Back
Image Alt

The Singapore Law Gazette

NZ/Australia Study Trip

1.0 Overview and Objectives

About 25 Chairpersons and members of Law Society’s practice committees organised a trip to Wellington in early September 2019 to study the best practices in various practice areas. The LG2 staff, together with the CEO and Assistant Director, Legal Productivity and Innovation, of the Law Society, (collectively the team) took the opportunity, in conjunction with the trip, to organise a study trip to New Zealand (NZ) to explore this relatively “untouched” market, as well as to raise profile of the “Singapore Lawyer” in NZ. Further, NZ is also relatively mature in using arbitration and mediation services.

The team also took the opportunity to attend the Australasian Legal Practice Management Association (ALPMA) Summit 2019 which was held in Melbourne. More details on ALPMA Summit can be found in item 4.0 in this report. We managed to obtain some complimentary passes to attend ALPMA Summit.

The representatives from Law Society of Singapore who participated in this study trip are set out below:

S/nNameDesignation
1Delphine Loo Tan (Delphine)Chief Executive Officer
2Stefanie Lim (Stefanie)Assistant Director
Legal Productivity and Innovation
3Shawn Toh
(Shawn)
Director
Lawyers Go Global
Membership, Communications and International Relations
4Lee Wei Yan
(Wei Yan)
Project Manager
Lawyers Go Global
Membership, Communications and International Relations

2.0 Meetings on 2 September 2019

2.1 Meeting with LawHawk

Founder of LawHawk, Gene Turner (Gene) gave a brief overview of the New Zealand legal landscape. He said that the law firms in New Zealand were generally quite profitable and there was no major transformation over the last 20 years. There was therefore no pressure on or incentive for the law firms to change and innovate. Law firms were more concerned about generating billable hours rather than focusing on new ways of delivering legal services. There were also a few large firms in New Zealand but the majority were still small ones. On the legal technology landscape in New Zealand, Thomson Reuters and Lexis Nexis dominated the market for practice management software. Many firms were still lagging behind in terms of adopting technology and not willing to share what they were doing.

2.1.1 Background of LawHawk

Previously a corporate and finance lawyer, Gene shared that he founded LawHawk in 2016, which specialised in helping lawyers automate legal documents. Earlier, he was a partner for six years at a large law firm and at that time, he wanted the IT team there to develop similar software which he now provides through LawHawk. However, after numerous failed attempts from the IT team to produce exactly what he wanted, he decided to learn to do it himself. He shared that LawHawk was an online legal document generation service for lawyers and procurement specialists who wanted to prepare legal and procurement documents in the shortest time possible and stay competitive in the digital disruption age without the cost of developing and maintaining their own precedents and IT systems. He also explained that Lawhawk provided an end-to-end service – from helping to identify the opportunities, analysing and improving the underlying documents and processes training, to delivering this as a fully managed service securely using HotDocs’ leading document automation technology. Gene cited law firm MinterEllisonRuddWatts and Housing NZ (Statutory Board) as his clients and mentioned that BNP Paribas Singapore was evaluating the possibility of using HotDocs earlier but failed to obtain approval from its headquarters. As compared to law firms, Gene said that LawHawk was more successful in selling its services to in-house teams, though it was still a challenge as these companies typically faced a lack of resources and IT knowledge to redesign their workflow and processes to better serve their clients.

2.1.2 How LawHawk Operates

To purchase documents drafted by Lawhawk, clients would only have to pay a fixed amount according to the prices displayed on their website. For customised document, there would be one-off fixed fee for automation and a user license fee for HotDocs. Gene also explained that there was a problem with HotDocs’ licensing model currently as a separate license was required to share the documents with each client. This may change however in the near future. Gene also revealed that his working relationship with Singapore’s Bizibody, to provide support for Singapore’s law firms using HotDocs.

2.2 Meeting with Andrew King

Andrew King, the founder of E-Discovery Consulting, said he has more than 15 years of experience advising and managing discovery exercises for law firms, Government agencies and corporate organisations. Prior to establishing E-Discovery Consulting, he worked as a Litigation Support Manager in large law firms such as Pinsent Masons, Mayer Brown and Bell Gully. Since 2013, he also managed LawFest, NZ’s premier innovation and technology event for lawyers and their firms.

2.2.1 Overview of the LegalTech and Innovation Landscape in NZ

Andrew provided a brief overview of the legaltech landscape in NZ. He mentioned that majority of NZ’s law firms had adopted some forms of practice management solutions. Some of the corporate clients, especially those from the banking and telecommunication industries who were more tech-savvy, required law firms to be more productive and efficient in their delivery of legal services. Senior Associates who were on their way to becoming Partners in the law firms and open to innovation were influencing their law firms to use technology. Andrew added that there had been talks in NZ on changing the partnership model as that model restricted innovation, such as allowing other companies to take up shares in a law firm. He explained that the NZ Government was now more open to reviewing legislation to remove such restrictions, similar to what the Australian and UK Governments had done. He also shared that junior lawyers of three to four years PQE were generally not paid well ($50k – $80k annually), leading to many of these junior lawyers leaving practice to pursue alternative careers in legal operations, in-house teams and technology companies.

2.3 Meeting with Simmonds Stewart

Andrew Simmonds and Lee Bagshaw provided a brief background of Simmonds Stewart. Simmonds Stewart was set up in 2006 by corporate lawyer Andrew Simmonds and commercial lawyer Victoria Stewart. In 2012, the law firm shifted its focus to focus exclusively on technology as technology was one of NZ’s fastest growing business segments. They specialised in five main areas namely, tech start-ups, capital raising, mergers & acquisitions, governance and contracts. Andrew explained that they were technology lawyers helping start-ups and established technology companies do business and raise capital globally. The law firm, which currently serviced about 200-300 technology clients, was run very much like a technology start up with its clients very used to working with its lawyers over Skype etc. The firm relied heavily on digital marketing as their main business development strategy as the partners felt that legal directories were no longer relevant.

2.3.1 Expansion into South-East Asia

In 2017, they opened an office in Singapore to advise Southeast Asian tech startups and investors on venture capital and M&A transactions. Their focus was to provide support to both their NZ and Southeast Asian clients looking to expand into Singapore and the region. This support included advising on capital raising and venture capital transactions, M&A work as well as helping companies to commercialise IP. Lee Bagshaw, who led the firm’s Southeast Asia practice, used to head the corporate technology department at RHTLaw Taylor Wessing in Singapore.

Group photograph at Simmonds Stewart

When the firm decided to focus exclusively on the technology vertical industry, it open-sourced its suite of legal templates, allowing clients and other lawyers to use them free of charge. This helped its clients to lower their legal fee. As the documents became popular, some of those documents become de-facto industry standards. Andrew explained that open-sourcing model helped with the development of best practices. Though the firm’s fee model was still time-based, it had recently released fixed price offerings in Singapore as it was confident in its volume of transactions here.

2.3.2 TechLaw Intern Programme

Andrew also shared about their Techlaw intern programme launched in conjunction with the University of Auckland’s Law School. This programme matched law students interested in technology and entrepreneurship to technology companies to provide them with real-world experience in this sector. Simmonds Stewart first ran this programme in 2018 and participating companies and law students said they had benefited immensely from the programme. For 2019, Simmonds Stewart had selected 8 law undergraduates for the programme. Each student was paid to provide up to 100 hours of basic legal work for a technology company.  Simmonds Stewart’s role was to provide training to participating students, as well as pairing the student with a Simmonds Stewart buddy who would support the students and supervise their work where required. Andrew expressed that the law firm might eventually hire one or two of these students upon graduation but most of them would likely join large law firms.

3.0 Meetings on 3 September 2019

3.1 Visit to Legaltech NZ

Ben Winslade briefly introduced Legaltech NZ. Legaltech NZ is an independent and non-profit body established with the objective of benefiting the legal profession by working closely with the Law Society of NZ, and holding regular events to promote the use of technology.

Stefanie Lim shared that in 2018, LSS conducted a legal industry technology survey to understand the current level of technology adoption in Singapore by law firms, and to invite feedback to chart the future of legal technology and its relevance to Singapore law firms. Survey results revealed that majority of the law firms recognized the value of legal technology, however, only slightly more than half saw its potential as a selling point for their firms. Stefanie Lim moved on to share about Tech-celerate for Law, a scheme that LSS had launched in May 2019 together with Ministry of Law, Enterprise Singapore and the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), to encourage law firms to adopt technology by providing funding support of up to 70% for the first year cost of adopting the technology solution. The role of LSS was to curate the list of tried and tested legal technology solutions available in the market and to continue to look out for other suitable technology vendors. She also explained that it was not advisable to adopt customised solutions due to the rapid advancement of technology and the high maintenance costs. By pre-approving a list of legal technology solutions, LSS is able to simplify the claims approval process for our members. Delphine also shared that LSS had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with The College of Law Australia in 2018 to tap on their expertise in e-learning.

3.1.1 Solutions

Stefanie asked if law firms in NZ adopted practice management software. Ben responded that there were various types of practice management software that dealt with contract management, report generation, data analytics etc. The well-known technology vendors in New Zealand were McCarthy Finch and LawVu, whose software were more likely used by in-house teams. He added that to fully reap the benefits of the solutions, one needs to devote time to assess and understand how best to utilize the solutions and a lot of “set-up” time would be needed at the initial phase.

Stefanie clarified that LSS was more interested in tried and tested solutions and not start-ups. LSS would also constantly look out for suitable technology vendors and placed high importance on good technical support from these vendors. After Tech Start for Law, which focus was on baseline solutions, ended in 2018, LSS had been encouraging law firms to consider adopting advanced solutions with Tech-celerate for Law.

Video conference call at Legaltech NZ

3.1.2 Support from Government

Ben was impressed with the level of support level from the Singapore Government. He hoped that law firms in NZ would have access to subsidy in due course. Ben felt that the 70 per cent subsidy was a form of safety net for law firms to adopt legal technology.

3.1.3 Challenges

Ben shared that currently in New Zealand, there were no push factors for law firms to adopt technology because they were still quite profitable.

Delphine asked how vendors in New Zealand stayed competitive. Ben responded that vendors would offer 30 days’ free trials and complimentary document migration service and basic functions of the software before requesting for payment to activate the premium functions. He quoted an example of the law firm Simmond Stewards who offered free legal document templates to other law firms. Delphine shared that vendors in Singapore also offered free trials but law firms were not trying out the products the way they should and as a result, there was no proper assessment of the solutions.

3.2 Visit to Juno Legal

Helen McKay (Helen), Director of Juno Legal and Matt Farrington (Matt), a lawyer and legal technologist at Juno Legal, hosted the team. Helen started the discussion by sharing that Juno Legal’s clientele was largely made up of large corporate companies and start-ups. Their focus was primarily on business to business matters and the firm only hired lawyers with at least 10 years PQE. Their main business model comprises three elements namely:

*Legal Consulting*Legal Talent*Legal Technology
  • Mapping organisational priorities against deployment of legal resources
  • Advice on the regulatory regime for in-house lawyers | Bespoke services based on your organisation’s needs
  • Bespoke services based on your organisation’s needs
  • Lawyers on Demand
  • Project Management
  • Virtual General Counsel
  • Needs analysis
  • Solution design and implementation
  • Optimise use of existing systems
  • Training and user buy-in

*For the full range of services provided, please visit Juno Legal’s website.

3.2.1 How Juno Legal operates

Juno Legal adopted a totally paperless environment with all their systems all on cloud. They also published newsletters consisting of articles written by technology writers and featuring different people contributing to the legal industry with the intention of sharing their knowledge to benefit the legal profession. Juno Legal strongly believed in using legal technology because first, it acted as tools for lawyers to work efficiently, second, it could capture data on time management, billing and profitability matters. Helen cited an example of how their practice management software was able to show whether a lawyer had already contacted a particular client for follow-up and this was important to avoid the situation where another lawyer tried to contact the same client on the same matter.

Helen explained that the practice of law today was different because clients faced cost pressure and preferred practical solutions to lengthy opinions. Terms and conditions that ran into many pages were no longer in trend. Hence, Juno Legal served their clients with two aims in mind, i.e. to help them resolve matters in a cost-efficient way and to maximise their benefits.

Matt mentioned that Juno Legal saw itself more as a complement to other law firms instead of a competitor as they also provide legal technology consulting services to these law firms which they would sometimes receive referrals from. One of the ways that Juno Legal would help their clients save costs would be to work out a cost saving package, if the client had committed to a certain amount of hours of services provided by Juno Legal.

3.2.2 Focus on well-being and giving back to the community

Juno Legal placed high emphasis on well-being as it did not want its lawyers to suffer burn-out. Due to the more predictable nature of their style of work, their lawyers could have more control of their schedule which enabled them to strike a balance between work and family. Juno Legal also had a strong corporate social responsibility as it would donate a portion of its net profit to various charities and causes that were aligned with the passion and interests of Juno Legal’s lawyers.

Group photograph at Juno Legal

3.2.3 Challenges

Twenty-five per cent of the legal profession in New Zealand were in-house lawyers. The large law firms in New Zealand were also experiencing a shrinking market share due to the introduction of new law firms in recent years. Most law firms in New Zealand lacked a Customer Relationship Management System (CRM), which would be a useful tool for business development purposes.

Helen also shared that there was little incentive for law firms to adopt technology as they were not facing any pressure from clients to be more efficient. Some law firms were also resistant to change. As legal technology was an unregulated area, this created further resistance from law firms to adopt technology. Though someone like Matthew who understood both the law and technology would be a value-add to clients, regulations in New Zealand however made it difficult for law firms to provide legal technology services. One had to choose between being a lawyer and a legal technologist as it could not be the case of both.

Helen commented that consulting firms like the Big Four Accounting Firms had intensified competition with the law firms as they were able to integrate legal services with their other offerings and had expertise around the world. Understanding clients’ needs and providing them with relevant solutions were crucial, otherwise law firms might gradually become irrelevant. Similarly, in NZ, multi-disciplinary practices were not permitted.

Stefanie shared about Tech Start for Law, Tech-celerate for Law and how the Singapore Government had provided funding to encourage law firms to adopt technology. She also explained that while the schemes were targeted at small and medium-sized law firms as the large law firms would already have resources to adopt technology on their own, large law firms were nevertheless entitled to subsidy, albeit at a lower amount. Stefanie also shared that the role of LSS was to curate a list of tried and tested solutions for law firms who did not know where to start and what to adopt. LSS understood that cost was an important consideration for law firms and sought to ensure that the solutions were cost efficient for our members. It was also important for LSS to establish good relationships with vendors and to provide continuous feedback to them about their products so that they could look into ways of improving their solutions.

3.3 Visit to the Law Society of New Zealand on 3 September 2019

The following persons hosted the team. Council Member Lim Seng Siew (Seng Siew) joined in this meeting as well.

S/nNameDesignation
1Helen Morgan-Banda (Helen)Executive Director
2Bronwyn Jones (Bronwyn)Principal Advisor, Executive Director’s Department
3Gabrielle O’Brien (Gabrielle)General Manager, Law Reform and Sections

Bronwyn shared that the Council of the Law Society of New Zealand (LSNZ) is made up of a President, Vice-President and Branch Presidents. LSNZ regulates all practising lawyers but it is not mandatory for all practising lawyers to be members. Currently, 98 per cent of practising lawyers were members. LSNZ runs a separate arm for its Continuing Legal Education Department.

As LSNZ was currently housed in a serviced office, we had a limited time of two hours for discussions and the following topics were discussed.

3.3.1 Law Reform

Gabrielle shared that LSNZ has committees to look at all law reform matters and the discussions on legislations usually took place at practice committees’ level before escalating to the law reform committee for views. In the event of where the views were divided, the views from both sides would still be conveyed to the Government in a respectful manner. There were occasions where the LSNZ took the initiative to provide feedback on areas where there were pressing needs for reform such as litigation funding.

Bronwyn mentioned that the LSNZ had worked with Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) to develop a self-assessment questionnaire on “Landonline” system to help law firms assess their own conveyancing systems and procedures they have in place for conveyancing matters. Both LINZ and LSNZ will be kept updated on the types of controls in place for conveyancing matters and explore ways to improve the existing controls. Bronwyn shared that it is not compulsory for lawyers to purchase insurance. Consumers can make their choices based on the declarations made by the lawyers.

Bronwyn shared that there is a trust account management in place and lawyers who maintain trust accounts must comply with the requirements and there will be random inspections on the trust accounts. On regulatory matters, Bronwyn briefly mentioned that there is a complaint system in place and there is an inquiry body which is administered independently by Ministry of Justice and comprises of both lay persons and lawyers.

3.3.2 Practising Well

Bronwyn shared that the well-being of its members is a long-standing priority of LSNZ. It has a panel called “National Friends Panel” which is made up of volunteer members who can provide guidance on wide range of issues such as ethics, mental well-being, career advancement and clients’ issues, etc. Conversations would be kept confidential. For the National Friends Panel, when someone files a complaint on bullying, the matter will be escalated to the complaint advisory panel which comprises of pro-bono lawyers to respond to the complaints received. For workplace bullying and harassment, the first port of call would be “Lawcare”. Lawcare is a scheme to address issues related to workplace bullying and harassment. Five persons comprising lawyers and non-lawyers employed by the LSNZ administer this scheme and they had been provided with training on dealing with harassment related complaints.

LSNZ was also in partnership with external counselling service providers, and members can contact the external counselling service providers directly for help on mental well-being and personal matters. Bronwyn added that there were high take-up rates and the intention of asking members to approach the counselling service providers directly was to encourage members to seek help freely without worrying that they would be stigmatised. Gabrielle mentioned that there was peer support arrangement available if a lawyer needs to speak to another fellow lawyer on practice issues.

Discussion with representatives of Law Society of New Zealand

Group photograph with representatives of Law Society of New Zealand

3.3.3 Technology

Stefanie shared that LSS had conducted a legal industry technology survey in 2018 where the results showed that while law firms generally did agree that technology had brought about more productivity and efficiency for them, only slightly more than half of the respondents saw legal technology as an important value proposition for their firms. The role of LSS was to curate the list of tried and tested legal technology solutions available in the market for our members.

3.3.4 Pro Bono

Seng Siew shared that LSS administers the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (CLAS) with funding support from the Government. Volunteer lawyers were paid honorarium and not market rate fees. There was, however, concern that if criminal cases were largely being taken over by CLAS and family cases by Legal Aid Bureau, there may be not enough jobs for new graduates.

3.3.5 Challenges

Bronwyn said that there was a dilemma on accreditation matters – whether to give accreditation to specific practice areas’ lawyers such as construction. There were split views on this because on one hand, it helps the public when they select lawyers for their matters but on the other hands, it creates entry barriers for lawyers. At this juncture in NZ, there was only accreditation for conveyancing lawyers.

Delphine shared that there was an oversupply of lawyers in Singapore currently and the Government was trying to control the oversupply situation by reducing the number of approved universities. Delphine also brought up the point that if a lawyer, with more than three years PQE, wishes to set up his or her own law practice, it is mandatory for him or her to attend the Legal Practice Management Course.

4.0 ALPMA Summit 2019 in Melbourne

4.1 About ALPMA

Australasian Legal Practice Management Association (ALPMA) organised their annual summit from 4 to 6 September 2019 in Melbourne. The ALPMA Summit (Summit) was the largest legal management conference and trade exhibition. During the Summit, there were exhibitions of various tech vendors sharing their product offerings.

4.2 Introduction

The Summit started with Chris Riddell (Chris), Global Futurist on Emerging Trends, sharing about how the future of businesses would be different and how crucial it was to start thinking about changes now. He explained further that in this era driven by technology, consumers today expect an almost instant and hassle-free experience, with a focus on experience instead of product. Therefore, there had to be a shift away from traditional business models. Chris concluded his presentation with emphasis that for businesses and leaders to thrive beyond tomorrow, a combination of technology and human potential was necessary.

4.3 At ALPMA Summit 2019

The ALMPA Summit 2019 (Summit) had a holistic and comprehensive programme targeted not only at technology and legal practice management matters but also mental well-being, employment and sexual harassment. Other topics such as marketing tools and pricing models were also presented at the Summit.

In addition to attending the sessions at the Summit, the team had a discussion with the previous President of ALPMA, Andrew Barnes, General Manager, Emma Elliot, and Board Member, Debra Flippin, to discuss about the future collaboration. The possibility of signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was also discussed. The objectives of the MOU were to establish mutually agreed objectives as well as meaningful collaborations benefitting both the Law Society and ALPMA. Tapping on the knowledge and expertise of ALPMA would benefit our members as we would be able to bring our members interesting contents and practical solutions in legal practice management and technology adoption. We also discussed the possibility of having discounted fees for Law Society members to attend events organised by ALPMA.

Booths at the Exhibition Hall

Booths at the Exhibition Hall

Group photograph at ALPMA Summit

4.4 The Australian Model of Practice Management

Law firms in Australia believed that legal practice management issues were best left in the hands of non-lawyer professional while lawyers can devote themselves fully to providing legal services/solutions to clients. This was in fact highly encouraged in Australia so that there was clear division of work and everyone could develop deep expertise in their trained areas. While lawyers focused on billable work, the practice management issues of the law firm would be looked after by highly trained non-lawyer professionals.

Legal technology in Australia was progressing rapidly because of the high acceptance of embracing technology in legal and practice management solutions by the legal profession.

5.0 Conclusion

Both study trips had been fruitful because in addition to learning from a Bar Association to Bar Association perspective, the discussions with the law firms provided valuable perspectives which further expanded our insights.

We would also like to take this opportunity to express our appreciation to Enterprise Singapore for supporting the two study trips. The learning points from the study trips would help us in the planning of our future events and initiatives for members.

Project Manager
Lawyers Go Global
The Law Society of Singapore
E-mail: [email protected]