Interview by Jennifer Lim Wei Zhen | Edited by Amelia Chew
TechLaw.Fest 2018 will take place from 4-6 April 2018 in Singapore, bringing together leading thinkers in the space of Technology Law and leading makers in the space of Legal Technology. In the lead-up to TechLaw.Fest, the LawTech.Asia team will bring you regular interviews and shout-outs covering prominent speakers and the topics they will be speaking at TechLaw.Fest.
This week, LawTech.Asia sat down for a chat with Edmund Koh, Chief of Staff & General Counsel at INTELLLEX. Edmund will be speaking at the Law of Tech Conference on the panel titled Legal Issues in Legal Tech.
What do you think of Singapore’s Legal Tech Vision released by the Singapore Academy of Law (SAL)?
It is a very ambitious and timely roadmap for law firms in Singapore. It’s a call for law firms to start embracing technology and innovation. In other industries, there has been more of an impetus to adopt technology already as it clearly makes a person’s work more efficient. In contrast, for the longest time, lawyers have thought that our work is so different and unique that it is not susceptible to disruption by technology. I think that is changing. The Legal Tech Vision is really telling the legal landscape that everyone should sit up and take note of what’s going on.
…lawyers need to adopt tools that are coherent and consistent with their own workflows…
How exactly should lawyers go about adopting legal tech?
From my perspective as an ex-lawyer and someone who is now running a legal tech startup, I would say that lawyers need to adopt tools that are coherent and consistent with their own workflows. If I give you a tool that is fantastic but you can’t put it into your daily processes, it becomes useless. We’ve seen this in the consumer technology sphere as well.
For lawyers, the most important thing is to stop and think about which area of their work automation can really help in. Think about the problems you really face and find solutions that can address those problems. Lawyers need to be very cognisant that one solution cannot solve all their problems. In some cases, it may be a very big problem that can only be solved with two or three pieces of software.
Given that you are a former lawyer, in your view what key problems or tools are the most important or would have the most impact?
Off the top of my head, a lawyer’s workflow has a few parts. One is legal research and that would involve managing your own knowledge. There’s also document management, discovery if you’re a litigator, timekeeping, generating invoices, and so on. Traditionally, the use of technology started more or less with e-discovery. That’s because people are faced with such a huge problem that they throw their hands up and say they can’t deal with it. Now, I would say that these are basic and in fact necessary, because recording on Excel or a piece of paper is not the most efficient.
That said, I think the core is to use technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to help with processes such as research and knowledge management, which is what INTELLLEX does. The point is to improve productivity and efficiency gains.
How do you see INTELLLEX growing in this industry?
When we started INTELLLEX, the term ‘legal technology’ was not even coined properly. I had the feeling that technology can help in many things. In the consumer space, we have Google which appears to understand your mind when you search for anything. But when we use any legal databases, we are stuck with old technology from the 1980s, such as Boolean searches, which would result in a lot of search results which are irrelevant. Then you have to read through manually and determine whether the cases are relevant or not.
You don’t want to redo any work. A lot of technology developments happen when people want to be more lazy and this is a worthy pursuit.
This discrepancy between what you see outside and what you see when you come into the office presented a whole new set of technology challenges. I thought it was worth doing something about it. The value that we want to bring to a lawyer or law firm is that we want to help you find answers that already exist in the work you have done before. You don’t want to redo any work. A lot of technology developments happen when people want to be more lazy and this is a worthy pursuit.
Hopefully INTELLLEX will be in every law firm helping people to manage their knowledge library and allowing people to very quickly retrieve the intellectual capital of the firm. This would help Singapore law firms to become more efficient and better compete with the international firms that have been employing technology.
These days, there has been a lot of talk about the “AI-pocalypse”. Based on what you’ve mentioned, it does not seem like something we need to worry about?
I think we have to differentiate between what AI can and can’t do. Sure, AI can play chess. But to say it can be like a human is an exaggeration. AI will only be good at one single thing you teach it to be. For example, if I train an AI to recognise a dog, it can tell me whether something is a dog or not. But if it is not a dog, it can’t tell me whether something is a cat or a kangaroo or a lion.
A lot of tasks that AI can do now is to help lawyers automate things a lot faster. It will be a tool for lawyers to use.
What are the key barriers to integrating such tech into the legal industry?
A lot of challenges stem from a misunderstanding of technology. When we go out and talk to people, there will be a group of people that think “can your machine do my job?”. I would be thinking “if a machine can do your job, why are you still existing?”. That’s a misunderstanding of what AI and technology can really do.
Other challenges include the fact that lawyers are really busy people who don’t have time to think about their processes, and encouraging the adoption of tools that are available as people are used to their existing methods.
Do you have any advice for people who want to start out in legal tech?
The first thing I want to say, as with all startups, is that it looks glamorous but there is a lot of hard work involved. You are faced with a lot of survival stresses and pressures. Fintech may be very established, but legal technology only started picking up steam last year. You will have to fight all the misunderstandings I mentioned earlier. We are still educating a lot of lawyers about what technology is.
There’s also a lot of cleaning of data when it comes to AI and machine learning which one must be prepared for. When it comes to cleaning up the data from cases, textbooks and articles, there’s no uniform way of doing it; and currently every legal tech company is doing it in its own way. While other fields doing natural language processing can use stock libraries and apply them, no one has really done it before in the legal domain. That’s a challenge people should be aware of.
Given all these difficulties, what keeps you going at INTELLLEX?
The slightly crazed belief that I want to make a dent in the legal industry. My motivation for starting INTELLLEX is to change the discrepancy between the way things are done inside and outside the legal industry. There are enough challenges that I face daily that keeps me going.
I’m still doing law, just that I’m thinking about law in a slightly different way. More generally, I’m thinking about the relationship between different legal concepts. Take contract law damages and tort law damages for instance, do the cases have enough similarities that I can group them together? That maintains my intellectual interest in law and I immensely enjoy what I’m doing.
What do you think people should get out of TechLaw.Fest?
If you’re talking about someone starting out in their legal career, I would say there is a high pace of change in the legal industry and this will not slow down. It is beneficial to them to know that technology is one of the domains that lawyers would need to advise on. For instance, when you talk about bitcoins or cryptocurrencies, what are the real issues behind it? Do we need a new set of regulations or can we regulate this area with existing frameworks? You need to understand all of that and cut through the hype to see how technology would permeate any area of legal practice that you choose in the future.
This piece of content was jointly produced by LawTech.Asia and the Singapore Academy of Law.
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