09:33, July 21 99 0

2017-07-21 09:33:07
Firms rise to the litigation tech challenge of “backwards” Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s position as Asia Pacific’s main financial services centre means it remains the most strategically important location for global firms’ litigation practices in the region.

Indeed, this year’s Global Litigation 50 data shows that Hong Kong continue to house the largest number of the world’s leading litigation firms among other key Asian jurisdictions.

However Hong Kong’s High Court, where claims still need to be filed in person with paper submissions, continues to be perceived as a traditional institution, certainly in comparison to Singapore’s digital eLitigaton court system.

“The court here in Hong Kong is a bit backwards in embracing technology and is not a sophisticated user of technology,” observes one litigation partner in Hong Kong. “It will take a while to change and for now it operates in a traditional way.”

Another partner adds that even for e-discovery, which is an increasingly common practice in global litigation, there is still no formal protocol in Hong Kong court litigation.

“Mostly it is used for bigger cases on agreement between parties and on a bespoke basis. The lack of a uniformed approach means lawyers may spend more time on agreeing how to approach things,” he says.

Yet for a growing number of clients, the digital transformation is inevitable. Equally, the pressure for their lawyers to use technology to cut costs is mounting. And increasingly there are signs that the top firms locally are meeting this challenge, turning to technology to drive their practices forwards.

Hogan Lovells’ Asia managing partner Patrick Sherrington says the Asia practice has been a major user of the solutions his firm has developed for its global litigation practice, including legal project management software.

It is also using early case assessment products such as Prism and Lex Machina, which use decision tree modelling and probability theory to provide valuable insights into the likely thinking of judges or opposing counsel and, consequently, help lawyers with case strategy or even predicting a settlement.

Baker & McKenzie recently set up a dedicated services hub in Hong Kong to utilise software provider Relativity’s platform and technology assisted review (TAR) techniques. The firm also uses a global project management SharePoint-based solution, BakerOnline, to improve efficiency and better handle confidentially issues in multi-jurisdictions investigations.

Clifford Chance also uses TAR techniques in an increasing number of its e-Discovery matters. It says the document review platforms it uses in the Asia Pacific region tend to be provided by external legal process outsource providers and all incorporate TAR functionality.

Herbert Smith Freehills’ (HSF) Hong Kong litigation practice works closely with its alternative legal services (ALT) centre in Shanghai, which has bilingual capabilities in English and Mandarin. The global ALT unit is headquartered in Belfast, and incorporates many new technology solutions such as AI software Kira.

HSF global disputes head Justin D’Agostino says the Shanghai ALT team is heavily involved in many complex arbitration cases, such as the $5.5bn Sinopec arbitration in Singapore, and its use helps reduce the cost to clients significantly.

“It allows us to pass the cost savings to clients and improve our efficiency,” says D’Agostino, “enabling us doing a better job more quickly.”

In total, 34 of the world’s 50 largest litigation practices have a disputes team in Hong Kong, compared to 25 in Singapore. Together the 34 firms in Hong Kong have 528 lawyers and 134 partners focusing on disputes. In Singapore, the lawyer and partner headcounts are less than half of that, around 227 and 65 respectively.

This is an extract of this year’s The Lawyer’s Global Litigation 50 report, produced in association with FTI Consulting and published on Monday 24 July, which focuses on the rise of technology across all stages of the litigation process and analyses in detail how the world’s leading law firms are utilising new technology to deliver services to clients.