Designing laws and regulations in a legal landscape that is constantly being disrupted by technology is a herculean task. As aptly put by Dr Sam Muller during the Singapore Legal Futures conference today, “nobody knows what the future will be”. In the 1970s it was inconceivable that lawyers would be corresponding via emails at breakneck speed, as most things were still done via facsimile machines. Look at us now – instantaneous communication is a given.
With the advent of technology, a whole slew of legal conundrums has been placed upon 21st century policymakers. Professor Mark Lemley raised the example of a 3D printed gun – yes, with the right blueprint you can now print a plastic gun in the comfort of your own home!
This has placed the US government in a state of panic, and they are in the midst of amending their laws to block the posting of the gun’s blueprints online. Is this a swift enough response? Not quite – over 100,000 of these blueprints were downloaded over the first 2 days the invention went live in 2013.
Should we be frightened that our laws may be outmoded by technology in the near future? No, in fact, we should embrace and welcome technology that contributes to the increased productivity of the legal sphere. To this end, Professor Richard Susskind proposes moving the UK civil justice system online for low value claims. This will do away with lengthy waiting times and free up judges’ minds for more challenging cases.
The business of lawyers thrives on information asymmetry. Just last year, 2 local non-lawyers came up with a creative solution that deals precisely with such inefficiencies in the legal sector. Their start-up, LawCanvas, provides the public cheap access to standard business contract templates. SMEs with a shoestring budget no longer need to pay a lawyer thousands of dollars to draft a simple partnership contract.
Some lawyers lament that LawCanvas is usurping their business. But if we think about it from a broader perspective, it may not be half bad for a lawyer’s professional development as it pushes them to scour for higher-level deals and focus their energies on sharpening their analytical skills; instead of fixating on simplistic contracts that may pay decently well, but do not require as much thought.
Whether we like it or not, change is inevitable. As Senior Minister of State Ms Indranee Rajah SC expressed, “We can either change or be changed. Painfully or painlessly”. Instead of resisting change, we need to stay ahead of the curve, and be prepared for the change that is to come.