‘Blockchain’, ‘Smart Contract’, ‘NewLaw’. Dubbed the ‘uberisation’ of legal services — is this just fleeting hype, or are these new legal tech trends here to stay? If it is the latter, will it disrupt the livelihoods of legal practitioners, or enable lawyers to enhance their practice? While these buzzwords may sound like gobbledygook (read: tech jargon) to the everyday lawyer, talk about impending ‘disruption’ in the legal industry is rife.
According to Malaysian Bar President George Varughese, “legal technology is still somewhat an enigma in this region”. He said this during his welcoming address at #LexTech17 — the inaugural LexTech Conference 2017 which took place on 4-5 November 2017 in Cyberjaya. He also added — “Some of us know it well and welcome it with an embrace but many of us are threatened by its penetration and understandably so. It’s disruptive, it’s innovative and it’s necessary.”
Jointly organised by CanLaw Asia and Brickfields Asia College (BAC), the two-day conference saw the region’s leading legal practitioners and legal tech innovators come together to share their ideas and solutions on legal innovation. Topics that were discussed throughout the expert panel and breakout sessions on both days centred around four issues: The role of regulators and accelerators in legal innovation, blockchain and smart contracts, Artificial Intelligence (AI) in legal research, and how legal practitioners can future-proof their practice.
The following are four key themes from the conference:
Guest writer Pang Jo Fan—Head of Marketing & Communications at legaltech lawyer-discovery service CanLaw—presents his views on why Malaysia’s Bar Council should be encouraging the development and introduction of legaltech to ensure access to justice.
Of late, there has been a spike in legal technology startups in the Malaysian market providing innovative tech solutions to assist both the public and lawyers in their day-to-day legal needs. Other than the more veteran players such as eLawyer and OfficeParrots who have been tirelessly serving Malaysian law firms with their human resource needs, there are also recent players such as Lesys Tenancy (tenancy agreements), BurgieLaw (legal directory), Dragon Law (document drafting), EasyLaw (calculators for lawyers), Locum Legalis (MOB app) and, of course, CanLaw (lawyer-discovery).
Much has been said about the Bar Council’s denial of Dragon Law’s entry to the Malaysian market and the infamous lawsuit against Answers-In-Law. The Malaysian Lawyer also provided an insightful update on the said matters based on the report by the Legal Profession Committee dated 1 December 2016 contained in the 2016/17 Annual Report of the Malaysian Bar. As it stands, it appears that the legal industry remains rather cautious of any form of tech innovations that are being introduced into the profession, mostly due to the general misconception that technological innovations pose a threat to the livelihoods of law practitioners in the country.
[edit: Burgielaw has responded to this article to clarify matters: “Burgielaw.com wishes to clarify that, as of today, Bar Council has neither disapproved nor disallowed the application of Burgielaw.com.”]
The article was prompted by a report that the then Malaysian Bar President, Steven Thiru, had confirmed that Dragon Law‘s entry into the Malaysian market was being scrutinised. Do re-read that article for an analysis of the state of legal innovation in Malaysia at the time.
This article seeks to provide an update on the Bar Council’s stance on services in the innovative legaltech sphere—BurgieLaw, CanLaw (which was launched after the earlier article), and Dragon Law—based on the report by the Legal Profession Committee (“LPC”) dated 1 December 2016 contained in the 2016/17 Annual Report of the Malaysian Bar.
The mid-year months of June to August are traditionally popular periods for legal career fairs in Malaysia. During these months, law students are either on a break in between semesters, or on their summer holidays before the start of the new school year.
In recent years, there has been a notable decline in interest in these legal career fairs. Employers who have been participating in these events started noticing a few years ago that the number of attendees was beginning to drop. After some time, we are now seeing employers beginning to lose interest too, and the number of law firms and other employers who are willing to spend on taking up spaces at legal career fairs have reduced dramatically.
The failure of the most recent legal career fair in Kuala Lumpur — the Bar Council’s “Legal Expo” (LEXPO) on 30 July — is a perhaps extreme example of this trend.
On 27 May 2016, the President of the Malaysian Bar issued a Circular to members of the Malaysian Bar (“Proposal to Amend the Legal Profession Act 1976 is a Severe Threat to the Independence of the Malaysian Bar“). The Circular informed members that the Bar Council had been notified by the Attorney General’s Chambers that the Government intends to pursue drastic amendments to the Legal Profession Act 1976 (“LPA”), and that those amendments “pose a serious threat to the independence of the Malaysian Bar, and are an unwarranted interference into the self-regulation and internal management of the Malaysian Bar”.
For now, users in Malaysia will be able to find and customise legal documents, sign and share the documents electronically, and organise and store these documents in the cloud. Users in Hong Kong and Singapore have access to various other services, including personalised training, access to a legal drafting help desk and legal clinics, invitations to seminars and events, and legal support from the Dragon Law team and their network of lawyers. The subscription packages for Malaysia have not been announced, but the pricing in Singapore starts at SGD175 per month.
On 12 June 2016, a story in The Star (Legal start-up’s services scrutinised by Malaysian Bar) reported that Dragon Law‘s entry into Malaysia has come under the scrutiny of the Malaysian Bar. It was reported that Malaysian Bar President Steven Thiru has confirmed that Dragon Law‘s services were being studied.
From what we’ve discussed so far, it’s obvious that currently the ideal is very far from reality.
The conveyancing ecosystem in Malaysia means that a non-lawyer intending to complete a sale and purchase agreement without a lawyer will end up entering a maze. It’s dangerous, it’s complicated, and it’s impossible.
I’m sure that the organisers know this — that “DIY conveyancing” isn’t possible now. But the purpose of the project is to ideate solutions for the future.
What needs to change for DIY conveyancing to be possible? Hopefully CALR and others can come up with some solutions. Here are my quick thoughts before everyone gets to ideating.