Time to get legit about going digital

  • Legal profession in Malaysia still cautious about going digital
  • Groundwork in the form of Legal Profession Act and regulatory sandboxes

Supernova 2019 hackathon participants.

The legal profession in Malaysia need to digitise lest they risk being left behind. This was the mantra heard on Monday at the LawTech Malaysia SUPERNOVA summit intended to raise awareness in the latest developments in lawtech, fintech and regtech in Malaysia, and in the process, dispel reservations.

"Technology should be seen to be supplement our work and not supplant us; complement our work, not compete with us," said Roger Chan Weng Keng, vice president of the Malaysian Bar, in his opening statements.

"I hope that my learned colleagues will embrace the use of technology and not view it as a threat," he stressed. "Some of us worry that the work of lawyers will be rendered obsolete and redundant."

"This is certainly not true," he countered. "Robots and Artificial Intelligence lack the sympathy, empathy, and emotions that human lawyers have."

Nevertheless, the profession clearly believes that some caution is still prudent. "The Bar Council has proposed provisions to govern legal technology and legal technology providers in the new Legal Profession Act," said Chan. "Such a provision is necessary given that we have come a long way since the enactment of the legal profession Act 1976."

Ng Wan Peng, MDEC chief operating officer praised those who have stepped up in the face of change. "The digital economy is here to stay, and it's getting a lot of support," she said, reminding the audience of the government's incentives announced in Budget 2019.  "We cannot say because we will be impacted, we shy away from it. Face it and find solutions."

To those who are eager to try out new ideas and solution, Wan Peng encouraged the use of Global Testbed Initiative recently unveiled by the Prime Minister, where innovations can, for example, be tested in a regulatory sandbox.

"Bring the lab out into the open, so that all of us can be part of the test," she appealed. "Then we can decide - do we need to change our policies (and regulations) to allow such innovations to take place?"

(L to R) Law Tech Malaysia founders Jenna Beh, Daniel Lui and Adeline Chin.

A process of awareness, education and working out regulation

"Either they don't know, they don't care, or they don't know how to care!" is the opinion of Adeline Chin, Lawtech Malaysia cofounder, when talking about the attitude of the legal profession in Malaysia when it comes to going digital.

"It's like a bogeyman," she continued. "That sense of fear is coming from something you cannot see, cannot touch and you've never experienced."

As a result, the emphasis by LawTech Malaysia is currently on raising awareness and education, as well as connecting technology providers to legal professionals. Part of the issue is that technology innovators are hesitant to push on, given that their solutions may be undermined by future regulation. However, the feeling is that this is all par for the course, given similar experiences in other industries that eventually went digital.

"The legal industry is slightly slow in picking it up," admitted Chin, while remaining optimistic about the future. "We want to catch up with Fintech!"

Michael Lim Chong Wei, Crowe Growth Consulting managing director, agrees that going digital is a "must do" for the legal profession. "We need to understand the technology," he stressed. "If we do not get down to business, we may be behind other countries."

Lim agrees that it will be a gradual process, going from awareness of what is available, to acceptance of how it can help, and eventually its adoption into day-to-day processes.

He also sees regulation as part of the journey. On the one hand, he stressed the importance to not over-regulate, while advocating the use of regulatory sandboxes to test out innovation.

Crowe's commitment to the cause is such that they have already committed to sponsor the SUPERNOVA conference next year as well. They are already seeing the benefits of being an early mover, having invited the winners of the SUPERNOVA hackathon to his firm's national company retreat next year.

"We are part of the ecosystem,” he said, adding there is no choice but to move forward. “If we don't do something right by the ecosystem, one day the ecosystem is gonna come back to bite us!"


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