This is Part 2 of our special market report on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the various MCOs on the Malaysian legal industry. Before reading on, you should read Part 1, where we addressed the financial issues (paycuts, volume of legal work, and revenues), remote working, and technology.
In this second part, we report on the impact of the pandemic on office/work culture, how law firms addressed employee mental health issues, and examine how the industry could have done better in dealing with the various challenges, and what the future holds. Again, these findings are not our own conclusions, but are a collection of the views of several lawyers who very kindly took the time to share their experiences with us. Some have asked to remain anonymous.
If asked to think back to March 2020, when Malaysia first went into “lockdown” or a “Movement Control Order” (MCO), Malaysians may feel like the period of time that has passed has been the equivalent of several lifetimes. Or that it now seems to have gone quickly, and certainly doesn’t seem like it was 18 months ago. Or perhaps that it simultaneously feels like both a very long time and a very short time ago, in that time-bending perspective-warping haze that the pandemic seems to have permanently brought into our lives.
For the Malaysian legal industry, much has happened. If we cast our minds back to those early-MCO days, there was a scramble for lawyers to figure out how to operate outside of the office, without access to printed documents and files.
To be honest, some lawyers still haven’t quite figured it out, but there has been much progress overall. Compelled by the judiciary, lawyers shuffled out of the Stone Age and into conducting video trials online. The National and State Bars successfully convened their AGMs online (after a huge COVID scare from the in-person KL Bar AGM). Law firms rolled out pay-cuts, and freezed hiring, increments, and bonuses. As work dried up in some areas, many lawyers pivoted into new practice areas. Call ceremonies also moved online. Aspiring lawyers had to deal with huge delays to CLP exams and results.
2020 has been the year of COVID-19. The pandemic has affected every aspect of life in almost every corner of the globe. Apart from the devastating impact on health and lives, and the effect on economies everywhere which may take years to recover from, COVID-19 has changed the way we work. Malaysia’s Movement Control Order (“MCO”) meant that from 18 March, most businesses had to cease on-site operations. Many other countries also enforced similar restrictions.
As a result of restrictions, people the world over have had to get used to working from home. While the concept of remote working isn’t new (it may come as a surprise to many that Tim Ferriss’ classic “The 4-Hour Workweek” was published 13 years ago), before these restrictions most industries had resisted the shift to working away from the office. The COVID-19 restrictions have forced even the staunchest luddites to adopt remote working.
We sought the views of the following four individuals with links to the legal industry across Asia-Pacific to hear about their work-from-home experiences:
Crystal Wong, a partner in the Energy, Infrastructure & Projects and International Arbitration Practice Group at LHAG.
‘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:
The LexTech Conference 2017 will be held in Cyberjaya on 4 & 5 November 2017. Visit the event website for more information. TheMalaysianLawyer.com is a media partner of #LexTech17, and our readers can use the promo code LEXTECHTML when purchasing the tickets to enjoy a 10% discount. You can read our other posts on the conference via the LexTech17 tag.
There are some exciting panels and speakers lined up for #LexTech17, and we managed to speak with two of these speakers, both from LexisNexis, to get a preview of some of their thoughts on legal innovations and technology.
Gaythri Raman is the Managing Director of LexisNexis Southeast Asia, and at the conference she will be sharing about “Legal Innovations We Should Look To Accelerate”.
Min Chen is the Vice President & Chief Technology Officer Asia Pacific of LexisNexis, and the title of her conference topic is “AI in Legal Research”.