CLICKS @ State Courts aims to expand access to justice by future-proofing small law firms through technology.
Singapore, 8 March 2019 — Last May, Mr Rajan Chettiar celebrated the fact that his small law firm had gone paperless. But getting to that point wasn't easy — it took more than a year to change his colleagues' mindsets about digitalisation and to also find a suitable document management system. "Sometimes, wanting to modernise is not good enough — there are hurdles you have to jump," shared the 53-year-old family lawyer. Mr Chettiar's firm is among the more than 700 small law firms in Singapore that employ fewer than five lawyers, but provide essential community law services commonly used by the man-in-the-street.
To help firms like these ride the digital wave and stay relevant in the changing legal landscape, the Singapore Academy of Law (“SAL”) will introduce a co-working space at the upcoming State Courts Towers on Havelock Road. Known as CLICKS @ State Courts — which stands for Collaborative Law, Innovative Co-creation and Knowledge-Sharing — it will open in the first quarter of 2020.
The space will make it easier for firms to adopt technology by providing them with shared amenities and facilities, like meeting rooms and office equipment. By reducing operational costs and inefficiencies, firms can focus on uplifting their legal practice — and in turn, continue to provide accessible and affordable legal services to the man-in-the-street.
“Advancing the access to justice is an important agenda for the legal profession, but the solution is not in the hands of the legal profession alone,” said Ms Serene Wee, Chief Executive of SAL. “We hope to achieve two key objectives with CLICKS @ State Courts. Firstly, we want to help our small law firms future-proof themselves. Technology is an unstoppable force and they must keep up, so they can transform into next-generation practices.”
“Secondly, we hope that domestic users of legal services — in particular the lower income and ‘sandwich’ groups — can continue to benefit from the accessibility and affordability offered by small law firms.”
To fulfil its aims, CLICKS @ State Courts will tap into existing SAL programmes to uplift the legal profession through a customised competency framework as well as collaborative tech projects. These efforts will allow practitioners to operate more efficiently. By doing so, access to justice will be advanced for those unable to afford legal services.
A SPACE FOR COLLABORATION
Managed by SAL, CLICKS @ State Courts will be located on the 21st floor of the State Courts Towers. It will offer a limited number of workspaces for rent in its first phase. The space will initially house a mix of law firms of various sizes representing legal practitioners specialising in criminal law, family law, and community or relational disputes. Preference will be given to lawyers with a strong record in pro bono work.
Said Justice See Kee Oon, Presiding Judge of the State Courts, “A benefit of locating these practitioners within the New State Courts Towers is the increased convenience and casework for practitioners undertaking pro bono work, which will be mandatory under CLICKS @ State Courts. This will hopefully translate into enhanced access to justice for litigants-in-person who would thereby have greater and more convenient access to pro bono services and general legal advice and information.”
In addition to lawyers, there will also be spaces for tech companies, stakeholder representatives, academics and students. Besides sharing office resources, it is hoped that tenants will also share ideas and work together for the future of the legal sector. The knowledge and expertise of small law firms, in particular, will be tapped on so that tech companies can develop solutions to address their pain points.
TOWARDS A FUTURE-READY LEGAL PROFESSION
CLICKS @ State Courts will host SAL’s existing transformative initiatives that encourage lawyers to adopt technology and improve professional standards. FLIP at State Courts (FAST) aims to develop tech-enabled legal solutions that addresses existing barriers to access to justice.
“An example of such a solution could be an auto-bot that guides court users through each stage of the different court processes for the individual user,” suggested Ms Wee. “This could also automate referrals to and from Family Service Centres and other community resources.” LIFTED programmes will enable lawyers to keep up-to-date with latest developments in the law and dive deeper into specialised areas of legal practice.
SAL has made collaboration a key tenet of CLICKS @ State Courts. Besides the State Courts, the Community Justice Centre (CJC) and the Law Society's Pro Bono Services (LSPBS) will be SAL’s partners in this project. Their involvement will help CLICKS @ State Courts meet its goals of advancing access to justice through tech-enabled efficiency.
“We have observed that there are cases deserving of assistance that fall through the cracks — especially among the ‘sandwich’ class, which may be too rich for legal aid, but too poor to hire a lawyer,” said Mr Lim Tanguy, Chief Executive Officer of LSPBS. “We hope that CLICKS @ State Courts’ emphasis on partnerships and collaborations will go a considerable distance towards addressing this issue, by leveraging developments in legal technology to deliver services more efficiently.”
This collaborative nature may also have spillover benefits for outside the legal community as well. “Besides their legal issues, litigants will also often need to deal with underlying emotional or psychological distress and financial difficulties. For some, the legal case may also have an adverse impact on their families as well,” said Mr Leonard Lee, Executive Director of CJC. “The legal community must forge a closer collaboration with the social service sector, so that more can be done to prevent more from spiraling towards the poverty trap. We certainly look forward to the solutions that CLICKS @ State Courts can come out with to nurture more of such partnerships.”
Added Mr Rajan Chettiar, "CLICKS offers the small law firm an opportunity to take on the future with confidence. It's an opportunity not to be missed."
APPLICATIONS AND ENQUIRIES
SAL will hold an information session on CLICKS @ State Courts at the end of March 2019. Details on pricing and lease matters will be released by July 2019. Lawyers and law firms will then be invited to apply to operate at CLICKS @ State Courts. A committee will assess applications and successful candidates will be notified by September 2019.
 Existing programmes include the Future Law Innovation Programme (FLIP) and the Legal Industry Framework for Training and Education (LIFTED)