Alexis Chun never thought she could become a lawyer. She attributes it to “the whole poverty mindset” — as the eldest of three kids to a single mother from a low-income household, she struggled with bullying in secondary school and sexual abuse outside of it, and decided to abandon education altogether.
But thanks to her “extremely wise” mum who instilled in her a love of learning, Chun enjoyed reading and writing, and was good at languages. The youngster eventually made it to junior college, where teachers and friends — “people I trusted and respected, and thought were infinitely more intelligent” — believed she would excel in the legal field.
After two years in practice, where she advocated for clients in areas such as dispute resolution, technology, intellectual property, sports, and gaming, Chun knew she was ready for new experiences. So she set up Legalese, which aims to develop a domain-specific language (DSL) for law.
“As with other professions, such as architecture and accounting, embracing technology has accelerated the processes of thinking and doing. By having a programming language with which we write components — contracts, statutes, regulations, business process logic, and others — law can become computational,” she explains, before adding with a chuckle: “Think of it as like Adobe for graphic design!”
Chun goes as far as to call her firm’s innovation “the first deep-tech leap for law”. But there’s still much to do. She and co-founder Wong Meng Weng are working with SMU School of Law’s Centre for Computational Law, on research that will contribute to developing smart contracts and statutes to help power Singapore into a $16-billion global legal tech market.
“Law has a longer catch-up game to play with technology, primarily because it pre-dates programming. Much R&D in computational law was done in a purely academic environment but we want to work with use cases; these will allow us to develop highly technical areas such as DSL yet be attuned to real needs of real users in the real world,” she says.
She is excited about the prospect of turning law into a product (through the DSL) as opposed to just a service. But lawyers can never be replaced by algorithms, she’s quick to point out.
“Ultimately we are human beings living in a society alongside and in relation to others, and we cannot forget what we are good at. Technology is almost always only a tool; it can augment our behaviour and optimise our processes, but what we do with that knowledge, power, and time that technology affords is a separate question worthy of deeper examination.”
While Legalese began as Chun’s quest for ikigai — the Japanese concept of finding passion and mission in life — she says it’s enabled her to evolve as a person too.
“In the past, a great deal was said about T-shaped persons — they are very good at one thing but are competent enough in others too. These days, I’m trying to become more Pi-shaped. Pi-shaped persons don’t just offer deep expertise and technical skills in two domains but also possess skills in other areas. Being in computational law and sitting at the exhilarating intersection of law, technology, government, and people, I’ve come to appreciate this quality!”
This is part of our series on Rising Above Adversity. For the full story, click here.
The story first appeared in the October issue of A Magazine.