The Bar Council's International Malaysia Law Conference 2016 ("IMLC 2016") was held at The Royale Chulan Kuala Lumpur from 21 to 23 Sept 2016.
By Joachim Xavier
It is without a doubt that the legal profession is currently facing a wind of change propelled by a strong stream of technological innovation that is challenging the traditional methods of legal practice. The four speakers in this session, moderated by Syahredzan Johan, Member of the Bar Council, discussed how these changes are managed in the various Asian jurisdictions.
Melissa Kaye Pang, the Vice–President of the Law Society of Hong Kong (“LSHK”) was of the view that LSHK was both a gatekeeper and a facilitator of the legal profession in Hong Kong. Changes have been made to the legal ownership of law firms there, to keep abreast with market trends. Further, LSHK is also looking into start–ups that review legal documents using software applications. Ms Pang added that Limited Liability Partnerships (“LLP”) and group practice business models had been recently introduced.
Peter Cuthbert Low, from Peter Low LLC, Singapore, shared about the liberalisation of the legal profession since the 1990s, which included relaxing of publicity rules. He observed that there has been a rise of non–lawyers providing legal services, such as start–ups that design software which assist small and mediumsized enterprises to draft contracts. However, Mr Low’s view was that in the Singaporean context, such innovations are unlikely to sustain in the long run, because of the demanding Singaporean public. In terms of facilitating the practice of law, Singapore has introduced LLP, group law practice, and foreign law practice, to name a few.
Karen Cheah Yee Lynn, Secretary of the Malaysian Bar, presented the five categories of “disruptive innovations” currently sweeping the Malaysian legal scene. The first category is “innovation and technology within the law firm” where software, office management/administrative programmes, and online research databases are utilised to work more efficiently. The second — “innovation and technology with government and relevant authorities” — includes online services such as the Court e–Filing system, e–Hartanah and e–Hasil, which are utilised by law firms.
The third is “innovation and technology within the Bar” where legal practitioners can use an online option that facilitates the renewal of their Sijil Annual and Practising Certificates. The fourth — “innovation and technology outside the law firm” — poses the biggest ethical challenge to the legal profession, and includes client–lawyer matching services and legal document template provision services. Some of these innovations have met with resistance from the Bar Council because of possible breach of client confidentiality, touting, and fee–sharing arrangements, all of which are not permitted. The final category is the “New Business Model”. In this regard, the Bar Council is studying a few models but has rejected the “virtual office” model, owing to various concerns.
Finally, Khaizan Sharizad Ab Razak of AmerBON took to the stage. She called for greater openness to innovations in the legal profession, even if it means revisiting some traditional methods. She was of the view that the advent of social media has shaped the legal profession and has somewhat levelled the playing field. Small firms rely on these channels because they cannot compete with big, established firms using traditional methods. Acknowledging that there are some risks inherent in the use of social media, she was quick to point out that these channels allow for easier and faster access to legal services. Ms Khaizan Sharizad also opined that the “virtual office” model has the potential of driving costs down — which ultimately means more affordable legal services to the public — and thus should be enc ouraged. Noting that the Bar Council had recently rejected the “virtual office” model, Ms Khaizan Sharizad called for more interaction between the Bar Council and stakeholders before making decisions on such innovations.
Overall, the session was well–received, and left the participants with some sense of optimism that change was inevitable in the legal profession.
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