The challenge of managing a legal function remotely has forced GCs to think creatively. Xae Hoyy Loh, general counsel and compliance officer of agribusiness giant Pilmico International shares his insights.
Legal technology is something we have been exploring
since long before COVID-19 arrived, but the current
pandemic has certainly forced us to fast track projects
that we had been planning for the future. I would not say that
we are using sophisticated systems - in our market sector it is
not necessary to be at the cutting edge - but we have found
ourselves using much more technology.
At the beginning of this pandemic there were obstacles to
overcome, because we just didn't know what to expect. No one
knew how long the 'work from home' situation would last, but I
don't think anyone expected it to last for so long.
As general counsel and compliance officer for the entire
food group at Pilmico, I am essentially managing legal work
throughout the region. This can be difficult, especially as I am
dealing with a range of jurisdictions with different laws on a
daily basis. There is no real legal or regulatory alignment across
the ASEAN region, which is certainly an obstacle to introducing
new tech-enabled processes.
Most legal tech innovations I have come across have originated
in Singapore. This is of course partly the result of Singapore's
strong culture of innovation, and the generous funding
available for such initiatives, but it also depends to some
extent on the regulatory environment. For example, Singapore
recognises e-signatures, while countries such as Indonesia
do not. As such, a platform which is supposed to lighten the
burden by implementing e-signatures is not much use to a
business that has a pan-Asia-Pacific footprint.
From an operational perspective, things can get even
more tricky. Remote working has impacted our operations
throughout the Asia-Pacific region, which means we not
only have to focus on tools that can help our employees at
headquarters in Singapore, but for all our staff across various
Over the past few months, technology-driven developments
and initiatives designed to make working from home easier
have been prioritised. We have rolled out a new console
system within the team to help us manage legal files. This has
been very useful in making sure we retain and track important
documents. This system was initially going to be introduced in
the second half of next year, but we fast-tracked the initiative
to help assist the transition towards working from home.
The experience has helped me see that in many areas we were
still working in a very traditional way. For example, I would
review a Word document, send it via email to the other party
for review before receiving a marked-up copy for further
review. When you look at documents being reviewed in this
way, you end up creating many drafts and different versions of
Being forced to adopt new solutions has certainly shown
me that it is not the only way to do things. Even something
as simple as Google Docs can help solve this issue, but I am
increasingly interested in exploring the more sophisticated
solutions that are available, such as a one-stop-shop that assists
with drafting, reviewing, signing and retaining documents, as
well as assisting with contract templates.
The biggest impact technology has made during the lockdown
is in terms of how we share information and knowledge. We are
now using virtual meeting platforms on a daily basis, sometimes
several times a day. I suppose that shows that, for many tasks,
there is no substitute for personal contact. We still need to
discuss and exchange ideas, but perhaps the way in which we
deliver our services will continue to evolve. However, I would say
that we now spend more time interacting with our colleagues
outside Singapore than ever before. If anything, the inability to
travel has brought the wider team closer together.