportunities, through events such as business transformation workshops and sharing sessions by various stakeholders in the legal sector on their own experiences with technology adoption.  Collectively, SLPs can learn more from one another while embarking on your respective digitalisation journeys. 

Conclusion

29. By adopting a proactive stance and embracing technology, we believe Singapore’s legal sector will be able to respond promptly to new technological trends, remain competitive and seize a slew of new opportunities that are opening up. 

30. So I want to encourage all SLPs present today and those beyond, to come on board both the Tech-celerate for Law programme and the SmartLaw Guild.  These are exciting initiatives, important initiatives and I am sure that they will yield lasting benefits for all participating firms.

31. Digital transformation of the legal fraternity requires the concerted effort of many stakeholders, and one key catalyst for change in the legal sector has been LawSoc.  The Government and LawSoc are happy to partner with SLPs in your digitalisation journeys.  Together, we believe we can increase technology adoption by SLPs and lawyers, and enhance the competitiveness and prospects for our legal sector.

32. I wish all of you a very productive day at this event. Thank you very much. 

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