As the United Kingdom's top law schools beckon, UK Malaysian Law Students Union president LIANG SHIH-JERN shares knowledge and insights on the privilege and challenges of reading law in Britain.
FOR generations, the United Kingdom has attracted legions of Malaysians keen to pursue tertiary studies in law. Many of our judges, leading advocates and politicians studied law in the UK.
This trend continues, and each year we see the number of Malaysian students steadily increasing.
Many students embark on this path without sufficient knowledge or, worse still, with many inaccurate pre-conceptions. It is the purpose of this article to shed some light on studying law in the UK.
First and foremost, the Legal Profession Qualifying Board of Malaysia only recognises law degrees from 30 universities in the UK. Potential students should check with the board to ensure that their university is recognised before embarking on their law degree.
The second issue which frequently troubles students is entry requirements and cost. Entry requirements vary tremendously between institutions – prestigious universities with top law faculties like Cambridge, Oxford, University College London (UCL) and the London School of Economics (LSE) invariably demand 3As at A-Levels.
Costs also vary tremendously – at UCL and LSE, tuition fees are about £10,000 (RM60,000) per year and living expenses can easily reach £7,000 (RM42,000) per academic year (nine months). Outside London, tuition fees can be as low as £6,000 (RM36,000) and one could survive on £4,500 (RM27,000) for nine months. A cheaper option would be a twinning programme with a local college.
So, notwithstanding the high entry requirements and the heavy investment, is it worth it? My answer is a resounding yes.
UK law schools have a strong emphasis on the acquisition of legal skills, research skills, scholarly writing and independent critical thinking. They seek to develop the student’s own thoughts and ideas, not the memorisation of facts for regurgitation.
A student’s view is always respected, even if it is completely antagonistic towards his lecturer’s opinion. One particular incident always stands out in my mind. During a tutorial in my first year, I argued passionately against my professor’s views on police entrapment. I subsequently wrote my coursework on that subject, strongly disagreeing with his views. To my horror, I later discovered that he was to mark my coursework. He gave me a high distinction.
Those who get into the more prestigious universities may be taught by world-renowned legal experts. For instance, my constitutional law professor is currently involved in the drafting of a new constitution for Serbia and Montenegro.
One friend at LSE is taught by the professor who advised the UK government on the interpretation of the infamous United Nations Resolution 1441 with regards to the use of military force in Iraq.
My other friend at Cambridge University studied public international law under the professor who acted for the Malaysian Government in the Sipadan island case at the International Court of Justice.
Mooting is an extra-curricular activity which provides an enjoyable and valuable learning experience for law students. Mooting is basically a competition set in an appellate court whereby two groups of law students argue opposing points of law before a judge based on a fictitious set of facts. In some universities, this is used as a minor form of assessment, but in most others it is voluntary.
If you are a really keen mooter like myself, you may be selected to represent your university in one of the few inter-varsity mooting tournaments with rather lucrative prizes. But there may be a downside – I am currently preparing for the semi-finals of an inter-varsity tournament, while all my course mates are indulging in post-exam fun!
All Malaysians studying law in the UK should also actively participate in the activities of the UK Malaysian Law Students’ Union (Kesatuan Penuntut-penuntut Undang-undang Malaysia di UK, KPUM).
Founded over 30 years ago, we aim to organise activities for the benefit of our members. Last year, we organised a law career convention in Kuala Lumpur for Malaysian law firms to meet Malaysians studying law in the UK.
Earlier this year, we organised an advocacy workshop in London which saw over 60 Malaysian law students learning the art of advocacy from an English barrister (Paul Garlick, QC). The event was launched by Malaysia's Deputy High Commissioner to the UK Nafisah Mohamad, and included a talk by Malaysians working in top international law firms in London.
The really enthusiastic and career-minded can try applying for a vacation placement (other industries call them “internships”) with one of the international law firms in London. These provide invaluable legal work experience, excellent pay and a taste of the high-flying corporate lawyer’s lifestyle (trips to foreign offices, dinners with partners and clients in six-star hotels, river cruises, etc.)
However, be forewarned that these are fiercely competitive and may involve a huge sacrifice – I will be sadly slaving away at Linklaters while all my friends enjoy themselves at the mamak stalls this summer!
Upon completion of a law degree in the UK, there are three routes to enter the Malaysian legal profession. The first is to sit for and pass the Certificate in Legal Practice (CLP), run by the Legal Profession Qualifying Board of Malaysia.
The second is to sit for and pass the English Bar Vocational Course (BVC), which will enable the student to be called to the English Bar as a Barrister-at-Law at one of the four Inns of Court (Lincoln’s Inn, Gray’s Inn, Inner Temple and Middle Temple).
The third option is to sit for and pass the English Legal Practice Course (LPC), and complete a two-year training contract at an English solicitors firm, after which the student will qualify as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Judicature of England and Wales.
Both the BVC and LPC are one-year courses which will cost £7,000 to £10,000 (RM42,000 to RM60,000) in tuition fees. It is very important to note that a Malaysian who has passed the LPC alone without having done the two-year training contract is not a qualified solicitor in England, and must therefore sit for the Malaysian CLP if he wishes to practise in Malaysia. This should be borne in mind as the lucrative training contracts are notoriously difficult to secure.
English law is still practised in many international commercial agreements, especially in shipping. A UK law degree is recognised in numerous Commonwealth jurisdictions. An English law graduate (with a three-year straight law degree) can also take the New York Bar exams in London, which may lead to qualification to practise in the United States.
Both the English Bar Council and Law Society have announced plans to make law schools include more practical elements in law undergraduate courses.
The legal education scene in the UK may thus be set for another major change soon. Nevertheless, I am confident that these would be for the better.
The writer is a second-year law undergraduate at University College London (UCL). The UK Malaysian Law Students’ Union may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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