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Law firm sharpening its edge in digital age

TSMP hires Adrian Tan to lead its technology and IP cases; 27-year veteran also has experience in en bloc litigation

With a degree in computer science, in addition to his law degree, Mr Tan is "one of the rare few technology lawyers with an academic foundation in IT", says Stefanie Yuen Thio, TSMP's joint managing partner.


IN THIS age of digital disruption, companies are employing innovative ways and means to not just stay on top of technological change, but they also hope to turn such advancements into a business advantage.

For award-winning boutique practice TSMP Law Corporation, a component of its growth strategy in this digital era has come in the form of a recent hire: Adrian Tan.

The 52-year-old lawyer, with 27 years of legal experience, will lead TSMP's technology and intellectual property cases. Armed with a degree in computer science, in addition to his law degree, Mr Tan is "one of the rare few technology lawyers with an academic foundation in IT (information technology)", says Stefanie Yuen Thio, TSMP's joint managing partner.

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Besides having spent the bulk of his career at leading Singapore law firms such as Drew & Napier and Morgan Lewis Stamford, Mr Tan also served as in-house counsel at CrimsonLogic, a Singapore government IT company that provided eGovernment services.

Ms Thio believes Mr Tan will bring a unique edge to the firm's dispute resolution practice. "(Joint managing partner) Thio Shen Yi and (partner) Melvin Chan, two of our top litigators, are no strangers to complex technology cases. But Adrian's vast experience in this area will elevate the team to a whole new level," she says.

"In a world increasingly powered by the Internet and technology, more and more cases are going to be fought over online disputes. Having Adrian on board will position TSMP at a huge advantage in tackling such cases."

Mr Tan recognises the incipient challenges and opportunities that will be wrought by technological advancement. "People are beginning to realise that we've reached a crisis point. There are two looming threats to businesses: attacks on their brand, and attacks on their data," he tells The Business Times.

"Nowadays, brand attacks take place online, anonymously, and insidiously. Fake news is not confined to politics: business competitors are using fake news to defame their rivals. I've seen brands, products and even service staff attacked online, in social media.

"The second battleground takes place over customer data. Even a tech giant such as Facebook has been caught out. If you don't safeguard your customer's personal information, you expose yourself to civil and criminal liability. Worse than that - I have seen serious data breaches kill thriving companies overnight."

Businesses can do three things to protect themselves, he says: carry out regular internal audits to ensure that they are not collecting unnecessary customer data, that customer data is securely stored and there are robust policies in place to ring-fence the data; train staff rigorously in all aspects of data protection; and have legal safeguards in place to make clear what their responsibilities are concerning data.

What would also help: regulatory frameworks in jurisdictions across the globe catching up to rapid technological change.

"We are looking at the start of another crisis, where once again lawmakers will be scrambling to catch up with innovators. My prediction? Lawmakers will have to sprint really hard just to keep pace.

"The good news is that in Singapore, there are moves to introduce prophylactic legislation to prevent harm. It's a fast-moving area, so watch this space," says Mr Tan.

Another key area of expertise is his experience in en bloc sale litigation. Ms Thio says: "Given how hot the collective sale market in Singapore has suddenly become, (his expertise in this area) is just the icing on the cake."

Mr Tan was involved in the 2013 proposed en bloc sale of Thomson View, a freehold condominium near Thomson Shopping Centre, where he represented the minority owners who did not agree to the sale. They succeeded in defeating the sale when they showed in court that some owners were offered incentive payments to agree to the collective sale.

He says: "The latest news is that Thomson View is embarking on another collective sale effort. What I've learnt is: each time an en bloc sale fails, another one will follow, always at a higher price. So if a collective sale is blocked, it's not the end of the world. There will inevitably be another opportunity. The most important thing is to respect the process, and respect your neighbours."

He also predicts a new battleground will emerge on the issue of apportionment: whether the spoils from en bloc sales are shared fairly.

"This question is already being raised for developments that have retail units, penthouses, townhouses or any other type of lot that is unique or valued differently from the other lots.

"Traditionally, sale proceeds are apportioned by lot size and share value, but I am beginning to see attempts to distribute by other means, for example, valuation. That methodology has not been tested in court, but it is just a matter of time before it will be argued out."