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LAW & TECH: NORVIN CHAN

What the future has in store for the legal industry: perspectives from an interdisciplinary background.



Norvin is a tech lawyer who codes. In his free time, he is a CS student and a startup founder. For a side project, he has built an AI therapist at www.fire.place.

We highly recommend you head to www.fire.place, an AI Therapist Chatbot that Norvin is currently building. We’ve tried it out ourselves as well! If you’re looking to get something off your chest, Zen over at Fireplace AI will listen to anything you have to say.

Rest assured that the website will not track your Internet activity, and your data will be stored safely. There’s a comprehensive privacy FAQ up on the website itself as well if you wish to find out more!


 

what made you decide to take on another degree in computer science and what are some ways that you have been incorporating the use of technology into your daily practice?

Professionally, I am a technology lawyer. CS knowledge is useful for understanding the technical nature of the wide variety of problems that our clients face and the business models that they want to implement. In particular, I found the knowledge useful in understanding the rapid developments in the cryptocurrency and Web 3.0 space.

However, a degree in CS is overkill for professional purposes. A working knowledge is probably sufficient. For good reason, not every technology lawyer has a CS degree.

Personally, the degree in Computer Science is because I like to build things by combining ideas. When I was an undergraduate, my co-founders and I combined data science and law to found Lex Quanta, a consultancy for legal data analytics. Currently, I am focusing on www.fire.place which is home to Zen, an AI Therapist chatbot which you can vent your feelings to for free.


“CS knowledge is useful for understanding the technical nature of the wide variety of problems that our clients face and the business models that they want to implement.”

we have increasingly seen phrases like “crypto”, “NFTs”, “fintech” being thrown around in the news. what notable legal issues do you think might arise from them? (perhaps you could draw on your personal experience in these areas)

Behind the phrases is a common phenomenon: the creation of new transaction systems, new payment systems, and new asset classes arising from these systems.

The legal issues come about by applying the existing and new regulations and legal doctrines to these new systems and asset classes. What keeps us busy is navigating the legal regimes (namely the trinity of the Payment Services Act, Securities and Futures Act, and the Financial Services and Markets Act) and trying to apply legal doctrines to Web 3.0 (e.g., whether a smart contract is really a legal contract).


given your interdisciplinary background of both Law and CS, how do you think future lawyers might (in general) benefit from picking up some basic computational skills?

Future lawyers will live in a world that is increasingly dominated by technology companies and technology-enabled companies. The saying “Software is eating the world” also translates to “Software is taking over the economy”. As commercial lawyers help the cogs of commerce move, they will find that they need to understand the workings of the cogs better to move them along.

In such a world, the bar of “computer literacy” is being pushed higher and higher. A decade ago, we would call a lawyer “computer literate” for being able to use Microsoft Word with brownie points for knowing Excel. Today, the expectation from clients is that a “computer literate” lawyer knows the differences between on-premise, IaaS, SaaS, and PaaS. Tomorrow, the expectation might be that a “computer literate” lawyer can explain what blockchain interoperability means. Knowing some computational skills — having a concrete grasp on the nuts and bolts of how computers work and what they are capable of — is future-proofing yourself. It will help you pick up developments quickly. More importantly, your map of the world would be more accurate: it is important to know how to cut through hype and get to the real information behind.


“The saying “Software is eating the world” also translates to “Software is taking over the economy”. As commercial lawyers help the cogs of commerce move, they will find that they need to understand the workings of the cogs better to move them along.”

what kind of social impact do you foresee technology having on the justice system?

In terms of social impact, access to justice is the biggest issue which technology can help with by lowering costs.

A globally innovative project would be the online traffic accident claims simulator developed by the Singapore Courts and the Singapore Academy of Law (Maco). If you are knocked down by a lorry, you can use the tool to figure out how much damages you can claim for against the driver. The simulator is also part of the larger online dispute resolution system for traffic accidents which is being developed, which is a massive undertaking that involves not just technology, but also changing existing mindsets, norms, and processes.

On a more immediate day-to-day level, I would like to highlight Luk Yean’s contributions in pioneering www.singaporelegaladvice.com. He had single-handedly done a great deal of social good by applying humble Web 1.0 technology to the problem that most people don’t know what their rights are.


and finally, how do you think the legal industry is going to evolve five, ten years down the line? What changes can aspiring lawyers look forward to?

From the tech in law (i.e., legal tech) angle, some law services providers with sufficient operational scale can invest in automation systems (e.g. legal process automation software and contract generation software).

From the law in tech (i.e., technology law) angle, the geeky lawyers can look forward to more legal problems with tech aspects to solve.


 

If you’d like to find out more about some of the projects Norvin makes reference to, please head to:

  1. www.fire.place —An AI Therapist Chatbot where you can safely vent your emotions to a listening ear. It’s created by none other than Norvin himself and we highly recommend you check it out!

  2. https://motoraccidents.lawnet.sg/ — Motor Accidents Claims Online(MACO), an online platform that aims to inform victims of motor accidents and resolve more disputes out of court.

  3. www.singaporelegaladvice.com — A one-stop online platform that does exactly what its name states: provide legal advice.

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