ANOTHER long day in court, another hard case won – so goes a good number of television drama scripts.
In real life, however, things are not as simple as that, says lawyer Latheefa Koya, 30.
“Things do not move as fast as they should. It is definitely not as exciting as what you see on TV. Even if it is a high-profile case, at times the bulk of the work is really a matter of preparing the documents.”
In fact, she says, a large part of a lawyer’s life consists of waiting and paperwork, followed by more waiting and more paperwork.
“When lawyers moan about the system, they are not exaggerating. Delays, postponements and backlog of cases are very much the general order of the day,” she adds.
And that is one of the reasons why it is common for law graduates to move to other fields once they complete their studies.
“It's also because law is a general degree, so you can do whatever you want with it,” observes Latheefa.
Yet, three years into her legal career, the young lawyer will not trade it for anything. Law was not her first choice, she reveals, but she believes now that it might be her calling after all.
“I had no choice, I wanted to do political science in a local university but I got caught in the quota system. So I went for the other cheapest options available – and the only available courses were Economics and Law, so I chose Law. Luckily, along the way, I discovered that I actually liked law, especially litigation.”
Latheefa also points out that lawyers learn most things on the job but need to constantly go back to their books.
“It’s definitely a living profession. It's never static and is constantly developing and changing.”
Any decision or any cases lawyers take up, she adds, will decide if the status quo in the system is maintained or changed, noting that many lawyers see this as a challenge.
For her, one aspect that the legal fraternity needs to work on is information and communication technology (ICT).
“Whilst ICT has influenced many areas, law is one of the least IT-savvy professions in the country. And although there are many new areas such as cyberlaw, the space is still small in Malaysia,” she says.
What does a lawyer do?
It all depends on what type of lawyer you are.
For example, if you are a corporate lawyer, your work includes advising companies on their business dealings and drafting agreements.
If you are a conveyancing lawyer (one who deals with the legal process by which someone becomes the new owner of a property), the routine is paperwork.
Litigation (use of the courts to settle a disagreement) is divided into two aspects: civil and criminal.
For civil litigation, the cases range from interesting ones like defamation or public interest cases such as squatter rights, to boring ones like debt recovery.
Criminal litigation, which I prefer, is hands-on action and has less paperwork. It is also a bit more hyper and tense because you need to deal with the police, and in court you don’t really know what will happen. It is also more intense because you are making or breaking your client’s future.
There are also difficult cases like freedom of expression or refugee rights, which you have to take on with passion or you’ll get frustrated. There is also less money in this.
What qualifications are essential for the job?
You need to get a law degree that is recognised by the Government and the Legal Profession Qualifying Board. Once you’ve completed the degree, you have to sit for the Certificate of Legal Practice, and then go through apprenticeship for nine months under a senior lawyer who has more than seven years of practice. This is called chambering or tutelage. Then you will be called to the Bar, after which you get your licence and can start practising.
What kind of personality is suitable for the job?
You need to be organised, logical, objective, vocal and articulate. They used to say that law is an arts type of subject and that if you are bad in science or maths, then you should take up law. That’s not correct. Law requires a logical thought process, so it helps if you are good in science and maths.
If you are a people person, you’ll enjoy it too.
Describe a typical day at work for you.
If you have a case in court that day, you have to be on your feet from 7am. But often the case is postponed or something else happens, so you spend half the time waiting.
You have to be on your toes constantly, especially outside court, as most thinking is done during discussion with your clients and doing research for a case.
Most of the time though, you are just rushing to meet deadlines for submission of documents.
What is the best part of your job?
The excitement of getting a new case. You are dealing with people, so every day the experience is different. Even if you are doing conveyancing, you are working with people.
Basically the system – you know you can do so much but you still have to face the system.
And the endless deadlines.
What are the career prospects?
Of course, the more senior you are, the higher your fees.
If you get tired of practising, you can become a consultant and make a lot of money. Or you can join academia. Practising lawyers who become lecturers make the best teachers.
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