Legal tech should benefit both industry and public

A photo taken in 2017 showing a lawyer speaking to a client outside the State Courts.
A photo taken in 2017 showing a lawyer speaking to a client outside the State Courts.PHOTO: ST FILE

Law Minister K. Shanmugam, at the recent TechLaw.Fest conference, showed his audience an example where five contracts were reviewed by artificial intelligence in a mere 26 seconds - versus 20 experienced human lawyers taking 92 minutes - and with greater accuracy.

With local fees for top lawyers among the world's highest (On phone with lawyer? That will go into bill, Sept 8), technology has made it possible for routine legal work to be done in a much quicker and far less costly manner.

The question is: Are such cost savings passed on to the clients?

If access to justice is still possible only via exorbitantly priced litigation, it is no less elusive.

There is a significant segment of the population who can neither afford a good lawyer nor qualify for free legal service, given that the qualifying income ceiling squats at $10,000 a year.

The Community Justice and Tribunals System (CJTS) is a great initiative by the State Courts.

It allows parties to, among other things, lodge a claim, file applications and submit support documents online, eliminating the need for court attendance. The CJTS also allows users to view documents submitted by the opposing party and monitor case development online.

To level the playing field for litigants-in-person (LIP), the courts may wish to consider making e-litigation available to LIP, eliminating the need for them to file at third-party agencies and granting them the same ability as law firms to view documents filed by the opposing party.

In situations where parties are to exchange filings simultaneously, it will prevent law firms from taking unfair advantage of LIP by falsely claiming that they (the law firms) have filed - when in fact they have not - only to feast on the LIP's filing while unjustly soliciting more time to tailor theirs accordingly.

The Ministry of Law has done well to motivate Singapore to stay at the forefront of legal technology.

I hope the benefits not only help those in the legal industry, but also improve access to justice by cutting legal costs and offering innovative solutions to the population at large.

Lily Ong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 11, 2019, with the headline 'Legal tech should benefit both industry and public'. Print Edition | Subscribe