Rajesh Sreenivasan (left), with Steve Tan (second left) and senior RTT team members
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Asian law firm Rajah & Tann’s legal and technological prowess was thrust into in the spotlight recently when Wirecard, a digital payments provider, asked it to report on alleged fraud and forgery at the company’s Singapore arm. Rajah & Tann Singapore, which has developed a name for skilful use of legal technology, reported in March that it had unearthed forged documents and accounting irregularities.

The client has insisted that the “investigation reveals no material impact on financial reports of Wirecard”, according to a press statement. A criminal investigation of Wirecard is continuing in Singapore and R&T’s report was not the final word on the matter. The firm’s investigation could be seen, however, as a good illustration of how law and tech are now inextricably linked when it comes to corporate legal matters.

As Rajesh Sreenivasan, who heads the firm’s technology, media and telecoms practice, puts it: “Our forensic technology investigation and e-discovery project management capabilities, along with our multidisciplinary legal expertise, are helping us enter financial crime investigation markets.”

As the firm’s work for clients took on more digital aspects, Mr Sreenivasan, along with colleague Steve Tan, decided a couple of years ago to create a separate business: Rajah & Tann Technologies. They felt it was a way for R&T to get in on the growing business of delivering legal services digitally.

The new company, launched in January 2018, does not offer legal advice. Instead, Rajah & Tann Technologies provides help on e-discovery, cyber security, data breach readiness and response as legal tech services. In November it bought LegalComet, a local e-discovery start-up.

The addition of LegalComet, which uses artificial intelligence to forensically interrogate data, will also help R&T compete with professional services firms such as PwC, EY and Deloitte, which are all ramping up their legal offerings in the region. “A technological solution is critical for the delivery of a lot of legal services that businesses need — cross-border litigation, restructuring and insolvency, and international arbitrations — as deals and transactions become borderless,” Mr Sreenivasan says.

The firm handles “numerous cross-border data breaches” for clients, for instance, which can involve the personal data of individuals across all 10 Asean countries and in particular Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines. Rajah & Tann can marshal its offices in each location to assist with data breach investigations and subsequent litigation and regulatory support, while Rajah & Tann Technologies experts provide technical cyber security support services, Mr Sreenivasan says.

Other forward-looking law firms around the region are similarly using digitisation to change the core of what they do, and how.

When Gary Adler took charge of Australian law firm MinterEllison’s technology four years ago, he had already spent more than a decade managing law firm IT systems elsewhere and had seen how many IT departments were siloed within their organisations. But once the legal-tech sector began to encroach on the bread and butter business of law firms — with services such as contract automation, legal research and document storage — Mr Adler saw the role of chief digital officer in a new light.

“It’s about core processes. You can’t just throw a digital layer on top of a 200-year-old law firm. Your focus should be on the business imperatives and process optimisation first,” he says. “Sometimes the solution to getting better is digital, but other times it isn’t — you have to know which is which.”

Seeing the chief digital officer in a new light: MinterEllison's Gary Adler

Like many firms, MinterEllison increasingly makes use of a relatively new kind of colleague — heads of legal operations (holos), whose job description usually includes overseeing tasks including strategic planning, analytics and team building. Unusually, however, in MinterEllison’s case, the holos are often trained lawyers who sit in the firm’s practice areas, answering both to Mr Adler and to their respective practice managing partners.

They attend practice meetings and understand the processes, business imperatives and intricacies of their team’s specific practice of law, making them integral to the set-up, he says.

“They’re lawyers who want to work on the business rather than in the business,” Mr Adler says, adding that they are typically paid in the same remuneration bracket as their practising lawyer peers. “They’re not deep techies but they have a real thirst for process improvement. And they’re trusted by other attorneys because they’re qualified lawyers.”

Mr Adler has been “genuinely surprised” by the low level of resistance to change from the practising lawyers. The firm’s leaders have put their “collective weight behind this strategy . . . recognising that ‘Big Law’ is not immutable to disruption”.

Whether it be litigation evidence management, keeping track of changing corporate contract terms, or managing non-disclosure agreements, each practice has its own client offerings, procedures and areas of legal specialisation. Mr Adler and the holos search through the processes for “points of optimisation”.

Once they locate such an area, they identify efficiencies and digital solutions. As much as possible, they use off-the-shelf products, lightly customised, rather than entangling the firm in internal software development.

Ultimately, Mr Adler’s team produce a case study in the form of an infographic that identifies “wins” for clients and the business: “Something like ‘this process used to take seven hours and now it takes seven minutes’.”

A year into this “legal operations model” transformation, Mr Adler adds, the project has saved more than 30,000 hours and removed A$1.3m of internal costs.

The tables below rank law firms and in-house legal teams for the FT Innovative Lawyers Apac awards.

New Business and Service Delivery Models:

RankLaw firmDescriptionOriginalityLeadershipImpactTotal
STANDOUTMinterEllisonIntroduced a new legal operations model with 14 senior staff trained in Lean Six Sigma, the management technique, and skilled at process analysis and project management. The new model embeds process improvement and analytics with the firm's legal service offering, leading to estimated client savings of 30,000 billable hours and reduced internal firm costs of A$1.3m.78823
HIGHLY COMMENDEDAllensThe firm was instrumental in the first "exchange and return" bottle and container recycling scheme in New South Wales, Australia. Lawyers developed an automated contract management system using DocuSign, which streamlined 800 supplier registrations and enabled the scheme to be operational within five months of the contract award. 78722
HIGHLY COMMENDEDDFDLExtended their offering in Cambodia to include bookkeeping and accountancy services alongside established legal and tax practices. This full-service model was a first for a firm in Cambodia.87722
HIGHLY COMMENDEDNorton Rose FulbrightEstablished a new law firm, Jaramer Legal, to service the business needs of Australia's indigenous communities. It facilitates first-time partnerships between large corporates and communities through government initiatives such as the Indigenous Procurement Programme, a mandatory system that requires indigenous supplier involvement in Commonwealth procurement programmes. Commended: Bevan Mailman and Peter Cash89522
COMMENDEDDes Voeux ChambersOne of the first chambers in Hong Kong to take advantage of a relaxation in legal bar marketing rules, it employs three dedicated business development professionals and is winning new work through their efforts.67720
COMMENDEDMori Hamada & MatsumotoEstablished an experimental lab to test data sharing between established companies and start-ups, a first for Japan. This has helped to relax the regulatory environment and allows collaboration between technology providers and large corporates.78520
COMMENDEDCMSInitiated a targeted start-up support initiative, equIP, for eight selected technology companies in Singapore. They enjoy full-service support at fixed fees depending on their scale and funding position.57719
COMMENDEDHerbert Smith FreehillsPartnering with Relativity, the firm leveraged e-discovery tools to reduce an initial pool of 4m review documents in a significant client matter to 565,142 in just four days. The approach cut the total fees and time spent on the cases by 60 per cent. 57719
COMMENDEDPinsent MasonsExpanded the functionality of its matter management platform to digitise the adjudication process for Singaporean construction disputes. The new approach increased efficiency, eliminated mistakes and speeded up turnround for clients.76619
COMMENDEDRajah & Tann Acquired LegalComet, a specialist legal tech company, gaining extensive e-discovery and client training capabilities. The acquisition has increased total revenues from the R&T technologies unit by 50 per cent.67619

New Business Service and Delivery Models (In-house):

RankCompanyDescriptionOriginalityLeadershipImpactTotal
STANDOUTSK Engineering & ConstructionThe team established a business model that lets the South Korean construction company make its claims department and dispute resolution capabilities available to other construction companies, creating a new revenue stream. The team entered into service agreements with big construction companies in France, Japan and South Korea to lead negotiations to resolve complex contractual disputes.88824
HIGHLY COMMENDEDEverstoneThe specialised team of 12 in-house lawyers that supports India's largest private equity company with $5bn in assets under management, servicing over 60 portfolio companies, functions like a full-service corporate law firm. The team handle complex transactional work internally, as well as supporting sensitive matters stemming from portfolio companies such as stopping insider trading and sexual harassment. 78722
COMMENDEDSiemensEstablished a virtual task market tool to enable lawyers to exchange work between team members and resource matters more effectively. Lawyers overcame legal and organisational restrictions to create a more agile work environment and allow for flexible and part-time working arrangements. 67619

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