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May 2021   |   Volume 22 No. 2

Seeing the LITE

LITE Lab students won the InnoSpark pitching competition held by the Innovation Academy, Faculty of Engineering, with a virtual reality (VR) mock trial initiative for unrepresented litigants.
The Faculty of Law’s new LITE Lab is using digital tools to increase access to justice, help start-ups navigate legal affairs, and train students in legal technology.

The Law Faculty’s Law, Innovation, Technovation and Entrepreneurship (LITE) Lab@HKU is barely two years old, but it is already making an impact. Students and staff have been developing tools and systems that are nudging current and future legal professionals in Hong Kong into the ‘ABCD’ era of artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, cloud computing and data, and improving access to justice and fairness.

Students enrolled and affiliated with LITE Lab have performed strongly in international competitions, such as winning the inaugural Iron Tech Lawyer Invitational organised by Georgetown University in April 2020.

LITE Lab scholars, including Founding Executive Director Brian Tang and Professor Douglas Arner, Kerry Holdings Professor in Law, of the Faculty of Law and Professor Yiu Siu-ming of the Department of Computer Science, are part of the HKU–Standard Chartered Foundation FinTech Academy team that collaborated with Standard Chartered Bank to develop a tool to combat financial crime and fraud in digital trade finance. The tool won Best Governance, Risk and Compliance Solution in last November’s TechChallenge run by the Bank for International Settlements Innovation Hub and Hong Kong Monetary Authority.

The driving force behind LITE Lab has been Mr Tang, who previously worked with large legal firms in Australia, Wall Street and Silicon Valley and in-house at a global investment bank in Hong Kong. He also organised Hong Kong’s first legaltech and regtech hackathon in 2018, after which he was recruited to HKU to put a focus on technology in the legal realm.

Industry partners

According to Mr Tang, “LITE Lab@HKU is trying to achieve three main objectives. One is to train future legal talent. Technology like automation tools and AI have implications for access to justice and the business of doing law, and so new skillsets and mindsets are needed.

“Second, we are also trying to address the high legal costs involved in establishing and running innovative start-ups, social enterprises and NGOs by involving students as legal researchers, interns and legal engineers in a win-win scenario. Third, we are looking at how the new ABCD technologies are impacting the legal profession and how the law responds to such innovative technologies and evolving applications.”

LITE Lab@HKU works closely with industry partners such as Cyberport, Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP), the Association of Corporate Counsel – Hong Kong, HKU’s entrepreneurship hub iDendron and the FinTech Association of Hong Kong, to enable students to work on solving real-world problems. Both undergraduate and postgraduate experiential classes are offered to students from various disciplines, in keeping with the lab’s mission to be cross-disciplinary.

LITE Lab courses give students the opportunity to undertake legal research or internships or create legal tech tools that can benefit under-resourced organisations. Mr Tang’s students have created animated videos, automated documents and even built chatbots. One group worked with the community start-up Equal Justice Hong Kong to create a tool that can help frontline workers, such as social workers and police officers, identify if someone is a victim of human trafficking.

LITE Lab students at the Tam Wing Fan Innovation Wing

LITE Lab Founding Executive Director Mr Brian Tang (first from left) and students at the InnoHub launch at the Tam Wing Fan Innovation Wing.

Tremendous potential

One of the most impactful ventures came from the team of law, business, government and design undergraduate students who won the Iron Tech Lawyer Invitational. They collaborated with NGOs to create a legal research engine on compensation for injured workers, using natural language processing. Users input data and learn about levels of compensation awarded in the past to help them decide whether to accept insurance offers or appeal tribunal findings. The students have now incorporated into a start-up called Litex Limited, which is incubating at the HKSTP.

“We realised the difficulty and cost barriers around legal research tools and figured it was possible to provide a more elegant and cost-effective solution,” said Cuthbert Chow, now in his final year of a BBA(Law)&LLB. “Had it not been for Brian’s class, we would not have been so keenly attuned to the intersection between the legal field and technology.”

Mr Tang said his students’ output showed the richness of talent at HKU. “We just need to give Hong Kong youth the opportunities, tools and space to create. What they do after that is up to them. The fact they are creating such awesome things demonstrates their tremendous potential.”

He stressed that his students cannot provide legal advice, only research, but given the rate of development of new technologies, there was plenty for them to get stuck into. “Areas like AI and blockchain are so cutting-edge that there is often no established law, so students are able to do impactful research in this fast-moving space and work with companies immersed in these areas.

“I want LITE Lab@HKU to be the initial go-to destination if you’re a tech start-up, social entrepreneur or NGO and have a legal-related question,” he said. “I also hope we can help the legal profession adapt to the changing world.” Those goals will move further forward this summer when LITE Lab launches a new website to showcase its work.

Iron Tech Lawyer Invitational

Students won the inaugural Iron Tech Lawyer Invitational organised by Georgetown Law by creating an AI-powered platform to assist injured workers.

Areas like AI and blockchain are so cutting-edge that there is often no established law, so students are able to do impactful research in this fast-moving space and work with companies immersed in these areas.