Small Steps, Big Dreams
Legal Industry Transformation, The Law Society of Singapore
Our Humble Beginnings
Our journey began in 2017, with the establishment of what was then known as the Legal Productivity and Innovation Department (LPI). The team originally had three core aims – to promote the use of technology within the legal industry, to assist law firms with innovation and capability development, and to administer grants and subsidy schemes to support the cost of adopting productivity and capability development solutions.
In order to achieve these aims, we adopted a four-pronged approach to our work which still guides us to this day – focusing on needs analysis, cost management, marketing advantage and capability development. Over recent years, we have acted as a guiding light for Singapore law practices (SLPs) as we have collectively begun to adjust to the imminent changes knocking on the doorstep of our profession.
A New Approach
As we fast forward to 2022, technological progress continues to gain momentum as we approach a tipping point in the digital evolution of the legal industry. Now is the time to reflect and take stock of how far we have come, and what needs to change as we look towards the future. The beginning of this year saw our complete re-branding, as we left our old name behind and became the Legal Industry Transformation Department (LIT).
LIT is picking up where LPI left off – responding to the broader culture shifts occurring within our industry, and evolving our original goals as we work towards far more ambitious projects. This year, LIT is embracing wide-scale innovation on a new level, creating opportunity and a competitive advantage for SLPs as we look forward to the future.
In our first Legal Industry Needs study in 2016, it was identified that the adoption of technology solutions (usage of a shared database of precedents and past case knowledge and transitioning from physical to virtual and paperless offices) would result in significant time savings and reductions in operating costs for law firms.12016 Legal Industry Needs Analysis
In our follow-up Legal Industry Technology Study in 2018, it was revealed that 82 per cent of decision makers in Singapore law firms viewed technology as crucial in order for their firms to remain competitive. A further 72 per cent agreed that there was a need to increase the level of technological adoption within their firms.22018 Legal Industry Technology Study
The 2016 study had also brought to light a number of other areas of concern which signalled a much needed change in the way that we engage in the business of law. A majority of interviewees were unaware of the need for (nor had the requisite business skills to build) a sustainable legal practice,32016 Legal Industry Needs Analysis and 17 per cent of participants were unable to articulate a clear appetite or vision for the growth of their practice.42016 Legal Industry Needs Analysis These statistics were worrying, and highlighted the scale of the challenge faced by our department.
The follow-up study in 2018 did not provide much reassurance. Whilst 80 per cent of respondents felt an increasing pressure to generate business growth, only 48 per cent felt that the implementation of technology solutions was the answer to addressing the issue. It was clear that, in order for firms to remain competitive, solutions which went beyond the adoption of technology were required.52018 Legal Industry Technology Study
Taken together, these statistics highlight an undeniable need for substantial business transformation within the legal industry – and the LIT Department is responding. Within a short period of time, we have radically updated our approach, shifting our focus to ensure that law firms in Singapore are equipped with the tools required to weather the storm of change in an ever-evolving digital world.
Our department is now committed to three key objectives which serve as the foundation for all of the work that we do:
- Innovation: Developing and implementing initiatives to promote legal innovation, digital transformation and best business management practices in the legal industry;
- Digitalisation: Promoting the adoption of technology in law firms to increase productivity and efficiency, and to achieve a competitive advantage; and
- Community: Enhancing member engagement by building a community of like-minded practitioners at the forefront of technology and innovation.
Without a cost benefit, no innovative business solution (technology or otherwise) is likely to be worth the investment. Over the past few years, the LIT department has spearheaded a number of key initiatives and programs aimed at facilitating new ways of working within legal practices which save time, resources, and costs.
Tech Start for Law
In March 2017, we launched the Tech Start for Law initiative together with the Ministry of Law and SPRING Singapore (now known as Enterprise Singapore). The purpose of this initiative was to support SLPs in adopting technology to improve their productivity.
This program provided up to 70 per cent funding support in the first year for participating law firms through three solution categories – Practice Management, Online Research Tool and Online Marketing.
The scheme ended on 28 February 2018 with 143 successful participants. Many of the firms involved stated that the technology solutions offered had helped them to become more efficient and productive and save costs. Many also felt that the programme had freed up a substantial amount of time which enabled their lawyers to focus on revenue-generating work, spend less time in the office, and enjoy more time with their families and loved ones.
SmartLaw Assist 1 & 2
SmartLaw Assist 1 was launched in conjunction with Tech Start for Law in March 2017. The aim of this scheme was to subsidise SLPs who were adopting online legal research tools.
The first round of the programme was a success, with participating firms saving an average of 15 hours per month on legal research through the technology solutions adopted.
The second round of the SmartLaw Assist scheme was rolled out in April 2018. This time, the technology solutions offered were niche products targeted at benefitting medium-sized law firms in Singapore.
In total, the two rounds of SmartLaw Assist raised 115 successful applications.
Tech-celerate for Law
We did not stop there. With client demands increasing, and SLPs facing ever more strain on their time and resources, it was becoming clear that it would be necessary to go beyond baseline technology if firms were to continue providing world-leading legal solutions for their clients.
As we already knew from our 2018 survey, 72 per cent of firms had acknowledged the need to increase their technology adoption, whilst 52 per cent saw legal technology as an important value proposition and selling point for their practices.6 2018 Legal Industry Technology Study
In response to the clear shift in the industry climate, we launched Tech-celerate for Law in May 2019. This was a game changing initiative which would prepare SLPs for future disruption beyond baseline technology adoption, empowering SLPs to focus on delivering enhanced legal services, strengthening their capabilities and increasing their competitiveness in the global landscape.
The scheme ended in January 2021 with a grand total of 275 successful applications, marking a significant increase from previous initiatives.
Gov Assistance Assessment Tool
In the wake of COVID-19, a number of government schemes were rolled out to help businesses mitigate the adverse impacts caused by the pandemic. With a myriad of initiatives available, many SLPs found it a challenge to identify those most appropriate to their needs.
In order to help facilitate and simplify this process, we developed an online self-assessment tool to allow SLPs to assess their eligibility for the various schemes available, and identify the best means of applying for these assistance schemes to help them adapt to the changing landscape.
The online assessment consists of only 10 questions, and takes no more than three minutes to complete. Answers will generate details of all the schemes that an SLP is entitled to apply for. These include recruitment assistance, help with implementing flexible work arrangements, financing for loans, technology and innovation assistance, and building business capabilities.7Law Society of Singapore 2021 Annual Report
By saving firms the time and effort of searching through lengthy and complex literature, this tool has allowed more than 180 SLPs to access invaluable government support – without compromising time which is better spent on growing sustainable legal practices.8Ibid.
It is all very well to invest in innovation within your firm – but without the ability to communicate this effectively to the world, much of the commercial advantage can easily be lost.
SmartLaw Recognition Scheme
The aim of the SmartLaw Recognition Scheme is to provide a marketing advantage for law firms which have improved their business capabilities through technology adoption.
The scheme recognises firms which have adopted a practice management or accounting software, an online knowledge database, and an online presence (whether through a marketing portal or their own dedicated website). Recognised firms can display the “SmartLaw” logo on their websites, marketing materials, and email sign-offs.
As an ongoing scheme, the SmartLaw Recognition Scheme has already attracted more than 80 law firms who have proven their readiness to take on the digital economy and are now certified.
A full list of firms recognised under the SmartLaw Recognition Scheme can be found here: SmartLaw Recognition Scheme | The Law Society of Singapore.
The final prong in LIT’s approach to industry transformation is capability development – investing in the nuts and bolts of legal innovation, and providing essential support to firms at the forefront of technological change in Singapore.
SmartLaw Guild was launched by the Law Society of Singapore in May 2019. The aim of the platform was simple – to bring together like-minded practitioners at the forefront of innovation, and facilitate the sharing of strategies, best practices, trends and resources.
SmartLaw Guild firms enjoy a myriad of privileges, such as free discounted trials for new technology products and priority sign up, subsidised and/or complimentary tickets for legal technology and innovation related events, conferences and overseas mission trips. Further to that, there are also opportunities to be featured in events, on the Law Society website, in the Singapore Law Gazette and a chance to showcase to international audiences.
The SmartLaw Guild community is set to strengthen throughout 2022. We encourage all eligible SLPs to explore membership, joining the existing ranks of over 340 firms who are already established at the forefront of productivity and innovation. To become a member, SLPs must be certified under the SmartLaw Recognition Scheme, or, alternatively, be a past or present successful applicant under any one of our technology support schemes.
Raising The Bar
Raising The Bar (RTB) is a four-month acceleration programme customized to help SLPs compete and thrive in a digital first world. By participating in this programme, SLPs learn methods and frameworks by which to innovate their service offerings, techniques for conveying unique value to their business networks, and methods for eliminating pain points and inefficiencies within their respective practices.
Armed with this knowledge, firms can expect to reap the benefits of improved client satisfaction, greater profitability, and a competitive edge within the industry. The programme is delivered by a carefully curated group of industry experts, who work with firms to develop and implement tailored strategies to help them accelerate their business journey.
Unlike other traditional programmes, RTB enables firms to go beyond the hypothetical, putting theory into practice. Our experts work with participating firms to provide one-on-one strategic advice in the areas of opportunity that are most relevant to them – thereby driving positive change within their practice.
To participate in the RTB programme, SLPs must demonstrate that they are Receptive to innovation and business transformation, Ready to apply innovative solutions to their practices, and Resolute in their commitment to the four-month programme.
There are four key elements to the programme. Participating SLPs will initially complete an online Digital Diagnostic Tool to identify and prioritise the areas of digitalisation that are most relevant to them. They will then attend a series of specially selected workshops, before choosing from a variety of consultancy options and engaging one-on-one with our specialised business consultants. Finally, firms will pilot at least one digital solution or business transformation initiative.
The inaugural run of RTB was successfully launched last year with 10 participating SLPs. These firms received funding support from Enterprise Singapore, and took advantage of the wealth of experience offered by our specialized consultants. Participants were extremely positive in their feedback.
Seah Ong & Partners LLP: “I would definitely encourage other law firms to take up the Raising The Bar programme. It acted as a vital tool for our practice, helping us to pinpoint areas for improvement in terms of our business strategy development.”
Tang Thomas LLC: “The Raising The Bar workshops gave us a holistic outlook and exposed us to real-world applications. Ultimately, this is not just a one-off seminar, but a stepping stone to transform your business in today’s changing environment. We are thankful that Raising The Bar has allowed us to develop not only as lawyers, but also as business owners.”
Look out for the release of our upcoming video later this year, showcasing some of the key success stories from the inaugural run of RTB. The project will continue to grow throughout 2022, helping small and mid-sized firms to innovate, transform, and compete in a digital world.
Legal Technology Platform
We are glad to support the launch of an industry-wide Legal Technology Platform (LTP) by the Ministry of Law. An exciting development for the industry, the LTP is a matters management tool designed around legal workflows that will be integrated with legal tech solutions commonly used by Singapore lawyers. The aim is to promote interoperability and ease of use between the different legal tech solutions that lawyers utilise day-to-day in their legal workflows.
The Time Is Now
The legal landscape is evolving rapidly – and at the Law Society of Singapore, we are ready to lead the change. Times of adversity often yield new habits – and COVID-19 has forced us all to spend more time on personal reflection. As we blink and emerge into a post-pandemic world, we must ask ourselves – do the old conventions still serve us, our members, or our industry as a whole? The obstacles ahead for the legal community are a challenge, but are also invaluable opportunities for growth.
The LIT department is dedicated to assisting all SLPs in delivering sustainable, world-leading legal services in the face of an ever-changing digital landscape. Plug in and join us on our journey to become a catalyst for change in the legal industry. If you would like to find out more about the work that we do, please visit https://lit.lawsociety.org.sg/ or write to us at [email protected].
Legal Industry Transformation Department
The Law Society of Singapore