As Australian legal commentator and analyist Eric Chin recently detailed, NewLaw in the Asia-Pacific is growing and its’ definition expanding to include alternative business models utilizing technology as a prime focus – above and beyond the traditional NewLaw secondment offer. Too, a number of large international law firms in the region have established NewLaw-style operating units – and in some cases have partnered with technology-driven NewLaw startups. These trends have been carefully watched and analyzed outside of the Asia-Pacific region, too – with European legal startup LegalTrek compiling an extensive overview of the current state of NewLaw globally.
In Hong Kong in particular, Korum Legal was recently founded with an aim of providing a broad range of custom solutions including secondments, legal process management, legal tech solutions and more to clients ranging from SME’s to MNC’s.
Titus Rahiri, the firm’s Consultant General Counsel & Director, provides more insight into Korum in this Q&A interview:
What is Korum and what inspired its founding?
“The name ‘Korum’ is a play on the word quorum which is about bringing a number of people together in order to transact business. It also uses the word ‘koru’ which is a Maori (NZ) word symbolising the spiral shape of a new unfurling silver fern frond – and signifies new life, growth and strength. So I liked the fusion of the words and meanings.
Over my fifteen years as a lawyer in New Zealand, London and Hong Kong and covering business across the globe, I have increasingly recognized the need for disruption and innovation in the industry – a need for doing things differently. As initially a ‘seller’ and more recently a ‘buyer’ of legal services, I saw that the industry has been largely immune from market forces shaking the way it operated. So in a sense, I’ve put my ‘seller’ hat back on – but it looks different.”
As Korum founder, what is your background and what led you to founding a boutique NewLaw firm?
“I have worked in private practice in large law firms and as in-house counsel in large multinational listed companies as well as start-ups. In 2013, while Senior Legal Director at Expedia I completed an Executive MBA in London and my final research project looked at ‘Value Innovation in Law’ and specifically how legal services providers could innovate to create and capture value within the paradigm of globalisation, regulatory change and technology advancement, as well as the power-shift from law firms to General Counsels. That’s where I explored the rise of alternative legal services as it was known as then – using strategy and finance models. The Legal Services Act had just come into force in the UK so that triggered a deregulation of the industry.
With that, I spoke to some of the leading figures in NewLaw at the time in London who helped shaped my interest in this area including Al Giles (Axiom), Simon Harper (LOD), Janvi Patel and Denise Nurse (Halebury), Donna Sewell and Helen Goldberg (LegalEdge) and also Alex Hamilton (RadiantLaw). I also explored what was going on in the Americas and Asia Pacific.”
How is Korum unique from other NewLaw firms?
“I think we are largely the same in that NewLaw is about providing different tools, models and ways of providing legal services than what the industry has been traditionally used to. The problem that Korum seeks to solve is the global issue with the legal services industry in that it is (i) expensive, (ii) inaccessible and (iii) complex. The way Korum solves this is by providing flexible and experienced lawyers under a lean law model. We spend a lot of time ensuring that our consultants are experienced, exceptional talent who understand our clients’ business and requirements. Our flexibility provides a range of working options to suit clients and consultants – making us accessible. And we are not a law firm, so we don’t have the Ivory Towers or the expensive partnership model – this allows us to deliver real value to our clients.
We are looking for ways to leverage and utilise technology to create efficiencies – however, Korum still believes in providing a human face to the provision of legal services. We are not automated or robotic – yet, although that is another interesting progression and discussion. Our client base is broad – from start-ups, SME’s and family offices to large multinational corporates and financial institutions. We are also happy to work with law firms who are innovative and want to offer their clients a flexible solution.”
What is Korum doing specifically for start-ups?
“There is a large start-up ecosystem in the Asia-Pacific region which lends to the Korum model as a more affordable, flexible and efficient way of getting legal support – rather than hiring a lawyer as an employee or paying expensive fees to law firms. We are also interested in growing a community amongst our clients as well as our lawyers and consultants. This creates a positive culture and supported network which is important when your team is not located under one roof. This is a culture that I’ve noticed the start-up community actively engages in and lives.
I have recently been to various events and conferences for start-ups and other entrepreneurs and innovators who are interested in supporting other start-ups. There are a number of incubators, accelerators, conferences and communities which also support this space. There are also a number of co-working spaces which collaborate with the start-up community. So, I think it’s an exciting time to bring a NewLaw model to this space.
We understand that start-up life is very busy and demanding. There are a million and one things to think about and do – marketing, business development, building platforms, generating revenue, paying staff and bills all the while staying sane. We’re experiencing that too. And so, simplifying the complex is one of our goals for clients. Also, providing cost-effective legal solutions. With our model, services can cost up to 60% less than more traditional models.”
Hong Kong is your base currently. Do you see Korum expanding into other Asia-Pacific jurisdictions in the future?
“Hong Kong is a dynamic and entrepreneurial city with great opportunities. So this is our starting base. We are focusing our attention here at the moment to build up our structure, systems and processes. We are focused on gaining traction and growing a solid business in Hong Kong first.
Obviously we have our eye on expanding in the APAC region including NZ, Australia and Singapore – and will go where our clients need us to be (and where regulators allow us to be!). We want to build a scalable business to add value to our clients’ global businesses – and the lawyers on our team have qualifications and experience covering various jurisdictions and can be located around the globe.
As a general counsel, our role in advising our clients has a regional if not global focus anyway, and our priority is to enable our clients to do business while managing risk. Globalisation and technology have enabled a more connected and flexible way of doing business which works for Korum’s clients and consultants.”
Photo by Raymond Lam