This is the second part of LoyarBorak #2 discussing the role of the Bar Council, in view of the on-going Bar Council elections. Part 1 is here.
This LoyarBorak is moderated by Marcus van Geyzel (who also throws his views into the ring), and the borakkers are Adriana Leu, Foong Cheng Leong, Grace Wong, Lee Shih and Siti Shahrom, who all approach the discussion from their different experiences and positions in the legal profession. Please borak along in the comments section below.
If you’d like to be a borakker, email Marcus at marcus.van.geyzel[at]gmail.com.
Marcus: A long-standing issue for the Bar has been the lack of involvement or interest amongst lawyers. Why do you think this is so? What do you think the Bar Council can do to engage more lawyers, particularly corporate/conveyancing lawyers?
I agree with what Lee Shih opined earlier. The lack of interest on the part of lawyers in the work of the Bar Council stems from the notion – rightly or wrongly – that most of what the Bar Council does is not that relevant to the daily lives of lawyers. Its presence is perhaps not felt enough.
As a pupil, my initial involvement with the Bar Council for example, will be the compulsory 14-day Legal Aid program or the forums, seminars and workshops that I need to attend. The exposure and experience I receive through these, in my opinion, comprehensively-designed programs will naturally be the first impression I form of the role the Bar Council plays. However, workshops and seminars alone are insufficient to keep us interested in the involvement of the activities by Bar Council. Ultimately, it is the people with a heart to care that matters.
This is perhaps one reason why I applaud the Candidate Watch Campaign the KL Bar Young Lawyers’ Committee has initiated this year. For once, there is something to pique the curiosity of members as to the inner workings of the Bar Council and along with that, a realisation that we are the ones actually responsible for the policies and actions that will later be implemented on our behalves. Questions have been posed to the candidates about current pressing issues such as the SRO, which is something very relevant to conveyancing lawyers. If this community of our legal fraternity wants the Bar Council to hear their voice, they will first need to speak up.
No. I think we have a good number of members who are involved in BC.
Perhaps the lack of involvement or interest is due to the fact that fellow lawyers are complacent with having others taking the active role. There will always be someone else to voice out, comment or advocate. We often see the same few people running around and hence, it is automatic that we take a back seat, the lazy role. I must admit that I too, succumb to such temptations of being too complacent with having others doing the work.
With regards to corporate/conveyancing lawyers, perhaps the reason of their lack of involvement (as compared to litigators) is probably due to the fact that they feel that they are not able to contribute (as much as litigators). However, given the right role, I believe that everyone is able to contribute in one way or another.
I think the lack of interest comes down to lawyers not seeing any relevance of being involved in any of the Bar committees, whether at the state or national level. There could be several reasons for this.
On a micro level, looking at the specific committees themselves (and for this, I will look at it at the national level), lawyers may not be aware of the specific committees and the nature or functions of the committee. Lawyers may feel that a committee only consists of a certain clique of practitioners, and there may not be uniform, active recruitment drive going on (aside from an email or website announcement at the start of each Council term).
On a macro level, looking at the Bar Council itself as the main policy-making body, it could set a general policy or roadmap of issues to be looked into for the term ahead (or even a longer period). This makes it clearer to lawyers how they can assist in contributing to those areas and greater awareness is created on the future direction of the Bar.
Both Grace and Siti also make pertinent observations, in terms of a sense of partial complacency and more significant I think, a lack of time.
In all honesty, I do not think the profession is kind on lawyers in terms of time. Lawyers are usually swamped with work which includes, among others, rendering opinions, conducting research, drafting cause papers, attending court, attending to clients, sitting through meetings, travelling for work, delivering seminars, marketing their practice, attending courses and pleasing their bosses (if they are not their own boss) in hopes of a good bonus and promotion. All that combined would inevitably result in exhaustion.
I do not think that the lack of involvement is due to a lack of interest. I think it is more of an individual wanting to have a semblance of a balanced lifestyle by spending the little free time that they have by either relaxing, pursuing their hobbies and spending time with family and friends. This, I believe, is the general consensus.
It is also a situation whereby some lawyers feel that the Bar Council is merely a platform for aspiring politicians, a chatter-box which doesn’t led to much fruition, a place where lawyers go to feel relevant but not really do anything. These are thoughts I have picked up along the way. But, of course, there is no denying the fact that there are some who adopt a couldn’t care less attitude.
Despite the above, I think the Bar Council has provided various avenues for lawyers, new and seasoned, to be involved if they want to be. I say continue to keep the doors open. Continue with the dialogues, the campaigns, the protests, the walks. Continue to throw in new ideas and aspire to make changes. More importantly, follow through the ideas so that people can see that changes for the better can happen if there is the will. Those interested will eventually do their part to get involved.
The borakkers have given some good answers, most of which resonate with me as a corporate solicitor. I would add on to Lee Shih’s point about cliques by saying that the social and professional circle of a corporate solicitor is very different from that of a litigator. And I don’t just mean drinking sessions at the Long Bar. Litigators meet and deal with other litigators in court on a daily basis. As a corporate solicitor, most of our communication is with company directors or management, business owners, investment bankers, accountants and other clients. Most of us are not part of the legal circles, and there will naturally be less camaraderie or sense of belonging with the Bar.
Having said that, the main reason why corporate/conveyancing solicitors have no interest in the Bar Council could well be that there doesn’t seem to be much point in being involved. As I mentioned, there is the impression (Siti also touched on this in her response) that there is strong internal politicking between different internal factions within the Bar Council.
Added to that is the fact that the Bar Council doesn’t seem to really do anything for its members. Unlike litigators, who perhaps need the Bar Council to lobby on their behalf, the reality is that most corporate solicitors do not. The authorities we deal with in our practice such as the Securities Commission, Bursa Malaysia and Bank Negara, are generally responsive to constructive feedback from the industry and legal fraternity.
As for conveyancing lawyers, the Bar Council has shown from its handling (now ignoring) of the issues surrounding the Solicitors’ Remuneration Order (SRO) that they are not interested in resolving practice issues in that area.
Marcus: What are some specific issues which you think the Bar Council should address?
Again, right off the top of my head, I think of the KPIs and SRO because these are always in the news and forums. However, the Bar Council shouldn’t be an entity that protects only the interests of its members. It must embody and emanate the ideals and principles that we as lawyers have been trained to revere and pursue inside and outside courtrooms. We must lead and extend the reach of these principles to our society at large. I am thinking of marginalised groups such as the Orang Asli and natives of Sabah and Sarawak in their fight for land rights recognition. This is something that needs dire attention seeing that the pace of development (and land clearing) is accelerating.
As mentioned above, the protection of it members from harassment and intimidation.
I think at the moment, the Bar should harp on the issue of KPIs and the Fast Track System. It has been implemented for almost a year and nothing has been done to address the various concerns raised by members of the Bar. Don’t get me wrong, the Judiciary’s desire to move things fast should be retained but it should not be done at the expense of justice where parties are coerced into settlement or risk their case being struck off.
I’ve asked for adjournment because parties were trying to settle and were told that I either proceed with trial or the case will be struck out! I think this is putting undue pressure on the litigants and it is blatant tampering with justice. Therefore, there is a dire need for the Bar to engage with the Judiciary and voice our grouses.
The Bar Council must continue to engage with the Judiciary to improve the current implementation of the KPI system. The system’s aims of clearing the backlog of cases and to speed up hearings are to be lauded but its overall implementation continues to cause problems. Related to this issue, there is the growing perception that the Council is not doing enough to help members in this respect and the Bar Council must address this perception.
To create better awareness of Council activities and committees, there has to be better use of technology and social media. Aside from rejuvenating the Malaysian Bar website, there can be wider publicity and participation through Facebook and Twitter. The traditional concept of fixed committees with committee meetings can be supplemented with discussions online with a general mass of interested lawyers.
As mentioned earlier, I think much can be done to improve the quality of lawyers in this country. This is not to say that Malaysian lawyers are incompetent, under-qualified or non-deserving of the title of “advocate & solicitor”. In fact, I have met many ambitious, bright, charismatic and focused lawyers. It is a matter of weeding out the bad apples from the good ones so that the profession can once again command the respect it once had. This is not limited to their legal knowledge and skills, but also extends to their professional and work ethics.
For the fresh graduates, perhaps the Common Bar Course may be a good idea after all, in order to put in place a system where all law graduates intending to practice are assessed in the same manner. For the foreign graduates, it would be a sound platform to have a basic understanding of the local laws before commencing practice. For the local graduates, basic advocacy, negotiation and drafting skills would improve their ability to articulate their thoughts and boost self-confidence when dealing with colleagues and clients. I understand that this is no easy feat, but it is something which the Bar Council should move towards – uniformity at the point of entry to ensure that only those intellectually capable get through.
Yes, it’s a tough world, but think of it as healthy competition to enhance and improve the quality of the Bar. What’s happened to the Common Bar Course proposal anyway?
In addition to the above, some lawyers ought to learn how to dress like lawyers. Short, tight mini-skirts (ladies, take note) and untucked, unironed shirts (men, take note) are just not cool (for work).
The borakkers have already mentioned the Judiciary’s KPI system, which I obviously agree needs to be addressed properly. The Bar Council has noted the issue, but has done nothing substantial. Having dialogue after dialogue is not going to effect change. Surely the Council members must realise that they are being ignored. As with most other issues these days, their views are being swept aside, and they seem to kid themselves by thinking that, by having organised a dialogue or discussion, they have carried out their duties to the members of the Bar.
Another issue I touched on in the previous section is the SRO. The SRO has been abused and violated beyond belief. It serves as an unfair handicap to “ethical” law firms. Many conveyancing firms succeed in cornering the market and getting a lot of work because they offer huge discounts, plus kickbacks to sales agents and bank officers. It is unbelievable that the Bar Council chooses to ignore this issue, which is common knowledge in the market, and creates an entire practice area where the most successful practitioners operate unethically. There are two options – abolish the SRO, or enforce it. Sure, enforcement is a difficult issue, but if the Bar Council does not want to deal with difficult issues, then who will?
The KL Bar Young Lawyers’ Committee recently organised a Candidate Watch Campaign, where candidates for the current elections were asked to answer seven questions, one of which was about the SRO. Aside from the fact that some didn’t bother responding to any of the questions (which speaks volumes about the regard they have for members), the responses to the SRO question can generally be summarised as “I don’t know because it’s not my practice area” (translation: I’ve never heard of Google, don’t know any conveyancing lawyers who I can ask about the SRO, or can’t be arsed to make an effort to find out), “The SRO seems okay to me” or “It’s too tough to solve”. Obviously, the incoming Council members have no intention of even attempting to solve the SRO issues. This is consistent with the widely-held view that most Council members are not interested in helping members of the Bar.
I’ll end by saying two things: firstly, there are some good Council members who I highly admire and who have made genuine effort way beyond that of their peers to uphold justice and serve members of the Bar. Most of us would know who these individuals are. Secondly, I strongly disagree with Siti’s view that female lawyers should not wear short, tight mini-skirts; to me, if you’ve got it, flau… (I’m kidding. Well, not really.)
Adriana is barely a month into her life as a pupil in chambers. She has heard many horror stories about the practice of law even prior to reading law but has remained unfazed and determined to pursue this childhood ambition of hers whilst holding on to the basic ideals of Justice.
Cheng Leong is a blogger pretending to be a lawyer, and a lawyer pretending to be a blogger. When not earning money blogging at xes.cx, he picks up pocket money as an information technology / intellectual property lawyer. He tweets @xescx.
Grace is a young litigation lawyer. She moved from Ipoh to KL this year, and continues to have a love-hate relationship with the madness that is legal practice.
Lee Shih is a litigator in Kuala Lumpur. He just about still qualifies to be categorised as a young lawyer. He does not wear untucked unironed shirts or short tight mini-skirts. He has been neglecting his blog but tries to find time to tweet over @iMleesh.
Marcus is a corporate/commercial solicitor who, every year, struggles to find more than a handful of good candidates to vote for. He remains hopeful that a change will come, perhaps through the transperambulation of pseudo-cosmic antimatter. He tweets @vangeyzel, and hopes readers go away from this LoyarBorak with more than just a visual image of hawt lawyer Siti in a short, tight mini-skirt.
Siti is a young, enthusiastic tax lawyer who loves travelling, eating good food and salivating over sports cars. She does not (usually) wear short, tight mini-skirts because her momma does not approve and would give her the evil eye if she does. She tweet-stalks @sitishahrom.