Malaysian courtrooms are embracing technology to improve operations and proceedings. Source: Shutterstock

Malaysian courtrooms are embracing technology to improve operations and proceedings. Source: Shutterstock

Malaysian courts get tech savvy and lawyers must follow suit

IF there was one industry in Malaysia that was spared from the disruption brought upon by digital transformation and emerging technologies, beyond a reasonable doubt, it would be the legal industry. But things have changed.

Recently, Malaysian Chief of Justice Richard Malanjum announced that the country’s judicial system would soon use emerging technologies – artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and hologram – in its efforts to speed up and improve proceedings.

“The legal profession must embrace technology. There is no option. Adapt or be dropped,” he said.

Malaysia’s judiciary branch’s ambition of joining its counterparts like the US, India, and Singapore may seem a bit lofty to traditional observers, but some significant digital transformation initiatives are already set in motion in the country.

Tech in the courtroom

Among some of the technological upgrade being introduced or to the legal branch of Malaysia are:

  • Video conference calling – To enable the courts in different regions to communicate with each other via digital means.
  • Case Management System – Expected to be completed by June this year, the system will allow lawyers to be almost paperless.
  • Auto-alert System – Helps lawyers avoid forgetting about filing relevant court documents within the due dates.

Beyond that, the courts are also envisioning the use of data-driven sentencing method powered by AI to help judges reduce disparity when deciding on punishment for the same offenses.

But, digital transformations are being embraced at a different rate outside the courtroom within the legal fraternity in Malaysia.

The adoption rate of technology is markedly slower among the private law firms in the country, compared to its many of its neighbors. One report estimates that Malaysia has about 20 firms exploring tech-driven solutions at the moment to improve operations, lagging behind Indonesia (22) and Singapore (23).

One such firm developed a mobile app that features a catalog of more than 12,000 court cases for free, empowering smaller boutique firms who generally wouldn’t be able to afford expensive case library subscription.

The founder of the firm, Foong Cheng Leong, had told local media that innovations that help lawyers to perform their duty should be prioritized instead of the just coming up with a lawyer matching platform.

And to that end, companies should work together with the law practitioners to develop solutions for the challenges in the industry, explained Foong.

Regulatory hurdles

However, the flourishing legal tech space in the country could be hampered by policies by the profession’s local regulatory body, the Malaysian Bar, which seeks to oversee the companies that are providing these services.

It has recently, been seeking to advise from its members to include a provision which will allow them to regulate legal technology into Malaysia’s Legal Profession Act (LPA) 1976.

The act which was last amended in 1993 determines the acceptable code of conduct and business practices of lawyers in the country and failing to adhere to the law will result in fines or even disbarment.

“The industry is still at its infancy, but newcomers may need to go through the Bar Council hurdle to see if they are in contravention of the LPA,” said Foong.

And these regulations could only make dampen the tech eco-system in Malaysia as numerous existing players are already shutting down or forced to adopt a different business model.

While the Malaysian Bar is claiming that amending the LPA will allow it to promote the adoption and development of technology among its members, critics argue that the body had always been on the conservative side, and had in recent times blocked three legal tech start-up from operating in Malaysia.

The jury is still out on how the new amendment will affect tech companies in this space, but for the legal fraternity in Malaysia, adopting technology sooner rather than later might be in their enlightened self-interest, as it will enable them to deliver more value to clients and society in general.