Interview with Tim Steinert, General Counsel of Alibaba Group


Tim Steinert, general counsel of Alibaba Group


Can you tell us about your legal team at Alibaba?

We have about between Alibaba and Ant Financial, we have probably about 550 legal team members. For both companies, our teams are divided into a number of specializations. So we have our commercial lawyers. We have a litigation department. We have a dispute resolution department. We have an IP department. We have a legal research department. We also have other departments. We also have a big legal platform team. So that’s the team that builds and operates our legal tools.

We communicate like many other companies through instant messaging, through our own messaging system called Dingtalk or Dingding, and also through email, of course, and by phone and in person. We are a company, like many companies, have a pretty good video communication system either on people’s computers or in special rooms.

How do you use technology at Alibaba?

We are very focused on using technology to improve the delivery of our services. For every single leader in our legal department, part of their KPI is to take their day-to-day service offerings and create reproducible systems and processes so that, in my view, we can

  • Provide a better product to a more timely and better quality product to our internal and external customers, which is very important for me
  • To help liberate our legal people from repetitive, mundane work and give them the tools to provide better value to the company. So, for instance, we have thousands and thousands of litigations

But some people think that the job of the legal department is just to take the cases to do the cases. But my view is the job of the department is to figure out why those cases are happening and to help the company reduce the likelihood that we face that type of litigation. In order to do that, you need to collect and analyze a lot of data. And in order to collect and analyze, you need a platform, you need a system, you need technology to to to help you. So because we’re a large company, even with small companies, it’s the same situation. If we can use technology, data, tech data and technology to upgrade our work, we can provide better services.

And I think it’s also important that lawyers tend to think that advice, legal advice is the core of their work. But in the business context that the business leaders, they want to succeed in their business.

So we also need to be able to have the tools, the way of communicating so we can provide information and recommendations. Not just legal, but operating-based suggestions to the business side in ways they understand data and numbers and things that have an objective, persuasive value. Business leaders don’t want to hear that there is a risk, they want to know exactly how big that risk is. If you don’t have a scientific, fact-based, data-based way of collecting information about risks then it is very hard for you to be part of the conversation.

Will legaltech replace lawyers?

No, I don’t think so. I think there will always be needs for lawyers but I think the role of the lawyers and how they structure and deliver their services is going to change a lot. And certainly, if people can’t adapt to those changes then they’re going to need to go find a different job. But I think overall, the value of what we do will improve by using all of these tools.

Click here to view the interview with Alibert Liu, vice president and deputy general counsel of Alibaba Group on the future and need of legal technology.