Technology is the one area where things haven’t come to a complete halt during the pandemic. There’s a lot of talk about the post-COVID legaltech momentum. This week, we review some recent legaltech developments in Asia. And we start in India where Cyril Amarcand Mangaldas‘ Prarambh incubator has just selected a second group of three companies.
Of Law.com International in Hong Kong, it is the Asia legal briefing. I am Anna Zhang, here to help you digest some of the stories my colleagues and I write about law and legal business in Asia. We are leaving next week; the next issue will arrive on June 24/25. You can also find this briefing here on our website and sign up to receive copies straight to your inbox. And do not hesitate to share your comments and reactions on [email protected] or on Twitter @lawdotcomasia.
At first, I really struggled to find the pandemic link for CAM’s recent selection, especially Conduct, whose relevance to COVID-19, the overall theme of the second cohort, was unclear. The company helps clients manage gender-related employment issues, from meeting your quota of female executives to training to handling sexual misconduct complaints. Ultimately, these things in a remote work context have been the connection to the pandemic, tangentially. A bit of a stretch, but again, it’s been over six years. You want it to be ready to evolve.
It’s hard. Progress in legaltech is very hard, very slow, despite people constantly trying to talk about it. In April, my colleague Jessica Seah talk to Rama Tiwarithe new chief executive of the Singapore Law Academy, who remarked that the pandemic had managed to compress the multi-year process of mindset change in the legal sector into a matter of months.
It will be some time before we know if the coronavirus is indeed the transformative event that the legaltech industry has been waiting for. Legal firms in Asia have made no shortage of efforts to try to integrate technology into their practice before the pandemic – assuming there is genuine interest in pursuing technological progress instead of doling out gadgetry. business – and they’ve had to deal with more than just a lack of appreciation for cloud computing or e-commerce technology that the lack of physical connections during the pandemic has supposedly forced us to acknowledge.
CAM was one of the few Asian companies to get ahead of legaltech. In 2017, the company became one of the first Asian companies to adopt technologies developed by Kira Systems, a Canadian company that makes document review software using AI. In 2019 he launched Prarambh, dubbed an incubator although the company has not made any financial investment in the companies it has mentored – this could change depending on how the second cohort fares at the end of a 16 week program. Prarambh’s first batch of graduates – an AI-powered technology that helps match law graduates with internship opportunities at leading law firms, paperless electronic signature and stamping software and a data mining technology focused on the analysis of court decisions – all received useful aids from the program, according to the firm.
A few other companies are involved in technology-related efforts. The other half of the Amarchand legacy, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co, joined Singapore’s GLIDE legaltech accelerator program as a mentor, alongside others such as Clifford Chance and Amazon Web Services. GLIDE is part of the Singapore Law Academy’s Future Law Innovation Program in which the government is trying to help small and medium-sized law firms learn about technologies and start using them in practice and operations .
Then there’s Trilegal, a leading company that funded a tech nonprofit aimed at improving access to justice in India. The Agami Prize funds and incubates ideas that help reform or advance issues ranging from legal education to intellectual property to criminal justice reform.
Outside of access to justice apps, there isn’t much technology initiative from the industry side. Only one of Prarambh’s first three graduates is directly related to the practice of lawyers, although litigation analysis can technically help any litigant. In the new cohort, besides Conduct, the other two are an online real estate due diligence checker and a virtual arbitration and mediation institution. Again, none of them are specifically focused on the legal services industry itself.
So think about it, walking around might be the only thing to do. Ultimately, you’re dealing with a domestic industry that wouldn’t give an inch to anyone outside. Given what happened, do we really want to know how the BCI will react to people’s cries of “the robot is coming!”
And that reminds me of a conversation I had with someone who regularly deals with Indian lawyers; and I still don’t know what to do with it. We were talking about legaltech and he said there was a lack of incentives among companies. I thought it made sense that they wanted to protect lawyers’ jobs. But he said no, using human lawyers was cheaper than buying these technologies. So that was a few years ago before COVID. Maybe things are different now.
India is not the only country that has these problems. Wherever the legal services sector is regulated, innovation is likely to face certain obstacles. In Korea, for example, regulations regarding who can offer legal services are often cited as an obstacle to the development of legaltech. Then there’s the good old mindset problem, or lack of will to invest, or short-sightedness, call it what you want. Can COVID solve this problem?
One thing that is demonstrably true is that Asia is lagging behind in the development of indigenous legal technology that can be adopted industry-wide. Most of the major systems that companies use today are developed in the West. Kira is Canadian; in May, Japanese company Nagashima Ohno & Tsunematsu began using the company’s technology in mergers and acquisitions work. Kira’s rival, Luminance, is based in London and has developed Asian language capabilities and supported several Asian-based client companies.
It’s all for this week. Thanks for reading. You will find more Asia Pacific cover here at Law.com International. While you’re at it, sign up for our weekly Asia Alert newsletter, go to Newsletters section under My account. And stay in touch on [email protected]. Until next time.