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Interview by Audrey Koo and Eugene Tham | Edited by Jennifer Lim Wei Zhen

TechLaw.Fest 2018 will take place from 4 to 6 April 2018 in Singapore, bringing together the movers and shakers in the space of Technology Law and Legal Technology. In the lead-up to TechLaw.Fest, the LawTech.Asia team will be bringing to you regular interviews and shout-outs covering prominent speakers and the topics they will be speaking at TechLaw.Fest.

LawTech.Asia sat down for a chat with Serena Lim, Director at Bizibody Technology, Opus 2 International (Singapore) and Litigation Edge. Prior to founding Bizibody, she was the managing director of Khattar Wong & Partner’s Hong Kong Office. She is, inter alia, a specialist in practice management technologies, and is a consultant for discovery, litigation and court technologies.

At TechLaw.Fest 2018, Serena will be a panellist at the “Legal Tech Primer Session” at the Tech of Law Exchange. She will be introducing current legal research, document review and knowledge management tools.

What are some examples of legal secretarial work that are repetitive, and which your company has helped automated?

Two examples are (1) billings and (2) document preparation. These are areas of legal practice in which automation is possible and useful.

Let me illustrate what a law firm has to do without the aid of automation when issuing  bills or doing substantive legal work such as conveyancing, personal injury, debt collection and corporate secretarial work.

Issuing bills

Pre-Automation: Repetition & Duplication

From the time that a recoverable disbursement is incurred to the time of billing the client  for that disbursement, the law firm has to enter the same disbursement entry at 5 to 6 stages of this seemingly simple process: (1) it starts with the support staff raising a payment request / voucher; (2) the payment request / voucher is physically approved by a partner; (3) the accounts department keys the payment into an accounting system; (4) the accounts department prepares the cheque, or the payment is authorised by the support staff in the online e-litigation / elodgement system and printed out; (5) the payment is hand annotated in the physical file; (6) the disbursement is keyed into the invoice that is sent to the client. That’s an incredible amount of manual admin work for a process that adds very little value to the delivery of legal services.

Automation: Efficiency & Accuracy

Now the process is: the support staff keys in the particulars in a practice management system, which triggers an alert to the partner for approval, after which the information is automatically duplicated in all the required places – accounting system, e-litigation/ e-lodgement system, invoice, etc. The data is only entered once, and therefore only needs checking once.

Substantive legal work

Pre-Automation: Repetition & Duplication

In all areas of practice, a large proportion of legal work involves document preparation. Using traditional copy-and-paste techniques – copying from precedents, and pasting them into document being worked on at that time – generating such documents is unnecessarily time consuming. In addition to the time involved, the manual process iss prone to human error, which leaves the firm in a high risk situation.

Automation: Efficiency & Accuracy

Automated documents are templates, based on copies of original data. So long as the original template is correct, the rest of the documents based off that parent template will be correct. In a series of related documents, you simply key in the particulars in the database, and it is automatically duplicated onto the rest of the relevant documents, without having to manually “copy and paste” into each document.

In the drafting of contracts, document automation makes it possible to generate a document by systematically keying in answers for “if-then” questions posted by the software. Consequential changes, based on the answers provided, will also be generated.

What are some misconceptions that lawyers have with legal technology, that may hold them back from using this technology?

The first misconception is that using technology will lead to reduced profits, due to the following:

(1) While they can charge back most of the costs incurred on a matter back to the client, they cannot shift the cost of the software to their clients; and

(2) Law firms charge at an hourly rate; by using technology and becoming more efficient, their billable hours are reduced and, consequently, their revenue.

However, these are entirely misconceived. If the lawyer is more productive, he frees up more time, and can take up more cases. In addition, the improved productivity resulting from automation can reduce costs in the long run, the firm will be more price competitive and therefore attract more clients.

The second misconception is that a law firm incurs a much higher risk of having their documents hacked and security compromised if they adopt a cloud storage system. Therefore, they prefer on premise servers. In reality, however, their servers are not any safer than the cloud storage solution, as they still are ultimately connected to the internet, allowing access by hackers.

I would, in fact, argue that the cloud is a lot safer for the following reasons:

(1) The cloud automatically backs up your data in real time, so even if the main server is down, the data is already in the cloud;

(2) The IT personnel who work for cloud services like Amazon and Microsoft are more adept than the IT personnel who service the law firm; and

(3) With technological advancements, backup and storage is cheap, as evidenced by the many small law firms who subscribe to cloud services.

My second advice is to be persistent. Jumping in is easy. Surviving and being persistent is very hard – but it is very good character building. 

You were a lawyer in your past life. What would you say to motivate current lawyers who are dreaming of making the same leap you did?

I advise law graduates who aspire to go into legal technology to first acquire first hand work experience in a law firm for 1-3 years. By doing so, they will then be able to identify the inefficiencies of the current legal practice, which translate into opportunities for innovation. It is also more meaningful since they are using legal technology to address the pain points that they have personally experienced.

My second advice is to be persistent. Jumping in is easy. Surviving and being persistent is very hard – but it is very good character building. Bizibody survived the dotcom bubble burst through sheer perseverance. We started Bizibody in the year 2000 when websites were nascent, technology was expensive and difficult to use, and there was no cloud nor mobile, but this did not stop us from pressing on, making the best of what we had. And look at what’s happened today, legal technology adoption is now viewed not just as being critical to law firm performance, but as being vital to the survival of the legal profession as  a whole.

This piece of content was jointly produced by LawTech.Asia and the Singapore Academy of Law.

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