Innovation has become a vital attribute for law firms globally, particularly in the face of challenges brought about by increasing digitalisation, as well as uncertainty from geopolitical developments and the pandemic. In Asia, law firms are embracing the wave and incorporating new technologies and techniques to secure new clients and enhance service delivery.
Clients are increasingly asking law ﬁrms to innovate in solving complex legal problems to keep in step, or get ahead of, fast-paced changes on everything from digitising courts to unexpected regulations across the world and bringing online tools to clients and employees who want access and services on tap.
Every jurisdiction in Asia faces its own challenges to handle new legal issues, adapt to new operations at the courts and be creative from a techno-logical and legal perspective to adapt to dynamic regulations.
The spirit and the letter of the law is time honoured, but law ﬁrms are realising that innovation can be a value-add, helping them stand out in crowded markets as efﬁciency increases and impacts operational margins and costs for clients. The Asian Legal Business (ALB) Top Innovative Firms ranking looks at how different ﬁrms have innovated.
One prominent example is the work done by UK-based global law ﬁrm Allen & Overy in Thailand. The ﬁrm worked with the Export-Import Bank of Thailand (EXIM Thailand) in green ﬁnancing via the creation of its medium-term note (MTN) program and the issuance of two tranches of green bonds totalling 5 bil-lion baht ($151.9 million).
Allen & Overy also provided guidance to Gulf Energy Development, a power producer, on its MTN program and domestic issues of plain vanilla and digital bonds, totalling 35 billion baht. The digital bonds will be made available through the Pao Tang smartphone app, aiding the digitisation of the Thai debt and equities capital markets.
Japanese law ﬁrm Atsumi & Sakai is focused on innovation in environmental, social and governance (ESG) and sustainable development goals (SDGs) that are embedded in all aspects of its inter-national full-service legal practice. The ﬁrm’s renewable energy, ﬁnance projects and energy and food and agriculture teams actively address these issues in line with climate change policy-driven innovations.
The ﬁrm also uses machine learning technology to read and analyse legal documentation in Japanese and Korean using a technology called Luminance.
Atsumi & Sakai has also formulated an employer action plan to ensure that all staff members are able to achieve work-life balance.
South Korean law ﬁrm Dentons Lee has established a U.S. litigation discovery team led by an experienced US trial lawyer, to assist Asian companies engaged in U.S. litigation in complying with their discovery obligations. Mandates have included working with a large university in analysing its patent portfolio to examine technologies developed by students and teachers that could be monetised, along with a map of companies interested in such technologies.
Negotiations with buyers and licensees led to a multimillion-dollar revenue stream for the university.
The ﬁrm has also boosted its ESG practice in South Korea, providing consulting to our clients on the newest and most innovative strategies and practices globally.
In the Philippines, DivinaLaw has taken a sharp look at the recent entry of digital banks and the need to hire foreign experts who are specialists in the technology and doyens in digital banking procedures.
The ﬁrm convinced the Department of Justice to issue an opinion granting an exemption not only for the role of a digital bank’s chief operating ofﬁcer, but also for hiring future foreign corporate ofﬁcers.
In addition, DivinaLaw offers clients a news monitoring service during any crisis or for those involved in highly-publicised cases.
Operationally, the firm has embraced the cloud for its docket system, billings and collections, and document tracking, has a strong social media presence, and its website is optimised for search engines.
This strong digital presence has led to increased brand recognition, and 94 percent of DivinaLaw’s close to 1,500 inquiries in 2022 were received through digital outreach.
KEEPING INNOVATION IN-HOUSE
Khaitan & Co in India works with its in-house innovation team of non-practicing lawyers to re-imagine how legal services are delivered and rely on a tech solutions team of developers and coders, and even external consultants, to build out internal and client-facing solutions.
The ﬁrm enabled dedicated innovation hours for lawyers to build a solution with a team of in-house coders. It also offers annual innovation awards that recognise ideas to change practices or processes.
One such tool is an in-house “Avail-ability App” to allow partners to easily ﬁnd the right resource from across vari-ous ofﬁces and to ensure staff availability based on the employee’s bandwidth to avoid burnouts.
Among international ﬁrms, in 2022 Mayer Brown and the UNHCR worked together to develop a thorough manual for Non-refoulment Claimants and Substantiated Claimants under the Hong Kong Uniﬁed Screening Mechanism.
The company went one step further and created a mobile app to improve reading and offer simpler access to information. The app allows users to access a webpage, form or decision tree that ask a series of questions and assess if the pertinent data is protected by legal professional privilege in Hong Kong.
Internally, the ﬁrm was looking into how to modernise the onboarding procedure for trainees and new employees and the app is the ﬁrst of its type.
Mayer Brown also conducts courses on embracing innovation that makes use of Design Thinking, a concept that is still new to the legal industry but crucial for resolving challenging client issues.
The ﬁrm is investing in AI tools, service transformation and cutting-edge technology as part of an innovation framework called Embrace. According to Mayer Brown, competitive market demands the creation of client-focused solutions due to the growth of the legal industry, the sophistication of data, processes, and technology, as well as the capabilities and lower costs of LegalTech.
Nishimura & Asahi is dedicated to setting the bar for innovation and technology as the biggest law practice in Japan. It developed a digital trans-formation (DX) practice group in 2020 after realising the critical role of DX in streamlining operations and enhancing service delivery. They were one of the ﬁrst law ﬁrms in Japan to do this.
The ﬁrm keeps current to help clients with difﬁcult problems in a world that is changing quickly. It established an agri-food practice. An economic sanctions practice was established in 2022 that provides a wide range of related services and makes use of its close connections to a network of US and Euro-pean law ﬁrms that focus on sanctions regulations.
Rajah & Tann Asia is renowned for its inventiveness and entrepreneurship in the legal sector. The ﬁrm has worked on numerous “ﬁrst of its type” deals, including Southeast Asia’s ﬁrst Sustainable Bonds in the agrifood sector and providing advice on one of the biggest ﬂoating solar farms.
Rajah & Tann established the region’s first full-service e-discovery practice, providing LegalTech advisory services such as electronic discovery, forensic technology, and data control.
Additionally, the firm created RTCyber, a suite that offers a comprehensive array of technical services for data protection and cybersecurity. With its passive income model, ReadyDocs, a complete subscription-based con-tract automation solution for SMEs, has increased the number of its customers. In order to give people the knowledge and skills they need to use disruptive technologies, Rajah & Tann and NUS Computing developed a joint seven-course program.
Reed Smith developed the Arbitration Pricing Calculator, a mobile application that aids users in making cost estimates for arbitration at more than 42 arbitral institutions worldwide. The program makes it possible to predict arbitration costs quickly and precisely.
The firm’s entertainment and media practice also released its second edition of the Reed Smith Guide to the Metaverse in September 2022. It is one of the few publications that focus on the legal problems brought on by the emergence of the metaverse.
In addition, Reed Smith opened an Innovation Lab, a virtual hub for the ﬁrm and its clients to discover, nurture and advance innovative ideas. The lab serves as a place for diagnostic testing and business consultation.
With document automation, client data access, bulk emails, client relation-ship management, time and billing soft-ware, document management system, ﬁnance and accounting, and knowledge-related processes, Saraf and Partners uses artiﬁcial intelligence and machine learning tools as the foundation of its practices. In addition to ensuring error-free documents and saving lawyers’ time, these tools and systems ensure the security and accessibility of ﬁles.
Saraf and Partners advised Vedanta Group in creating India’s ﬁrst semiconductor fab facility under the Government of India’s Fab Scheme, in which Volcan Investments, a Vedanta group company, and Fortunebay Technology, a Foxconn group ﬁrm, formed a joint venture with a $20 billion investment. It is a historic transaction that emphasized innovation and technology to promote efﬁciency.
Managing umbrella power projects composed of numerous independent projects can be difﬁcult. A complicated and time-consuming document process might result from variations in sponsors, ﬁnanciers, funding, and equity structure. Shearman & Sterling and BigSquare col-laborated to develop a real-time, cloud-based, automated financial metrics dashboard to address this problem. This platform turns data into useful insights and presents a thorough view of the company’s ﬁnancial situation. Lawyers have immediate access to critical information including usage, realisation, client revenue and personal contributions, while management can evaluate proﬁt-ability, stafﬁng, utilisation, and ofﬁce comparisons.
Moreover, a role-based data model established by the firm, sup-ports client-sharing, leadership, and profitable culture by assisting partners in creating business strategies, focusing on more lucrative work, and increasing firm-wide profitability. For increased performance, attorneys routinely evaluate their work and take proactive measures to address client difficulties.
As the securities regulations change, Silk Legal, from Bangkok, launched a service desk in New York to better support its blockchain and cryptocurrency practice group. The ﬁrm has had success in the industry despite the recent slump. In order to compete in the cutthroat Thai market for company formation and corporate support services, Silk Legal also developed a new website, MyThaiCompany.com.
For foreign business owners and investors, the website offers individualised incorporation, accounting, and company secretarial services. Its goal is to keep the law ﬁrm’s unique selling point of having lawyers advise on these comprehensive services while adding value to customers by assisting them in navigating the complicated regulations for establishing and managing a local corporation.
STAYING AHEAD OF TECHNOLOGY
To provide clients with the best service possible, Anand and Anand in India, law ﬁrms must stay abreast of technology developments in areas such as AI, big data, the Internet of Things, the metaverse, blockchain and non-fungi-ble tokens. The issues raised by these developments include data privacy, cybersecurity, rights enforcement in the metaverse, and ownership and protection of AI-generated works. In the view of Anand and Anand, law ﬁrms must maintain a mix of legal, technological, and economic skills and continuous contact with subject matter specialists.
Anand and Anand has created in-house AI-assisted applications to boost productivity, including a form-ﬁlling tool that saves over 800 hours per week.
In another instance, a preliminary trademark search can be completed in ﬁve minutes as opposed to hours. These tools have increased the ﬁrm’s responsiveness, agility, and revenue.
In a recent case managed by Anand and Anand, the Delhi High Court Division Bench barred the defendant from using the trademark TATA in connection with their cryptocurrency, products, websites, and domain names, despite the fact that the defendant was not physically present in India and hid their identity behind anonymity. This ground-breaking decision demonstrates how law ﬁrms may successfully navigate difﬁcult situations and meet the needs of their clients in a technological environment that is rapidly developing.
A market-leading regulatory affairs and life sciences team at Tilleke & Gibbins assists customers in the cannabis business with regulatory compliance. The company also assists technology clients in managing blockchain-based goods and services while abiding by Southeast Asian legislative standards. The ﬁrm’s internal IT department serves clients in the digital asset sector through partnerships with top legal tech solutions.
In 2022 the Thai branch of Bureau Veritas was effectively represented by the legal team Tilleke & Gibbins in the nation’s ﬁrst-ever virtual hearing at the Intellectual Property & International Trade Court. The court rejected plain-tiff’s claims, which also conﬁrmed that the client’s contractual obligations had been met.
Tilleke & Gibbins also achieved a signiﬁcant ruling from Thailand’s IP & IT Court holding Alibaba not liable for IP infringement on its platforms was made as a result of the ﬁrm’s successful defense of Alibaba in a patent infringement action.
India’s Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co. law ﬁrm has invested in technology and digital efforts to boost lawyer productivity and efﬁciency, pro-vide clients with seamless solutions, and offer meaningful digital learning and development opportunities.
These investments have allowed the ﬁrm to develop more efﬁcient pro-cesses for long-term efﬁciency gains and higher customer service standards. These include the use of robotic process automation, cutting-edge machine learning, and process automation. Digital platforms used by the company include Luminance, SAM HUB, Litera automation systems, and CLEmentine. The company is now well-positioned for long-term growth and success as a result of these activities.
ALB TOP 15 INNOVATIVE LAW FIRMS 2023
ALLEN AND OVERY
ANAND AND ANAND
ATSUMI & SAKAI
KHAITAN & CO
NISHIMURA & ASAHI
RAJAH & TANN ASIA
SARAF AND PARTNERS
SHARDUL AMARCHAND MANGALDAS & CO
SHEARMAN & STERLING
TILLEKE & GIBBINS