Technology is ubiquitous in our everyday lives, and it is certainly gaining its foothold in the legal industry. Extensive efforts by the Singapore Academy of Law and the Ministry of Law to promote the adoption of legal technology, such as the publication of the Legal Technology Vision in 2018 and the recent TechLaw.Fest, are showing promising results in advancing the technology adoption within the legal industry.
We sat down with Mr Ken Chia, Associate Principal with Baker & McKenzie’s Asia Pacific IT & Communications and Global Privacy steering committees, who shared about his experience in IT law and his views on legal technology as a whole during TechLaw.Fest 2019.
Mr Chia is a leading ITC and competition lawyer; a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and the Singapore Institute of Arbitrators; and also an accredited mediator with the Alternative Dispute Resolution Group in the United Kingdom.
With more than 20 years’ experience, specialising in areas of law including IT, telecommunications, intellectual property, trade and commerce, and competition law matters, he regularly advises government bodies and multinational corporations on various legal matters.
He was admitted to the Bar of three jurisdictions; England & Wales, United Kingdom Bar in 1991; California, United States in 1997 and Singapore in 2001.
Thank you for joining us Mr Chia. Your legal expertise certainly extends to many areas from intellectual property, trade commerce and many more. Tell us about your journey on how technology law become one of your areas of expertise as well.
I was called to the UK Bar back in 1991, and I was very lucky to be exposed to big tech companies at the beginning of my practice. In fact, my first big case was for Apple Computers against the famed The Beatles. The Beatles had a company called “Apple Corps” and a record label, “Apple Records”, and they sued Apple Computers for infringement of trademark, supposedly in the same trade of distribution of music content and materials.
In those days, we had to be quite a technical person to be competent in our jobs. We had to read the RFCs (Request for Comments) to understand how internet engineering worked and what were the upcoming plans. Such knowledge is taken for granted now, and no one thinks about how the internet works. Similarly, with the rise of Blockchain technology, we also need to learn about how it works so we can figure out what the legal implications are.
It is really interesting that your first technology-related suit was for Apple Computers. I understand you assist multinational corporations, notably in regional transactions. Are regional transactions challenging and how does technology come into play to support or hinder your job?
There is technology in the sense of legal technology. Legal tech has always been very useful, primarily because it facilitates communication and transmission of information.
If you look at the MA (mergers and acquisitions) transactions that we do, those are usually cross-border deals. Gone are the old days of going to a dark filled with papers to do our due diligence, and now all the information is in virtual data rooms.
Further, we can communicate with members of the cross-border team easily with legal tech. One of the great things that our London office started a few years ago, was to film the instructing partner’s briefing for the projects. Regardless of whether we are in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok or wherever we could review the videos at our time and ease; play it back or slow it down. That is effective for communicating complicated information within a big team by talking them through the thought process. Short of flying everybody into a room, technology helps to facilitate complex communication demanded of our jobs.
It seems like lawyers in your firm are all quite tech-savvy. However, there is a general belief that the Singapore legal community is still playing catch up with the adoption and implementation of technology used in law firms. Do you believe that, if so or if not why?
I think it depends on the area of practice. For instance, as a conveyancing lawyer, your clients are based locally. Your requirements for legal tech would then be less demanding.
I think what the Law Society and the Ministry of Law are worried about is the replacement of lawyers with technology. Certain simpler matters which you previously may require a lawyer to do can be replaced by technology, then what do these new lawyers do. There are many smaller law firms in Singapore where these new lawyers go to, so what would happen to their jobs in the future.
I think that is the bigger challenge. It is not the old guys we are worried about; it is young guys who will be replaced by technology. What are we going to do when these tools replace us?
This plays right into my next question. Being in Singapore international law firm, does that limit or expand your ability to explore legal tech solutions and software?
In a larger law firm, we have the economies of scale so it is easier for us to explore different solutions and filter the choices presented. Not all of these tech solutions are available to SME.
As a global level, the firm does the initial talks to the vendors to understand whether the tech solution is fit for purpose, and tech solutions that are suitable for the firm are implemented. These tools are not forced to the lawyers, rather, we make available these choices to the lawyers for them to adopt at their own discretion.
What do you believe to be the top two key points in technology adoption in current situations?
The first would definitely be implementation. As lawyers, we are good at coming up with ideas. We can talk till the cows come home, but the problem is implementation; how to turn those ideas into technology solutions.
What we have done at the firm level is that we gathered a team of legal engineers who does the implementation of the ideas generated. At the partner level, we do design thinking and ideation, and the team would take those ideas and try to engineer a solution that can be put to practice. You will find that increasingly, bigger law firms have to hire non-lawyers to bridge the gap between ideation and implementation.
The second one is adoption. Most lawyers are unaware of these tech solutions and the accompanying benefits. The process of trying to explain the operation and benefits of tech solutions is arduous. Like most things, the hardest part is to get people to try it.
In your view, what is the paramount consideration for the engineering of these tech solutions? Would it be the ease of use?
Like all tools, the primary consideration is whether the tool is useful; and useful in the sense that I do not need to be an engineer to use it. The best tools are obviously those are easy to use.
Take the iPad as an example, nobody needs to tell you how to use an iPad. Just give a 3-year-old an iPad and he or she can go ahead and use it. That’s a classic example of good tool, I do not need to train you to use it.
This article is written by Preyaz Kartigaysu from Asia Law Network.
This article does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion on any matter discussed and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and practice in this area. If you require any advice or information, please speak to a practicing lawyer in your jurisdiction. No individual who is a member, partner, shareholder or consultant of, in or to any constituent part of Interstellar Group Pte. Ltd. accepts or assumes responsibility, or has any liability, to any person in respect of this article.