Archive for the ‘Lawyers’ Articles’ Category

Four Lame Excuses Not To Quit Your Job

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

This article is reproduced with the permission of Raphael

I’m no expert on job-hunting. Neither have I been in the workforce for very long (5 years and 9 months, to be precise). I have only quit my job once, and it was one of the most momentous decision I have ever made in my life.

I’m now a year and a half into my second job. People tell me I look better now – there’s more light on my face, more flesh on my bones, more spring in my step. I have no regrets. I think I made the right decision switching jobs.

How does one successfully make the switch? What are the steps one must take? Such are questions frequently asked of me, mostly by those contemplating making the switch themselves. I answer them as best as I can, based on my personal experience, observation on the job market, and worldly wisdom.

Upon obtaining my advice, some have switched, some have decided against switching, some have yet to switch though they badly want to. The third group of people perplexes and amuses me greatly. When I ask them what’s holding them back, I always hear the same reasons.

Reasons? To be frank, they’re just excuses. Lame rubber duck of excuses.


1. Waiting For The Right Time

Sounds Like… “No time to job hunt”, “Not now, peak period, “But I feel bad for my boss and teammates.”

It’s Lame Because… If you really wish to quit your job, then you will find time to accelerate your exit. As the saying goes – where there’s a will, there’s a way. Should you push yourself to the point of exhaustion over work which you have no passion for? Do your bosses and colleagues own your body, mind and soul? Are weekends only reserved for retail therapy and hangovers? Nay, nada, negative.

It’s your life, it’s your career. Be selfish, look after yourself. If you feel like leaving now, then leave already. Don’t have to stick round for three to six months, until the void that you leave behind gets filled up, and the mess gets cleaned up. It’s not your job to find your replacement; it’s your bosses’. Any boss that begs you to stay against your interest is clearly not a nice boss, despite everything he’s done for you. Don’t need to be hero and hold the fort – it’s not like the world economy is going to collapse while you’re gone. It’s just a job you’re leaving, not some deep complicated romance. Say your goodbyes – pleasantly but firmly – and leave.

Lameness Level: 10/10

 

2. Waiting For Benefits To Come

Sounds Like… “Bonus out in a few months”, “Almost due to promotion”, “Just hit my annual target, might as well stay on”

It’s Lame Because… You work first, get rewarded later. Whether it’s a matter of weeks or months, you’ll always be at a juncture where there’s something to look forward to. After bonus, there’s increment. By the time increment rolls in, your team has clinched a sweet deal, promising of a better bonus and increment to come. Employers, sly as ever, will always throw sweeteners along the middle of the year to keep motivation high – allowances, free goodies and trips, talk of salary revision. Benefits are always invariably tied to a bond – employees have to reimburse the full or partial amount, if they quit within a period. It’s all a trap, to make it harder for you to leave. Don’t fall for it.

I actually quit my previous job three months short of bonus time. I tried using that as a basis to negotiate a higher salary for my new job, but ultimately, I didn’t lose too much sleep over the thought of losing my hard-earned bonus (four months, at least). If I had stubbornly waited for my bonus and stayed on till the year end, the opportunity of my current job would have slipped me by. Think long term, not short term. Focus on what your new job can offer, not what your current job could.

Lameness Level: 7/10


3. Waiting For That Big Project To Finish

Sounds Like… “I’ve been working on it since from the beginning like forever”, “It’ll look good on my CV”, “It’s my baby” 

It’s Lame Because… Your life doesn’t depend on that one big project. Fact of the matter is, everyone has some project they consider as big – don’t need to act like yours is super special. When one big project ends, another big project will quickly come along. Sometimes, a few big projects will run in parallel. After all, bosses always want to squeeze the most of their employees, never leaving them a moment of peace for long. This means that during 80-90% of our time at work, we’re all working on some big project. And if we refuse to quit until and unless we finish our big projects, there’s only a very tight timing window where we are actually free to quit our jobs. It’s rather silly.

I enjoy working on big projects. I enjoy marveling the fruits of my labour in big projects. But did my involvement in a few major court cases stop me from looking for jobs when I felt like quitting? Did job hunting significantly distract me from focusing on my big projects? Did I feel sad quitting before my big projects concluded? Nay, nada, negative. It all boils down to being disciplined and realistic. I’ve got a good job offer, which promises me big projects too. I’m young, and a long career ahead of me. I’ll just start afresh again. The world won’t run out of big jobs, big projects, big challenges.

Lameness Level: 8/10

 

4. Waiting For The Perfect Job

Sounds Like… “They can’t offer me a 30% increase”, “It’s a totally different job scope”, “I need to start from scratch”

It’s Lame Because… No job offer will ever tick all the boxes on your wish-list, and you’ll never know for sure which boxes will be properly ticked until you have started working there. The real problem lies with our unreasonable expectations – better pay, better hours, better colleagues, better environment. We all want it all, don’t we? Sadly, this all-or-nothing mindset ain’t going to work. Every career is a journey. Imagine you’re on a train careening towards a remote destination. The further you travel down the track, the harder it is to get back to familiar ground. Once you think you’re on the wrong track, you ought to quickly jump off at the nearest stop. Don’t expect to get back on the right track immediately. Don’t expect to leave a shitty job and land on your dream job, both in one go.

I, too, had a rough wish-list. Yet, I didn’t feel the need to check all the boxes. I just moved, without knowing what I was really getting into, without looking for perfection. I just moved, with moderate expectations. And you know what? More than a year later, looking back, I realised I have gotten far more than I could ever dream of – good pay, dynamic working culture, opportunities for development, and so on. And I got them not because of the original offer, negotiations and contract. I got them simply because I worked for it, after I got the job. The perfect job never drops from the sky on your lap. It’s up to each of us to make the job we have chosen, as perfect as we can.

Lameness Level: 9/10

 

Enough With The Lame Duck Excuses

Stop whining about your shitty job, only to then make up lame excuses not to quit. Stop dreaming about scoring the perfect job, when you can’t even wake up from the nightmares of your present job.

It’s cold outside. It’s getting dark. It’s not safe to wander in the woods alone. Anyone can think of a hundred and one excuses not to move out from their comfort zone. It’s an amazing ability we, as mature adults, have – to admit we’re not happy where we are; yet at the same time, convince ourselves we can’t be any happier anywhere else. It’s lame. It’s cowardice. It’s self-inflicted misery.

Clear your mind from doubts and fears. Take that leap of faith into the unknown. No matter where you fall, it will be much better than wallowing in a pool of mediocrity and misery together with your hundred and one lame yellow rubber duck of excuses.

 

Getting Called to the Singapore Bar (Part 1): The Requirements

Friday, December 17th, 2010

This article is reproduced in this blog with the permission of its original writer Lee Shih, and the article itself is extracted from Loyarburok website.

By Lee Shih

Recent changes to the Singapore Bar admission requirements have made it easier for foreign lawyers to get admitted to law practice in Singapore. Here are the requirements Malaysian lawyers need to meet.

This first part sets out in some detail the process in which a Malaysian lawyer can get admitted to the Singapore Bar. Owing to the various rule changes over the years, with different admission standards applying for different years, the article will focus mainly on younger lawyers who obtained their law degrees after 1997.

Part 2 shifts to a different perspective where we get to learn about the personal experience of a LoyarBurokker who recently sat for the Singapore Bar examinations.

Increasingly, Singapore seems to be the destination of choice for many Malaysian lawyers to practise in. There are many factors attracting Malaysians, including higher pay and the opportunity to gain better exposure to higher-level work.

In the past, the most common route to work in Singapore was to find a position as a foreign lawyer. This allowed a lawyer to work at Singapore law firms but without the need to be admitted to the Singapore Bar. Strictly speaking, as a foreign lawyer, you could advise only on foreign law but in practice, you largely carried out the same duties as a Singapore-qualified lawyer but without the ability to attend Court or to sign off on documents or opinions. Some of the drawbacks of being a foreign lawyer were that in most cases, you would draw a lower pay than a Singapore-qualified lawyer and that your promotion prospects could also be affected.

While many Malaysians do still go over to Singapore to work as foreign lawyers, there have been some recent changes to the admission requirements which make it easier to get admitted to the Singapore Bar.

PREREQUISITES

Even before you consider taking the Singapore Bar examinations, you will need to see if you satisfy certain prerequisites, and if you don’t meet these requirements, then you need to plan and see if you can apply for exemptions.

Broadly, to get called to the Singapore Bar, you need to satisfy three requirements:

  1. Satisfy the requirements of being a “qualified person”  (more on this below).
  2. Complete the Part B Singapore Bar exams. The Part B is similar in some respects to the Bar Vocational Course or Certificate of Legal Practice, in that it focuses on more procedural law.
  3. Complete a six-month training contract at a Singapore law firm. This is similar to pupilage.

I will explain more on these three requirements below and how the most important threshold to cross is that of being a “qualified person.”

The requirements of getting called to the Singapore Bar (Part 1)

Qualified person

(i) Scheduled universities

You need to have graduated from certain scheduled universities as a full-time internal candidate with a certain degree class. You can go through this useful checklist to see if you are a “qualified person” by first checking which university you graduated from.

For instance, a UK graduate would need to have been a full-time internal candidate with at least a Second Lower degree from a list of only 19 recognised universities. An Australian graduate would need to be in the top 70% of the graduating batch from a list of 10 recognised universities.

Some examples where you would not satisfy the requirements for being a “qualified person”:

  1. You graduated from a twinning programme or a London external law degree;
  2. You had graduated from any of the local Malaysian universities.

However, you can apply for exemptions from any of the requirements which I will elaborate on further below.

(ii) Permanent Resident

Another requirement is that you will need to be a Permanent Resident or a citizen of Singapore. So a factor you must take into account for being admitted to the Singapore Bar would be whether you are planning on moving down to Singapore to apply for Permanent Resident status.

(iii) Six Months of Legal Practice

You need six months of either “relevant legal training” or “relevant legal practice” to satisfy this final requirement to be a “qualified person.” So, if you were in active practice in any jurisdiction other than Singapore, this would fall under the definition of “relevant legal practice”.

Chambering/pupilage may also qualify under the definition of “relevant legal training.”

(iv) Part A Bar Examinations

The final requirement to be met is that you would need to pass the Part A Bar examinations. The examinations cover five academic Singapore law subjects: Criminal, Evidence, Land, Singapore Legal System & Constitutional, and Company. You can either opt to sit for only the examinations, held once a year in November, or to attend a three-month course (starting in August) and then sit for the examinations. This year the exam format was open book (i.e. you could bring in all your study material with you into the examination hall) while last year, it was closed book.

The deadline for applying for the Part A Bar Examinations (both for the course + exam or just the exam) is by the end of April of every year.

More information on the Part A Bar Examinations and its syllabus/fees are on the National University of Singapore website.

Qualified person – exemption

If you do not satisfy any of the above requirements, you can apply for exemptions. A common exemption is from the requirement of being a full-time internal candidate from a scheduled university. For instance, an exemption to allow for a twinning programme to be recognised, or an exemption as your university does not fall under one of the scheduled universities.

The present exemption process, from what I have heard from friends, seems to be more flexible in allowing twinning programme candidates as well as non-recognised foreign universities graduates. I know that graduates from local Malaysian universities have a very hard time in getting an exemption and I have not heard of any London external degree law graduates having obtained an exemption as well. All these policies are of course subject to change and are discretionary.

In terms of applying for an exemption from the Permanent Resident requirement, it appears that this exemption is not granted any more or is at least very difficult to obtain. You therefore likely need to obtain the Permanent Resident status in Singapore if you are considering getting admitted to the Singapore Bar. I know of senior practitioners having successfully applied for exemption from the Part A requirement as well. For instance, I had a Malaysian lawyer friend with around 10 years of experience and she was exempted from Part A. But she still needed to become a Permanent Resident of Singapore.

Applicants who are intending to sit for the Part A Bar examinations will put in their exemption applications around the same time in April when applying for the Part A. More information on exemptions can be found on the Singapore Ministry of Law website.

Part B Bar examinations and training contract

Having now satisfied the prerequisites of being a “qualified person”, you will need to complete the Part B Bar examinations as well as the six-month training contract.

The Part B Bar examinations are made up of a compulsory five-month practical law course, which in some respects, are very similar to the English Bar Vocational Course (now renamed the Bar Professional Training Course) in that it teaches you practical aspects of Singapore law. The subjects covered include Civil and Criminal Procedure, Conveyancing Practice, Professional Responsibility, and Family Law. More information on the Part B can be found at the Singapore Board of Legal Education website.

After successfully completing these examinations, you will then need to serve a six-month training contract, which is akin to pupilage.

Exemption from Part B and training contract

You are allowed to apply for complete exemption from the Part B Bar examination as well as the six-month training contract. To obtain such an exemption, you will need to already be a “qualified person”, and also have practised in a common law jurisdiction for at least two years (and this period could possibly include your nine months of chambering). If you do not fulfil any of the requirements of being a “qualified person”, or you have not achieved the necessary length of practice, you can also try to apply for exemption from such a requirement.

Conclusion

In conclusion, if you are a practitioner in Malaysia with two years’ experience or more, you can likely be exempted from taking the Part B Bar examinations and the six-month training contract. You will however need to pass the Part A Bar examinations and in order to qualify to sit for the Part A, you will need to fulfil the other requirements of being a “qualified person.”

Lee Shih was away from the office for three weeks sitting for his Part A Bar examinations. Try as he might, he was unable to clear his work to deal with a heap of papers and documents built up in his absence. He is a frequent blogger and tweets @iMleesh

Advocating the return of honour to the legal profession 3/3

Friday, July 17th, 2009

This article is originally published in LoyarBurok.com

Click to see Part 1/3 and Part 2/3 of Advocating the return of honour to the legal profession.

The absence of honour in our legal profession is reflected in our own legal practise. These days a ‘letter of confirmation’ is issued for the most petty of matters such as mentioning on behalf of another (see my article ‘Of Mentions and Mentioning on Behalf‘ for a fuller explanation of this notion), the informing of the next hearing or mention date, or the amendments to a few words in a draft agreement. I used to be taken aback and disappointed that a lawyer would confirm my agreement to mention a case on his behalf for a mere mention, now I’m just disappointed. Lawyers also fail to realize the economic and ecological wastage due to the lack of honour and the negative consequential effects it breeds amongst lawyers.

Let us take as an example a situation where X calls up Y to mention case K and obtain another mention date or to fix a hearing date. If there was honour between them, Y would take down all the details (case number, date, reason for next date/free dates) and carry out the same. Once this was done he would call X up and inform him of the next date, etc. and that would be the end of the matter for that transaction.

In a situation without honour, after the phone call, X (or his clerk) would spend time drafting a letter to confirm the mention, faxing and/or posting it over, make a copy for his file and sometimes even carbon copy the letter to his client and troubling them over such unnecessary matters (must you really trouble them over such petty, unnecessary details pertaining to their case?). Once Y (or his clerk) had obtained the date, he too would spend time drafting a letter informing the next date, etc. basically doing the exact same thing that X did.

Clearly the same thing is accomplished in both examples but one more tediously and expensively so. I will not go into the loathsome practise of some lawyers that charge exorbitant allowances for attending to a mention or rant about some lawyers whose bulk of practise is made up of just such ministrations. That will be reserved for another occasion. The ecological wastage is clear – paper, postage and electricity are wasted on such a petty transaction. The economic waste is less obvious – there is the opportunity cost of the lawyer and/or clerk drafting the letter; there is the cost of the paper (letter and envelope), for the postage and fax transmission, for electricity used; there is waste of effort in filing the letter and faxed copy properly; the client is distracted by such petty matters. Later on during taxation, these letters will also form part of the party and party cost and become payable. Now imagine this repeated many, many times. The cost of all this is borne by the client. So in truth, a client?s case becomes more expensive when there is a lack of honour amongst lawyers. This cost is also widely out of proportion to the transaction i.e. getting a simple mention date.

This also has a wider economic cost to society because its’ ecological, economic and human resources are wasted on an unproductive if not inefficient transaction. In fact, the word ‘honour’ has been insidiously retired from our ordinary conversation. No one speaks of ‘honouring a cheque’ anymore. They speak of whether it ‘clears’ or not. Even when the word is used, it is more often used in the negative sense – ‘dishonour’ a cheque, imputing negativity to the concept of ‘honour’. The word ‘celebrate? has gradually replaced the word ‘honour’ even for occasions that are dedicated to remembrance or appreciation of a person (Mother and Father?s day, for example) or event (Merdeka, Labour Day, etc.), more properly carried out by way of humble and quiet reflection than in the maelstrom of glamour, splendour and pomp.

In summary, a lack of honour not only makes cases more expensive for clients, more tedious for lawyers but encourages distrust amongst lawyers and breeds fragmentation into groups at the Bar. Further, it deepens the modern impression of lawyers as scoundrels that are not to be trusted who would sell their mother in a heartbeat to win a case, clinch a deal, etc. In short the absence of honour in our profession does not just do lawyers a disservice as it desecrates our profession; it does every body else a disservice too.

This is why the advocacy for, implementation and inculcating of the return of the concept of ‘honour’ in our profession, not as mere lip service but as a way of life and practise as a lawyer, cannot be more urgent and important. It is not enough to have it printed on the page, pamphlet, plaque or firm website. It must course through the very veins, dwell in the breast and so fill the mind of each and every lawyer for honour is not seen by the naked eye, it is felt by the naked heart and sensitive mind. Honour can only be practiced personally and not vicariously because at some point, honour will demand sacrifice. And honour is found in sacrificing one?s self, not someone else. This is vividly illustrated in Dicken’s ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ when Sydney Carton, the lawyer, swapped places with his client, Charles DeMornay, and so sacrificed himself. Or when Cicero spoke out eloquently against Mark Anthony at the Senate even as armed guards stood around him ready to kill on instruction (for his magnificent Philippic see Penguin?s Great Ideas series volume 25 titled ‘An Attack on an Enemy of Freedom’).

So clearly the first step in reforming the lawyer, the Bar and the image of the lawyer to the public at large is the restoration of the idea of the honourable lawyer and honour as a way of practise and life. Though honour may be found in reasonable profit, it is completely absent in excessive profit. Honour would be found in meaningful and properly remunerative work, not regularly in the wee hours of the morning at the office. In short, a reformation will be borne in adherence to honour, not to only profit.

But how can we begin this process? I think we can start by first establishing what it means to be honourable. We can take our cue from the qualities I mentioned as comprising the proper internal dimension of a lawyer. To be honourable is to be honest, trustworthy, courageous, responsible, diligent, meticulous, just, and reasonable, and to respect each person as a human being (unless of course that person is unworthy of respect) and let us refer to them as ‘principles’ ? the Principles of Honour or of Integrity, or whatever we like.

Secondly, the important thing is to commit to it absolutely, not conditionally. Lawyers ought to make a private affirmation and oath to themselves everyday to uphold these principles and practise them whenever the occasion arises. If this is done, lawyers would be committed to serving justice instead of their vanity or just money.

The absence of honour has allowed materialism to entrench itself as a guiding conduct and way of practise. The lack of honour has resulted in the rise of hourly billing and the demand of materialistic law firms (and they usually tend to be the big and/or aggressive ones) to treat their lawyers as mere income generators or work slaves accounting for every single second of their time thereby ensuring that every moment spent in the practise of law is not for the furtherance of justice or to bask in its pleasure but the size of the bonus the management bestow upon themselves. This has led to lawyers prostituting themselves for work, whoring themselves to win cases, and doing other unspeakable deeds that decent human beings wouldn?t even consider. Without honour in law, all we are left with in practise is money. And if that is all that is left, then the practise of law is little more than common prostitution. In fact, it sits lower than the common prostitute that hawks herself on the street ? after all, she only sells her body; the lawyer with no honour sells his mind, his reputation, his very conscience and his entire family heritage for mere money.

The absence of honour has provoked the surreal if not offensive debate of whether the practise of law is a mere business. Of course it is a business, but it is not just any common business. It is not a business in the vulgar sense of the word where the bottom line is ‘everything’. The business of law is one where the ‘bottom line’ (the money) is but one line. It is but one of many factors for consideration and it must always weigh against the demands, or to use the terminology, ?bottom line’ of honour. If doing a particular transaction would result in a lawyer’s honour being ‘in the red’ then he is under a duty to reject it. If carrying out that instruction would result in a manifest injustice, he must reject it. The amount offered by way of a professional fee can or should never ever measure up to the worth of a lawyer?s honour (and it doesn’t matter whether he is famous or not, in a big or small practise). If the firm must make less or that lawyer live a little more frugally for a while to preserve its or his honour then so be it. If he feels unable to live up to that honour then I beg him if he has a modicum of respect for the profession of law to relinquish the practise of law and take up some other profession that makes no such ethical or moral demands on the practitioners of its professions ? like a banker or a politician. The thoroughly materialistic tend to forget that the lack of a price tag does not make something worthless. On the contrary, it makes it priceless. And that should be the worth of a lawyer’s honour.

If we as lawyers now start to make an honest concerted effort to live and practise in honour, then there is hope for better times. We must not and cannot wait for rules or legislation to be drafted to demand it of us. It must begin now. Not when it is convenient to do so. We must demand it for and of ourselves. It cannot be left for others to do. We cannot wait for the Attorney General or our supposed leaders of the Bar to initiate it. It must begin now with you and me. Our efforts must not end at dusk. It must continue tomorrow and for everyday thereafter. It must continue until we can so completely rely and depend upon one another as lawyers. And each of us has a duty to preserve not just our honour as lawyers but the profession. A single lawyer is enough to shame an entire profession. And we have much shame to address and many wounds to heal before we can be once again known and respected as an honourable profession. We owe this not just to our fellow citizens and country, we owe it most of all to ourselves.

Advocating the return of honour to the legal profession (Part 2/3)

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

This article is originally published in LoyarBurok.com

Click to see the Part 1/3 of Advocating the return of honour to the legal profession.

Furthermore, a powerful intelligence is dangerous when coupled with dishonesty just as diligence is wasted without a sense of justice. A person with only the external dimension or only an incomplete proper internal dimension is at best a poser and at worse, a fraud.

The focus and emphasis in recent times on the external dimension is unsurprising given the highly materialistic and consumerist cultural and moral environment in which we find ourselves mired in. Though the latter is a result of the former and related, they are distinct. This requires a brief definition before proceeding further. A materialistic culture is one that prizes the accumulation and possession of wealth, image (one’s physical appearance) or fame. A consumerist culture is one that encourages the notion of absolute possession, disposability and a lack of responsibility to society.

We are all materialists and consumers in one respect but we should not give ourselves over entirely to it. Both these cultures when left to operate without restraint dictate that any accomplishment, quality or feature be defined in quantitative and monetary terms i.e. terms that can be purportedly measured, quantified and ascertained with a degree of finality and authority, and reduced to a price tag. Qualities or features that cannot be so done are ignored. The implication is that they are unimportant in the scheme of things. This is perhaps one reason why lawyer associations in the Commonwealth, not just in our own country, place so much emphasis on the external dimension – it is easily measured and convenient. Are you 18? Have you got a degree from a recognized university? Have you completed your chambering period? Have you passed that laughable ethics test (as if one’s ethics was a static instead of a dynamic quality that can be so easily measured by assigning marks)? These easy questions are irrelevant where it concerns one?s worth and ability as a lawyer.

The questions that should be asked and demanded answers to are, for example, is he someone that would not succumb to the temptation of corruption? Is he generally honest? Is he someone that can maintain a client’s confidentiality? Is he someone who takes pleasure in reading, in thinking, in resolving people’s problems? (You cannot be a lawyer of any worth if you have no interest in reading. As an aside, I met a lawyer who once boasted to me that he was ‘not the reading type’. He claimed that his ability lay in his advocacy. I, of course, expect that he never had the good fortune to come across Cicero’s ‘On the Orator’ who argued that unless the speaker has attained the highest state of knowledge ‘otherwise what he says is just an empty and ridiculous swirl of verbiage.’) Is he dependable under great pressure and stress? Is he someone who actually cares for a client or interested in them for the merely for financial remuneration he intends to squeeze out of them? Is he an honourable person?

Surely, these are the important questions because they have a direct bearing on one’s true worth and abilities as a lawyer. What is more, these questions are the ones that allow us to explore, consider and try to meaningfully evaluate the internal dimension of the lawyer or would be. But often they are left unaddressed or even ignored. For a further discussion on this where it relates to the admission of lawyers, please see my essay ‘Reflections on Moving from an Occasional Mover.’

It is easy to understand why. The internal dimension is hidden and so less easy to perceive, difficult to comprehend if not understand, harder to evaluate usefully because of its dynamic and unquantifiable nature, and impossible to reduce to a price tag. To say he is a ‘78/100′ in terms of ethics is meaningless. To say he is now an ethical person is also meaningless because that can change. Though the situation is not easy, neither is it impossible. The latter should not justify the current ignorance of the internal dimension. That lawyers are in the news for running away with client?s money, breaching the confidentiality of clients, destroying material evidence or court documents, cheating, colluding with the other party to defraud their respective clients, and much more should prompt those with influence in the admission of lawyers to the profession start focusing and intensifying their consideration of the internal dimension of the lawyer and would be. An urgent and rigorous consideration of a person?s internal dimension should be carried out towards a person?s admission to the Bar especially in this modern day and age.

I make no claims to having thought of any significant or meaningful suggestions but I do have an idea for further consideration, discussion and hopefully development – the revival of one of the most prized features of a lawyer, as represented by Cicero, Thomas More and their writings; as characterized by Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, by Sydney Carton in Charles Dicken’s ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and even by Horace Rumpole in John Mortimer’s Rumpole series; and contained in Alan M. Dershowitz’s ‘Letters to a Young Lawyer’ – the concept of honour. Lawyers were well thought of even during Shakespeare’s time. And we are not impoverished in examples of our own: we had the late R. Ramani, the late David Marshall and our best known example, Raja Aziz Adrusse.

In days when the practice of law was a noble and honourable profession, generally a lawyer could take another lawyer at their word, an agreement can be done with a handshake in the fullest confidence that they can rely and depend upon their fellow brother or sister at law to their word or agreement. The proof of their trust was in their word, in the very fibre of their being and practise, not on some fancy piece of paper. If that lawyer failed to carry out their duty, they would own up to it and take responsibility for their failure. They would not leave it to their insurers. They would not deny wrongdoing until their liability was inevitable. They would rather succeed in dishonour than fail in honour.

Let me give you an example from my own experience. My firm was retained to sue a law firm in Melaka for negligence. What happened was that this law firm received instructions from Z to represent him and four other defendants, one of whom was our client. Upon and without verifying Z’s instructions with the other defendants, the partner of the firm, who was a well known senior lawyer in Melaka, instructed his legal assistant to enter consent judgment on behalf of our client (along with Z and the others). They neglected the terms of consent so the plaintiff understandably commenced bankruptcy proceedings against them and our client. Our client who was a senior manager in a conglomerate was served with a bankruptcy notice and naturally became upset and sued them. When we wrote to the firm to inquire on their appointment and instructions from our client in relation to the consent judgment they actually confirmed that they had none. When we sued them and tried to commence negotiations for an out of court settlement, they insisted that it was not their fault but Z’s fault. The law firm still thrives but this is what I mean by succeeding in dishonour. There is no dishonour in admitting one’s mistake and atoning for it.

And a lawyer did not have to be intimate or long standing friends with another for them to trust each other implicitly – their brotherhood at law was enough to establish such a relationship. I would like to think that the concept of honour had some role to play in this. They did this because honour of their profession demanded that they stand by their word and take responsibility for their actions. If they cannot trust their fellow lawyer’s word, they could not expect a member of the public to trust theirs. Those that stand ready to betray their own would only be too ready to betray others, and ultimately themselves.

Advocating the return of honour to the legal profession (Part 1/3)

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

This article is originally published in LoyarBurok.com

In this article, Fahri Azzat meditates on the practise of law and the role of honour in the practise of law, its economics, and ethical and moral repercussions. As the article is long, we have broken it up into three parts. The comments for the first two parts will be switched off though comments will be allowed on the third and final instalment so that interested readers can respond after having read the piece in its entirety. The full uninterrupted text will be re-published on the weekend. The subtitle of the article is, “Contemplating the Moral and Ethical Dimensions of a Lawyer”.

The practice of law used to be thought of as a noble profession. Lawyers were known and respected for their honesty, trust, courage, responsibility, diligence, respectfulness, meticulousness, a reasonable degree of intelligence, sense of justice, reasonableness and possessed an understanding of the human (and their failings). These qualities are not unreasonable to demand of a lawyer and all add up to that noble quality of integrity. In fact, I think them to be the absolute minimum one can and should expect from one’s lawyer. The reason for this is self-evident – a high degree of trust is reposed in lawyers. We hold money and important documents for clients; we receive and act on highly confidential information and instructions; we advise clients about their lives, liberties and properties; we prosecute or defend cases in a manner to ensure that justice can be done; we argue important issues of law before judges who may make vastly important and influential decisions that could change both the legal, social, financial and cultural landscape of a nation. The work of lawyers is therefore important and necessary not simply vis-a-vis the client but society at large.

When considered thus, it becomes clear that there are two dimensions to a lawyer; the internal, which comprise of those qualities mentioned earlier; and the external, which is the legal requirement to become one i.e. at least the age of 18, qualifications from a recognized university, passing one’s professional exams, completing their pupilage, etc.

Regretfully, excessive emphasis has been placed on fulfilling the external dimension to the detriment of the internal dimension and thus the legal profession, the general public and the image and general reputation of lawyers. The lack of attention, nurture and development of a proper internal dimension to lawyers has with good reason led to the widespread belief and expectation that the profession of law is suited only for the dishonest if not outright fraudulent, the shrewd, the cunning, the business minded or the corrupt, if not all the above. This is simply because a profession of disrepute would more likely attract like minded or similarly oriented people.

Both dimensions must be satisfied before that person can be truly called and referred to as a lawyer, though the external dimension is clearly the lesser of the two dimensions and is rapidly becoming a purely formal one for the following reasons. Firstly, the abilities demanded of a person in obtaining a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) these days is so low that just about any Ali, Bala or Chong without even a rudimentary form of common sense or diligence can qualify for it. My short experience and observations at the largest email-based forum in Malaysia known as “Lawyers Talk”, which comprises of about 8000+ lawyers, confirms this.

Secondly, an LLB merely indicates that we are sufficiently skilled in answering questions in an examination paper to a sufficient or satisfactory degree as evaluated by academics that, at best, have merely a passing interest in the undergraduates’ ethical and moral orientation. When I consider undergraduate modules in both local and foreign universities, what stands out is a glaring lack of attempt to apprise, if not educate an undergraduate on the ethical and moral considerations of a lawyer. In philosophy, there is an entire module devoted to the consideration of ethics. I should have thought the same equally applicable to the study of law. But all an LLB does is assess our retention and assessment of legal knowledge and practices. And after all, one can cheat or plagiarize in obtaining the degree. So an LLB degree is no indication of whether that person has a suitable internal dimension to become a lawyer.

Thirdly, qualifying or even excelling at an LLB is no guarantee or even a reasonable indication that that person would excel in real life, or in legal practise. Our own legal profession is replete with examples of those who did poorly in university but then have excelled at practice and vice versa.

The intellectual and ethical standards demanded of an undergraduate of an LLB degree is so low that it has become a purely formal qualification with no reasonable indication of any quality whatsoever on the graduates’ intellectual, ethical or moral character. This I believe is what happens when we and the university share the expectation of higher education for qualification instead of education. Though more can be said on this, to elaborate further would distract from the theme of this article, and so it shall be left for another time.

There may be some attempt to argue that the pupilage is a time within which that internal dimension can be developed if not salvaged. This is why there is a two day ethics course during one’s pupilage which ends with a written exam that one can actually fail. However, most people who commence their pupilage would be in their 20’s, long after their internal dimension has been structured, if not set (though hopefully not permanently). I think this to be a waste of time and demonstrative of a complete misunderstanding and an outright mockery of ethics itself. It is the former because the course and exam cannot and does not shape their ethical and moral orientation any more. It is the latter because if one fails the ethical test, one can repeat it and eventually pass. Ethics has been reduced to a meaningless shallow test instead of a quality of character (because the questions merely revolve around one’s knowledge of the Legal Profession (Practice and Etiquette) Rules 1972 instead of testing a pupil’s response when confronted with a moral dilemma). We say X is an ethical person because of his conduct not because he has taken a test. We say X is ethical because he possesses the proper internal dimension, not because he has completed his pupilage.

Lawyers Don’t Do What They Preach…

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

By Khairul Anuar bin Shaharudin (Advocate & Solicitor)

There are a lot of politicians from the legal background either as a graduate of law school but never practice law or famous law practitioners who are fodder for their soundbites in or out of Parliament. They are well-known to be hardliners and don’t care what people say about them. Either to their face or behind them. Some of the best politicians, which are subjective (I mean, what is a good politician? A good bullshitter?) are lawyers. Either in the opposition side or the current government side. Either in the Parliament of Malaysia or as a state assemblyman. All are known for being very good in talking the talk. But do they walk the walk?

Currently, there is a kind of a upheavel among lawyers on the lack of lawyers willing to take the mantel of a presidency of the Bar Council or being on the council itself. There are a few articles in newspaper like in the Star newspaper on 21.11.08 by the Putik Lada columnist or a campaign by http://www.elawyers.com/ aboth the lack of voting papers being returned to the Bar Council secretariat. We vote by post you see.

If any one of the candidate want to rig the voting, I think its plausible as it is just a piece of paper with the name of the candidate and a column for you to tick your choice. This year, there are 23 candidates for 12 post. Everyody remember the fiasco of last year’s Bar Council election? I think, but am not sure, the case on that election is still on appeal. That what’s I love about the Bar Council, half of our yearly fees go to defending the Bar from litigations due to some members not being satisfied with the Council’s decision.

Choose me as the next Bar Council President and I will act cute to get what I want

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Technology and its Influence in the Formation of Legal Principles

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

By Fahri Azzat

I was reading the decision of GS Gill Sdn Bhd v Descente, Ltd and another appeal [2008] 6 MLJ 181 recently where the Court of Appeal had yet another instance to reaffirm the principle (which really needs no further affirmation or re-affirmation, but perhaps things are the way they are because some judges still need regular reminders every now and again; so I’m also not quite sure why this case even merits a report since it just rehashes principles long stated) that an appellate court would not interfere with an actual finding of fact by a trial court. What they would interfere with is only the inference of fact drawn from a finding of fact. Gopal Sri Ram JCA wrote the lead judgment and referred to the decision of Clarke v Edinburgh Tramways [1919] SC 35 and the dicta of Lord Shaw of Dunfermline which bears reproduction so that the thoughts it provoked from me can be better appreciated:

When a judge hears and sees witnesses and makes a conclusion or inference with regard to what on balance is the weight of their evidence, that judgment is entitled to great respect, and that quite irrespective of whether the judge makes any observations with regard to credibility or not. I can of course quite understand a Court of Appeal that says that it will not interfere in a case in which the judge has announced as part of his judgment that he believes one set of witnesses, having seen them and heard them, and does not believe another. But that is not the ordinary case of a cause in a court of justice. In courts of justice in the ordinary case things are much more evenly divided; witnesses without any conscious bias towards a conclusion may have in their demeanour, in their manner, in their hesitation, in the nuance of their expressions, in even the turns of the eyelid, left an impression upon the man who saw and heard them which can never be reproduced in the printed page. What in such circumstances, thus psychologically put, is the duty of an appellate court? In my opinion, the duty of an appellate court in those circumstances is for each judge of it to put to himself, as I now do in this case, the question, Am I — who sit here without those advantages, sometimes broad and sometimes subtle, which are the privileges of the judge who heard and tried the case — in a position, not having those privileges, to come to a clear conclusion that the judge who had them was plainly wrong? If I cannot be satisfied in my own mind that the judge with those privileges was plainly wrong, then it appears to me to be my duty to defer to his judgment.

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Bar Council Election

Friday, November 14th, 2008

Hi, my name is Sasha Lyna Abdul Latif. I’m a member of the Malaysian Bar.

I’m truly sorry that I have to clog your email inbox but I would like to raise this important issue for your consideration.

As most of you are aware, November is when members of the Bar are given an opportunity to elect 12 members onto the Bar Council. Any time soon you will receive a ballot paper where you can vote for the 12 persons that you feel most qualified to lead the Malaysian Bar.

Every year, the Bar Council secretariat will issue more than 12,000 ballot papers but it is disappointing to note that only about 3,000 or so ballots are filled and sent back to the Secretariat.

Are we part of the 9,000 or so members who don’t bother to vote?  Are we the ones responsible for the trees that have to be cut down just so that these ballot papers end up in the waste bin?

I urge ALL of you, fellow members of the Bar not to put the ballot papers to waste! I urge you, to cast your vote; I urge you to tick those who you believe can get the job done; I urge you to urge others to vote!!
Send your ballot paper back to the Bar Council Secretariat by 30 November!

Get others to VOTE too!! Please end this email to all lawyers that you know!

The list of attendance of Council Members at Meetings from 15 March 2008 to 11 October 2008 is as follows:

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Appetite for Destruction

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008
Where you have to work for every penny or every sen. Where the word ‘appetite’ refers to getting food on the table for your family.”

by Khairul Anuar bin Shaharudin (Advocate & Solicitor)

I am not an economist, an analyst or even a lawyer who advice banks how to close million dollar transactions. I am not even a stock player, unless you call owning ASB as stock trading. I have never has an amount larger than RM1,000-00 in my wallet and no more than RM10,000-00 in my bank account at any one time, other than the time my personal loans had just been approved where it ballooned, albeit very momentarily to just below RM50,000-00. My firm just do real estate and banking with corporate work for SMEs once in a while. Oh, and intellectual property. We would like to be known more as a boutique firm, more than anything. Hell, my staff knows each of their files by heart…We would like to keep it that way (is this advertising? I am writing this for friends and clients)

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MANAGING INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY AS A STRATEGIC ASSET – PART 1: Breaking the Legal Paradigm

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

By David Oh
Intellectual Property Consultant and Director
Mindvault Sdn Bhd

This is the first in a four-part series published on 30 June 2003 in the Netv@lue2.0 pullout of The Edge, Malaysia’s leading Business & Investment Weekly.

Would you like to earn US$35 million in a single day? Could your company do with a multi-million dollar cash injection?

This is what happened to MercExchange LLC on May 27 when a US Federal Jury ordered online auction giant eBay to pay US$35 million in damages for the infringement of two patents held by MercExchangei.

Who is MercExchange? Is it a manufacturing company? Does it own plant and machinery? Does it have a large workforce?

MercExchangeii is a company owned by Thomas Woolston, an inventor and patent attorney, whose main source of income is derived from the licensing of patents owned by Woolston.

MercExchange does not sell any tangible products, it does not own any distribution channels nor does it have many employees and yet, it is now US$35 million richer. Welcome to the knowledge economy.

The New Economy
The advent of globalisation and the k-economy has changed the playing field, bringing with it a new set of rules and perspectives.

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