Chee Hoong Pang, Head of Legal Asia, WSP

Engineering consultancy WSP relies on technology to keep ahead of the industry. In an office full of tech-savvy engineers, lawyers can struggle to keep up. Chee Hoong Pang, head of legal for WSP’s Asia Pacific operations tells us how the team has adapted to ‘eat, breathe, sleep’ technology.

For GCs, technology is very much a love-hate relationship. We love using technology and are increasingly reliant on it, even though we hate to admit it. The pressure every business has been under to work remotely is showing us how much we rely on technology to operate, which was a trend that started long ago.

Within the legal function we are now using technology for everything from e-discovery to data mapping and analytics. Even beyond front-end legal work, we are using technology to update our insurance certification or take care of our invoicing and billing. Really, we could not operate as a function without this technology. The question, then, is not whether legal technology will become important – it is already essential to the way we operate – but how it will change what we do, and whether it will replace certain tasks. As far as I can see technology will not replace lawyers, but it will open up new ways of working and allow us to see things that were previously invisible. 

Working within a rather lean legal team means that each person has to draw on whatever resources are available to maximise his or her benefit to the business. I am a certified data protection officer and sit as the designated privacy representative for the Asia region. I’m also a certified enterprise risk advisor, a certified business continuity manager, and have just sat the anti-bribery exams. Having that broad-based training is one way of maximising the range of matters I can cover. The other is using technology effectively.

I estimate that our use of technology allows each lawyer to double their workload, so this is not an inconsiderable benefit to the team. The other big benefit technology brings to our legal work is that it allows us to take a more systematic, joined-up approach to risk. The ability to search documents quickly and reliable is one of the best ways to identify and mitigate risk patterns in litigations, investigations, complaints and a many other areas.

This is a fast-moving area of legal tech and one where we really need to keep our eyes open. For example, investigations require detailed knowledge of the underlying facts, and increasingly sophisticated software is being developed all the time. As lawyers, we have to be very open-minded to the possibilities this software will unlock. We almost have to forget that we are lawyers for a moment and think of it as a data mapping task rather than a legal task.

To use legal tech effectively you cannot be afraid to fail. You have to explore new technologies, launch new programmes and initiatives, and start working in different ways, but you also have to know when to abandon software and strategies that are not effective. This requires a fundamental shift in thinking for most lawyers.

Open yourself to new ideas, trial new software and ways of completing legal tasks, but don’t be afraid to admit that something isn’t right for you. You have to be very careful, because not every technology will suit your use case. Try and test as much as possible before determining whether you can actually implement it for use in the long-term.

When it comes to identifying and procuring new technology, we are fortunate to have a supportive IT function. New software is purchased by IT at group level, but every decision follows close discussions with the various business units and support functions to make sure a product will do or can adapt to what we need it to do. My experience is that IT are always eager to explore new tech and are happy to find things that will make your life easier. Building that relationship with your IT people is essential to getting the right tools. But of course, as GC I also need to be involved in the process because only the front-line legal staff can truly stress-test a system.

While there have been big changes in the market for legal tech, most law firms remain quite conservative here and tend to focus on legal skill sets at the expense of other ways of working. However, there are signs of change. New business models that offer on-demand legal staff or a mix of outsourcing and technology-based solutions at competitive price points are becoming more accepted. Ten years ago no one thought it would work, particularly in this market. Now they are threatening the traditional firms. The lesson here is clear. Both in-house and private practice lawyers must be more receptive to new ways of defining products, markets and clients. Technology itself will not leave us behind, but our inability to adapt to its consequences certainly will.

As everyone knows, life after COVID-19 will not simple return to normal. New working arrangements are here to stay, and that means technology will become an increasingly important aspect of working life.