Transforming and Future-Proofing our Law Practices
As you may have read in the Business Times (2 March 2019, https://www.businesstimes.com.sg/brunch/legaltech-and-the-law-how-tech-will-change-the-practice), the Law Society recognises that smaller law firms may not have the resources to devote to or even consider legaltech adoption and that the Law Society needs to step in to play a critical role to support such firms in the identification and promotion of suitable products, provision of training and counsel as well as grant administration. There is currently a sizeable appetite for tech adoption amongst our member firms, as our 2018 legaltech survey clearly shows – 88 per cent of decision-makers in Singapore law firms who responded to our survey believe technology helps to improve the delivery of services. Together with Minlaw, IMDA and Enterprise SG, we are currently evaluating and selecting vendors for a second run of the subsidy scheme for our member firms for legaltech adoption following the successful conclusion of the inaugural run of Tech Start for Law early last year. Befitting a scheme that demands its target audience to adapt and evolve and has itself undergone iterations and improvements, the second run will be branded Tech-celerate for Law to signal the step-up of gears. It is expected to launch in May so do stay tuned.
This time, we have set our sights beyond baseline technology to focus on tools like document assembly, contract review, e-discovery and chatbots, all of which harness Artificial Intelligence (AI) in one way or the other. Such tools will free up lawyers’ time for higher value, more complex legal work that involves machine-irreplaceable soft skills (such as negotiations and project management) as well as for business development, take the drudgery out of the more laborious and tedious work and minimise human error. Adoption of technology need not come with a big price tag; in fact, there is evidence aplenty that organisations who started with small investments in critical areas, tackling one project at a time, have more success at digital transformations than those who started with bigger budgets. By leveraging on government grants, our member firms can enjoy these tools with even smaller investments.
Technology is but one facet of business transformation our law firms (and every other business including the Law Society) need to undergo to ensure that we do not go the way of dinosaurs, Kodak and Blockbuster. A roundtable for small firm practitioners was held on 25 March and on the agenda was a sharing on the benefits of group law practices such as achieving economies of scale and complementing each other’s expertise. Having an eye for spotting and developing talent is also critical to running a business whose primary asset is its intellectual capital. Our upcoming CPD offerings include a two-day workshop on “Talent Management and Succession Planning for Legal Practitioners” on 9 and 10 May and a 2.5-day programme on “Facilitating Workplace Coaching Conversations for Legal Practitioners” on 20 & 21 June and 8 July.
Our consultant Piquant has just completed the Lawyers Go Global (LG2) survey with companies from China, Indonesia, Vietnam, India and Russia. The results clearly show that Singapore lawyers enjoy a stellar reputation, with respondents even noting the prestige value that their companies enjoy by hiring Singapore lawyers. Our lawyers are also known for their professionalism and capability, client-centricity and integrity. However, there is a perception in some quarters that Singapore lawyers lack the thorough understanding of local language and culture that overseas clients expect and that we are too “expensive”. To win work from an overseas market, there is surely no better option than to visit the market for yourself and gain knowledge about the local culture by coming along for one of our LG2 trips. To bring value to your clients, there is no better option than to develop a deep expertise in your areas of practice, master project management skills for cross-border deals and adopt productive and efficient measures to manage your costs. This is where the Law Society can assist.
Strategic Planning 2019
Council and Secretariat came together for a brainstorming session at our annual Strategic Planning Retreat on 23 February 2019. Thought-provoking questions were raised such as whether a membership association should be owning property or accumulating surpluses instead of ensuring that members get back the full value of every dollar that he or she has paid for in membership fees. Participants also offered useful suggestions on ways to demystify professional ethics for young lawyers, encourage greater tech adoption amongst law firms, carry out “succession planning” for committee chairs, and allow more members the opportunity to volunteer on our committees. We debated on what the scope and mandate of committees should be, discussed plans for our new premises search and laid the groundwork for an economic review of law firms. We will be sharing more of our plans with you in the next few months.
Women in the Legal Profession
Partaking in the celebrations for International Women’s Day on the eighth of this month behoves us to think more deeply and urgently on ways to level up the women in our profession and to bring about a real change. Following our survey last year and the setting up of our Women in Practice (WIP) Committee at the start of this year, we will be lining up a series of roundtables for our members, both male and female, to share their views and ideas with us. You can read more about our WIP initiatives in President’s note that was sent to all members on 8 March.
The Law Society’s wholly-owned subsidiary, Law Society Pro Bono Service (LSPBS), will be holding its marquee fund-raising event for 2019, the “Just Makan: Justice is Served” dinner, on 29 March 2019 at the Fullerton Hotel. The dinner will also serve to recognise and thank some of LSPBS’ top volunteers and donors.
Today, with a staff strength of close to 30, LSPBS supports our members’ pro bono efforts to help each year some 10,000 persons with legal knowledge during law awareness talks held across Singapore, pro bono representation when faced with criminal charges and pro bono legal advice and assistance at our legal clinics. In addition, a number of charities and social enterprises are assisted with legal advice and assistance by LSPBS’ corporate pro bono volunteers. Funds raised from the event will go towards enhancing the outreach of our pro bono volunteers to help the most needy and marginalised in the community. More information on the fundraising gala dinner is available at the event website, www.justmakan2019.com.