Legal tech at the forefront
By Anushia Kandasivam December 25, 2017
- Technology is not just a good tool but a must-have
- Law firms must be ready to face disruption to the industry
“TECHNOLOGY has always been seen as a necessary tool to help the provision of legal services. But moving forward, tech will become the primary means through which legal services will be redefined, and the key means through which we will be communicating with clients, courts and other lawyers,” says Rajesh Sreenivasan, a partner in Singapore law firm Rajah & Tann LLP and its head of technology, media and communications.
Rajah & Tann is one of the largest full-service law firms in Singapore and has offices across the Southeast Asian region. It is one of the more tech-savvy law firms in that it uses technology extensively as a tool to make work and communication more efficient and effective.
The firm recently took steps to rejuvenate its existing information technology infrastructure. Rajesh explains that this was done not because the systems were obsolete but rather because the firm saw a need to step up to a higher level of technology use.
“We want to bring our entire IT infrastructure up to a stage where it can be as nimble as it needs to be,” he says.
Need and demand push adoption
In revamping its tech, Rajah & Tann took a few bold steps, including using Microsoft’s productivity software Office 365, which means the whole office is now fully could-based. It also completely revamped its document management system, moving away from iManage to NetDocuments.
Document management is one of the key IT backbones of any law firm because a lawyer’s and law firm’s value lies in their documents - the affidavits, briefs, contracts and so on - which all must be sorted and stored in a logical, retrievable manner using a good document management solution.
According to Rajesh (pic, right), iManage has been seen as something of an industry standard for a while, so in considering new document management sofrware, Rajah & Tann had to take a critical look at its existing IT infrastructure and ask itself how it would help the firm stay relevant in the age it is operating in.
“Our view is that we should not stay in our comfort zone,” says Rajesh about the bold decision to switch from a system that was not flawed to another that the firm could see was more dynamic and worked with other software it was using.
“The change that we made was not driven by cost reasons, because it was a cool thing to do or so that we would be seen to be doing something. It was done because we saw a specific part of our IT infrastructure needed to move with the times and stay relevant with the new ways of doing business today and client demand,” he says.
Rajah & Tann has also installed other new technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI) platform Luminance and is evaluating contract automation software ContractExpress.
The firm’s first foray into AI, Luminance enables lawyers to maximise their time when it comes to tedious and mundane work such as due diligence exercises where thousands of documents have to be sorted through, examined and compared. Rajesh explains that while a certain degree of precision is expected, a lot of this kind of work can be automated. Luminance goes beyond doing just crunch work - it can compare documents, flag anomalies and do detailed work such as categorising different types of clauses across thousands of documents for comparison and checking.
“It saves a lot of time and cost for the lawyer and client. It gives you a decent first cut that the lawyer can do a deeper dive on. From a workflow point of view, it makes things easier and more efficient, and it enables the lawyer to address his or her mind to legal analysis,” says Rajesh.
“Tech like this is not just a good thing to have but in our estimation, is a must-have,” he adds.
Interestingly, Rajesh gives credit to Rajah & Tann’s clients for creating a demand for sophisticated technology, explaining that large international companies often require their lawyers to possess and use such technological tools for major legal projects.
“So, we are deploying tech not just as specific tools to help with certain things. Software packages become integral to how we provide legal services and add new dimensions of service delivery that were not there before,” he says.
Structural change engenders innovation
Software integration and revamping is a huge project for Rajah & Tann because it has to take place in all its offices; Rajesh says that migration to the cloud has already been completed in seven of the 10 law firms, including Singapore.
One of the reasons the law firm could take these steps further into tech is the official Guidance Note issued by the Singapore Law Society on what law firms should take into account when deciding to use cloud computing services, which, Rajesh says, essentially gave Rajah & Tann the clearance to move to the cloud.
A proactive regulatory environment is certainly key for legal technology to take root and to push the legal profession to take steps to ensure it is prepared for technological disruption and alternative legal service providers entering the industry.
At the beginning of this year, Singapore’s Chief Justice urged the legal profession to embrace technology to ensure its survival, to become more efficient and cost effective, provide a better work environment for lawyers and much quicker and higher-quality output for clients.
“I really think a structural change is happening and alternative legal service providers are going to become new stakeholders in the legal system. We need to adjust our business model to continue to compete,” says Rajesh.
“This is the new normal,” he continues, saying that as client demands and pressure for lower costs persist, for law firms to continue to be relevant they have to take a step back and examine how they can revalue their deliverables and come up with legal deliverables that do not exist today but will bring significant value to their clients.
“That is how we can move forward as a profession.”