Managing Director – Atlas Asia Law Corporation, Singapore
1. How has the Covid-19 crisis affected the way you work as a lawyer? What are the key positives and negatives that have emerged out of lockdown?
At Atlas Asia Law Corporation (AALC), the health and safety of our lawyers and staff are of paramount importance. When the COVID-19 cases started to increase in February this year, they were given the option to work from home. This was before the Singapore Government implemented the Circuit Breaker in April. Like many other professionals who had to work from home suddenly, I’ve had to scramble for additional equipment to enhance the home office such as a reliable printer and an ergonomic chair, which was a scarce resource during the Circuit Breaker period in Singapore!
We have learnt over the months that it is much easier to work from home than we had expected initially, and we have been able to still continue functioning effectively as a firm. Instead of face-to-face meetings with colleagues, we have been keeping in touch through video conferences. Every Monday morning, we will have a video meeting with the lawyers and staff to keep track of work progress and administrative matters and then break out into smaller groups to discuss specific work matters. There are still some things which are more efficiently performed when we meet in person, like deal structuring and discussions where we need to refer to numerous documents and drafts, but we have learnt to adapt. For new client pitches, it is admittedly easier to conduct pitches at physical meetings rather than over a video call. After all, personal interactions unique to face-to-face meetings are important in establishing rapport and relationship.
The good thing is that as part of Phase 2 of Singapore’s reopening, we are able to meet clients when required, subject to social distancing measures.
This COVID-19 crisis has provided us with the opportunity to pivot and to tailor our services to better meet the needs of our clients. These days, clients tend to require legal advice and assistance in areas such as employment, corporate restructuring exercises, private client services and funds-related work. As such, we have strengthened our capabilities accordingly to deal with the higher demand.
2. Will you and your firm continue to use flexible and agile working in the future? Will you reduce the size of your physical office space?
We intend to increase our headcount as part of our growth plan to strengthen our capabilities in existing practice areas and also widen our breadth of expertise. We will continue to consider flexible working arrangements in future, having seen how it is possible for us to work effectively remotely, and having invested in equipment to enhance the home office – and that will then drive thinking around the use of our physical workspace.
3. How have you employed legal tech during the crisis? What has been successful and what has been lacking?
While these are not legal tech per se, we are using more video conferencing and eSigning compared to pre-COVID-19 period.
4. How do you see the advancement of legal tech affecting the legal industry in the next 10 years?
The legal landscape in Singapore will likely be disrupted in the next 10 years.
Many of the tasks currently handled by lawyers, e.g., conducting of due diligence or discovery as well as drafting and reviewing of standard commercial agreements, may eventually be supplanted by software and platforms that can expedite processes and streamline workflow more efficiently and cost-effectively for clients. To stay relevant, lawyers of the future will therefore have to focus on higher value work, demonstrate their expertise and offer their professional judgment in complex matters, and be able to structure commercially sound solutions.
In addition, firms that do not embrace legal technology due to reasons such as costs, time investment, or inertia, may find it harder to compete with their more technologically-savvy counterparts. As such, we may see the consolidation of smaller players in the legal industry in order to leverage economies of scale in terms of the adoption of legal technology, among other reasons.
5. Has your firm changed its remuneration structure during the crisis? Will the firm consider using a “Keystone” or hybrid remuneration model in future?
To date, our remuneration structure has remained unchanged.
6. Name one key thing that will be different in the legal profession in 10 years’ time.
The composition of the legal industry is likely to be different in 10 years’ time. With increasing demand for the services of alternative legal service providers (ALSPs) by in-house legal functions in recent years, traditional law firms are likely to see greater competition for legal talent and legal work from ALSPs, some of which are currently on high growth trajectories.