Beginning in 2012, Adeline Chin launched a career as a legal knowledge management (KM) expert while working within a leading Malaysian law firm. This experience ultimately led her to found Law Asia 365, a comprehensive legal KM and management consultancy, based in Kuala Lumpur. In this interview with Asia Law Portal, Chin details her extensive experience in legal tech and legal innovation both in Malaysia and the wider APAC region, and her predictions for the future of the region’s legal tech and innovation ecosystem.
You’re the Founder of Law Asia 365, a consultancy specializing in knowledge management (KM) for legal practice. What inspired you to found Law Asia 365 and how do you help legal services sector clients?
Law Asia 365 was founded to fill the efficacy gap for legal professionals. Back in 2012, I landed on a Knowledge Manager position in a Kuala Lumpur-based law firm. Throughout my formative years in the KM industry, I learnt that KM is a multifarious term that can encompass a scope of work that includes traditional legal KM functionalities such as document and precedent management, to the new age role of legal project management and more. Essentially, legal KM helps law firms win and keep business, and support legal departments in attaining enhanced operational efficiency.
The vision and mission for Law Asia 365 is to provide law firms and legal departments with the tools and knowledge required to operate optimally and sustainably. We help law firms from the get-go, from the curation of a brand identity to the setting up of precedent base and document management workflow; and assist legal departments in digitalization efforts, work flow management and more.
You’re also a Co-Founder of LawTech Malaysia and a Steering Committee Member of Asia-Pacific Legal Innovation & Technology Association (ALITA). Tell us more about your involvement in these organizations.
The two organisations, LawTech Malaysia and Asia-Pacific Legal Innovation & Technology Association (ALITA) share a similarity – both are aimed towards growing the legal technology ecosystem.
LawTech Malaysia is a lawtech ecosystem builder and the organizer of Malaysia’s first ever lawtech hackathon. The co-founders, Daniel Lui, Jenna Beh and I begun our journey in the lawtech ecosystem building when an initiative for the first lawtech hackathon was launched in mid-2018. I took on the role of a strategist for the organization, and worked with my fellow co-founders to raise awareness for legal technology and its importance to the legal industry, which were embodied in the problem statements for the 2018 lawtech hackathon, namely:
(I) Reduce overhead costs for law firms
(II) Increase access to justice
(III) Improve communication among industry stakeholders
(IV) Cultivate innovative culture
LawTech Malaysia subsequently launched the SUPERNOVA series which included a back-to-back conference and hackathon that deep-dived into the converged verticals of lawtech, fintech and regtech.
ALITA is a regional network uniting over a dozen (and counting) countries in the Asia-Pacific with a shared purpose: to drive collaboration in legal innovation and technology in the region. As we turned one-year old this year, the Steering Committee members and members of the Secretariat have worked tirelessly towards the launching of the world’s first Legal Tech Observatory at the TechLaw.Fest 2020. For the past year, we have garnered over 100 member organisations from around the world in the continuous effort to shape the legal industry landscape in Asia-Pacific.
I am also involved in the Technology Expert Committee (TEC) set up under the auspices of the Asian International Arbitration Centre (AIAC) where we aim to create a community in which lawyers and key players within the technology industry can discuss recent developments, brainstorm solutions to current issues, collaborate with one another on projects and disseminate information on the advancement both within the alternative dispute resolution fraternity and the technology industry. The maiden initiative for the TEC is to develop a standard form technology services contract that is aimed to help software developers and tech industry players create and navigate agreements and legal documents with better ease.
Your background is in law. What inspired you to pursue an emphasis in knowledge management in legal services versus practicing law?
During my first year in law school, I took up an internship position in a law firm that handles predominantly litigation and conveyancing matters. The 3-month internship taught me the irreplaceable value in the working knowledge of a long serving personnel, as well as other practical nuances that came along with being part of the legal profession. Documents were bundled up in folders that are often bursting at its seams, held together precariously with the iconic pink ribbon. Searches for older files oftentimes take staff (or interns like myself) down a long and dusty path to retrieval. It struck me that I had a choice to either be part of the legal practice as is usually expected of a law graduate, or to serve the legal industry by filling the gaps in a different capacity. I chose the latter, not knowing how that can be attained.
A couple of years later, a Knowledge Manager position in a law firm opened up and I took up the role. The learning curve was steep, but it opened my mind to the possibilities that effective knowledge management can bring to a law firm, and the legal services industry at large. These 8 years in legal KM are nothing short of rewarding.
What should legal services sector professionals be thinking most about when considering how to prepare their firms for the future?
Cliché as it may sound, the most crucial consideration for leaders to prepare their firms for the future is to know the core of their brand as legal service providers. The number of law firms in Malaysia has grown by more than 20% year on year since May 2019, with a steady annual increase in the number of legal practitioners. It has become imperative for legal services sector professionals to leverage on the key differentiating factors that make them unique, and this can range from having niche areas of practice, to unique delivery of service, to fresh law firm business model. When offerings become increasingly homogenous, clients will be encouraged to buy more than just products and services; they buy into what the brand stands for.
What is knowledge management to the Malaysian legal practice and how has it progressed?
Knowledge management is still a relatively unfamiliar terminology to the Malaysian legal practice. Legal practices with knowledge management capabilities are usually led by senior partners of the firm, and conventionally takes on the scope of internal professional training, editorial work, as well as document and precedent management.
In jurisdictions like the US and the UK, the role of law firm knowledge management has been taken up by dedicated professionals such as professional support lawyers (PSLs) whose job includes creating precedents, document management, and eventually legal process and project management. The role is now increasingly supplemented by the emergence of knowledge tools and technologies that can help comb through and analyze more dynamic content.
Many of these tools and technologies, albeit having been introduced to the market for more than a decade, have not reached the grasps of Malaysian legal practices. Most law firms still operate through conventional means and grow organically.
You are highly involved in the ecosystem building for legal tech. Tell us more about the outlook of legal tech adoption and innovation in the APAC region.
With the emergence of regional legal tech ecosystem builders such as ALITA, ASEAN Legal Tech (ALT), various domestic legal tech associations across Asia-Pacific as well as local chapters of the global grassroot legal tech movement – Legal Hackers, the awareness for legal tech has increased significantly in recent years within the APAC region.
Legal tech hackathons have also made an entrance into jurisdictions like Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, and Hong Kong since 2018, spurring technological innovation for the legal industry across the region. The heightened awareness on legal tech brought about a much welcome stream of legal tech startups and scale-ups being established across APAC such as KontrakHukum (Indonesia), MNTSQ (Japan), Memori (Brunei), Acaya (Thailand), Ailira (Australia) and Intelllex (Singapore); providing a launchpad for legal professionals to digitalize and automate conventional workflows and processes.
Stakeholders of the legal tech industry which includes respective bar associations, technology companies, law schools, legal practices, legal departments, law associations, financiers, investors, regulators and government bodies all play a part in determining the outlook of legal tech adoption and innovation across the region. With more concerted efforts among the industry stakeholders, I believe legal tech adoption and innovation can grow at faster pace with cross-border utility value.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affect the legal practice in Malaysia, and what are the efforts that you have been involved in to help law firms digitize their operations and create value?
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Malaysian Bar Council launched a survey in April 2020 to find out the effects of the pandemic on legal practices in Peninsular Malaysia. The survey polled 844 law firm owners and found that in terms of operational sustainability, 80.9% of respondents did not expect to make it past 3 months. 96.4% of respondents did not expect to make it past 6 months. The survey also revealed that 35.9% of respondents indicated that they would suffer losses of up to RM50,000.00 for the months between March and September 2020, while 29.5% of respondents expected to incur losses of between RM100,001.00 to RM500,000.00 during the same period. Many law firms geared up for survival mode from the third phase of Movement Control Order (‘MCO’) onwards, cutting variable costs where possible with some taking on more severe measures by reducing employee remuneration and/or downsizing the organization.
Throughout the MCO period, I helped onboard law firms onto cloud-based practice or project management platforms to allow for better transactional clarity and accountability while team members work remotely. Urgent digitization exercises were launched to ensure all physical documents on active files were made available in softcopy on cloud. Training on the usage of video conferencing platforms such as Zoom, Google Meet, Skype, Webex, Teams and etc were run frequently, as well as the onboarding and security briefing of law firm members on the usage of virtual data rooms.
I also helped legal practices set up knowledge sharing channels and platforms for both internal and external consumption, to help the organization and the community around it pull through hard times togethers. These channels were later converted into leads pipeline for the respective firms.
Apart from the legal practice, are there efforts from other organizations to promote better knowledge management and legal tech adoption?
Malaysian in-house legal departments have shown more keenness in legal tech adoption and legal knowledge management in recent years. Knowledge management is no stranger to established conglomerates, government-linked corporations and international organisations. Many such bodies have adopted legal tech as efficiency tools to manage common transactional or standard form documents such as employment contracts, procurement contracts, service contracts, templated letters and many more.
The Big Four accounting firms are known to have invested billions in technology as of December 2019, with Deloitte launching various programmes seeking to carve a niche as the leading provider of automation services to law firms and legal offices. Afterall, consumers of legal services are increasingly aware of the value of expedient legal services that is cheaper, more accessible, efficient and transparent. Slack left behind by the legal practice is quickly picked up by other industries that adapt quicker to the ever-changing business environment.
For more information, please see Law Asia 365: https://lawasia365.com/