Singapore, 23 April 2018 – In another step to nudge the legal profession into the digital age, a group of young technocrats have come up with an answer to privacy and cyber security concerns in using digital signatures on legal documents.
Digital signatures, the equivalent of a handwritten signature or seal to authenticate the source of a message, are encrypted to prevent tampering but lawyers are still wary of using them. They cite problems of data privacy; how to ensure that the client’s information is not used beyond what it was intended for. They also want the encryption process to be simpler and integrated with their existing software.
It took Isaac Choo, Chris Powell, Anurag Agrawal, K Vengatesen and Rena Phua 48 hours to hammer out a possible solution to these concerns. The team, from Singapore-based legal technology company LegalFAB Pte Ltd, was part of eight teams who took part in a hackathon organised by the Singapore Academy of Law (SAL). The hackathon was one of several events held as part of a regional legal tech forum TechLaw.Fest 2018 held from 4-6 April 2018. The competition challenged participants to come up with out-of-the-box solutions to everyday problems faced by lawyers, in-house counsels, users of legal services and data protection officers (DPOs) in Singapore. To emphasise the importance of personal data protection, teams were also asked to incorporate Data Protection by Design in their solutions.
LegalFAB’s winning solution involved using a blockchain-based cutting-edge technology that provides a cost-effective, reliable and secure system for conducting and recording transactions online. It offers a significantly higher degree of transparency and security, which they hope will encourage more confidence in and widespread use of digital signatures.
With LegalFAB’s solution, individuals are able to create an encrypted record of verified personal data that can be used to enter into transactions, and confirm details of the transaction using a documented digital signature. For example, using this system, an individual may apply to open a bank account using passport details that have been verified by a law firm, instead of having to visit the bank with physical copies of their original documents. The bank, in response, electronically sends back a copy of the draft bank account details which the individual can then confirm using a digital signature. This can all be accomplished with almost no risk of forgery or hacking. The aim is to create an efficient way for companies to obtain verifiable data from customers, while at the same time allowing individuals to digitally sign information in a way that reliably protects and proves their verifiable data when dealing with companies.
The next step for the LegalFAB team is to develop their prototype solution into a viable market product. They will do this under SAL’s Future Law Innovation Programme (FLIP) which has an acceleration programme to help promising tech-based legal enterprises start-ups scale up their business.
“We think this serves as a great example of how technology solutions can be of mutual benefits to individuals, businesses, and governments,” said Chris Powell, Co-Founder and Head of Business Development at LegalFAB. “We are excited about opportunities to develop this solution and further engage with partners in the legal tech ecosystem within Singapore and beyond.”
Paul Neo, SAL’s Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer, said, “It is heartening to see FLIP’s 101 Problem Statements starting to catalyse innovation in the legal industry. We hope to see more solutions and products like this in the near future. These will go a long way towards evolving our legal industry into a legal hub for the region.”
 These challenge areas are drawn from FLIP’s “101 Problem Statements – Challenges & Opportunities for the Legal Sector” and/or four other data protection problem statements prepared by the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC). The 101 Problem Statements were collated in consultation with lawyers, in-house counsel and users of legal services. It is intended as a guide for technologists, entrepreneurs and the legal tech industry in developing client-centric solutions in areas such as increased access to justice, better collaboration and communication between lawyers and clients, as well as enabling lawyers to increase their productivity.
FLIP worked closely over three months with a team of ten undergraduate students, mainly law students from the National University of Singapore and Singapore Management University (SMU), who assisted in collating the report. “Having our students actively involved in developing innovation in the legal industry is invaluable,” said Associate Professor Goh Yihan, Dean at the SMU School of Law. “By exposing them to projects such as FLIP’s 101 Problem Statements, we are creating a sense of awareness in the next generation of lawyers that will lay the foundation for them to start considering and perhaps even addressing the future challenges they will face.”
“101 Problem Statements – Challenges & Opportunities for the Legal Sector” is available free of charge online at https://www.flip.org.sg/single-post/2018/03/13/The-101-Problem-Statements---Challenges-Opportunities-for-the-Legal-Sector.
About the Future Law Innovation Programme
The Future Law Innovation Programme (FLIP) is a two-year pilot programme by SAL to encourage the adoption of technology and drive innovation to create a vibrant ecosystem for legal technology. FLIP regularly runs legal tech-related events in the Legal Innovation Lab located at the Collision 8 co-working space across the road from the Supreme Court. More information on FLIP can be found at www.flip.org.sg.
About the Singapore Academy of Law
The Singapore Academy of Law (SAL) is a promotion and development agency for Singapore’s legal industry. Our vision is to make Singapore the legal hub of Asia.
SAL works with our stakeholders to set new precedents of excellence in Singapore law through developing thought leadership, world class infrastructure and legal solutions. Our mandates are to build up the intellectual capital of the legal profession by enhancing legal knowledge, raise the international profile of Singapore law, promote Singapore as a centre for dispute resolution, and improve the standards and efficiency of legal practice through continuing professional development and the use of technology.
As a body established by statute, SAL also undertakes statutory functions such as stakeholding services and appointment of Senior Counsel, Commissioners for Oaths and Notaries Public.
SAL is led by a Senate headed by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, and comprising the Attorney-General, the Supreme Court Bench and key leaders of the various branches of the legal profession. It has more than 12,000 members, including the Bench, all persons who are called as advocates and solicitors of the Supreme Court (i.e. the Bar) or appointed as Legal Service Officers, corporate counsel, faculty members of the three local law schools (i.e. National University of Singapore, Singapore Management University and Singapore University of Social Sciences) and foreign lawyers in Singapore.
More information can be found at www.sal.org.sg.
24 April 2018:
OpenGov - Blockchain-based technology for secure digital signatures wins legal tech hackathon in Singapore