At a recent conference in Hong Kong, attendees were asked about how to improve the dispute resolution process for all parties. Data generated from a live, technology-enabled poll of the audience led to a thought-provoking discussion on the priorities and limitations to innovation in the dispute resolution process, specifically in Hong Kong.
Panelists and attendees agreed that the region currently has a quite low-tech experience, and some of the biggest obstacles attorneys face when seeking to resolve commercial disputes are financial and time constraints.
Identifying the Disconnect
During one of the conference discussions on this subject, the audience was asked to prioritise a list of processes and tools that may improve commercial dispute resolution procedures. Surprisingly (for a technology-minded attorney), “better use of technology” was behind almost every other choice listed except for “other,” as was also the case in the aggregated data from conferences.
However, in voting on what will have the most significant impact on future policy-making in commercial dispute resolution, conference attendees overwhelmingly placed the highest importance on the demand for increased efficiency of the dispute resolution processes, including through technology.
These results raise an important question: how can innovation be brought to change-resistant industries, knowing that professionals in those industries seem to have a vision for the future that isn’t reflected in their current priorities? This inconsistency is an impediment to driving real change and improving the processes behind dispute resolution.
Shedding Light on the Legal Landscape
In short, the key to speeding up innovation is dispelling the myths that prevent progress.
To explore more about the myths around technology and the law, I spoke to May Tai (pictured), a partner at Herbert Smith Freehills in Hong Kong, specialising in cross-border China-related and regional Asian disputes including international arbitration, litigation, and regulatory investigations. May is one of the leaders in technology innovation, and she had some interesting perspective on how to subvert some of the most common myths among technology-resistant legal professionals in the region:
Myth #1: Using sophisticated technology makes the process more complicated and less efficient than the status quo.
May: “Litigation and arbitration are getting increasingly more complex. If we do not use sophisticated technology, we will be left behind because others will use it and offer better products and services to clients. The option of staying with the status quo does not exist.”
Myth #2: Using technology makes the process costlier because you must hire specialists.
May: “Whether using technology makes the process costlier depends on the type and size of the case. Clearly on a very simple or low value case, it is not appropriate to spend money to bring in technology specialists. But in complex and/or high value cases, there is no other way to provide the clients with the best service and best chance of succeeding in their case.”
Myth #3: As an hourly billable entity, law firms don’t have an interest in becoming more efficient.
May: “The number of matters where clients are willing to accept billing by the hour is decreasing every year. Our clients are sophisticated repeat users of our services and they are constantly challenging us to add value and become more efficient.”
Myth #4: The learning curve to introduce technology is too steep and attorneys are resistant to change.
May: “Lawyers do not have a choice in the matter. This is what the sophisticated clients expect and what the counterparty’s lawyers are doing.”
Written by Abigail Cooke.
Abigail Cooke is a US attorney, based in Hong Kong as kCura‘s head of business development and operations in the Asia-Pacific Region. Abigail started her career with the Civil Division of the US Department of Justice. She then moved into corporate law, working within the pharmaceutical industry, specializing in large-scale corporate transactions, commercial contracts, and compliance. Moreover, Abigail has defined her legal career around the idea that legal processes and the industry in general can be innovative, cost effective, and efficient.