Zaid Hamzah is Project in-house counsel to several deep tech businesses. In this interview with Asia Law Portal, he explains how AI-savvy lawyers will help businesses transform while strategically managing legal risks. He shares his insights on why lawyers need to collaborate with data scientists and other professionals to drive value in the new hybrid world of man and machine […]

I run a flexible and nimble multi-disciplinary team practice with data scientists and machine learning engineers to help organizations solve problems and create new value.  I filed an AI patent at the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore in 2021.

Generative AI will increasingly shape the future of work.  As we have now seen across the globe, ChatGPT has now given even greater powers not just to lawyers but more importantly directly to the consumers of legal services.  We are going to get better tools at our disposal.

In my view, legal professionals (whether in practice or in-house roles) should work closer with deep technology practitioners.  The new world of work requires lawyers to collaborate with data scientists and machine learning engineers in a new hybrid environment of man and machine.

The philosophical foundation of what it means to be a lawyer has not changed.  We are here to provide access to justice and support clients in transactions. We now have better tools such as AI-driven cloud services for legal drafting. 

Lawyers should deepen their collaboration with data scientists and machine learning engineers even more to automate mundane or routine legal services.  This way lawyers can and should move up the value chain by being a strategic and trusted advisor to their clients.  Lawyers should leverage deep technologies to create strategic value.

You are deeply focused on growth strategy, intellectual capital-driven value creation, regulatory/legal risk management and deal structuring.  You have also worked in Southeast-Asia focused legal practice (both in-house, in government, and in private practice). Share your insights on what client’s expectations in this area are as we transition into an AI driven work environment.

Whether we are living in an AI-driven business environment or not, client’s behaviour will not change. All clients would rather not incur cost to engage lawyers – but if they have to, they will.  As project in-house counsel to several deep technology companies in Singapore, I position myself not just as a lawyer but a strategic partner to help the organizations I serve create value, solve problems and manage legal risks strategically.  It’s a whole of services approach where I attempt to think like the clients converging value creation with risk management in a financially sustainable manner.

AI and machine learning are new tools that can help lawyers provide better services to their clients. Clients expect lawyers to leverage AI technology to lower their cost, manage legal risks better and add strategic value to their business.

The role of lawyers should be one of problem solving and value creation.  Consider the emergence of data as a new asset class.  Today, intellectual property rights as an asset class is a given.  With economies transitioning more and more into data-driven AI economies, data which is the foundation of AI, has become the latest asset class. The role of lawyers will be to help clients manage and protect this new asset class.

You also focus on AI/ML including law + capability building programs and strategic reskilling.  You also work in academics. Where do you see the future of legal education and lifelong training?

I am a “pracademic” – practitioner first, academic second.  And I am currently an Executive Education Fellow at the National University of Singapore’s School of Computing where I run programmes on AI innovation, intellectual property protection of AI innovation and AI and data governance. I ran a programme on Legal AI and Analytics at the Singapore Management University School of Law about 4 years ago.  Domain-wise I specialize in cybersecurity and the converged space of AI and cybersecurity.

I think the biggest challenge for the legal profession is how fast they should upskill and reskill in the area of legal data science.  In the two main law schools in Singapore, the foundation in law and technology especially legal data science and computational law is being firmly put in place.  I think this is the right and necessary building block.

When one enters law school in the first year, they teach you legal method and how to think like a lawyer.  In my view, it is critical that the lawyers of the future be trained to think like lawyer in the context of legal data science. Emerging generative AI and language models impact the world of lawyers where technology-based semantics are becoming new tools.  Lawyers of the future need to understand not only how to use these tools but how they themselves can be the innovators to create such new tools.

What do you see as the future of AI in legal services?  Do you see Singapore vital to the growth of legal technology (particularly AI) in legal services?

AI in legal services is the future.  I see this trend deepening in the coming decades.  ChatGPT and the rise generally in AI language model is the harbinger of the future.

At present, Singapore is the leading centre in South-east Asia for legal technology – but we are still more users of legal AI than creators.  I see China as the strategic centre for legal AI innovation even though they are not geared towards the English-speaking legal world.

I think the world will witness greater cross border collaboration, more joint R&D across borders – this is the future of work that will be shaped through greater collaboration at research centres, law schools and industry practitioners in multi-disciplinary practices.

Posted by Asia Law Portal

A forum for discussion of news, information & opportunity in the Asia-Pacific legal markets.

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