Press Release

Opening Address by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law, for TechLaw.Fest 2019

  • Sep 05, 2019

The Honourable Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon

My Ministerial Colleague Edwin Tong

Sir Tim Berners-Lee and his wife Ms Rosemary Leith

Honourable Judges

Distinguished speakers, panellists, and guests

1.    This is the second time TechLaw.Fest is being held, and the first time MinLaw is co-organising it with the Academy of Law. We thank the Academy of Law for doing this with us.

2.    The reason we discussed with the Academy and said that we wanted to do this together is really to emphasize the importance of technology in the profession. Of course not just in the profession, but across Singapore, but specifically within the scope of my Ministry to try and see how we can give it a significant push. Technology as all of you know, is evolving quickly and it’s really critical that the legal profession understands where tech is headed, and we need to at least keep pace with other jurisdictions.

3.    We have done some things over the years to try and push that, try and talk to our legal profession, talk about the framework, what’s happening, and also the judiciary has been very active over at the State Courts and the Supreme Court to absorb and use technology on a day to day basis. To that end, I think we have done quite well on the judicial front. On the legal profession side, I think we have some way to go. So I’ve cited the law firms and the different scales of different law firms as being a factor. We have been trying to see what we can do. We launched Tech‑celerate for Law in May this year. It provides funding for our lawyers to adopt advanced tech solutions. We are working with A*Star to develop a Legal Industry Technology & Innovation Roadmap. That is designed to be a national plan to promote innovation and adoption of tech up to 2030 - the next decade. A detailed report will be ready next year.

4.    From this TechLaw.Fest what we hope to do is to really make it the hallmark conference on law and technology in the region. We want it to be the premier event for the entire region because we want others to benefit from this too.

5.    And we specifically are focusing on our younger lawyers to turn up, and I directed my Ministry saying we’ll provide subsidies for the younger lawyers to turn up for this conference. Not that older lawyers don’t need tech, but we think older lawyers can afford to pay for themselves.

6.    For the Government, the reason why we are doing it is that we consider this is an investment in the future. I think there are some big questions that will be explored by the speakers later on.

7.    I’m neither an expert nor am I intending to give you the answers but just some questions starting with “What might this future look like with tech?”

8.    Sub questions would be, “How can lawyers harness Big Data to do more in less time, because clients are demanding?” Many of us have been in practice, the amount of data that we have had to deal with in the last 30 years has always been high, but it’s increasing. With more knowledge available online, the data that is useable is also increasing multi-fold. More precedents, more laws and regulations, more transactions, including those which are complex and cross-border.

9.    But clients expect the same responsiveness, in fact they expect it to be even faster.

10.    There are apps that can help streamline workflows, shorten the time needed.

11.    One example is Kira. It takes large amounts of files and converts them into a machine-readable format. It analyses the files, it identifies the issues for the lawyer’s attention, and as with all machine learning it gets better as it learns from more data. So the law firm Freshfields trained Kira on more than 11,000 contracts, and Kira helped Freshfields identify contractual provisions that may, for example, breach a new anti-corruption law. And in that context, certain discounts that are given or interest “holidays” would be something for the courts to note as well, and it improved efficiency by 20-40% for due diligence.

12.    There are other apps which are also making good progress. In a study conducted last year that some of you may know about, 20 experienced U.S. lawyers were ground together and pitted against an A.I. program, much like Kasparov was pitted against a computer, and the fight was to vet five Non-Disclosure Agreements. The A.I. achieved 94% accuracy, compared to the lawyers’ 85%, and it did so in 26 seconds, compared to the lawyers’ 92 minutes.  So you look at the time saved and you look at the efficiency.

13.    These are the tech apps that are transforming the way people are practising law in many places. Tech can help do more of the routine, vetting work, and it can free up the lawyers to do the higher-value analytical work.

14.    It also raises a separate question, once tech comes in this way, how many lawyers will you need for a transaction? How large does your legal profession have got to be? Where would lawyers find the work? There will always be a need for analytical work, but as a large part of it, a large part of the routine work is done by machine learning, then where does the legal profession fit in and what’s the relationship? What should the numbers be and what would be the employability of new young people who are hoping to go into the law and come out and get jobs? There are some policy questions involved as well and we are studying them very carefully. Another example, a second question that can be thrown at the level of professional firms – to what extent can Big Data help law firms become more competitive in the way they run their law firms?

15.    For example, Digitory Legal, where you give billing data to the machine. To understand, it analyses the billing data, it understands what complex matters cost, and why. And then it offers predictions on legal costs, providing more certainty to both the firm and the client, because clients nowadays want to know upfront what it might cost. And it allows law firms to develop profitable alternative pricing models by looking at where they are wasting time and where it is profitable.

16.    These are some existing examples. There’s much more sophisticated technology on the horizon.

17.    For example, smart contracts. They are programmed to instantly and automatically perform contractual obligations when certain conditions are met. For example, you receive goods, payment is made automatically. To what extent can smart contracts change the role of lawyers in preparing and executing contracts?

18.    There are also advances in Natural Language Processing (NLP) that are likely to enable even more powerful applications. I think it’s likely to enable programs to understand the relationships between entities, even semantic context, by reading legal documents. So what effect will NLP have on core legal work, like discovery? Yesterday I was fortunate enough to have lunch with Sir Tim and a few of us, including Prof. Low from the National Research Foundation, who said NRF is putting money into NLP research and trying to see how far it can go.

19.    I ask this question, all of this is going to have an impact on lawyers, because it is going to have an impact on the way people practice law, it’s going to have a huge impact on lawyers: how can we ensure that tech is used to support and enable lawyers, because we cannot have a Luddite reaction and say “No”; you have to adopt it. How can we leverage on the new opportunities that tech can open up for Singapore, because we can, as a jurisdiction, help a lot of our people, because we are much smaller and we can bring everybody together, focus, and move.

20.    Tech does not only offer challenges, it also offers opportunities. It opens up potentially new areas of legal work.

21.    In particular, A.I. as an emerging field. The legal rules have not been worked out. The advancement of A.I. will depend on how we deal, for example, with the ethical and social impact of artificial intelligence. A.I. is here to stay, it’s here to impact on all of our lives. For example, to take an example from a completely unrelated field, in Home Affairs. They are looking at A.I.; to what extent can A.I. be used to deter terrorists by rendering them incapable of carrying out their actions? What are the ethical limitations? What are the practical limitations? We are studying it and other countries are studying it.

22.    Here in the legal field – and this is going to affect all aspects of society – A.I. can help us make decisions, but what’s the legal liability? Who takes responsibility if things go wrong? There are various questions - product liability, vicarious liability, how to contractually exclude or limit liability.

23.    So to benefit from A.I. – we are going to need to develop, as I said earlier, clear standards, ethical and legal standards. They have got to be consistent, they have got to be fair, and the government will look at these questions very seriously. But as I said earlier, we need to move with it, we’ve got to adopt it, we can’t say “no” to it.

24.    We are trying to position Singapore as a hub for testing, for deploying, for scaling A.I. solutions. Our approach is to balance innovation and consumer protection and build an ecosystem of trust.

25.    MCI and IMDA are spearheading efforts in 3 areas.

26.    First, the Governance Framework for A.I. We are trying to come up with a Model Governance Framework.

27.    Second, we are thinking in terms of an Advisory Council on Ethical Use of A.I. and Data, and bringing stakeholders together to advise the government on issues of Law, Policy, and Governance.

28.    Third, the Research Programme on the Governance of A.I. and Data Use will seek to build a body of knowledge on the laws and regulations pertaining to A.I. with a sectoral focus, each sector, what should be the laws.

29.    Beyond governance and consumer protection, there are a number of other significant challenges to deploying A.I., and they include - people will have to accept disruption to existing business models, concepts of operations and processes. Another limiting factor is also the availability of digital infrastructure and talent, and perhaps the most difficult - acceptance by professionals, users that is inevitable. But the fact is, if you look at bigger countries, they are adopting it. And if we don’t, we will be just be washed over. So either you are at the forefront as a small country that is highly digitised, we adopt it and we move ahead, and you work to take advantage of it; or you lag far behind.

30.    So to address these challenges, we set up an inter-agency taskforce earlier this year.

31.    The harnessing of A.I. has got to be an entire effort and the whole of the profession system, people and ultimately consumers and the general public too; and the significant users for us, the courts, the system, and institutions. The legal profession will have to be key partners in this journey, so this is a conversation that we are going to have with the legal profession. Which is why we are focusing a lot on the younger lawyers, because that’s going to reflect, the way they practise, much more than those who are at a different part of their career.

32.    In closing, I hope that I have given you some food for thought about the kind of things that are happening, and we are grateful to SAL that we were allowed to co-organise, co-host this.

33.    I wish all of you a fruitful and inspiring TechLaw.Fest and I’m sure you will enjoy listening to Sir Tim.

Thank you very much.