By the SMU Digital Marketing Team
In an increasingly digitalised world, legal professionals need to be familiar with the complex issues relating to commercial uses of technology. The rapid pace of change brought about by Industry 4.0 presents challenges for both businesses and legal professionals. As these technologies enter the commercial sphere, lawyers must understand their implications on organisations. To stay ahead of the curve, law graduates must be prepared to embrace change and adapt to the ever-evolving landscape of digital commerce.
SMU-X, an innovative programme that provides students real-world experience by collaborating with corporations, non-profit organisations and governmental bodies, does just that. The SMU-X Law and Digital Commerce course, in particular, prepares students for the digital economy through exposure to cutting-edge issues and debates which traverse law, policy-making, business and consumer issues through a series of class discussions and guest interactions.
SMU Professor of Law Locknie Hsu
According to SMU Professor of Law Locknie Hsu, students can interact directly with industry and regulatory professionals regularly in the course to explore these issues and test their ideas. They are also required to engage directly with industry professionals in carrying out the research for their group papers.
“In this way, students are in touch with a variety of professionals to learn different perspectives of the issues covered throughout the course,” adds Prof Hsu, a recipient of multiple awards for her role as a law educator and scholar.
We speak with Prof Hsu to learn about the course as well as the interesting projects and innovative solutions students have worked on as part of the course to address real-world problems.
Making an impact in the classroom and beyond
Real-world learning opportunities are essential for success in university and beyond, and the Law and Digital Commerce course achieves this through student research papers.
Rather than focus on traditional legal opinions pertaining mainly to legal practice, students are tasked to develop analytical, solutions-based papers for a wider audience, including stakeholders in business and policy-making. By discussing their research and findings with industry partners, students can gain valuable insight into the field and learn about the latest challenges faced by businesses.
“In their papers, [students] are expected to articulate such issues or gaps and make useful and practicable recommendations and solutions. This teaches them to think as problem-solvers.”
“The student papers encourage students to learn about new issues, gaps in the law and new applications of technology whose legal and other implications have not yet been fully thought out in the real world,” explains Prof Hsu.
“In their papers, they are expected to articulate such issues or gaps and make useful and practicable recommendations and solutions. This teaches them to think as problem-solvers.”
For example, a student group in the course had worked on a paper analysing the data-related issues faced by a Singaporean SME using blockchain applications in its international trade operations. The company engaged extensively with the students during the course, and its founder shared their findings and ideas with his colleagues as he found them useful.
Navigating fast-changing digital trends and honing problem-solving skills
Just as the world has undergone a digital transformation, so too has the legal profession. Today, legal specialists must be comfortable navigating an increasingly complex digital landscape. And because technology is advancing at such a rapid clip, Prof Hsu explains that the course is updated as the weeks unfold, so that new legal developments are discussed as they emerge.
“This instills a sense of currency of the issues and the need for students to be vigilant about developments in the real world when thinking about law, policy, technology, and business issues as they intersect,” she adds.
The rise of non-fungible tokens (NFT) is one example, resulting in the regulatory landscape around digital assets evolving rapidly. As such, a student group delved into how consumers may be better protected in NFT transactions. Through research into issues faced by NFT consumers, the students came up with a list of recommendations, including an accreditation system for NFT marketplaces.
“It is challenging to keep abreast of fast-moving developments in this area, but fortunately, SMU has excellent research resources to support faculty.”
On a broader note, another group of students decided to examine the legal implications for businesses in the Metaverse. Their research revolved around legal issues such as data protection, intellectual property and consumer protection. Following their findings, the students recommended that businesses be conscientious in ensuring that the terms of their End User Licensing Agreements “remain equitable and user-centric to ensure longevity in commercial relationships”.
As Prof Hsu notes, newer technology applications have led to legal and policy uncertainties in many countries. Authorities are therefore trying to establish clear laws and regulations while not stifling innovation, such as the rules that might be applied to activities in the Metaverse and to digital currencies. They might also re-examine the role of the law and how it could better ‘catch up’ with businesses’ rapid adoption of new applications of technology, and how consumer protection may need to be reviewed.
“It is challenging to keep abreast of fast-moving developments in this area, but fortunately, SMU has excellent research resources to support faculty,” remarks Prof Hsu.
“The course is designed to encourage students to teach themselves and each other and to pique their curiosity with topics in frontier areas of the law. The students’ excitement is often quite visible!”
Nurturing legal professionals of tomorrow
The legal field is changing rapidly, and lawyers must keep up with the latest digital trends to remain competitive. Preparing students for future interactions with industry partners, the course aims to develop a deeper appreciation of the challenges faced by today’s digitally transformed businesses.
In fact, students who have undertaken projects in the course over the past three years have been offered internships in international law firms and key regulatory agencies in Singapore. Another group has been provided opportunities to participate in a major international project to map blockchain laws and regulations worldwide, recalls Prof Hsu. Moreover, industry partners have been impressed that SMU allows students to develop substantive research and problem-solving skills in courses such as this.
As the digital economy continues to evolve, it is increasingly important for law students to gain real-world learning experiences. Through close collaboration with industry stakeholders, students gain exposure to the realities of the digital business landscape. They are then better equipped to develop innovative solutions for businesses as they tap upon opportunities offered by technology, and are poised to meet the challenges of the technological era.
SMU-X is an experiential learning framework which calls for students to take on real- world challenges by collaborating on projects with corporates, non-profit and government organisations. Learn more about SMU-X and its courses here.