Our first coffee with Adrian Kwong brought us many insights on how legal professionals can also think out of the box, create new standards and push through new boundaries. Catch our full chat with him in our first 'Over A Coffee With' series.
Tell us a little about yourself and what you do.
I am a practicing lawyer, I have my own firm it’s called Consigclear LLC. I do mainly two things, one is intellectual property-intensive areas such as entertainment, media and video games. I also do external in-house counsel for clients. I used to be an inhouse lawyer and was a general counsel on the inhouse side.
What made you decide to join the Future Law Innovation Programme (FLIP) and what has the experience been like?
FLIP came along at an interesting time when I was just starting out my own firm and FLIP was starting out as well. And I figured, coming from me when I had no clients and no legacy systems, it was a chance to leapfrog to see what other people out there were doing. Maybe, drag myself into what the legal practice is today, and also for the future.
“Innovation isn’t just some sexy tools and technology,
but asking yourself ‘is there a better way?’”
It has been interesting; there were probably two takeaways. One is asking yourself what is innovation, what does that mean? What can you do differently? Not some super sexy tools and technology, or whatever. But, throughout the six months, it has been a little bit about questioning, is this the thing we have to do for the future? Is there a better way to do this for our clients, is there a better way to do this for our employees, and for ourselves? It’s more of asking yourself is there a better way, is there a more innovative way? And not just for the sake of doing it.
I think the second piece has been the community. Together with the FLIP community, there has been lots of activities, tech demos, hackathons, events; some of them resonated better, some of them resonated not so well. But overall, I think the big takeaway is the interaction with students, lawyers, people from the judiciary, LegalTech companies, from all over the place. A lot of that has to do with having a sense of community in the legal sector. It’s not just the private sector and lawyers, it’s actually a much bigger ecosystem now than I think traditionally would have thought so.
Congratulations! We understand that you’ve achieved something innovative with respect to your practice. Tell us more about that!
I didn’t have any innovative technology, tools and apps, but I think the innovation which came out of FLIP was the confidence to try to do something different, in terms of the operations part of private practice. What I did was, as far as I know, be the first lawyer and law firm to be approved to work out of a co-working space and hot desk. Traditionally, you have to have a defined space, a name on the wall, so as to protect client’s confidentiality and distinct identity. And I think under the osmosis of FLIP and Collision 8 being the innovation working space, MinLaw actually approved for my firm to officially share premises with the non-law entity which is Collision 8, without a defined office space. It didn’t have a small office within a big office. On the floor plan, you can work anywhere at Collision 8, and operate your practice from here.
It’s not a blanket approval, we still are subject to all the rules and professional requirements such as client confidentiality, reputation of the practice, maintaining a distinct identity etc. But the point is that, instead of the previous situation where we had to have our own office, or a shared office with someone, or even a little office with a door which there are at Collision 8, this was an approval to work from co-working spaces as long as you satisfy all those requirements.
With co-working space being the thing of the moment, and more of our clients are moving to co-working spaces, or businesses moving there; I think the innovation here is if you fulfill all the requirements, as a lawyer you can operate one yourself. It’s not just me, it is any other lawyer who wants to do this from now on, I assume, if you put in the application and do all the things that is required, you can do this as well. I think that is something, hopefully, is helpful to other people outside of FLIP.
What was the application process like? Were you surprised by the results?
The application process is sort of you go online and you fill in the (form), it was smoother than I expected. Having regarded all regulations and how lawyers always did it, I did honestly expect for it to be an issue. So when it came back with no questions, subjected to all these things which you are personally expected to follow, I was actually quite surprised. It’s probably a positive thing that the regulators were willing to consider the harm or risks, I assume, as opposed to saying the rules doesn’t apply or it doesn’t cater to the situation or come back again. That was a pleasant surprise.
What are your views on the Singapore legal industry? Where do you see it going in the future?
Having been on the in-house side and the practice side, I can’t really speak for the industry as a whole. But, through the time with FLIP, attending lots of events, and speaking with people who are from different sectors, and coming into the sector; you know the technologists, the legaltech companies etc. I think there is a sense that technology, AI; things like these will be coming in and taking away some of the routine work, a lot of routine revenue that a lot of law firms might have. I think there’s also a concern that many young lawyers might not get the training they might previously have (received) doing some of the things we did as junior lawyers. I think as an industry, from a legal education and training perspective, it might take some energies on how we are going to prepare the young lawyers for the future, but also for lawyers like me who are older, how do we adapt to things as they move ahead. Hence, I think there is still going to be a legal industry, but I do think it is going to be different ten years from now. At least being in FLIP, I’ve seen sort of what might come, the robots coming for you like you see in the movies. As opposed going about your day to day and not recognising that this is going to change, and what can we do about it today.
What’s next for you and Consigclear?
Of course, we have to get on with our day to day work, clients need you to do all your stuff and all that. But following on from the FLIP learnings, especially the clarity you get when you work out of co-working spaces, I think my target is to keep working on that area and see how it can be developed to be clearer, in terms of principles, or best practices. And there are a lot of people out there who have done this or are doing this. It’d be great to see what other people are doing, so that we can go back to the wider community and give them clearer guidance on what the norms or what the practices might be, so that more people can do this with the confidence that it’s right. (for example) how do you secure your documents, how do you protect client’s confidentiality, what is the best use of technology such as cloud services and stuff, to be able to use co-working spaces better? That will ideally be a follow up.
Any advice for your fellow practitioners?
I wouldn’t presume to give my peers advice. But to you the question would probably be this, are you trying to get free advice out of a lawyer? You’ve got to be charged for that you know?