• Brian W Tang, Sebastian Ko and David Lam

Jumpstarting Hong Kong’s LegalTech and RegTech Ecosystem

Emerging legal innovation ecosystem

A legal innovation ecosystem is promisingly being cultivated in Hong Kong through a series of initiatives from a myriad of separate and collaborative actors.

Since 1 July 1997, Hong Kong has a unique legal heritage as a Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China that is subject to the Basic Law’s principle of "One Country, Two Systems".

As a global financial centre based on the English common law, Hong Kong’s strong rule of law foundation has made it an important exporter of legal services that is well placed to be a centre for international legal and dispute resolution services for the Belt and Road Initiative.

Yet, the practice of law and regulatory compliance is rapidly changing with technology, and Hong Kong’s stakeholders are increasingly coming together to discuss, analyse and create solutions relating to business, policy and social impact to improve efficiencies and better serve our society.

Late last year, the University of Hong Kong (HKU) Law and Technology Centre and Hong Kong Legal Hackers convened the Legal Innovation Panel Series 2017 that comprised academics, lawyers, consultants as well as local LegalTech and NewLaw startups, including sessions on ABCs of LegalTech and New Law – AI, Blockchain and Cloud applications to Legal Services. At the same time, CUHK's Centre for Financial Regulation and Economic Development launched this Machine Lawyering blog.

2018 envisages more engagement and even co-creation

In February, Hong Kong will hold its first ever LegalTech and RegTech Hackathon as part of the Global Legal Hackathon. Hosted in Hong Kong by Asia Capital Markets Institute (ACMI) and Thomson Reuters, it brings together domain experts (legal and compliance professionals) and developers to prototype LegalTech and RegTech solutions using blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI) to address legal and regulatory concerns. HKU Faculty of Law, Fintech Association of Hong Kong, Cyberport and the Association of Corporate Counsel – Hong Kong are among the supporting organisations. More than 100 participants registered for the opportunity to co-create and represent Hong Kong at the finals in New York.

In March, the Computational Law and Blockchain Festival's Hong Kong Node will be hosted by Legal.Inno, an initiative backed by the Hong Kong Legal Hackers, with MIT Media Lab as a "sister" node. It will be the first of its kind series of panels and workshops to bring together coders, designers, lawyers, policymakers, researchers and students internationally to co-create and implement computational law (e.g. programmable contracts and legal analytics) and legal block-chain use cases (e.g. e-identities). One feature will be a workshop presented by Altcademy to provide practitioners and scholars hands-on experience with "smart contract" writing. MIT Innovation Node, InvestHK, ACMI, Zencash, and law school faculties are supporters for this initiative.

In April, the InnoTech Committee of the Law Society of Hong Kong will host Hong Kong’s first ever Access to Justice Innotech Law Hackathon. The event will be held in Cyberport and backed by Microsoft. Other supporters include Legal.Inno, the World Economic Forum, Global Shapers Community and certain government agencies (to be confirmed). The event aims to raise awareness in Hong Kong's legal profession and the wider community about the role of technology in common areas of legal services and in the public interest. The focus will be on encouraging participants to identify gaps in Hong Kong's framework for access to justice, and to design and develop innovative and practical solutions to these gaps in order to strengthen and give meaning to the rule of law. The solutions are expected to be delivered via chatbots, cloud-based platforms, and simple machine-learning frameworks.

Although we are now experiencing the relatively early days of LegalTech and RegTech adoption, these initiatives, and many more in the pipeline, seek to better position Hong Kong’s legal and regulatory ecosystem in the 21st century. These initiatives are also expected to foster greater cross-disciplinary collaboration between lawyers and technologists. It is hoped that the members of this traditionally conservative industry will embrace these opportunities to better prepare them for the prospect and era of machine lawyering.

Brian Tang, Sebastian Ko, David Lam

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