By SGN | 4 Apr 2022
Know any International lawyers who are also accomplished dancers? Meet Josh, a Masters of Law student at UC Berkeley, co-founder of LawTech.Asia, and one of Singapore’s most prominent street dancers. Find out more from Josh about law and technology, and how street dance brought him to the West Coast!
Tell us a bit about yourself – what brought you to the U.S.?
I am Josh, a LL.M. (Masters of Law) student in the University of California, Berkeley, with a specialization in Law and Technology. I began my studies in Fall 2021, and am expecting to graduate in May 2022!
I am deeply passionate in issues relating to the law of technology, and the technology of law. Before coming to the US, I served as the Legal Policy Manager for Artificial Intelligence (AI) Governance in Singapore’s Personal Data Protection Commission, where I managed Singapore’s overall AI governance policies. Before that, I was an Assistant Director for Legal Policy in the Ministry of Law, where I drove tech-related criminal and civil legislative reform. I also practiced law in a large Singaporean law firm previously, and am called to the Singapore Bar.
After graduation, my aspiration is to seek out opportunities in the Silicon Valley technology industry as a policy-shaper. My long-term goal is to be an architect that reshapes societal relationships disrupted by technology, so that technology works for, not against, people.
I am also the Director of the Asia-Pacific Legal Innovation and Technology Association (ALITA), a pan-regional industry body that pushes legal innovation and technology initiatives in the Asia-Pacific and a co-founder of LawTech.Asia, a virtual publication that drives thought leadership on law and technology in Asia.
Outside of work, I am an avid street dancer, specializing in the funk style dance known as “Popping”. In 2013, I represented Singapore in the Respect-16 Bboy Masters World Finals in South Korea, emerging as first runners-up. Since Popping originated from the Bay Area (including Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and Richmond), part of the reason for me coming to the Bay is to learn and live the history of this dance. In many ways, I am home.
What is LawTech? Aren’t they distinct fields?
LawTech, or legal technology, is essentially about the use of modern-day technologies in legal work and practice, with the aim of improving the quality of legal services, justice, and access to justice. For example, lawyers today can already use AI systems to parse through contracts in seconds to identify areas of legal concern, while courts in China are using AI systems to verify statements from witnesses. Just as many industries have been disrupted by technology and tech-driven firms, the legal industry is no exception (despite it being sometimes called the second oldest profession in the world!).
Today, legal technology is a global multibillion-dollar industry. In the Asia-Pacific, jurisdictions like the US, China, Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong are leading the field. ALITA compiled a report, known as the State of Legal Innovation in the Asia-Pacific (SOLIA) Report 2020, looking at the current level of innovation in the region. You can read it here to see the innovative ways technology has transformed law so far!
What inspired you to be in this field?
Since I was a child, I’ve always been fascinated by technology—think giant robots, space rockets and computers (and the games to play them on!). As each new piece of exciting technology is being rolled out, I always wondered “what will the future bring?”.
Even before graduating, I had already been thinking about how lawyering would be like in the future with major technological disruptions. Upon graduating, while attending a conference on the future of lawyering, I met a group of fellow law students who were part of Legal Hackers Singapore (incidentally, the global Legal Hackers movement started in the Bay). This was my first venture into legal innovation and technology, and opened my eyes to how much better lawyering could be with the aid of technology.
Resolved, I started legal practice, wanting to combine law and technology to do my best for clients. Reality turned out to be a little different – for example, I ended up staying many 3 a.m. nights just to prepare documents to be mailed halfway around the world to Canada (on boss’ orders – he refused to use Dropbox).
That’s when I decided to co-found LawTech.Asia to improve trust and understanding among lawyers and policymakers in technology and the law. After pushing its mission for several years, I was asked to start an industry body to coordinate legal technology efforts in the region, which was how ALITA was born! I am also proud to share that a few classmates and I are also hoping to start a legal innovation and technology club in Berkeley, known as B-LIT (for Be – Legal Innovation and Technology). We can’t wait to share more news on it soon!
What are your hobbies?
As you might imagine, my main hobby (for the last 15 years) is freestyle street dancing (specifically Popping). I normally practice 2 to 3 times a week in campus, but have also travelled to Oakland, San Jose, San Francisco and even Los Angeles to battle (freestyle competitions against other dancers), cypher (dancing together and sharing moves in a circular group), and learn. Outside of dance, I read, listen to music, take scenic walks, and engage in the occasional bout of self-contemplation.
How do you stay connected with your loved ones in Singapore?
In a few ways! By catching up regularly with family and loved ones in Singapore through messages and video calls, keeping up with local news and affairs, cooking (or rather making valiant attempts to cook) local dishes, and (occasionally) listening to popular National Day songs. I reserve the right to remain silent on whether or not I sing along to them.