Ministry of Law, Singapore – Reflections from the International Conference of Legal Regulators 2017

The International Conference of Legal Regulators (“ICLR”) network remains to this day the only platform for legal services regulators to discuss issues and trends relevant to our unique perspective as regulators of lawyers. At the annual ICLR, legal services regulators from participating jurisdictions are able to share knowledge and best practices, learn from each other and engage in wide-ranging discussion and debate.

The road to ICLR 2017

Singapore’s journey with ICLR first started in 2012, when representatives from the Ministry of Law attended the inaugural conference. Representatives from the Law Society of Singapore subsequently attended the 2014 and 2016 sessions and a representative from the Supreme Court of Singapore also attended the 2016 edition.

In 2017, the ICLR was held in Asia (in Singapore) for the first time, on 5 and 6 October 2017, spurred in part by the desire to extend the reach of the ICLR network in this part of the world and to encourage jurisdictions in this region to join this community of international legal services regulators.

As a result, the ICLR 2017 saw representatives from eight new jurisdictions, namely Guam, Kenya, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nigeria, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Vietnam. There was also broader representation from countries such as Australia, Germany, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

Organisers of ICLR 2017 from the Ministry of Law, Singapore and The Law Society of Singapore

In keeping with our objective, the theme for the 2017 conference was “Legal Regulation in a Borderless World: Building Networks”. An early challenge that we faced in organising the conference was selecting topics that we could be confident would appeal to the increasingly diverse community of legal regulators. As a result, we took the decision to depart from past practice and launched an open consultative process with all who indicated an interest in attending the conference, to reflect the views of new and mature regulators, as well as those from very different legal traditions.  We received ample feedback, which enabled us to play a curating role in selecting the final topics. Keeping the process as open as possible, we invited all who were interested in contributing as speakers to come forward and worked with the volunteers to settle on the modality of their sessions, and to fill any gaps in their panels.

We are pleased that through this process, we were able to ensure that the conference covered a broad range of current and emerging issues. The table below recaps the topics which were discussed across both days of the conference. The materials for the various sessions can be found on the ICLR portal.

The 2017 International Conference of Legal Regulators: Conference Sessions
Day 1 Day 2
Session 1: Legal Regulation in the Age of Data Session 5: Effective New Regulatory Responses to Complaints
Session 2: Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Financing of Terrorism Session 6: Disruption in the Legal Profession: Automated/Semi-Automated Online Delivery of  Legal Services
Session 3: A new Look at Regulators’ Roles and Responsibilities Session 7: Protecting the Vulnerable
Session 4: Attorney Wellbeing Session 8: Success Stories in Risk-Based Regulation

And so it began…

The welcome reception before the official start of the conference was held at the Supreme Court of Singapore on the evening of 4 October 2017, with a welcome address by Judge of Appeal Steven Chong. This customary social event afforded time for the ‘regulars’ to catch up with one another in an informal setting, and to meet new participants. Attendees also had an opportunity to tour the Supreme Court building and learn about Singapore’s legal history.


Tour of the Supreme Court of Singapore

Welcome reception at the Supreme Court of Singapore


Welcome reception at the Supreme Court of Singapore

The conference kicked off with a keynote address by our Senior Minister of State (“SMS”) for Finance and Law Ms Indranee Rajah SC. Her wide ranging address described the evolution of legal services regulation in Singapore before touching on the current challenges facing legal services regulators the world over. Ending on a positive note, Ms Rajah encouraged those present to embrace the opportunities that globalisation and innovation can bring to the legal services industry and which consumers can benefit from. Regulators today must strike a balance between safeguarding and protecting the public interest and encouraging innovation to keep pace with technological advancements.

Conference in session

The panel sessions and discussions have always been a highlight of past ICLRs and the 2017 edition was no different. To provide greater opportunity for audience participation, we introduced the use of the Pigeonhole Live app. The app enabled the audience to submit questions “live” during and after panel presentations, and also enabled the audience to “like” questions they wanted to see discussed. This enabled the moderators to gauge the audience’s interests and to give priority to the most popular questions. Seeing the questions streaming in and moving up or down the list as everyone quickly got the hang of how it worked added a novel and lively element to the conference sessions.

Panel on ‘Effective New Regulatory Responses to Complaints’

At the end of Day 1, the delegates made their way to Gardens by the Bay, where we celebrated a fruitful first day with a seafood dinner followed by a tour of the world’s largest glass greenhouse. We hope that those who did the tour enjoyed the conservatories and the iconic Supertrees!

Dinner at Majestic Bay Seafood Restaurant at Gardens by the Bay

Day 2 kicked off early with a pre-conference guided walk around Singapore’s arts and civic district. Participants got to hear about the history behind a number of historical sites and iconic buildings along the route.

Morning walk around Singapore’s arts and civic district


Morning walk around Singapore’s arts and civic district

Back at the conference venue, Day 2 opened with an address by The Lord Keen of Elie QC, Advocate General for Scotland and Spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice in the UK House of Lords. Lord Keen discussed the success factors that led to both Singapore and London’s emergence as premier centres for litigation and arbitration worldwide, namely, legal certainty, a pool of outstanding lawyers and recourse to a respected judiciary. As a legal services regulatory body, we were certainly proud to hear this!

Opening address by The Lord Keen of Elie QC, Advocate General for Scotland and Spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice in the UK House of Lords on Day 2 of the Conference


Delegates of ICLR 2017

A word of appreciation

It was both a pleasure and a privilege to have been given the opportunity to host the ICLR in Singapore. We would like to thank all who participated and spoke at the sessions for so generously contributing their expertise and time for free and paying their own way. This financial model enables the organisers to keep the conference fees affordable and ensures that the conference can be self-funding and self-sustaining. We thank everyone who joined us in Singapore for ICLR 2017. Ultimately, your support and participation was what ensured the ICLR’s success. Finally, for those who did not obtain a copy of the group photo, please feel free to write to us at ICLR2017@mlaw.gov.sg to get one.

For those who were not able to join us in Singapore, we hope that you will be able to attend this year’s conference in the Netherlands. We are confident that the dialogue amongst the legal services regulators on current issues in legal services regulation will continue at ICLR 2018 and we wish the Netherlands Bar Association every success in organising the conference.

This article was contributed by the Ministry of Law, Singapore.

Welcome address Singapore 2017: Law Society of Singapore, Mr Gregory Vijayendran

Guest of Honour, Senior Minister of State for Finance and Law, Ms Indranee Rajah SC, Deputy Secretary, Ministry of Law, Mr Han Kok Juan, Registrar, Supreme Court of Singapore, Mr Vincent Hoong, Presidents of Overseas Law Societies or Bar Associations, Distinguished Guests and Delegates, Ladies & Gentlemen,

On behalf of the Law Society, it gives me great pleasure to make these welcome remarks at this 6th edition of the International Conference of Legal Regulators. Each and every one of you are part of history in the making. This is the first ICLR instalment in Asia. The Law Society is deeply honoured to jointly organize this year’s event in together with Ministry of Law.

You have already been treated to a welcome address by our Judge of Appeal the Honourable Justice Steven Chong at the welcome reception last night. I echo that welcome once again to all delegates to Singapore ! To all our overseas guests, Selamat Datang!

This year’s conference is themed “Legal Regulation in a Borderless World : Building Networks”. There is no better way to build a network of relationships in legal regulation than during this conference. Key stakeholders from government, regulation authorities, judiciary, bar associations, legal educators are present. I believe this will be an invaluable forum not just during the formal sessions but also the one on one meetings on the sidelines that invariably take place and the informal conversations. We are on different stages of our journey in our own countries with unique challenges. As we exchange experiences and perspectives, we can seed new ideas to sprout in old landscapes.

In these opening remarks, let me touch on five areas covered in the conference sessions on which the Law Society has played an active role. To some extent, this could feel like a teaser. I aim to whet your appetite for the discourse to follow without stealing the thunder from the relevant session. I will touch on technology, AML, attorney wellbeing, professional regulation and pro bono.

First, what we came to listen to : how to navigate the brave new borderless world. I will give you a snapshot of how the Law Society enabled and encouraged the legal profession to adopt technology in the face of technology disruption to the legal profession. Last year, the Law Society completed a strategic consultation on which we collaborated with the Ministry of Law last year. to understand the business models and level of technology adoption by those firms. We received the study report from our consultants, Eden Strategy Institute, towards the end of last year. The study involved 6 participatory focus group discussions and 59 in depth, face to face interviews. The sample population covered the range of small and medium sized law firms’ perspectives across different size and practice area demographics. Let me share two key findings in the study report:

  • First there are good practices that have proven to achieve considerable impact among small and medium-sized Singapore Law Practices (“SLPs”). To cite three examples. Niche expertise and scalable packages attracted a 25% premium in charge rates and a 5x increase in revenue. Going paperless and running a virtual office reduced 66% of the operating costs. Finally, a shared database of precedents and past case knowledge as a means to develop lawyers’ specialized domain knowledge had a 40-50% time saving for the lawyers concerned.
  • Secondly, a critical gap is in innovation. 95% of the participants did not experiment and innovate within their firms, citing a lack of time and resources as key barriers.

Together with our consultants, we drew up an Action Plan supported by Ministry of Law and SPRING. We shortlisted IT solutions that our members from small and mid-sized law firms could adopt with attractive financial support from SPRING. A governmental budget of S$2.8 million was set aside. This new initiative rolled out on 27 February this year. It was called Tech Start for Law. Law firms received funding support of up to 70% of the first year’s cost for baseline technology products in practice management, online research and online marketing. To complement the Tech Start for Law programme, in collaboration with our professional indemnity brokers, Lockton, the Law Society unlocked our education fund to provide a subsidy of 70% of the first year’s subscription costs for an online knowledge database. This was the SmartLaw Assist Scheme.

We held a legal technology roadshow on 27 and 28 March 2017 to showcase these applications for our members. The Law Society managed the whole SPRING application and grant process for our members as a one-stop centre to ensure a hassle-free experience. To that end, we set up a new department in the Law Society called the Legal Productivity and Innovation (“LPI”) Department. They played the valuable gatekeeper role. In addition, to incentivise SLPs to adopt technology, the Law Society recognized SLPs who adopted a practice management/accounting software, an online knowledge management database and had an online presence (whether through a marketing portal or dedicated website). We did so by allowing use of a service mark called “Smart Law” and were permitted to use this on their website and marketing collaterals.

A discerning listener may also be wondering: what about the other hemisphere of cutting edge innovative IT solutions that are transforming the legal landscape elsewhere ? Time fails me to talk about some of the bold initiatives that our Supreme Court have unveiled including the Legal Technology Vision and Future Law Innovation Programme. I will leave Lim Seng Siew, my Exco and Council Member, to share on this during Session 6 tomorrow.

Secondly, Anti-Money Laundering. The Law Society Council agreed to enhance the volume of AML inspections from last year onwards. This was also the profession’s own contribution to help support Singapore’s national interests, bearing in mind our government’s robust stand against money laundering activities. The increase in inspections was also consistent with the approach taken by other regulatory bodies.

AML inspections were carried out at 50 law practices at the end of 2016. This included for the first time a number of foreign law practices. The harmonization of the AML regulatory framework for both Singapore law practices and foreign law firms took place in mid-2015 via the Legal Profession (Prevention of Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism) Rules.

Overall, the inspection results proved encouraging. Close to 95% of the law practices inspected were accorded a positive assessment. They were found to have proper internal controls and processes to minimise the threat of money laundering.

Apart from the increase in inspections, the Law Society also increased its efforts to enhance awareness of the new AML regulatory framework by covering the subject in greater depth in talks for members as well as for the Legal Practice Management Course for new partners, directors and sole proprietors. More on that from S. Surenthiraraj, the Chairperson of Law Society’s Anti-Money Laundering Committee in Session 2.

Thirdly, one of the cornerstones of the Law Society’s work this year : pastoral care for the profession. We took the opportunity to consolidate existing pastoral care schemes under the Society and launched a new members’ hotline in March 2017. Called the Members’ Assistance and Care Helpline (“MACH”) is aimed at being the first port of call for members for a variety of members’ needs. These include practice mentorship, confidential counselling, defence assistance for disciplinary proceedings, mediation of disputes between law practices and welfare funding for hardship cases. For cases that fell through the cracks in terms of existing care and assistance, they were escalated to Vice President Boon Theng or myself. We personally attended to some lawyers in real time difficulties to offer practical tips and pointers. The aim of our pastoral care programs is to build resilience.

Related to that is our work with young lawyers. Although our youngest internal stakeholders, they constitute a sizable demographic of about one-third of our membership. We held a well-attended forum for our young lawyers this year on 19 July using Chatham House rules. We will annualize this going forward. An important feedback shared during this event by young lawyers was the need for relational mentorship. At the time of writing, we are gearing up for a roll out of a relational mentorship scheme to complement our existing Prac Mentor scheme that provides practice mentorship.

You will hear more from Law Society Vice President, Kuah Boon Theng on MACH and pastoral care for the profession in Session 4 on Attorney Wellbeing his afternoon.

Fourthly, on professional regulation, based on judicial feedback about inappropriate conduct in court, a study committee (participated by key office bearers of the Law Society at the time) recommended (and our Chief Justice accepted) a new regime for “Inappropriate Conduct in Court” (or ICC) regime implemented since 1 September last year. The ICC is more nuanced and proportionate than existing disciplinary sanctions and envisages coaching and counselling remedies. There is a redemptive emphasis in this regime but it is no carte blanche immunity. Lawyers need to reform their inappropriate conduct. More on this legal profession equivalent of a “yellow card” in soccer in tomorrow morning’s Session 5 when I co-present the Singapore regime together with Senior Assistant Registrar, Edwin San.

Finally, pro bono. The Law Society had to navigate major change management this year. The Law Society’s Pro Bono Services Office (a Law Soc Department) morphed into the Law Soc Pro Bono Services (“LSPB”) (a Law Soc subsidiary). This structural reorganisation rationalised, streamlined and enhanced oversight of the Law Society’s access to justice mission. In short, the aim is to do good better as we uphold the highest standards of charities governance via LSPB. LSPB is essentially a CSR foundation for our Law Society that enables better stewardship of the time, talent and treasures dedicated for pro bono. This also allows LSPB to develop its own distinctive branding. Pro bono is still part and parcel of our unique (LS) identity. Lawyers who carry out pro bono services via LSPB are part of the outstretched helping hand of the Law Society. You will hear from Tanguy Lim, our CEO on how we protect the vulnerable and also how our new LSPB will help us do good better,

As you can see from the five areas I touched on, the Law Society of Singapore has played an active role in them. We are one of the key stakeholders regulating some of the important issues in the macro environment that our members are practising in.

In The Lawyers’ Code of Professional Responsibility published by the New York State Bar Association, there is a famous quote “Lawyers, as guardians of the law, play a vital role in the preservation of society”. For Bar leaders present, I would modify that slightly as follows: “Each of you, as guardians of your law society, play a vital role in preserving all that is noble and good in your society”.

For all our guests, I know you will walk away from this event with a rich potpourri of knowledge in this unique conference. For overseas delegates visiting Singapore for the first time or even a second time, I cordially invite you to taste from the cornucopia of culinary pleasures. And to sample souvenirs of your sojourn in multi-racial, multicultural Singapore. We want you to feel absolutely at home in our island home in these few days and more. Wishing everyone present a successful ICLR 2017 conference!

ICLR 2017 – Panel: “Risk Based Approach to Regulation”

A synopsis of panel session 8, which takes place on 6 October at ICLR Singapore, kindly provided by the session’s  moderator, Victoria Rees.  Conference materials will be made available to ICLR.net members after the conference.

Moderator: Victoria Rees, Director of Professional Responsibility, Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society, Canada

Panelists:

  • Scott MacLean, Acting Executive Director, Investigations, Office of Health Ombudsmen, Queensland, Australia
  • Paul Philip, CEO, Solicitors’ Regulatory Authority, United Kingdom
  • Kolantha Sarogenei, CEO, Lockton Companies (Singapore) Pte Ltd., Singapore

With increasing demands and expectations of regulators in an increasingly complex legal services environment, risks to the public, to the profession and to regulators are greater than ever:  For example, we’ve seen the impact of technology on the provision of and access to legal services; the rise in cybercrime; growth in global legal service providers and multi-disciplinary practices; economic downturns; changes in lawyer demographics including an aging population and rural depopulation; etc.  A competent and relevant regulator must stay abreast and, where possible, ahead of these trends in order to prepare the legal profession for changes impacting it, clients and the public.

Those who regulate lawyers and the legal profession have a shared mandate to protect the public and users of the legal services we regulate. It is essential for effective public protection to understand and manage the risks to achieving that mandate, otherwise we are ourselves at risk of losing our respective roles in the regulation of lawyers. Further, by operating in a risk-focused manner, we are better able to target our limited financial and human resources where they will best protect the public, and enhance the trusted reputation of the regulator.

This session is designed to engage the audience in an interactive discussion facilitated by panelists with experience in various forms of risk assessment and management, and risk-based regulation of lawyers. Through our experiential-based stories, we will highlight the benefits, strengths, opportunities and challenges with this approach to legal services regulation, which can take many different forms.

Through this session, participants will learn about the Nova Scotia experience launching its new Triple P (proactive, principled and proportionate) and risk-focused approach to legal services regulation. You will hear about the successes and challenges faced by the Solicitors’ Regulatory Authority as they have led the way in outcomes and risk-focused regulation; you will learn more about the current status of the Appropriate Management Systems approach and risk-based regulation in Australia, within both the legal and medical professional context; and you will hear stories and lessons learned from the perspective of the professional liability insurer for lawyers in Singapore.

To provide more detailed background and resources from these perspectives in advance, each panelist will prepare a paper citing practical and relevant articles, resources and tools. Important take-aways from this session will include: understanding how to identify risks which are impacting and may impact the provision of legal services, and regulation of lawyers/firms/ABS/MDP; how to manage and respond to those risks in a proportionate manner; and how to develop a risk-focused approach to regulation, regardless of the size or complexity of your jurisdiction’s current regulatory framework.