A consideration of whether the phrase ‘The Non-Practising Advocate & Solicitor’, which is increasingly popular and used by law graduates who were called to the Malaysian Bar and did not or have left the practise of law, is meaningful.
One of those categories comprise of law graduates who either (i) never bothered to be qualified as lawyers or (ii) who have qualified and did not practise, or (iii) left soon after tasting practise.
Those in subcategory (i) often mistake if not insist that the completion of an undergraduate course in law as sufficient qualification for the entry into the arcane practise of law. It is a mistake because they have no comprehension whatsoever that the practise of law is a whole different nastier, more aggressive beast than the comparatively genteel study of law. A similar comparison would be that of playing with a kitten as compared to trying to kill a tiger with nothing except your already shredded loin cloth.
Any respectable practising lawyer will tell you (of which I make no claims to since I am a LoyarBurok), that an undergraduate degree is merely proof that you stayed the course and paid enough attention to pass your exams during that 3 year holiday which masqueraded as an undergraduate program. The sole function of that degree is to help you slide your foot into the narrow opening to the entrance door to the legal realm. It is important to appreciate that the degree does not enable you to pass through.
For that you need to take a professional exam. In England it is the Bar Vocational Course (for barristers, a court going lawyer) or a Legal Practise Course (for solicitors, who often do not go to court and carry out corporate and conveyancing transactions). In Singapore you have the Postgraduate Practical Law Course (PLC). In Malaysia it is the dreaded, roulette game known as the ‘Certificate of Legal Practise‘, more popularly known among budding lawyers as the Legal Qualifying Exam of Death (because of the high repeated failure rate), which really should be run by Genting Holdings Berhad instead of the Legal Profession Qualifying Board of Malaysia.
When you pass the relevant exams only then can a lowly law graduate remotely associate himself with a lawyer. A law graduate had best not attempt to pass himself off as one in the company of true lawyers. He will find himself come up short mighty quick among them. If and when such posturing is discovered, the lawyers are entitled in equity, if not law, to laugh heartily and derogatorily at the law graduate’s misplaced sense of occupation. They are also encouraged to point emphatically and ridicule the unfortunate law graduate, for his own benefit of course, so that his error is so seared into his experience that he never attempts such foolish a thing again.
After all, to be a lawyer is bad enough, to pretend to be one is just criminal. And so it is heartening to note that impersonating a lawyer is an offence under section 205 of the Penal Code punishable with a maximum of 3 years and fine, or both if you are so odious a character. So if you hear a mere law graduate talk, walk and spit like a lawyer, you are duty bound to lodge a police report against him, more so if he can drink you under the table. Only professional lawyers are qualified to undertake such hazardous work, getting drunk above and under the table, I mean.
To call those in subcategory (ii) lawyers is as misguided calling those those who know how to fish but don’t fish fishermen. Just because you now know how to fish, are permitted to buy a boat and get out there and start fishing you will not be known as a fisherman if you then stayed at home and did fishing on your Wii machine, Playstation 3 or Xbox 360.
You will be known as a gamer, not a fisherman. Similarly someone who is merely qualified to commence practise cannot be properly known as a lawyer because they have not practised law. An accurate description for them would be ‘Someone Qualified for the Practise of Law’. We should rightly refer them as an SQPL, an ugly looking computer programming language sounding abbreviation that reflects the confusion of purpose about their intended career in law.
What then of those in subcategory (iii); surely, surely Encik Fahri, they are entirely deserving and entitled to refer to themselves as lawyers, no doubt some would fairly ask. I mean after all, they are qualified and have some experience, never mind, how meagre or dull that experience was. Since they have tasted that practise of law, they are now entirely deserving of that right to think and refer to themselves as lawyers even though they may have devoted the rest of their career if not life to some other more disgraceful vocation like politics, for example.
Clearly, even in this circumstance, you cannot. Can you seriously call yourself a fisherman if you only fished for a year and then spent the next 30 years as a Chief Executive Officer of a multinational company? Most often, people would tend to describe you as a CEO, not a fisherman. This illustrates that to be known as a member of a profession necessitates devoting yourself to the profession. It is not enough to taste it and know its flavour, it has to hit the belly, so to speak. Before you can call yourself a lawyer, or claim the title to any other profession, you have to be in the belly of the or that profession. The moment you leave a profession, you cannot claim its title anymore.
You can claim that you think, talk and even swear like a lawyer but you cannot claim to be a lawyer, nor represent yourself as one. Because a lawyer is one who practises law, and if that is not what you are doing then you are not a lawyer. And by lawyer I mean ‘advocate and solicitor’, which is the statutory description of a lawyer.
It is as simple as that.
Lately, I have noticed an unhealthy growing trend amongst those in subcategories (ii) and (iii) who have moved on to other careers or a job related to the legal profession (editors of legal journals, in house legal executives, etc.) but state on their cards, in addition to their present vocation, ‘Non-Practising Advocate & Solicitor’. I used to look upon that with bemusement which has now settled into amusement.
Why is it funny?
Firstly, it suggests a desperate though futile attempt on the part of that person to associate if not connect themselves to their abandoned legal heritage – the practise of law. The use of the words ‘Advocate & Solicitor’ serves as a reminder of what could have been instead of that alternate dimension to their qualifications. It could be a scar of dreams dashed and intentions thwarted. What is amusing is that these people choose to reveal a part of their innerselves so nakedly without thinking through the implications of assuming a title, or a non-title in this case.
Secondly, to describe yourself as a ‘non-practising advocate and solicitor’ is not really so much a description as it is a non-description. If you think about it, as a lawyer, I can quite possibly put on my card ‘non-practising shower scrubber’, ‘non-professional tennis player’ ‘non-charging credit card holder’ or even ‘non-sitting Judge of the Federal Court’ (since I’m qualified for the position but have not been appointed). In short, you can put just about anything to describe yourself from the perspective of what you are not.
It is for this reason that the practise developed of defining your occupation by what you are instead of what you are not. It is a sensible practise that seems to have forgotten in this mad rush to demonstrate one’s qualifications or credentials. I often note from such calling cards bearing such a non-description that they try to include as much of their qualifications in it as possible, no matter how irrelevant. If they think that that 3 day baking course they did at Aunty Kim’s house the other day might improve others’ impression of them from a professional or intellectual standpoint, you can bet your briefs (not the legal ones, of course) they would stick it in there if they thought it.
So why do they do it? I would really like to know myself.
As a lawyer my competency only extends to whether and why a person can describe themselves as an ‘advocate and solicitor’. Why someone describes themselves as a ‘non-practising advocate and solicitor’ is not a legal issue but rather a psychological one. So a therapist is more appropriate to explain such psychological issues; and by therapist I naturally mean not the ‘non-practising therapist’.