“It is and will always be about great decision making, and the legal analysis is only one facet of very complex intertwined issues.”
Lam Chee Kin is the Managing Director and Head of the Legal and Compliance Team at the DBS Bank. Considered one of the frontrunners in the legal and financial technology spaces, Chee Kin also serves in various capacities with Singapore Management University, the National University of Singapore, and the Data Protection Advisory Committee of Singapore.
Asia Law Network hears from Chee Kin about his thoughts of and journey through the legal industry. His entrepreneurship spirit was infectious as he hared about his commitment to technology without neglecting the most important factor: the people and culture when embracing technology.
How did your lawyer journey begin? Any particular events that inspired you to read law?
I always knew I was not cut out for the sciences or quantitative training. My best subjects in school were the arts– language, literature and so on. So my choice of degree was influenced by that perspective.
Could you share with us an event/case that stood out to you throughout your career?
Very early on– probably 1 year post-qualification– there was one time I told my client to take a risk, but be transparent with the regulator and tell them you want to take a risk, and why. The regulator had no objection. You can imagine how joyful the client was, that she stuck her neck out on advice, and that the advice was correct. This basic idea– being very conscious of downside risk, to decide to stick your neck on the line, and to act on it for better or worse– has guided me throughout my career.
What do you feel is the most challenging aspect of your job?
The responsibility I have towards people, all of whom have career aspirations and individual responsibilities. Meeting everyone at their point of need, celebrating success, and showing resiliency through failures. Taking and absorbing all those ups and downs every day, and making sure you have more up days than down days, and if you don’t, then you pick things up and still go again.
If you had to choose one word for your work, what word would that be and why?
Service. It’s not about one person; it never is.
What are some of the best lawyers you have worked with and why?
I don’t think it is about lawyers and typically lawyers who are mere lawyers are of little value. It is and will always be about great decision making, and the legal analysis is only one facet of very complex intertwined issues. It is true that a great decision is anchored on some unchanging values– including concepts of rule of law and access to justice. But to make a great decision, we don’t just look at what the law says. We have to consider the value equations. The risk/reward trade-offs. What public policy says. What the public relations considerations are. What broader stakeholders are thinking. And sometimes the law is in tension with doing good. The lawyers that can bring their awesome legal technical skills to the table but factor all those other considerations into their decision making– those lawyers are the best.
You won the 2018 Financial Times Most Innovative Asia Pacific General Counsel, how was it like for you?
I felt very humbled, and I give the credit to the Legal & Compliance team at DBS Bank, without whom it would not have happened.
What are your thoughts on legal technology and how will it change the way the law is served?
I don’t think it is helpful to lump everything into one generic mass called legal technology. I find it more helpful to think about how technology can serve the law in 3 different ways.
Firstly, we can think about the infrastructure that underpins the legal system– the way we store, categorise and exchange data, the way it is secured, the way our hardware nuts and bolts work. On that foundation we can then think about how we improve workflow and measurement of value. Processes and tools that make dealing with each other– clients and lawyers alike– easier.
Then aspirationally, we can think about how we can give birth to a “next-generation” set of tools that uses advanced analytics and artificial intelligence to fundamentally change the way we give value. By the way, I’m not the first to say this – the SAL Legal Technology Vision already set this out in 2017. I happen to agree with it.
What do you foresee being the biggest challenge for the legal industry in the near future?
Transforming a profession anchored fundamentally on qualitative skills to a profession that is also able to harness quantitative skills, without which the profession cannot make the best of technology. At the same time, transforming the profession to broaden its horizons beyond mere lawyering to providing great value-added decision making capabilities to clients.
Any advice for young aspiring lawyers/individuals who are looking to take up law?
There are some very basic noble values associated with the profession. I’ve talked above about concepts like rule of law and access to justice. But there is a whole body of knowledge and thinking around the way we conduct ourselves professionally, that we must never lose. So, to anyone who wants to take up the law, first and foremost stay true to those values. Then you can build whatever else you want on top of that.
Could you share with us some fun facts about yourself? (hobbies/interests?)
I’m top 50 in the world in an online game. I’m very partial to whisky from three particular distilleries on the southern coast of Islay. I’m a big fan of New Lucky claypot chicken rice.
I have pulled just under 1 lateral G on an off-camber bend, and I didn’t crash. And I’ve played rhythm guitar on the roof opposite the pit building just after the Singapore Grand Prix. That’s 5– how’s that for value?
Mr Lam will be moderating a panel discussion on data and the legal ecosystem at the upcoming TechLaw.Fest2019. To be held from 5 to 6 September 2019, the event brings together the international community to debate, deliberate, act and innovate in both the law of technology and the technology of law. Registrations are open.
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