KUALA LUMPUR, March 7 — With most everyone plugged into the Internet these days, it was only a matter of time before the legal profession climbed aboard the technological train to promote their services with the ease of a click or swipe of a fingerpad.
Need a lawyer near you fast but want to know their hourly rates? Or a career website where you can read about salary rates and people’s work experiences at law firms, as well as at other companies in Malaysia including multi-nationals, government-linked corporations, and even non-profits.
These are some of the innovations in Malaysia’s legal sector that has previously seen complaints about the Bar Council’s apparent reluctance to embrace changes in the profession.
Malay Mail Online interviewed the people behind five innovations: BurgieLaw (an online directory of lawyers), Office Parrots (a website with job reviews and salary rates at companies), Locum Legalis (an app where lawyers can do administrative court work for each other), LawCanvas (provider of template legal contracts), and FCL&Co Case Law Search App (an app with a database of court judgments).
These innovations aim to make the legal industry less opaque and to ease operations for small law firms. They also enable jobseekers to know more about their potential employers and help businesses save money on legal documents.
Lawyer Lai Chee Hoe set up BurgieLaw last November. The online directory has 60 lawyers to date across different areas of law, though many deal mainly with litigation and are largely concentrated in the Klang Valley. Lawyers can join the listing for free.
Most of the lawyers listed are single proprietors and small firms. People can search for lawyers by area of expertise and location, with the profiles detailing their hourly rates, languages spoken and qualifications.
One can then book an appointment and a 15-minute face-to-face consultation with a lawyer. Lai said BurgieLaw is still being fine-tuned, but hopes to charge a flat fee of RM100 for the first 15 minutes, with lawyers’ respective hourly rates applying thereafter.
“I have been in active practise for the past 10 years and I often hear issues from my client(s) in two different areas: They don’t know the areas of law (when they bump into a legal matter); and they don’t have the contacts of getting a right lawyer practising in the areas,” he said.
“In brief, it is always a tedious process to get the right lawyer who practises in the right area for a lay person. Searching [for] the right or suitable lawyer has always been tough even for in-house counsel. For example, when an in-house counsel who reviews contract(s) is asked to register a trademark, he/she will then have to go through Google to find an IP lawyer, of which in most instances, will not return a helpful match.
“BurgieLaw is founded to solve this issue by easing the search for lawyers in the database we have,” he added.
Tan Mei Chel, who previously worked as a lawyer for four years at an international firm, said she founded Office Parrots in 2014 because she found that there was sparse information in various industries, including the legal sector, on things like market-rate salaries, interview processes and company culture.
According to Tan, hundreds of reviews have so far been posted on Office Parrots about companies in the legal, accounting, consulting, banking, marketing, technology and engineering fields, across Malaysia and some in Singapore. Office Parrots users, who only need to share a job experience without having to pay membership fees in order to read other reviews, range from fresh graduates to professionals with five to six years’ experience.
Tan said there have been over 2,000 visitors to the website every week, mostly from Malaysia.
“So far, users have been pretty objective and fair about their experiences — so in a sense, many are aware of how the platform works and to an extent, are self-policing,” Tan said.
She said that while reviews are anonymous to the public, they are also moderated before publication.
“Some common gripes people have had are long working hours, a lack of supervision and guidance, micromanagement — nothing that many of us haven’t heard before. It’s to each his own,” she added.
Tan said Office Parrots aimed to expand into other segments like accounting and other professional sectors, as they already had a “very strong and active” community of law students and legal professionals.
Lawyer Fahri Azzat launched the Locum Legalis app last November that puts lawyers on a common platform so that they can easily find another lawyer to attend a case mention on their behalf, called a “Locum”, for a fee. Prior to the creation of the app, the average Locum rate was between RM100 and RM150. With the app, the rates are constantly changing.
A case mention refers to a date when the case is called up in court. Lawyers typically do administrative or routine work at mentions, such as informing the court if a writ has been served or if court directions have been complied with, said Fahri.
According to Fahri, who has his own firm, solo practitioners who have several cases may not have the time to attend case mentions, or they may want to use their time more efficiently instead of turning up for routine court matters.
“Locum Legalis is the first lawyer-only app in Malaysia. It is also the first legal app out the door and actually being used daily by Malaysian lawyers,” Fahri said, adding that he aimed to reach 5,000 verified users by the end of the year.
“Before the app was created, lawyers had to either (I) ask their friends or relatives, (II) cold call law firms to find a willing lawyer, (III) post it on forums where they hoped a lawyer would see it, (IV) put a request on Twitter or Facebook. It was all very hit and miss.
“Locum Legalis makes sure lawyers who need other lawyers and lawyers who want to help other lawyers are on a common platform,” he said.
Daniel Leong, Singaporean co-founder of LawCanvas, a legal tech startup based in Singapore that sells template contracts, said that LawCanvas expanded to Malaysia, Australia and Hong Kong this month with a closed private beta for invited companies. A full public beta will be launched in April.
Once the public beta is opened, users can buy for RM300 a template legal document in areas like business, contracting and employment, such as a shareholders agreement, a contractor agreement or an employment letter. An annual subscription to LawCanvas’s entire document database costs about RM2,000. So far, there are 50 legal documents on LawCanvas that Leong said are the most commonly used in business.
According to Leong, LawCanvas is targeting small and medium businesses in Malaysia, especially tech and tech-savvy companies, that do not have the budget to engage legal professionals.
“Based on our research, getting a professional to help you craft a contract costs anything from RM6,000 and up,” Leong said.
“If necessary, these businesses can bring the drafts created within LawCanvas to professionals for review. While fees for reviewing are still payable, the total outstanding amount will still be less than before because the lawyer doesn’t have to draft the contract from scratch. Ultimately, we are still able to help them save on legal costs,” he added.
Leong also said LawCanvas can help businesses save time as a non-disclosure agreement, for example, can be completed on the website in under a minute, compared to those who do not opt for a lawyer and spend six to 10 hours instead “cutting and pasting overseas contracts”.
FCL&Co Case Law Search App
Lawyer Foong Cheng Leong is currently developing an app called FCL&Co Case Law Search that aims to provide a database of court judgments that is free to use and has more efficient search functions compared to court websites.
According to Foong, his team of four has already hit 3,000 rulings, with 1,500 judgments uploaded every month since they started last December. The app will likely go live once they have 10,000 verdicts, he said.
The lawyer said court judgments are available on providers like CLJ and LexisNexis that have powerful search engines, but they charge at least RM1,500 a year. The court websites, on the other hand, publish rulings that are free to access, but there is no centralised database as each state has its own website of verdicts.
The search function on court websites for judgments is also based on case name and suit number.
“If I want to use cases to argue my cases, I need to search the content, for example, defamation cases relating to Facebook in Malaysia,” Foong told Malay Mail Online. “So what I can do is type ‘defamation Facebook’, then I can get the results.”
He also said the general public can use the FCL&Co Case Law Search app to find out if someone is involved in a lawsuit, which would be helpful to those doing background checks on a potential business partner.