In March 2017, the Law Society of Singapore launched the SmartLaw Recognition Scheme which recognises the efforts of local law practices that adopt technology to enhance their productivity and business capabilities. Since its inception, more than 50 firms have earned the recognition as a SmartLaw legal practice.
At the TechLaw.Fest 2019, we had a chance to interview Ms Chui Lijun, a counsel with Clifford Chance Asia, to get her insights about how “Smart Law” supports her work in tech-related disputes.
In addition to her work of international and local commercial litigation and arbitration in the construction, shipping, oil and gas and banking sectors, Ms Chui is also a member of her firm’s global Tech Group that focuses on local disputes relating to cyber-security, e-commerce, personal data protection, intellectual property and Fintech.
Ms Chui graduated from National University of Singapore in 2004, subsequently called to the Singapore Bar in 2005 and called to England and Wales Bar in 2008.
Thank you for joining us, Ms Chui. You have substantial experience in tech disputes, advisory on cyber-security and personal data issues, and most of all, smart contracts. Considering smart contracts are relatively new in Singapore, could you share with us how you got into it?
It was a response to needs from our clients. We found that an increasing number of clients and organisations that we talked to were looking into this technology. For us, the first step was trying to understand exactly what a smart contract is before we could advise on its legal implications. Gradually, it became apparent that most smart contracts are a species of executory contracts, or automated contracts. So that is how we got started at looking into these sort of technologies.
From there, we started advising on other emerging technologies like BlockChain and digital tokens. Those are really hot topics of the time, given the amount of market and investment interests. So we spent a lot of time through the legal implications and essentially limiting the legal and regulatory risks as much as we can for the clients.
What does the term “Smart Law” means to you?
I love that question, it made me think for a long time.
The law as we know it is meant to serve and regulate relationships amongst parties in society. I think “Smart Law” tries to do that, but faster and more efficiently. So to me, it should do three things:
First, to enhance. We use technology to enhance the legal work that we do and to enhance the law.
Second, to serve. This is no different from what law has always been trying to do. The law serves the needs of businesses and individuals. We can serve through “Smart Law” by adapting the law to the needs and challenges posed by technology which is rapidly transforming how we do business and how we live as individuals.
Third, to regulate. One key thing that came out of this conference is, technology is rapidly turning things around. Sometimes we do not fully understand what the new technology is about or how it works. In trying to regulate it, the first thing is to try to understand it. With enough understanding, we are then able to come up with good solutions. If you have a bad solution, I think it could be worse than the problem.
Looking at your experience, you mentioned that you have advised on a lot of tech disputes. In recent years, what is the most common issue when it comes to tech disputes, and what is your advice for this issue?
Many technology disputes that we see commonly arise because the parties were in the rush of getting it to the market or getting the commercial relationship going, and therefore the contracts drafted are just less than ideal. Often, it could be due to the lack of understanding of the product or the process and not allocating the risk correctly. Other times, it is just relying on old templates which do not work anymore.
When problems arise, we have those awkward conversations where the clients said that they intended to do this, and we have to inform them that the contractual provisions do not quite say so.
Given the key cause is the lack of understanding of the product in the initial drafting stage, I would say the key solution is getting the right people involved in the drafting process and taking their time to perfect the contract. Otherwise, it could be more costly when you have to litigate it subsequently.
In 2018, you were listed as one of Singapore’s most influential lawyers aged 40 and under by the Singapore Business Review. Tell us how this award further fueled your passion and drive to push you harder, and if the award changed anything for you.
It is always nice to be acknowledged for the work. I think that it is an acknowledgement of the importance and the growing significance of technology, and the way it is going to change our lives.
I think when I first started doing this, it was pretty lonely at times because, first of all, it was quite a brave new world. People were not really into it, and a lot of things were still being built and developed.
The award is a good affirmation and acknowledgement, and most importantly, encouragement. I think it is important for everyone to get as involved as they can, and it helps incentivise more people to work on this.
At the start of the interview, we asked about smart contracts and technology. You said that technology is something that is constantly being developed. How do you keep yourself up to date about the new technological developments, in addition to laws around it?
Essentially, there are two key sources of information. First, it is published information. There are many very good sources of information right now, and it is just tapping into the right sources and getting those updates. Asia Law Network is one example, as you keep a keen eye on the latest developments. So it is one of the websites that I make a point to check out regularly.
The second is talking to people. Because it takes a lot of work to get information reduced to writing and publish it, much of the latest information comes from conversations. By talking to our clients and fellow practitioners, we get fresher and more updated news.
Last question, is your firm currently using practice management software or document management system that helps you with your legal work?
We are huge fans of technology at Clifford Chance. We have several technology tools, one of which is the Clifford Chance Draft, which is an automated contract drafting tool. That is quite popular.
The second one that we have, is called the SMCR Manager, which helps our clients grapple with the changing nature and developing nature of regulations. It is an interactive digital tool to assist our clients with the implementation of the Senior Managers and Certification Regime.
The third one which is worth mentioning is the Online Counsel tool. One thing which we hear quite commonly in this conference is that many regulations tend to be inconsistent and everyone hopes to have some form of harmonisation. However, that is difficult. So what this tool does is to help in-house counsel keep track of the multi-jurisdictional surveys in an easily accessible manner.
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.