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The Singapore Law Gazette

State of Play in Computational Law & Legal Technology in Singapore and the Asia Pacific region

Conversations from CLAWCON 2023

From 12 to 14 July 2023, the Singapore Management University’s Centre for Computational Law (SMU CCLAW) hosted the 1st Edition of the Computational Law Conference (CLAWCON). The inaugural conference was structured around the theme of “Computational Law + Symbolic AI + Industry Adoption challenges, issues, and real-world implementations”.

CLAWCON’s programme had a diverse mix of industry discussions (e.g. What computer scientists and lawyers ought to know about each other’s domains, What a “law-department-of-the-future” might look like?), academic insights (e.g. Computational law in the age of LLMs, representing law as code), and technical presentations (e.g. Designing a domain-specific-language for law: L4 under the hood, Automatically transforming legal text to computable forms with the help of LLMs). The audience was a fascinating mix of technologists, lawyers, programmers, and those who were a combination of them.

This article summarises the highlights from the panel, Computational Law and Legal Tech Adoption in Asia, which was chaired by Mr Josh Lee who is the Asia-Pacific Managing Director of the Future of Privacy Forum, and the Co-Founder of both LawTech.Asia and the Asia-Pacific Legal Innovation and Technology Association (ALITA). This panel curated by Mr Lee included:

  • Mr Yeong Zee Kin, Chief Executive of the Singapore Academy of Law;
  • Ms Adeline Chin, Co-Chair of ALITA and Chief Operating Officer of Chambers Lab;
  • Mr Eric Chin, Asia Pacific Director at PwC NewLaw; and
  • Ms Anita Parkash, Pedagogy and Planning Director at the Singapore Judicial College.

Context Setting: Pre-2020 and Post-2020 State of Play

To set the context of the panel discussion, Mr Lee highlighted how the topic of “Computational Law and Legal Tech Adoption in Asia” is a timely one because we are seeing a paradigm shift between pre-2020 and post-2020 periods. While the pre-2020 period was akin to a “summer” in terms of legal tech adoption, the 2020 period was characterised by the dying down of events, investors holding back because of uncertainty, legal tech startups struggling due to a lack of capital, and an increased difficulty in fostering legal tech interest amongst law students. As the COVID-19 pandemic has eased, it is a good intertidal moment to take stock of where we are today, why we are here, and where we can and should go from here.

What is the current state of legal tech and CLAW from your vantage point and perspective?

Mr Yeong shared his framework for legal tech which consists of three levels:

  1. Lowest tier: productivity tools that everyone uses (e.g. online collaboration, knowledge management, video conferencing, etc).
  2. Middle tier: tools that help lawyers be more efficient and productive so they can deliver legal solutions in a more efficient and cost-effective manner.
  3. Top tier: the question of “are we able to use technology to deliver legal services differently from before?”

Prior to 2020, Mr Yeong believed that we were stuck at the “lowest tier” for the longest time – legal tech adoption was akin to leading a horse to water, but the horse simply refused to drink. If there is a silver lining from COVID-19 pandemic, it is that lawyers have finally adopted the “lowest tier” productivity tools, albeit a decade later than everyone else.

With respect to the “middle tier”, Mr Yeong believes that these tools are a mixed bag – for example, from his anecdotal experience, a creative coding and document review system took off for corporate due diligence but not for e-discovery. Nevertheless, lawyers will likely adopt more “middle tier” tools after having cleared the first hurdle of the “lowest tier” productivity tools.

However, Mr Yeong believes that we are still stuck at the “top tier” – we are not seeing more applications of lawyers providing legal services differently by leveraging technology. In fact, the key issue at this stage is the age-old unresolved policy question on the distinction between “legal information services” and “legal advisory services”.

Mr Chin responded to this question through three lenses:

  • Law firm lens: 2.29m of the 8.1m lawyers across the globe reside in the Asia Pacific region.
  • Legal department lens: the main products that dominate solutions used by Asia Pacific legal departments include contract lifecycle management (47%), document management (42%) and knowledge management (31%).
  • Legal tech company lens: there are close to 600 legal tech companies in the Asia Pacific region. Additionally, although there were only 25 legal tech companies in Singapore in 2019, there are currently 55 legal tech companies in Singapore today.

Overall, Mr Chin highlighted that the development of legal tech solutions in the industry can be categorised into four waves:

  • Wave 1: digitalisation of case law and legislation (e.g. legal research tools such as LexisNexis, Thomson Reuters, etc).
  • Wave 2: the rise of pragmatic solutions (e.g. tracking billables).
  • Wave 3: the rise of lawyer efficiency tools (e.g. document automation, task management, knowledge management, etc), which is the wave that we are currently in.
  • Wave 4: the introduction of increasingly more powerful tools into the market, which is the wave that we are entering into.

Ms Parkash tapped on her anecdotal experiences to shed insight into the “less technical” aspects of CLAW. Although there was significant enthusiasm and buy-in for the “origin story” of technology to be about productivity and scalability prior to the pandemic, Ms Parkash has observed that this narrative no longer fits well after the pandemic because, inter alia, problems have evolved and peoples’ appetite for these new problems have changed. Hence, Ms Parkash believes that we should “sense-check” the principles that made us so enthusiastic about legal tech prior to the pandemic, and “recalibrate” our value propositions to cater to different groups of stakeholders (e.g. consider whether we should conceive of citizen-centric tools instead of legal-professional-centric tools). This was echoed by both Mr Lee (who highlighted the importance of ensuring that CLAW did not become a “cottage industry”, and to focus on the help that can be rendered to the layperson) and Ms Chin (who also observed the legal industry increasingly looking beyond mere efficiency tools by engaging in discussions that are centred on “human factors”).

What has changed in the legal tech industry and ecosystem after the pandemic? Why has it changed?

Mr Yeong believes that we are sitting on the threshold of a fundamental shift – the next generation of legal tech tools will be shaped by LLMs and generative AI, especially since the study of law is text-heavy. For example, in May 2023, INTELLLEX rolled out SCOTT which utilises freely available resources such as OpenAI’s GPT LLMs to engage in simple Q&As.

Ms Chin noted that the legal tech industry is experiencing the effects of the “productisation” phenomenon – as the industry had grown accustomed to hybrid working during the pandemic, there was an increase in demand for virtual products to manage documents, assist with billing, enable invoicing, etc, which incentivised the profit-driven market develop more virtual products. However, as many of these products were developed without insights from practitioners in the legal fraternity, they exhibit numerous bugs and errors, clog up workflows, and essentially reveal a “knowledge gap” in the developers’ understanding of how lawyers work which hampers long-term growth.

Mr Chin shared that many generative AI tools emerged after the pandemic in late 2022, and the combination of deep learning, machine learning, and natural language processing (NLP) underpins many of the generative AI tools in the current market. For context, he argues that there seems to be six types of artificial intelligence (AI) in the market – machine learning, NLP, expert systems, deep learning, speech recognition, and virtual recognition. However, Mr Chin believes that the focus of generative AI is on augmentation and not replacement – generative AI does not provide the legal advice, but assists lawyers in providing the legal advice.

Ms Parkash highlighted that citizens are hungry for “trusted systems” because of big changes such as wars, the pandemic and declining trust. However, as conversations surrounding CLAW are often analogous to taking a Maserati to do a grocery run – CLAW is overqualified to do the job at hand – Ms Parkash believes that we can achieve much more by focusing on “who the [end] user is”. This illustrates the importance of engaging in the nascent conversation of how CLAW can improve access to justice. To achieve this, Ms Parkash believes that it is important to learn how to engage “the middle” – the part of the community that is lukewarm towards legal tech. At this juncture, we note that “the legal middle” comprises legal professionals, “the middle of society” comprises laypeople, and Ms Parkash harbours different views on both groups. While she believes the former group can be re-energised to rally around leveraging CLAW to improve access to justice, especially since they are looking for something new to be excited about that extends beyond the traditional themes of productivity and efficiency, the latter group requires more encouragement to embrace CLAW products, services and innovations that seek to improve access to justice.

What is the most important thing that we should focus our efforts on moving forward?

While Ms Chin highlighted the need for “more data” and “policies”, especially in the Southeast Asian region, Mr Chin identified “people”, Mr Yeong identified “policy clarification”, and Ms Parkash highlighted the importance of “playing well with others”.

How can legal tech and CLAW help clients or end users?

While Mr Yeong highlighted that technology can enhance access to justice by providing online services that operate 24/7 and are more affordable than lawyers, Mr Chin re-emphasised that the focus of technology is on augmentation and not replacement, and Mr Lee referred to existing real-life examples involving wills and lasting power of attorneys. However, Mr Yeong believes that unresolved policy questions are significant obstacles to access to justice.


To wrap up the panel, Mr Lee summarised four key takeaways:

  1. First, although there are increasingly more powerful systems, there are also increasingly more inequities – there is a need to move away from the lawyer or legal industry as the “centre of the universe” to the layperson on the street.
  2. Second, four elements require trust – trusted data, trusted systems, trusted people, and trusted policies.
  3. Third, the urgent need to address important age-old policy questions such as the distinction between “legal information services” and “legal advisory services”.
  4. Fourth, heeding the call for greater professionalisation and support for different roles across the legal tech industry.


This research / project is supported by the National Research Foundation, Singapore under its Industry Alignment Fund – Pre-positioning (IAF-PP) Funding Initiative. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the views of National Research Foundation, Singapore.

Alexis is a recovering lawyer and self-taught programmer. As cofounder of, Alexis spends her day exorcising legal demons and unlearning her bad habits. Legalese is a LegalTech startup that is developing a domain-specific language for computational law. By applying computer science to contract drafting, generation, and management, Legalese aims to eventually replace contract-drafting lawyers with contract-drafting software. 

Since 2020, she has also been dual-hatting as Industry Director at the Computational Law Centre (CCLAW) at Singapore Management University under the Computational Law Research Programme (the Programme). 

In her previous life, she was a dispute resolution, technology, and IP lawyer in one of the largest transnational law firms in Asia. Alexis is an advocate and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Singapore. She has a Bachelor of Laws (Second Upper with Honours) from Queen Mary, University of London (2011). She loves Belle & Sebastian, computer games, and carbs-on-carbs. She is heavily influenced by science fiction and when she grows up, she’d like to be Tina Fey.