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More Singapore law firms go online to meet needs of start-ups

SINGAPORE — Firms offering fuss-free contract-drafting services have been sprouting here over the past couple of years, many of which target start-ups that value high speed with small price tags.

SINGAPORE — Firms offering fuss-free contract-drafting services have been sprouting here over the past couple of years, many of which target start-ups that value high speed with small price tags.

Dragon Law, LawCanvas and Vanilla Law are among the online platforms that have appeared in Singapore, helping small and medium enterprises with a range of legal needs, from drafting contracts, registering trademarks, and obtaining visas. While this is relatively new territory in South-east Asia, the trail has long been blazed in the United States by the likes of LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer.

For an annual or monthly subscription fee, users get to access a suite of up to 400 legal documents and are guided through the process of creating the documents from start to finish.

These firms, typically run by teams with diverse expertise, are also looking to be an attractive job option for law students and graduates feeling the squeeze in the legal industry, as reported by TODAY earlier this month.

Vanilla Law, officially launched last month, prides itself on an “intuitive document assembly system” that helps firms reduce the costs of hiring in-house or external legal professionals. Dragon Law — founded in Hong Kong three years ago and launched here last December — uses an online questionnaire to generate customised legal documents. A “legal help desk” is also available to address queries round-the-clock.

On top of an annual subscription fee of S$250, Vanilla Law charges an extra “implementation fee” for each document created, which ranges between S$800 and S$3,000 depending on the document’s complexity. Dragon Law charges monthly subscription fees ranging from S$175 to S$300. In comparison, legal professionals could set firms back by at least S$3,000 per document.

Ms Fanny See, chief marketing officer of tech start-up Detrack, said: “Start-ups are generally lacking in professional expertise, such as in the legal and accounting fields ... It takes time to search for someone suitable and we are afraid of the high price tag that comes with it.” Ms See, who engaged Dragon Law to draft her firm’s website privacy policy and employment contracts, among other things, said the platform has a good database and is friendly to those who are not legally trained.

Firms that use such online services also vouch for their speed. Ms See said: “We need things fast. Dragon Law has a proactive support system that gives us immediate answers.”

Agreeing, Mr Larry Chua from hotel management company Caption Hospitality said legal professionals take up to two to three weeks to revert on each iteration of a legal draft. “As a start-up, speed is everything. Time is money,” he said. His firm uses LawCanvas for basic documents such as employment contracts, non-disclosure agreements, and intellectual property agreements.

Online platforms serve the needs of start-ups in their “early stages”, but professional help would still be needed for more complex agreements, such as those involving mergers and acquisitions, Mr Chua said.

Law firms that spoke to TODAY said the online services may reduce the legal protection provided to users and the level of sophistication in legal work here. Mr Samuel Yuen, managing director of Samuel Yuen LLC, said: “Such templates can create a false sense of security in users and lead them to think that a template document is sufficient and can catch all ... A person who uses templates may not see legal issues that a lawyer is able to see.”

Online databases are useful only for “very simple” contracts, Mr Koh C-u Pinn from Arielle Law Corporation said, adding that entrepreneurs should not take the “undue risk” of using templates for more complicated dealings such as procuring investments or when a shareholders agreement is required. “A savvy lawyer is needed to provide ongoing support all the way, a role that a templates database can never fulfil.”

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