- Introducing lawyer discovery and other digital tech to legal profession
- More opportunities and potential for growth throughout Southeast Asia
MALAYSIA-based online legal services startup CanLaw is playing a part in bringing digital technology to Malaysia’s still traditional analogue legal profession.
CanLaw is basically a lawyer discovery platform that connects the public with lawyers. Because Malaysia’s strict legal practice rules do not allow lawyers to advertise their services, finding lawyers has always been a little difficult; one is usually introduced to a lawyer via family or friends.
Through CanLaw, a user can submit a request for a lawyer detailing their legal needs. CanLaw will then provide two to five profiles of lawyers with relevant experience along with their quotes on cost for the user to choose from. An in-built algorithm filters lawyers according to location and area of practice so that users get profiles of lawyers.
Users are then able to compare the quotes and profiles provided, decide which lawyer they want to make an appointment with and book the appointment through the platform.
Founder and chief executive officer Loo Soon Yi explains that users are only able to view quotes and profiles once they make a request for a lawyer; the platform does not allow ‘shopping’ for a lawyer.
“It’s not advertising. Strictly speaking, advertising is the business reaching out to clients to promote their services. Our platform doesn’t do that. The lawyers only send out their quotes when the client is looking for a lawyer and requesting a fee quote. We don’t do anything the lawyers are not doing in the physical world,” he says.
Expansion from conception
CanLaw was conceived early last year and launched into the market in February this year. In May, the startup released the CanLaw Pro app for its lawyers. The app has all the functionalities of the website and enable lawyers to respond to fee quote requests and message their clients quickly and easily.
Loo says that CanLaw planned for the app from the beginning because it was clear lawyers, who are constantly away from the office in court or meetings, needed an on-the-go tool to reduce the turnaround time for fee quotes.
The startup is also already preparing for future regional expansion; as evidenced by its domain name CanLaw.asia, it has had regional aspirations from the start.
“Lawyer discovery is one of those things that is applicable in any country, so once we are done rolling out here in Malaysia, we are definitely looking at other Southeast Asian countries,” says Loo.
The plan is to ‘complete’ Malaysia by this time next year, which means about 40-50% penetration for Syariah lawyers (about 2,000 lawyers) and, all things being equal, about 10-20% penetration for civil lawyers.
The next country CanLaw is looking at is Indonesia, where, Loo says, there is vast opportunity and potential because laws differ state-to-state and region-to-region, making finding lawyers in the right geographic location with the relevant local legal knowledge important.
After Indonesia will be Vietnam and Thailand – all the Southeast Asian countries look interesting to CanLaw, says Loo.
Because local knowledge is vital, CanLaw is planning to get into these countries through partnerships, though Loo says that the startup has not started looking for partners yet. “It’s more than a year away, which is an eternity in startup time,” he quips.
A major reason CanLaw is focusing solely on Malaysia right now is that the Malaysian Bar Council has recently asked the startup to cease operation of the CanLaw platform while it reviews the service and decides whether or not it complies with legal profession practice rules.
Loo says that the Bar Council is rightly concerned about protecting its lawyers and lay clients, and that the discussions about the platform are interactive and on-going. Meanwhile, CanLaw needed to find an alternative.
“There were quite a few interesting pivots we could do. The closest thing to do with the existing tech we have was to get Syariah lawyers on board,” he explains.
CanLaw approached PGSM (Persatuan Peguam Syarie Malaysia - the Malaysian association of Syariah lawyers), who operate on different practicing rules than Malaysian civil lawyers. PGSM agreed to an exclusive tech partnership where CanLaw has created the CanLaw Syariah platform for all PGSM members and PGSM got all its members – about 1,000 Syariah lawyers - on board the platform.
The platform, which has been localised to Bahasa Malaysia and customised for Syariah areas of practice, will be launched on Nov 10.
Next page: Tech for a traditional profession