From The Straits Times    |

I often call myself a recovering lawyer. Legal practice, while exhilarating in many ways, has left me with some bad habits that I need to purge. I decided to relook my legal career when I realised that even in some of the largest firms and institutions, the legal back end was the same – technology is used to help with the manual labour, but not with the thinking. I began to wonder if, perhaps, lawyers weren’t the right people to bring real technological innovation to law. This led to Legalese, which I co-founded with Wong Meng Weng, a computer scientist by training.

I’ve definitely encountered certain gender biases as a female co-founder of a start-up. There are the usual slights and invalidation: People assumed that I wasn’t the one leading the negotiation, or wasn’t capable of having an opinion on technical details. Some even assumed I was the assistant. I was discouraged initially. But then, I picked up something from my boss at my side job (where I do legal consulting).

She’s a general counsel who is petite and looks very young for her age. I saw the same things happening to her, but it didn’t seem to bother her. Rather, she’d use that to her advantage, to get information and leverage. It made me realise that having a good sense of someone’s world view gives you a lot more negotiating or persuasive power. So, I’m no longer affected by these encounters.

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I do believe that women short-change themselves too much. Throughout my career, I’ve found women always asking for a lower pay or negotiating against themselves, not realising that they’re probably the most qualified person for the job. I’ve also seen women apologising for things that they shouldn’t be sorry for. Stop judging yourself, and don’t say no to yourself before someone else does – this is something I say to the students, trainees, and juniors that I work with.

Last year, we joined Singapore Management University’s five-year research programme on computational law. Meng’s the principal research fellow, while I’m the industry director, and we received a grant of $15 million from the National Research Foundation to fund the open-source research in computational law – the foundation for what we do.

It’s encouraging that the government has awarded such a significant amount to a niche (but critically important) field like computational law. It takes ambition, vision and guts to fund something like this, and it’s groundbreakingly forward-looking of the National Research Foundation to support this.

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