INTELLLEX was founded in 2015 in Singapore with the aim of helping law firms create intuitive knowledge platforms. In this interview with Asia Law Portal, INTELLLEX Co-Founder and Chief Business Development Officer Ellery Sutanto explains how the company began, it’s vision for the future of legal services, and it’s expansion beyond Singapore. He also provides his unique insight into the Singapore legal market and advice for law students aspiring to a career in legal technology.
Intelllex was founded in 2015. What inspired it?
INTELLLEX was founded in 2015, but the seed was planted and germinated by many who sacrificed their weekends and weeknights between 2013-2015. Back then, a few of us were still in our respective professional vocations – legal, aerospace engineering, banking- but uncannily experienced similar problems in finding contextually relevant information we need to do our job effectively.
We recognized that this is a problem that affected not just us, but almost any modern knowledge worker who relies on accessible, free-flowing information to make decisions at work. We wanted to better connect disparate industry and enterprise information to help knowledge workers adapt to The Knowledge Age.
We decided to start with the legal industry due to the attractiveness of the global addressable market (USD 1.6bn) and, importantly, the excitement of the challenge (legal documents are lengthy and the legalese is notoriously complex). It is critical for startups today to be working on an exciting and worthy challenge, lest the competition for resources and talents will crowd you out before you even start!
Describe for us how Intelllex helps law firms adapt with technology
Law firms are essentially in the business of procuring knowledge – both explicit, documented knowledge and implicit knowledge residing in lawyers’ minds-, synthesizing and value-adding to it, and selling this knowledge in the form of legal services and other work products to clients. Faced with increasing price pressure from client, the modern law firm today must surmount the challenges of aggregating, enriching, and distributing knowledge more effectively.
Most law firms today still have different information residing in disparate systems that do not communicate with each other. Even when the systems are connected, information will have to be indexed sufficiently generic enough to ‘prepare’ the different types of data for information retrieval subsequently. This results in information being aggregated by their lowest common denominator – keywords. Unfortunately, keyword search is insufficiently precise for lawyers; it is unable to distinguish between the different usages that a word may have.
This is where INTELLLEX can help. Using various artificial intelligence techniques, we extract and classify important metadata of each documented knowledge work. These information are further enriched by being populated on to the firm’s own knowledge graph, which would also reference a database of external content.
This knowledge graph establishes and infers associations among the different information, thereby allowing for a richer search experience. For example, when an associate uploads Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Company  EWCA Civ 1 on to INTELLLEX, our A.I. algorithms automatically extract concepts such as “offer and acceptance” and “United Kingdom Case” from the case. Subsequently, when another colleague searches for “unilateral offer”, the knowledge graph will suggest the Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball as a relevant search result, due to the conceptual association between “unilateral offer” and “offer and acceptance”.
We want to help law firms create an intuitive knowledge platform which we believe will be the foundation of legal practice in this age.
How has Intelllex grown over the almost 4 years since its’ founding?
We have grown from a hobby to an obsession; from a team of four to a team of fifteen (still on the lookout for more talents); from a startup to a young company that hopes to make a difference at the global stage.
In that respect, I think INTELLLEX is transitioning to the next phase of maturity. Even though we still very much operate like a startup, it is important for us not to move (too) fast and break things due to the stringent standards expected by our clients. This is why we have invested tremendously into internal process and systems, ensuring that the whole company is compliant with international standard of information security (ISO 27001). Under the advice from one of our mentors, we are also applying for patents in multiple jurisdictions.
INTELLLEX has been spending a lot of time in London recently. What’s that about?
We knew from day one that our addressable market would include most of the common law countries, due to the close association among the various jurisdictions. This consideration was built into our DNA at the onset. Each product feature is developed after user acceptance testing with lawyers in Australia, Hong Kong, London, Malaysia and Singapore; our suite of machine learning models are also trained and tested on data set from the various jurisdictions.
So when the opportunity presents for us to expand our business foot print in London, via the Barclays Eagle Labs program, we immediately jumped at it. The program is adept at bringing the legal technology community together and we have received many referrals through the network.
At the beginning of this year, we were accepted, as the only company, in the Thomson Reuters Labs program. Through this program, we will be working closely with Thomson Reuters London to co-innovate on a knowledge management solution. As a result of this, we are now spending around one week every month in London.
Much has been written recently about Singapore’s efforts to encourage the legal services sector to adapt to the challenges it faces from new technologies. Can you describe what the government is doing and how Intelllex is a part of these efforts?
We are excited that the government is actively looking at shaping Singapore into a legal technology hub. In 2016, my Co Founder, Chang was part of the Law and Accounting Work Group under the Committee for Future Economy which provided some of the recommendations that we see today.
At the business level, INTELLLEX was first selected as one of the government approved vendors under the Tech Start for Law Scheme in 2017 and again in 2019 under the Tech-celerate for Law scheme. These programs initiated by the government help ease the Singapore legal industry into a new phase and also encourages legal tech innovation amongst startups. INTELLLEX is thankful for being selected under these two schemes.
Many law students are looking to a future career amid a changing legal market. Is a career in legal technology one area they should be considering? And if so, what do you recommend they do to pursue that career path?
That seems to be the popular view now but I think it is a little premature for law students to be considering a career in legal technology. Innovating is an extreme sport that requires tremendous passion and grit. I would advise any student who is considering this path to start by interning at a legal technology company to determine if this is what they want. Eventually, I think law students should still practice for a few years, to develop a deeper appreciation of the pains and a deeper empathy for the eventual users.
While some technologists have argued that technology will change the face of legal practice permanently, I still believe that lawyering is too much of an art for machines to replace human lawyers en masse. So there’s no need for law students to be panicking out of the frying pan just yet. In fact, they should see it as a blessing to be living through this time of technological renaissance, when opportunities abound for them to learn about technologies alongside their legal practice.
What’s most important is not that modern lawyers learn how to code but that they understand the principles of coding. This knowledge will serve as a common foundation for us, lawyers and technologists alike, to collectively envision what the future holds for a technology-enabled legal practice.