SINGAPORE (Sept 5): Singapore must ensure that technology is used to support and enable lawyers, amid fears that artificial intelligence could impact the employability of young law school graduates hoping to get jobs in law firms.

“Technology is evolving quickly and it is really critical that the legal profession understands where tech is headed. And we need to at least keep pace with other jurisdictions,” says Minister for Law K Shanmugam at the opening of the TechLaw.Fest 2019 on Thursday.

Citing a study last year where 20 experienced US lawyers were pitted against an AI program by legal tech firm LawGeex in the vetting of five non-disclosure agreements, Shanmugam noted that the lawyers finished their task in 92 minutes with an accuracy of 85%.

The AI program completed the same task in an astounding 26 seconds – with 94% accuracy.

“These are tech apps that are transforming the way people are practising law,” Shanmugam says. “It also raises a separate question: Once tech comes in this way, how many lawyers do you need for a transaction?”

“There are some policy questions involved as well, and we’re studying [these issues] very carefully,” says Shanmugam, who is also Minister for Home Affairs. “How can we ensure that tech is used to support and enable lawyers? How can we leverage on the new opportunities that tech can open up for our Singaporean lawyers?”

The way Shamugam sees it, a large part of the routine work in the legal profession can be done by machines.

“Tech can help to do more of the routine, vetting work, and it can free up the lawyers to do the higher-value analytical work,” he says.

He adds that tech can also be used to allow law firms to develop profitable alternative pricing models.

Organised by the Ministry of Law, the Singapore Academy of Law, and MP Singapore, the two-day TechLaw.Fest 2019 conference seeks to encourage participants to weigh the legal issues surrounding the heavy use of data in today’s world.

It will also explore the legal and regulatory issues around responsible data use, access and control of data, data security and 5G, as well as the role of data in commerce.

The event will also see the launch of the Asia-Pacific Legal Innovation and Technology Association (ALITA), which will be the first international body committed to promoting cross-border collaborations and knowledge-sharing in legal tech and innovation.