Opening Speech by Permanent Secretary (Law) and 2nd Permanent Secretary (Foreign Affairs) Luke Goh at the SMU Legal Innovation and Technology (LIT) Hackathon 2023
24 Jun 2023 Posted in [Speeches]
1. Good morning, everyone. Thank you for having me. I’m privileged to be able to address you at the opening of the 4th addition of this SMU LIT hackathon. This is my first time speaking at SMU since taking on this role at the Ministry of Law as the Permanent secretary. I have really just two key points to make, which I hope will gel with all of you who would have come with great interest, curiosity and passion relating to legal related problems and how technology can address them.
2. So the two points. First, speaking about stewardship. Stewardship as a concept, is something that I hold close, dearly and which I tend to carry with me to different organizations. Why does this matter, and what do I mean by stewardship? The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to our care. But the best layman description I have come across, is really about leaving the people, the place and situations and the issues that we encounter in a better state than when we first arrive, after we have gone through them. And to me, this is a useful frame that I try to practice that I tend to bring around with me as I move from an organization to another. Essentially to just be mindful, to think about how we bring improvements to people, to issues, and to the things entrusted to us.
3. These innovations that we do, the discussions, the brainstorming that we get into, sometimes it leads to incremental small improvements, but collectively they can mean a lot to our teams, organizations and to Singapore as a whole. What does this have to do with the hackathon, the idea of stewardship? Two examples. First, for the SMU Legal Innovation and Technology Club, you started this hackathon in 2019. And with the pandemic coming in full blown right after you pressed on and innovated, you adapted by hosting a fully virtual addition in 2021, then a hybrid addition in 2022. Now, today you have brought together, convened enthusiasts from different disciplines to identify legal related problems, to find solutions and to improve situations. This is stewardship at one level. Then, for all the rest of us, all the rest of you participants, who have committed the next few days, committed your time to taking part in the hackathon, I hope that you are here to have a sense of the experience, the adrenaline, to enjoy the company of one another.
4. But it’s really also very much about wanting to make a difference in the short space of time, to see whether we can come up with creative good solutions, drawing on technologies to deal with issues that may have plagued the legal industry for quite some time. It won’t be very easy, and the next few days, some of you may choose to skip some meals if you are in the thick of the big idea that you might be able to translate, I don’t know how much sleep you are going to decide to have. You might get into very intense debates as well, with your teammates, but the point is that there are use cases, that you have ideas and there’s the energy and the passion to seek to make a difference. So thank you for that. Thank you for being here. Thank you for being part of this. The theme of this year’s hackathon, access to justice, efficiency of work processes and remote working.
5. And I think there is a lot of scope drawing on these teams to have both imaginative possibilities dreamt up by you, and the solutions. What might being both and imaginative look like? Well, a couple of examples in Tamil Nadu, India. I understand that a couple held their wedding reception in the metaverse just last year, Metaverse. So in the virtual realm, solemnisation of marriages can be carried out in the metaverse. Can other statutory proceedings be done in a similar way? Another example in Spain, tech firms have used blockchain to create tools that enable traceable video calls for court proceedings and elections, for authentication.
6. Are there other use cases in the legal sphere where we can use blockchain to also enhance governance compliance, authenticity? I think more broadly, our external environment is changing very fast. I think you know that. Our world today is very different, even from four years ago, when the hackathon first started. Can we explore more possibilities in data protection, cybersecurity, blockchain, generative A.I.? And think Chatgpt and large language models, amongst many other innovations.
7. Let me get to my second point today, which is what the Ministry of Law’s views, what the government’s views are on legal tech.
8. First and foremost, I think we can be very clear that we believe technology is going to be an integral part in pretty much all levels of the US services delivery, and this is not farfetched. We know that information and transactions today move a great deal faster. We get live feeds pushed to our phones. We perform banking transactions digitally, instantaneously.
9. Clients of legal firms, and actually many firms are now users of technology. And the expectation is also going to be for legal service providers to be able to similarly offer digital solutions in legal hubs like New York, London and Singapore too, people are becoming more explicit in the use of AI in their firms, in low-code, no-code platforms when delivering services, and we can expect this to be a lot more common, including in Asia.
- So that is the impetus for why MinLaw, working with many stakeholders, launched the legal technology platform last July. The LTP, legal technology platform, is intended to support the Singapore law firms, particularly the small and medium ones who might otherwise be constrained by scale and resources, to kick start the digitalisation journey.
- It is a platform that is designed around legal workflows. It consolidates all communications, whether it is emails, chat, WhatsApp messages as well, into a single channel for each file, for each matter that is being dealt with, so that they are all in one place instead of being stored on multiple devices or different channels, and it helps lawyers to be a lot more productive.
- The platform is connected to commonly used legal tech tools as well. So interoperability is a principle behind it. This includes the firm’s existing practice management systems, document management systems, and also government systems eLitigation by the courts ACRA where company records are kept. All this, so that the key information on a single matter, on a file, can be accessed from one single entry point, and this is aimed at making the lawyer’s work more seamless.
- It also allows law firms to create their own templates in the cloud-based repository so that they can institutionalise their knowledge and standardise their work processes. This helps lawyers to be more consistent in their work quality. You know, the way I have described it, I think makes it look like or possibly sound like the platform is quite cut and dried.
- It has been organized to gain feedback and that is done in a certain way. But the reality is that an agile approach has been taken to it and continues to be the case with not quite bells and whistles, but with greater functionalities progressively added on. And that again, is done only through feedback from users, great attention to the user interface, the user experience, and also the different stakeholders’ needs, in order for it to be effective, and we look to continue improving on that. For those of you who have the opportunity or the experience to interact with the LTP, the tech platform at various points, we hope that you can give us your ideas and suggestions on how we can innovate on that as well. Ultimately, we are convinced that the Singapore law firms, some are already in it, others will be on the cusp of appreciating the importance of just what legal tech tools can do, and the desire to adopt a lot more of them to be future-ready, is only going to grow. I think we should also anticipate that the market for legal tech tools is going to be a sizable one and the demand for it is going to increase.
- There’s an estimate, I think, by Nasdaq, that the global market size on legal technology was $4 billion in 2022. And there are all these terms that have come up, legaltech, regtech for compliance, Ktech for contracting. And all this is expected to triple within four years by 2026. What this means is that we need not be constrained by the thought of small domestic market if we are looking to innovate in this sphere, but to think regionally, internationally already, of the size of that global legal tech pie.
- And we do have Singapore legal tech firms already in place. Great names. Tesseract, Intelllex and these are entities that had started here who are already internationalizing and setting up their presence in Europe, in time, I hope elsewhere. We hope to facilitate many more such firms here and then for them to venture overseas. So we have included an article, as an example, in the UK Singapore Digital Economy Agreement that is specifically addressed at legal tech collaboration across borders, so that in this case between the UK and Singapore, the businesses in legal tech sphere can pursue joint R&D opportunities and have a framework to do it in.
- As the use of legal tech proliferates and the demand for the tool increases. We can also expect the demand for professionals who operate at this intersection of law and technology to increase as well. Chief Justice Menon’s speech at the third France-Singapore Symposium on Law and Business is well worth reading. One of the key points that he made is that law firms will need to rethink their hiring and organisational practices.
- So, for example, the role of someone that we would describe as legal technologists, basically legally trained professionals, but with expertise in technology, who can bring entirely different and new competencies to bear. And these legal technologists will work with lawyers and allied legal professionals, or they would have skills in data analytics, design thinking and so forth. Again, from the perspective of using technology to enhance service delivery for legal firms, and we are seeing some of this happening already.
- Rajah & Tann, for example, WongPartnership, Clifford Chance. They have all set up their own legal tech and innovation teams, not just to look at the legal aspects of it, but tech teams that are there to look at how the delivery of legal services can be transformed. We also understand from industry that the demand for graduates who can appreciate technology and the legal issues arising from technology has grown and is expected to continue rising.
- So I encourage all of you today, who are here, to stay curious, keep pondering about how technology can disrupt and change legal service delivery and how the law, the legislation, has to evolve with technology advancements to give them effect. Finally, as technology becomes more sophisticated, so earlier on, I talked about ChatGPT. One of the questions is going to be whether lawyers will end up being replaced by technology.
- This is not unique to the legal sector. Many other sectors are asking that. I think we have to expect disruption from technology and innovation and we cannot turn a blind eye to this. At the same time, there is increased conviction also, that technology cannot entirely replace humans in many cases. Law is, at the root of it, a human profession where the clients have to see the lawyers not just as a mechanical problem solver, but as, in some cases, confidants, as advisors, as consultants.
- And often, the decisions that are made, is as much about arriving at good outcomes in the relational way, as much as it is about what the legal rights and the strength of the legal case is. So we have deal and to bring together both, especially those involved in family law, where emotions very much come into it.
- Then in complex commercial cases, there are different contexts, there are different nuances, and lawyers are going to be needed as well, to formulate a robust case strategy. We look at where ChatGPT is today. We know, this is documented, that it was set to take the US law exams. It passed with a C+ grade. Then there are also reports and actually people who have experimented, including at MinLaw, we are trying some of this, where it is very clear that it is superb at providing a good first draft, which then whether a lawyer or policy maker can then go on to refine, but it struggles with some quite classic components of the law exams such as potential legal issues. When certain context is put to it and the ability to do deep analysis, applying legal rules to the facts.
- I would not bet against ChatGPT or large language models generally, however, in overcoming these shortfalls in time. What it means is that then we and the humans, lawyers, we have to think about how we can continue to offer quality services and to keep pushing ahead on that frontier, working alongside legal technologists to use technology to deliver value-added services to clients.
- Coming to a close, the government and the Ministry of Law will continue to support the development of the legal sector and the legal technical system. For it to take off though, and become truly integral to the legal industry. We are going to need all of you, both the industry players, but also young innovators, enthusiasts to join and to be part of this transformation journey.
- So once again, I applaud and I thank you for taking the interest, for signing up, taking this step to join this hackathon and all of it as part and parcel of contributing to the legal tech ecosystem. I hope you find the next few days rewarding and I encourage you to keep on at it and to think about joining the legal tech profession or to become a lawyer. Think about what your product is going to be, what the value of the idea is going to be, and bring it to market. Feel free to bounce off your ideas with MinLaw friends and colleagues. We are always happy to speak and to engage. Thank you very much.
Last updated on 24 Jun 2023