BY ELIZABETH BEATTIE
Michael Lew, the chief operating officer of Rajah & Tann Technologies, talks about the importance of harnessing Big Data, and the increasingly prominent role played by e-discovery in Asia’s legal industry.
ALB: Can you tell us about your career so far?
Lew: I am presently the chief operating officer of Rajah & Tann Technologies, and I have been a legal technologist for over 17 years, consulting on technology risk management, digital forensics, e-discovery and, in recent years, legal artificial intelligence. Prior to joining R&T Technologies, I worked with a barrister’s chamber at Lincoln’s Inn (London), Rajah & Tann Singapore, KPMG, Deloitte and other notable advisory firms.
Following my interest in the use of AI and predictive data analytics for the legal domain, I had a stint with the National University of Singapore (NUS) as a researcher in the field of AI and blockchain and had the opportunity to work directly with distinguished professors and data scientists. Armed with a strong appreciation for the effective use of AI, in 2017 I founded LegalComet, an AI-driven legaltech startup with a focus on e-discovery, forensic technology and data governance.
ALB: How did your partnership with Rajah & Tann come about?
Lew: Since returning from London in 2000, my first job in Singapore was with Rajah & Tann where I was tasked to identify a better way to manage and review electronic evidence, and this ignited my passion and focus on e-discovery. I had very a fruitful stint with the firm and was always open to working with Rajah & Tann again.
Fast forward 18 years later, my latest partnership with Rajah & Tann came about at an opportune time when my legaltech startup, LegalComet, was gaining positive momentum in the Southeast Asia e-discovery marketplace, especially with our AI-driven solutions. We required funding and resources to take the business to the next level. Naturally, I was looking for a strategic partner/investor that forward thinking with a regional reach. During this time, I met Rajesh Sreenivasan, director of R&T Technologies at the first global legal hackathon event in Singapore and I was intrigued by the business model, and the direction where R&T Technologies was heading. I then asked for an opportunity to pitch my business model and, as they say, the rest is history.
ALB: How would a legaltech startup like yours benefit from working within the framework of a large law firm like Rajah & Tann?
Lew: Common challenges that most startups face include having a commercially viable business model, getting the right people on board, and having enough funding or capital to take their business forward. The real challenge that legaltech startups face, however, is having access to extensive legal domain expertise for legaltech products and the right dataset to validate and train AI-driven solutions.
Now that we are working within the framework of Rajah & Tann Asia, my team is given the opportunity to unlock years of untapped intellectual properties in the form of “smart data,” which is commonly known as “the new oil.” One such example is R&T Technologies’ Virtual Law Academy, where we work closely with Rajah & Tann Asia’s lawyers around the region who are legal domain experts in their respective fields to create and update bespoke e-learning contents in our innovative e-learning platform.
Another project involves collaborating with lawyers to create workflows incorporating their best practices in predictive contract management. The list goes on. Having a mixture of legal technologists and lawyers from large law firms under one roof is the right formula for a tsunami of unprecedented legal innovations.
My team is always confident and excited to push ahead with our tech-enabled legal solutions, knowing that we have the full support of all the lawyers within Rajah & Tann Asia.
ALB: What are some of the important recent trends you've noticed in the use of e-discovery in Asia, particularly in Singapore?
Lew: The e-discovery market in Asia is poised for strong growth. According to a 2017 report by research firm Global Industry Analysts, the worldwide e-discovery market is expected to be worth $11.6 billion by 2020, with much of the growth coming from Asia Pacific. Between 2015 and 2020, the region is expected to have a compound annual growth rate of 22.5 percent, making it the fastest in the world.
In the example of Singapore, which is aspiring to be a Smart Nation, our everyday activities are becoming digitalised and consequently, the scope of Big Data is becoming bigger and wider in the sense that a larger volume of data will be replicated across more mobile devices and cloud-based repositories. Naturally, one can only expect the burgeoning growth of e-discovery for litigation, arbitration and investigation to continue. In short, the usage of e-discovery is pegged to the growth of data in general. It is equally important to note that the complexity of an e-discovery engagement increases when more mobile devices and cloud-based repositories are involved.
Following this emerging trend, traditional methods of deploying e-discovery solutions may not be sufficient. Hence, it is crucial to start considering the use of legal analytics and artificial intelligence in all e-discovery matters moving forward.
ALB: What role does e-discovery play in the legal industry today, and how is this evolving?
Lew: In the past decade, the proportion of soft-copy documents has clearly overshadowed hard-copy documents. Due to the exponential growth in the volume of electronic data to be reviewed, e-discovery has become one of the forerunners of enabling legaltech solutions to address this pain point. Most law firms with a litigation or dispute resolution practice are able to benefit from the use of advanced e-discovery features such as machine learning, technology-assisted review and AI.
One can reason that e-discovery has paved the way for the adoption of legaltech in Asia. Having said that, the marketplace has evolved to the point that there are at least a dozen reputable e-discovery service providers in Singapore with various services and solutions.
A key differentiation is the ability to provide a bespoke and holistic offering, taking into account all elements of technology, process and people. In my opinion, most solutions can be too technology-centric and may not address the client's pain point in the best possible way. Hence, I hope that the introduction of a first-of-its-kind certification programme for e-discovery management by R&T Technologies and Singapore Academy of Law Ventures will equip more lawyers and e-discovery practitioners in Asia to bridge this gap and to provide quality e-discovery project management.