$2.8m scheme to help smaller law firms adopt tech

Law Society of Singapore president Gregory Vijayendran said the technology programme aims to target the some 850 smaller law firms here.
Law Society of Singapore president Gregory Vijayendran said the technology programme aims to target the some 850 smaller law firms here.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Lawyers can soon tap a government fund to defray the cost of adopting technology in their daily work, under a new $2.8 million scheme launched yesterday.

Called Tech Start for Law, the programme will pay up to 70 per cent of a law firm's first-year costs for five selected technology products, across areas such as practice management, legal research and online marketing.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said on the sidelines of the media briefing yesterday that the programme benefits smaller law firms which may not have the resources to upgrade themselves.

Of the 874 law firms in Singapore, 852 are small and medium-sized practices with fewer than 30 lawyers who face challenges with the rise of disruptive technology in the legal sector, such as software allowing would-be clients to draft their own legal documents.

"The legal profession, like many other sectors, faces challenges in this new world, and among the things required to stay ahead would be to invest in quality manpower and technology," Mr Shanmugam said.

The launch of the programme was jointly announced by the Ministry of Law, the Law Society of Singapore and Spring Singapore, which will provide funding under its Collaborative Industry Projects initiative.

TAKING STEPS TO STAY AHEAD

The legal profession, like many other sectors, faces challenges in this new world, and among the things required to stay ahead would be to invest in quality manpower and technology.

HOME AFFAIRS AND LAW MINISTER K. SHANMUGAM

Law Society president Gregory Vijayendran cited a study last year commissioned by the society which found only 9 per cent of the small and medium-sized firms here used technology-enabled productivity tools.

The cost of the tools is a key reason for the low adoption rate, he said. But with some of the initial costs now defrayed, he urged lawyers to embrace these technologies to improve productivity and deliver better legal services to their clients.

"For instance, those who have better knowledge management, optimised by their own document repository, could have at least 25 to 30 per cent savings of time on their part," he said.

The five products available under the scheme are practice management systems CoreMatter, Lexis Affinity and Clio; online legal research tool Intelllex; and online marketing tool Asia Law Network.

These products, which were selected after an open call for proposals was issued at the end of last year, typically cost firms between $3,000 and $30,000 to adopt.

Besides cost, Infinitus Law Corporation lawyer Mark Teng said there are also other practical considerations.

A medium-sized firm such as his, which has about 20 lawyers, may need to appoint a coordinator to integrate the technology with current processes, he said.

"An appropriate coordinator is key to minimising the opportunity cost of legal technology adoption. The coordinator is usually a practising lawyer, and every hour spent doing unbillable work is opportunity cost," said Mr Teng. "If left unchecked, such opportunity costs may be even higher than the subscription costs of the software itself."

But with the support of the scheme, he said, the firm will explore the adoption of Intelllex to improve its knowledge management. Intelllex will allow the firm to better organise, retrieve and share information, as well as access a composite database of cases across jurisdictions.

Outreach efforts by the Law Society have been lined up for the next few months, including a legal technology roadshow next month.

Under the Tech Start for Law programme, law firms can apply to use up to three of the five products, depending on their needs. Applications open tomorrow and will end on Feb 28 next year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 28, 2017, with the headline '$2.8m scheme to help smaller law firms adopt tech'. Print Edition | Subscribe