Funding for Technological Enhancements

“In last year’s Budget, I reserved $10 billion for supporting I & T development. This year, I will set aside an additional $50 billion.” said the Financial Secretary in his 2018-19 Budget speech. Out of this reserve of $60 billion, $10 billion has been earmarked to support the establishment of two research clusters, one of which is on artificial intelligence and robotics technologies.

Innovation and technology (“I & T”) are seen as the new drivers for economic growth and the Government is putting in resources to enhance the I & T environment.

In December 2017, the Innovation and Technology Bureau issued a Smart City Blueprint mapping out the smart city development plans for Hong Kong for the coming five years and beyond. The objectives, among others, are to make use of I & T to improve people’s quality of living and enhance Hong Kong’s sustainability.

These objectives are equally applicable, though in a smaller scale, to individual legal practices. In some articles and previously published in this column, I have touched on how the appropriate use of legal tech can improve a law firm’s productivity and efficiency, thereby enhancing the sustainability of the legal practice and improving the quality of life for practitioners.

For some practices, the need to consider adopting technological tools may not seem so pressing as to warrant an immediate change since everything is working well, for the time being. Maintaining status quo looks like a better alternative as it is effortless and safe. Further, the likely costs involved in adopting new technologies may be another inhibitive factor.

However, the world is changing faster than ever and has created issues that can no longer be resolved by conventional means. For example, the ease of communication enabled by advanced technology has created records of an unmanageable volume. In the earlier landmark case of Pyrrho Investments Ltd v MWB Property Ltd [2016] EWHC 256(Ch) in relation to predictive coding, the subject tapes contained over 17.6 million electronic files in different email accounts. Document review of such astronomical volume of files manually for disclosure purposes was not impossible but would be time consuming and incurring disproportionate costs.

In the long run and to stay ahead of the game, the better option is obviously to be equipped with tools that will enable you to solve problems of the modern age.

If cost is a major concern, it is worth noting that the Government has launched some funding programmes to encourage the adoption of I & T. Most of the programmes focus on I & T research projects that aim to benefit the public in general by NGOs and public bodies.

Nevertheless, there is one programme that may be suitable for law firms to consider, the Technology Vouchers Programme (“TVP”). It was launched in November 2016 to subsidise local small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in using technological services and solutions to improve productivity, or upgrade or transform their business processes. The programme is implemented on a pilot basis for an initial period of three years from November 2016 with $500 million from the Innovation and Technology Fund.

Since February 2018, the eligibility criteria for TVP have been relaxed to enable all local enterprises, irrespective of size and duration of operation, to apply and benefit from the programme. If a business is a non-listed enterprise and is registered in Hong Kong under the Business Registration Ordinance, it is eligible to apply for funding under TVP for up to $200,000 with the applicant contributing no less than one-third of the total project cost in cash.

TVP supports projects in the form of technological services and solutions that have good prospects of enhancing the applicant’s competitiveness through improving productivity, business development and expansion, cost reduction or efficiency enhancement, as well as upgrading and transforming business processes.

Examples of approved projects under TVP include in respect of a variety of businesses, the installation of document management and mobile access system, big data and cloud based analytics solution, electronic inventory management system, electronic procurement management system, enterprise resource planning solution and others. The details of TVP and the application procedures are available publicly on the Internet.

Technology has the power to shape the future of the legal profession and according to some critics, to the extent of replacing the legal profession. This may be too far-fetched. However, I do believe that technology can augment legal practice. It is up to us to take advantage of the Government’s welcoming stance on technology and utilise the available funding assistance to help improve the productivity of our practices.

Ms. Heidi Chu, Secretary General

Jurisdictions: 

Secretary-General, Law Society of Hong Kong