The Asia-Pacific Region holds an ideal mix of opportunity and innovation for legal services providers. In 2016, the Asia-Pacific legal market is now home to a growing number of legal startups and the entrepreneurs leading them, including Dragon Law, LawPath, LegalVision, Conventus Law and AsiaLawNetwork.com.  The region is also host to a growing number of entrepreneurs seeking to help cultivate this expanding ecosystem, including Nicola Pavesic, Jeffrey Ling, Lorraine SiewNaoise Gaffney, Lim Jo Yan, Marcus Van Geyzel, Mathew Chacko, and others.

With this as a backdrop, Asia Law Portal had the opportunity to interview Cherilyn Tan, Founder of Singapore’s AsiaLawNetwork.com.  As the Straits Times outlined recently, a “tech enthusiast”, Tan “founded Asia’s first legal interactive database last August”, which helps clients “get an objective assessment and price quotation.”  Since it’s founding, “more than 2,800 lawyers have registered with AsiaLawNetwork.com (ALN), including around 1,000 lawyers based in Singapore.”  Below is our Q&A with Tan:

What inspired you to found AsiaLawNetwork.com?

I had the idea for AsiaLawNetwork.com a few years ago when I was looking for a lawyer to help restructure a business I was involved in. I found the process incredibly frustrating even though I had many friends who were lawyers. Essentially, it was difficult for me to get all the relevant information I needed at one go. That’s when I realized there was a need for a neutral platform or a resource which could serve, not only people like me, who are looking for legal help; but also for law firms and lawyers who want to be able to reach out to potential clients and give them the information they need – with minimum fuss and maximum efficiency.

What need did you see in the market and how is AsiaLawNetwork.com helping lawyer and law firms?

AsiaLawNetwork.com allows you to key in your specific requirements for legal help and immediately connects you to the relevant law firms or lawyers who can then provide you with the exact information you need.

In addition, it also allows law firms to look for other law firms when it comes to big, complex legal cases which may require expertise beyond one firm’s capability. Therefore, it connects law businesses and lawyers as well who may need additional help for bigger, say, transnational projects.

We are also expanding the platform to incorporate other professions. The latest addition is AsiaAccountantsNetwork.com. This database connects accountants to each other and their clients; but it also serves as an inter-professional resource, allowing a law firm to look for an accountancy firm, for example, should the need arise in complex law cases. Similarly, accountants can use the platform to look for appropriate legal help should the need arise,

AsiaLawNetwork.com is based in Singapore and most of your clients are located there.  What plans do you have for the greater Asia region going forward?

We currently have more than 3500 lawyers and accountants on our platform that are from across the region. We measure active users by their contribution to the platform and the rate at which they respond to the requests.

We are going regional as we speak – we have already gone into Malaysia and are setting up in Australia. But there is certainly potential to scale this to an international level. Increased trade amongst the ASEAN countries and beyond, and the way businesses use technology in their practice, are encouraging signs for the potential of our platform.

What does the future hold for legal startups in the Asia-Pacific region?

The market is definitely opening up and, therefore, there is a lot of potential for legal start-ups. But it is important to navigate through the different regulatory frameworks in the various countries. It is important to think about complementing and serving the existing industry, rather than just disrupting it. As with any new idea or technology, it is important to get buy-in from the people in the industry.

What if any unique hurdles do legal startups face that other startups may not face?

Law is a heavily regulated industry, and people have been accustomed to doing things a certain way for a long time. Legal start-ups have to then spend the additional effort to educate users and simplify the process of shifting established business models, without violating existing prevailing rules and regulations of the industry.

If you could give law students considering working in a legal startup one piece of advice – what would it be?

It doesn’t matter whether they are law students or not, but working in any start-up requires an open mind, and the hunger to learn and adapt quickly to shifting targets.

Start-ups are a great place for a truly hands-on 360-degree experience, compared to working in a big established firm. Because the operation would likely be small, you will get to learn a lot more in a shorter time frame. Our law student intern said he was able to get a better overview of the market while working with us, and thinks he will go back to school with a much better idea of what clients really want.

Posted by John Grimley

John Grimley edits and publishes Asia Law Portal and is the author of A Comprehensive Guide to the Asia-Pacific Legal Markets. He specializes in providing writing, editing, research and strategy services to the corporate and professional services sectors. Between 2002 and 2008, he established and directed the European representative business development office of US AmLaw 100 law and public policy firm Patton Boggs LLP. At the inception of his career, he served as a writer to the President of the United States in the White House. A licensed American lawyer, he holds a Juris Doctor from the University of San Diego School of Law.

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