Singapore targets lawyers in digital transformation drive

Law Society establishes SmartLaw Guild to showcase best practices and case studies of technology adoption in the legal community, which have been offered support, including a S$3.68 million tech fund, to digitise their operations.

Singapore law firms are urged to adopt technology to achieve higher efficiencies and offered help to do so, including a newly set up SmartLaw Guild that aims to showcase best practices and case studies of successful deployments. The launch comes on the heels of a programme introduced last month that allows local law firms to receive up to 70 percent funding support for their technology adoption. 

The majority of law practices in Singapore were small and midsize businesses (SMBs) and likely required help to do so, said Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran, noting that more than 90 percent of the country's enterprise community of 200,000 were SMBs. 

Citing the Law Society's 2018 Legal Technology Survey, Iswaran said more than 80 percent of law firms agreed technology helped improve the delivery of legal services and was critical to their sector's future development. However, just 12 percent of all law practices here--or 115--had adopted technology tools, said the minister, who was speaking at the SmartLaw Guild launch. 

In 2017, the Law Ministry, Law Society, and Enterprise Singapore had introduced the Tech Start for Law initiative to help law firms kickstart their technology adoption by defraying some of the initial cost. The focus then was on basic plug-and-play tools, such as online legal research and practice management systems. 

The programme spurred 115 law firms to deploy 143 technology applications such as Covenant Chambers, which adopted three cloud-based systems including practice management system CoreMatter and legal research system Intelllex. 

Pointing to this 12 percent of the legal profession that had adopted technology, Iswaran said: "While we have made some progress, it is clear that more can be done."

Early this month, a S$3.68 million funding scheme was introduced to further help law firms in their digital transformation, allowing them to receive up to 70 percent financial support for their first-year of technology deployment, which could include baseline and advanced applications such as artificial intelligence (AI) to facilitate document review and digital discovery. 

Dubbed the Tech-celerate for Law programme, each law firm could get up to S$30,000 for baseline applications and up to S$100,000 for advanced applications.  

Legal community must keep pace with tech regulatory landscape

According to Iswaran, technological advances and the digitalisation of Singapore's economy had significant impact on daily lives, business models, and industry structures. Emerging technologies such as AI also had led to issues that had to be addressed, such as eliminating bias from machines and establishing ethical and governance guidelines for its adoption.

The minister said: "The legal fraternity has an important role in the evolution of a regulatory architecture and the creation of legal solutions to deal with these challenges."

Through new initiatives such as Tech-celerate for Law, he added that the Singapore government aimed to encourage more firms to begin their digital transformation as well as accelerate those that already had done so to adopt more advanced applications such as automated client engagement and document review tools. 

To further simplify processes for local law firms, he said four agencies including the Infocomm Media Development Authority and Law Ministry would evaluate and pre-approve technology applications that had proven track records and use cases. The objective here was to reduce the time lawyers would need to assess and adopt technology products and services, and quicken the process of applying for funding support. 

The launch of the SmartLaw Guild would provide a platform on which Singapore law firms could access various resources to help with their technology deployment, including case studies, best practices, and business transformation workshops. 

Iswaran said: "All [law firms] that are certified under the Law Society's SmartLaw Recognition Scheme, which recognises [law firms] that have adopted technology to improve productivity and increase business capabilities, and are beneficiaries of the Law Society's technology support schemes, will be included in the SmartLaw Guild."

Guild membership is complimentary for law firms that meet the eligibility criteria. 

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