Postcard from Singapore

With each postcard, Legal Geek speaks to members of the legal community from outside the #LegalTech heartlands. Our third postcard comes from Singapore, where Legal Geek is hosting a pitching competition on May 17 as part of our Around the World Tour with:

As the saying goes ‘if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.’

Singapore has decided that LegalTech is very much worth doing and is throwing the kitchen sink at doing it well.

“When Singapore decides to do something they put all their effort behind it,” Chris Powell, explains to Legal Geek.

Chris PowellChris Powell: Chris is a co-founder of Singapore-based start-up LegalFAB – a platform providing automation and monitoring for the entire contract lifecycle.

“As an example let’s take an event at the beginning of April called TechLaw.Fest. Attending the event were members of parliament, ministers even, so you realise that as a government initiative they are not just giving it lip service, they are putting their full support behind it.”

Powell is well placed to make such a call having worked in finance across Singapore and Hong Kong for the past 10 years before co-founding LegalFAB in 2017.

Another industry figure well placed to assess the LegalTech scene is Luminance CEO Emily Foges whose company operate in 23 countries and opened their Singapore office in February.

Emily FogesEmily Foges: Emily is the CEO of Luminance, an AI platform for due diligence, compliance, insurance or contract management.

Her assessment is that the government’s intention in supporting the LegalTech scene is to help Singapore become one of Asia’s continental capitals for LegalTech.

“It’s really exciting time in Singapore. The government have worked out that they are rightly positioned to support the Asia-Pacific region as a hub for LegalTech, and law firms are jumping on board.”

A key manifestation of the government’s involvement in the LegalTech scene has been the creation of FLIP (or the Future Law Innovation Programme to give it it’s full title), by the Singapore Academy of Law.

FLIP is a two-year pilot programme which launched in January and which aims to create a vibrant ecosystem for legal technology. So far, 25 companies have signed up to be involved including the likes of Dentons Rodyk, Zegal, and BNP Paribas.

A crucial part of FLIP, as Manager Noemie Alintissar explains to Legal Geek, is simply providing a physical space for tech-enabled law firms and LegalTech start-ups to meet.

Noemie AlintissarNoemie Alintissar: Noemie joined the Singapore Academy of Law in May 2017 as the Manager of FLIP. She has led the development of FLIP’s identity and purpose ever since. 

“What we are seeing in Singapore is the emergence of a movement that wasn’t really there a year ago, “says Alintissar. “Our role is to try and bring in an ecosystem that helps companies along their tech journey. We’re not that different from Legal Geek, and I like to think we are at the heart of a lot of things that are happening in LegalTech over here.”

Yet there are the customary challenges in Singapore as anywhere else, and Alintissar is well aware of them.

“80% of law firms in Singapore have 5 partners or less. And these little law firms don’t have time to think about how to do things better, they have their head down trying to get the work that is coming in through the door done.

“And whilst the top tier law firms are starting to wrap their heads around technology, I think you would be surprised at how mechanical their practices are when you compare them to a magic circle law firm in London.”

Powell agrees: “There are early adopters out there, but lawyers in Singapore do tend to be fairly averse to change so it’s a matter of trying to say we don’t want to take away lawyers jobs, just for you to compete better as a lawyers.”

But the mood music is changing and one of the key agents of change are the dynamic and innovative meet-ups hosted by FLIP.

In its’ first four months, FLIP has hosted the Singapore legs of the Global Legal Hackathon and the Global Computational Law & Blockchain Festival, whilst Global Design Company IDEO and legal innovator Mark Cohen have both also hosted workshops there. And this month, Legal Geek will be stopping off to hold a stage of our Round the World Tour in collaboration with the Singapore Academy of Law. The event takes place on 17th May.

The frequency of FLIP’s events is impressive, and so too is the broad demographic of guests who typically attend, which Powell describes as “a third being technologists, a third attorneys and the final third are in-house counsel – a good mix.”

Alintissar keenly adds that students also attend, as well as “people who have nothing to do with the law” –  which Legal Geek feels is a cast-iron sign of an interesting event.

Legal Geek Conference