Honing competitive edge of legal profession

Mr Vijayendran cites three innovative approaches, including "low bono" firms which provide legal services at lower-than- market rates and cut costs by running a paperless and virtual office.
Mr Vijayendran cites three innovative approaches, including "low bono" firms which provide legal services at lower-than- market rates and cut costs by running a paperless and virtual office.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Law Society's new president on challenges lawyers face and the need to leverage on tech

Newly elected Law Society president Gregory Vijayendran has urged lawyers to improve their competitive edge as the legal services market here becomes internationalised.

In an interview with The Straits Times last week, Mr Vijayendran, 48, said: "Bread-and-butter issues are coming at a critical time when there are unprecedented economic challenges... being felt by every law firm... And related to that is the whole theme of disruption that comes about as a result of technology."

Mr Vijayendran, a partner with Rajah & Tann, succeeded Senior Counsel Thio Shen Yi as the society's president on Jan 1, taking office as it turns 50.

He cited three innovative approaches, including "low bono" firms which provide legal services at lower-than-market rates and cut costs by running a paperless and virtual office. Such firms increase access to legal services for people of moderate means.

Eden Law, headed by lawyer June Lim, is one such example. It is paperless and rides on the best legal tech options in the market. Its staff can work from anywhere with clients - at void decks and hospitals and shelters or even abroad during extended vacations.

Ms Lim said leveraging on legal technology means there is no mark-up of legal costs to pay for rent and staff - the two big-ticket items for any small business.

There is also Vanilla Law, which Mr Vijayendran describes as one that combines "the best of tradition, traditional model practice and the best of the technological model of practice".

The firm gives clients access to an online portal to draw up their legal documents from the templates offered, and their prepared documents are reviewed by a lawyer.

Then there is lawyer Lalitha Srinivasan who, according to client feedback, distinguishes herself by going the extra mile.

On the technology front, Mr Vijayendran - vice-president of the Law Society last year - said there is a critical gap in innovation, citing a key industry study from commissioned consultants last year which found 95 per cent of participants did not experiment or innovate within their firms.

The study also found that in going paperless and operating a virtual office - using an iPad and working on the move without permanent office space - law firms could cut operating costs by 66 per cent.

He said locally-qualified lawyers should think in "fresh, innovative ways", in the wake of some 1,300 foreign lawyers being registered here and efforts to grow Singapore as a leading international legal hub.

"I've met lawyers who are enterprising enough not to see foreign lawyers as a threat and who see the world as their oyster. And we are very blessed because the Singapore brand is a very strong international brand," he added.

The society is launching an initiative with Spring Singapore next month where law firms can seek financial support to raise their productivity and business capabilities.

The society also sees opportunities in the mediation industry and is set to launch a mediation scheme next month.

Mr Vijayendran earned the Law Society's inaugural Pro Bono Ambassador Award in 2009, and the Good Samaritan Award from the Washington-based Advocates International in 2008.

This year, the Law Society will see a consolidation of its various pro bono services under a single subsidiary - the Law Society Pro Bono Services Ltd.

"There's a passion about pro bono that is... stronger than in some of the preceding generations. And I think we need to harness that energy, that altruistic energy in a better way than we have," he said.

• Additional reporting by Ng Huiwen

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 02, 2017, with the headline 'Honing competitive edge of legal profession'. Print Edition | Subscribe