© Efi Chalikopoulou

One year on from the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, in-house legal teams in the FT Innovative Lawyers rankings are responding creatively. After managing crises and recoveries, they are now applying their efforts to redesigning legal documents, processes and the make-up of their teams.

At DBS Bank, the in-house legal team won this year’s award for its work at the intersection of law, technology and data. Lawyers helped launch a cryptocurrency exchange at the bank and developed a model which uses data analytics to assess and predict risk when dealing with corporate banking customers.

In fact, many of the innovations featured are the result of legal teams working closely with other parts of their businesses. Some are also working with other organisations on industry-wide initiatives, such as the resources companies that formed the Western Australian modern slavery collaborative.

In-house legal teams have been taking on new responsibilities, too — such as the environmental, social and governance agenda or, in the case of the Australian telecoms group Telstra, restructuring. Others, such as National Australia Bank’s team, have shown themselves well equipped to take the lead on business strategies.

Most innovative in-house legal teams in Asia-Pacific 2021
RankCompanyTotal for ranked submissions
1Winner: DBS Bank*48
2HSBC47
3National Australia Bank45
3Rio Tinto45
5Lazada44
6Chevron43
7Citic Capital26
8ICICI Bank25
9Tesla24
9Wesfarmers24
*Winner of the FT Innovative Lawyers 2021 award for ‘Most innovative in-house legal team in Asia-Pacific’; award based on total scores for submissions

Researched and compiled by RSG Consulting. “Winner” indicates that the organisation won an FT Innovative Lawyers 2021 award; other organisations are listed alphabetically.

Social justice

WINNER: Western Australian modern slavery collaborative
In 2019, energy and resources companies in Western Australia entered an informal collaboration to help end modern slavery and advance the UN’s sustainable development goals. Together, in-house lawyers from 20 companies devised new ways to detect modern slavery in supply chains.

Their toolkit includes a questionnaire to guide suppliers on identifying risks, improve transparency, and recognise areas where more checks should be made.

Aquila Capital
The Asia-Pacific general counsel for the German sustainable investment management company is leading pro bono initiatives in the region. These include a collaboration with United Women Singapore, a charity, to produce a handbook to educate companies about domestic violence, and helping Yong-en, a Singapore care centre, to feed disadvantaged families in the city state’s Chinatown. Commended: Maree Myerscough.

Lazada
The legal team at the Singaporean ecommerce company supported businesses affected by Covid-19 lockdowns. Lobbying by Lazada smoothed the way to a partnership with ComfortDelGro, a transport company, allowing its taxi drivers to make deliveries for Lazada.

Digital solutions

Estate agent giving house keys to client
© Getty Images/EyeEm

WINNER: ICICI Bank
The bank’s legal team worked with technology providers to design the processes and workflows for a contract management platform. This end-to-end system — which handles property rentals, escrow agreements and alliance agreements for credit card benefits — will be rolled out to other business units. It has been used to produce more than 300 contracts since December 2020.

Allegis Group
Lawyers at the talent management business implemented an artificial intelligence tool to review incoming contracts, working with the vendor to adapt it to their needs. The product has led to time savings of 70 per cent on contract review.

Chevron Australia
Data scientists and the energy company’s in-house legal team worked together to develop a machine-learning tool to streamline the process of reviewing 15,000 files of unstructured data and sending them to the relevant expert for review.

The lawyers have also produced contract automation tools using SharePoint and are experimenting with icons to make documents easier to navigate.

China International Capital Corporation
A digital transformation project was led by the in-house legal team at the Hong Kong-based international arm of the Chinese investment bank. The lawyers implemented iManage, a document and email management system, to deal with communications data. They are working with professional services firm PwC to introduce technologies to manage risk.

National Australia Bank
The in-house legal team worked on a project called LG Crowd to test various technology and process tools. This showed how legal operations can benefit from enterprise technologies, and the results have helped shape the department’s strategy for the bank. Key outcomes of the project include engaging senior leaders in the work of the legal services team and showing lawyers how to explore the use of tech by experimenting and failing.

Ping An Insurance
Since 2019, in-house lawyers have designed, developed and deployed technological solutions with the help of the company’s 9,000 computer scientists. One particular success has been a contract review tool that can read both English and Chinese. The legal team trained the tool by using high-risk clauses specific to Ping An’s business. They also advised computer scientists on data protection and confidentiality. All contracts are in the review system, giving Ping An more control over its legal risks.

Wesfarmers
The Australian conglomerate’s in-house legal team has built self-service technology to enable staff to solve everyday problems independently, which frees time for lawyers to do more strategic and complex work. The developments include a self-service tool for confidentiality agreements, automated contract review and a platform to ensure that marketing campaigns are legally compliant.

Strategic and risk advisers

© Bloomberg

WINNER: Citic Capital
In 2020, China’s Harbin Pharmaceutical, owned by Citic Capital — part of the Chinese state-backed financial services group Citic — acquired US health and wellness retailer GNC out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Yong Kai Wong, Citic Capital general counsel, played a leading part, negotiating terms and talking to employees about what it would mean for GNC to be owned by a Chinese company. Commended: Yong Kai Wong.

Affirma Capital
The legal and compliance team at the private equity fund, which until 2019 was owned by Standard Chartered Bank, has redesigned the fund’s risk guides. The lawyers have shortened the documents — which outline rules in broad terms, enabling everyone in the business to manage their own risk — to no more than five pages each.

Airbnb
Yu Watanabe, lead counsel for the Japanese division of the accommodation rental website, persuaded the government to reform its esignature regulations to allow lawyers to sign documents virtually during the pandemic. Previously, the execution of some legal documents required a traditional seal.

DBS Bank
The bank’s in-house team assisted on the launch of DBS Digital Exchange, a cryptocurrency exchange for institutional and accredited investors. The lawyers designed policies, processes and controls, including an anti-money-laundering framework and conflict management controls. DBS Digital Exchange is recognised by the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the central bank.

Rio Tinto
Lawyers at miner Rio Tinto advised on the development of a blockchain platform for the sale of iron ore. The legal team persuaded banks and ore purchasers, which include steel producer China Baowu, to accept the terms of the new model. Transactions can be completed faster — opening a letter of credit is down from 48 hours to a few minutes, for example — and with greater transparency.

Tesla
Lawyers at the electric car and battery energy storage company supported its push into Australia’s renewable and alternative energy market. Tesla is leading the creation of a virtual power plant involving social housing properties in South Australia. The in-house team worked with the law firm Pinsent Masons to advise on the financing, regulatory and insurance structure for the distributed network, the first of its kind in Australia.

Operational management

© Getty Images

WINNER: DBS Bank
Customer risk is now tracked using real-time information, including the tracking of customer activity, after the bank changed its due diligence process from one based on static data. The legal team at the Singaporean multinational worked with its corporate banking unit to test the approach, advise on regulations and drive adoption. The new system is better at identifying customer risk and the change has cut the volume of due diligence reviews by a fifth.

Chevron Australia
A lack of knowledge about technology was preventing employees making best use of the digital tools that were becoming available to them. So Schellie-Jayne Price, senior legal counsel at Chevron Australia, set up a “tech café” with the help of the IT department. Staff at the energy company can have their queries answered by specialists — the service was used more than 2,000 times last year. Commended: Schellie-Jayne Price.

HSBC
A link on intranet pages and next to email signatures will soon direct staff to an easy-to-read digital manual on internal compliance. The legal team made use of new techniques to redesign the compliance processes at the multinational bank, and the user-friendly interface will tell staff how and when to involve their legal colleagues. The system will be launched in Hong Kong before it is implemented across the company.

Lazada
The legal team at the Singaporean ecommerce company helped to introduce an automated regulatory platform to improve efficiency. This system puts emails from regulators and enforcement agencies into a standard format and creates a ticket that is then assigned to the relevant legal team and other units in the business. The system allows the legal team to identify emerging trends.

Rio Tinto
The mining multinational now uses ebilling and has standardised how it reviews invoices from law firms. It has streamlined the process of issuing requests for proposals — a move that has encouraged competition among incumbent law firms. These initiatives, led by the in-house legal team, saved $10m in 2020.

Telstra
Lawyers have a leading role in the radical restructuring under way at the Australian telecommunications provider and have also reorganised their team into 10 connected functions. Their roles have broadened to focus on the turnround of the company, as well as innovation, sustainability and external affairs. The latter includes managing relationships with regional and indigenous customers in Australia.

Woolworths
At the Australian supermarket chain, Legal X — a new division of the in-house legal team that was set up in 2019 to help with data privacy, risk and digital matters — created a series of tools to enable more colleagues to “self-serve”.

For instance, customer care teams can now handle data incidents, unless they involve a potential data breach, without the legal team.

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