Written by Marc Chia | Edited by Amelia Chew

Rajah & Tann Technologies (R&T Technologies), the dedicated tech arm of Rajah & Tann Asia recently completed its acquisition of LegalComet for an undisclosed sum.

Rajah & Tann has long been one of the leading law firms in Singapore. In more recent times, the firm has begun exploring the delivery of tech-augmented legal services, most notably through the setup of Rajah & Tann Technologies in 2017. This move has placed Rajah & Tann alongside prominent international names such as Linklaters and Allen & Overy, both of which are recognised for their strong innovation efforts. Linklaters and Allen & Overy have set up incubators in order to nurture and work alongside legal tech startups to change the business of law.

In contrast, R&T Technologies’ current model of operations is not based on incubation of startups but rather acquiring and offering capabilities in legal tech itself. The team has identified six key areas of expertise: Data Breach Readiness & Response; Cybersecurity; Virtual Law Academy; E-Discovery; LegalTech; and RegTech. R&T Technologies’ offerings are designed for both their existing clientele as well as other law firms seeking to implement legal tech solutions. Headed by Rajesh Sreenivasan and Steve Tan as Directors; Wong Onn Chee as Technical Director; and Ong Ba Sou as Chief Technology Officer, the R&T Technologies team brings with them a broad range of experience in law, technology and project management.

R&T Technologies’ newly completed acquisition of LegalComet, a firm specialising in the provision of e-discovery services, signals its seriousness in pursuing capabilities in legal technology. The latter is one of the few dedicated legal tech advisory services operating within the region, covering E-Discovery, Forensic Technology and Data Governance.

LegalComet’s founder Michael Lew joined the team as Chief Operating Officer, adding his expertise to what is quickly becoming a major player in Singapore’s legal tech scene. With over 17 years of consulting experience in technology risk management, cyber forensics, electronic discovery and in recent years, legal AI (artificial intelligence), Michael Lew is a strong addition to an already impressive lineup.

The acquisition enables Rajah & Tann Asia to now provide a full suite of e-discovery solutions alongside its legal offerings. According to Michael, the acquisition “enables the provision of e-discovery services that are buttressed by a knowledge of the legal regime and the requirements of the law. With an increasingly digitized world, the need for e-discovery services to drive discovery of evidence or satisfaction of regulatory requirements is an increasingly key one.”

What else is Rajah & Tann Technologies doing?

In an interview with LawTech.Asia, Rajesh commented that while R&T Technologies is still focused on building a team of thought leaders at the top levels of the firm, it is open to the possibility of further acquisitions to build up talent and technical capacity. One area of interest is the possible acquisition of more talent in cybersecurity.

Lawtech.Asia also learnt that R&T Technologies is working alongside the Singapore Academy of Law (SAL) Ventures to launch the first e -discovery certification programme in Asia. The programme, which will give participants the knowledge and expertise to use legaltech tools for e-discovery, will involve classroom theory sessions, practical workshops as well as self-study e-learning lessons on R&T Technologies’ Virtual Law Academy. The Academy enables the provision of jurisdiction-specific training material provided by leading lawyers from Rajah & Tann Asia’s offices across the region. This was set up in reaction to clients who had commented on the need for high fidelity training material on legal rights and obligations.

As Director Steve elaborates: “The move gives clients access to e-learning tools that enable them to fulfill their regulatory requirements. This also disrupts the way legal services are traditionally delivered by enabling clients to have access on demand.”

On the startup front, while R&T Technologies is not actively setting up an incubator, the firm has been playing a facilitative role in the startup ecosystem. The firm has been actively involved in efforts by SAL’s Future Law Innovation Programme (FLIP), offering advice and support for startups in the scene.

The challenges of legal tech in ASEAN

Commenting on the challenges of legal tech adoption in Singapore, Director Rajesh Sreenivasan says: “There are some significant differences in the legal tech ecosystem here that presents a different set of challenges to that posed abroad. In US and London for example, we see a much more mature market. This is seen not just in investments sums available but also talent bridging the gap between technology and law. Nonetheless, Singapore’s key advantage is that legal tech is being driven not just by private industry but alongside the judiciary and the government, making development much faster.”

Private sector investment remains an important gap in the legal tech ecosystem here but there are efforts being undertaken to get the investment community interested. In 2017, SAL Ventures was founded as a subsidiary of SAL to support the development of “Future Law” related enterprises by encouraging innovation and facilitating investment into legal tech and NewLaw start-ups based in Singapore.

As Paul Neo, COO of SAL and Executive Director of SAL Ventures, commented: “Singapore’s advantage has always been its multi-stakeholder approach to industry and in this regard we have to get investors interested by making them aware of commercial opportunities in this space. One of the ways that we have sought to do this is to get involved with the Fintech community, most recently through the Singapore Fintech Festival, and we look forward to more collaborations with events and media to raise the profile of legal tech.”

The future of legal tech

While the legal tech space is currently abuzz with activity, there remains some questions as to how firms in this space can deliver value to a broader audience. Some observers have noted the fragmented nature of legal tech at present, with each vendor offering siloed point solutions, makes it tedious for adopters who are often looking for a one-stop solution to all their needs.

Expressing his view on this, Rajesh elaborates: “The possible end game that would be beneficial for the entire industry of both tech and legal services providers may be to move from individual provision of services to a virtual platform that enables the joint provision of services online. This means not simply a marketplace for software but access to legal services and professionals in a manner that is multi-jurisdictional and accessible. One area where things are already ripe for change is in the field of online dispute resolution (ODR) which is going to be increasingly important given the regional agreements being signed by the ASEAN Economic Community.”

Given its prominent spot in Singapore’s active legal tech ecosystem, R&T Technologies may be well placed to lead the pulling together of resources and stakeholders necessary to establish such a platform in the future.