Business / Industries

Chinese law firms 'lag behind' in IT

By ED ZHANG in Hong Kong (China Daily) Updated: 2016-08-09 08:03

Supreme People's Court leads in the provision of comprehensive legal information systems

Chinese lawyers are bracing for an IT revolution now that more and more of their clients are expanding ties and interests around the world.

Since the 1990s, legal services have helped Chinese companies and their foreign partners by helping them access the government system and guiding them through the labyrinth of the country's half-baked market laws.

Ni Wei, managing partner of the Shanghai-based Zhenghan Law Firm, said "Chinese law services' IT systems generally lag behind their counterparts in developed countries. They still have to make quite a lot of change in adopting new technologies and adjusting their management accordingly."

Many law houses still handle documents without proper filing, collaboration and storage of key information.

Mickey Liao, a director from a Shanghai-based solution developer, recalled hearing an American partner saying there are Chinese law firms whose IT level is still equivalent only to US law firms in the mid-1990s.

"He may have exaggerated," Liao said. "But the change that most, if not all, Chinese law firms will have to go through is huge."

A few solution providers are trying to develop the potentially vast market. Steven Wang, founding partner of Smart Team Global, said his company is a solution provider specializing in high-end service companies in China's coastal cities. His company is promoting a series of information governance solutions, including localized iManage Work and its own Matteroom products.

It is commonplace that law firms in the Chinese mainland are not as rigorous and orderly in their management of technicalities and details, said Barry Chin of the Hong Kong-based Chin & Associates.

In March, China's Supreme People's Court-backed officially started its operation, after more than three years of preparation and development.

Faxin (literally legal information) was inspired by Westlaw, an online legal research service for lawyers and legal professionals in the United States, according to Zhang Chengbing, director of electronic audio-visual products of the People's Court Publishing House.

The implementation of Faxin is planned in three stages, officials said. Stage one, the present stage, covers seven basic fields and 130,000 entries, and its service is restricted to all judges and all courts in China.

Stage two is to feature a service for all legal professionals. And stage three is to be a unified legal information service, with access for "everybody" in China, according to Liu Jiyang, Faxin's technology officer.

There is the danger, IT professionals said, that Chinese law firms fragmented efforts to modernize may lag behind the court.

There are 11,000-plus law firms and 118,000 lawyers in the Chinese mainland, according to data on Now that so much is being done under the Supreme People's Court, how can all of them manage to follow the change?

If they keep using different, if not conflicting, concepts and standards, how can they work with foreign partners? How can they serve their Chinese clients once they start operating abroad? And how can they meet with the rules of the Supreme People's Court?

Firms in Shanghai tend to act more quickly than other cities to embrace new technologies, Wang noted. In fact, the city may serve as a national center of its service industries' coming IT revolution, he said.

Luis Liu in Hong Kong and Cao Yin in Beijing contributed to this story.

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