So Simon Hill of TikitTFB went over to China last week to fly the flag for the Tikit Group at an ILTA regional legal tech conference that was being held there. To his surprise he was shanghaied into chairing the first day's session and he sent back these notes…

Background
The Chinese Government are actively promoting increasing the number of lawyers and firms – why because they appear to be very keen to avoid what they perceive as the mistakes by the Russians over recent years. Ironically if Western Companies and individuals are to make further significant investments in China then they need to feel comfortable about protecting their IP, investments, property etc.

Trends

1.      Many of the firms present have already moved into the cloud in a way. Because they tend not to have any IT infrastructure most are using services like Google for email and document production. Only 10% of the delegates had used Outlook. For example I spent some time yesterday with Frank Hong (Senior Partner Long An Law Firm with offices in Shanghai, Beijing, Shenyang, Shenzhen and Guangzhou) and Sunny Fang (Dacheng 30 offices 2000 people). Both had there iPhones and notebook PCs with them and were drafting online to Google. Partners in both firms effectively bought their own IT (interesting given some leading firms thoughts on this in the UK ie here’s your budget you go and buy) and most took this approach of using Google as their Exchange Server for email, contacts and diaries. To a certain extent they were not concerned about security.

2.
      Those firms that do have internal IT staff have a very high lawyer-to-support staff ratio – 600:1 from one of the delegates presentations!

3.
      One of the keynotes I was chairing yesterday afternoon was regarding what they see as Web 3 – as far as I could understand the debate was whether to effectively copy the Western law firms in terms of both IT and IT staff or go their own way straight to the cloud and what we would call managed services. Very lively debate and to give you an example of the type of thinking they have initially in many parts of the country the government/China telecoms companies were looking at copying the cheap European type telephone exchange, with copper to the end user on the basis of cost. Business said this made no sense so they’ve gone straight to fibre optics all over Shanghai and other major cities with bandwidth far in excess of many UK cities.

4.
      This discussion then led into social networking and should Chinese firms therefore miss out on traditional technologies such as KM – they all appear very pro towards the concept of Facebook for lawyers, saw many advantages and you could argue their thought process is pretty advance on this topic.

5. 
     Again for a one party state they seem very keen to direct lawyers to emphasise the legal rights of companies and individuals and with 1.5 billion people, the lawyers see this something of a challenge, but it will lead to significant growth within the sector.

6.  
    They therefore see Facebook for lawyers as a way of connecting with the people so that lawyers have a one to one relationship online with clients.

7. 
     A presentation this morning caused a lot of interest on this subject as they things to come out were that social networking (internal and external):
a.      Displays synergy with clients.
b.      People can quickly spot trends.
c.       Can quickly create a KM, training, contact management system etc etc within one app.

8.
      Janet Day of Berwin Leighton Paisner also led a lively discussion with the delegates on defining the delivery of software etc as ‘Everything as a service’ to include SaaS, Platform as a Service, Infrastructure as a Service etc. Again this struck a chord with delegates as they saw it as a rapid way to deploy IT to their users and gain competitive advantage.

9.
      Of course all this has to be taken in the context of the fact that for example I can’t log on to Facebook in China, you can’t upload photo’s to services like Picassa etc. (Although apparently you can circumvent firewalls if you go send direct from a Blackberry – hence recent attempts to impose controls of its data by some governments.) However, just about every presentation at some point is talking about the opportunity presented by cloud computing and for internal/client contact utilising a Facebook type app. They may have every little now but their mind-set is to move forward very rapidly. Therefore the type of app we both strongly feel has an opportunity in the UK would appear to be very much on the agenda in China with far less inhabitation about its use.

Hill adds that Shanghai airport already has what appears to be an Apple iPad 2 – for customs officials etc. Has the current form but about 2/3rds the size – they swipe your passport (in another system) and then use it to display all the details to you about your visa etc and then take a photo of you with the camera in the device.