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How Can Your Company Benefit from Flexible Legal Talent in Asia?.

NewLaw is gaining traction around the world, including Asia

A new method of delivery of legal services has been gaining ground in global financial capitals around the world – including in Asia. Called “NewLaw” by legal industry analysts, the business model utilises flexible talent, fixed fees, advanced technology and an asset-light corporate business model to provide lower cost legal talent to a full spectrum including general counsels of large corporates and banks, as well as founders of startups and SME’s to law firm partners.

Understood more expansively, NewLaw is — according to Ottawa-based legal management consultant Jordan Furlong: “Any model, process, or tool that represents a significantly different approach to the creation or provision of legal services than what the legal profession traditionally has employed.” This definition would include startups which provide standardised legal documents to smaller business – some of which also operate in Asia.

And as Ilina Rejeva of European legal startup LegalTrek explained in a recent article“NewLaw is here to stay and is expanding fast”. Importantly too, a number of large international law firms in Asia have also developed NewLaw initiatives in an attempt to compete. But where did this all begin?

Global economic conditions & LegalTech help power the growth of NewLaw

According to a recent article in The Legal 500 by Catherine Wycherley — the global financial crisis saw many multinational companies focus on Asia-Pacific markets to fuel growth. Hong Kong, Singapore and China, among others in the region, have become engines of growth for global businesses as a result of domestic economic activity and foreign investment flows. This influx of multinationals resulted in an increase in foreign law firms competing for work and the rise of technology-driven alternative legal services including NewLaw and legal startups. 

For now, general counsel’s and others looking for innovation in legal services can avail themselves of NewLaw providers based in the Asia Pacific region. Australia and Singapore are leading the way for a more liberalised legal market showing innovative initiative to support growth in legal entrepreneurship. However, the liberalisation of other legal markets in Asia is not accelerating at the same speed as that of North America and Europe.

NewLaw in Asia:  Less well known than in North America and Europe

NewLaw is more widely known and employed by general counsel in North American and European financial capitals including London and New York, than in Asia. While NewLaw firms have begun operating in Asia in recent years, according to The Legal 500, general counsel in the region have been more slow to adopt the outsourcing of some functions. But this is predicted to change as a result of recent slower economic growth in China and a drive by the general counsel to economise which in turn is driving a curiosity with the new service delivery models.

Veronica Lai, general counsel and company secretary at Singapore-based info-comms company StarHub, may reflect the general consensus among most general counsel in Asia when she told The Legal 500 that she sees some traction for NewLaw, but not a “wholesale disruption” of the market. She predicted that there would be a continued openness to the model as long as quality of service was maintained.

NewLaw’s growth provides business with more options

NewLaw was once a “periphery player” in legal services, as Eric Chin, Sydney-based legal services management consultant told LegalTrek. But recent mergers of some of the larger NewLaw firms have “permanently cemented” their rise, as he explains. As early as 2013 Chin predicted NewLaw would become ascendant as a result of its ability to provide general counsels with low cost, flexible legal talent in comparison to traditional law firms. And as he noted, the efforts to emulate NewLaw’s business model by the larger law firms further confirms the business models durability and longevity with the general counsel client.

Chin says the NewLaw model has reached a “tipping point”, where its permanence in the legal landscape is assured. He cited the flurry of activity by NewLaw firms merging to create international reach and traditional large law firms emulating NewLaw in increasing numbers — as further evidence of a permanently changed market.

There is choice for buying quality legal services in Asia-Pacific

It’s clear based on the continued success of NewLaw that the general counsel now has a clear choice.  Is flexibility in price and talent important in those who provide you with legal services?  Is the provision of more efficient legal services via the use of advanced technology something which would also help?  Do secondees with years of experience in unique areas of law sound appealing as a means to tap into flexible talent for specific work?  Does legal process and legal project management feature on your radar for driving value for your business?  If any of these sound appealing, it might be time to consider NewLaw as an option to help augment your legal (or procurement) department or lean legal budget.

Titus Rahiri