Pathways to legal excellence

Myriad of options: There are a multitude of career opportunities available to a law graduate. –

Lawyers use their extensive legal knowledge to help clients achieve desired outcomes, whether in contentious cases before decision-makers or in non-contentious matters with stakeholders like bankers and regulators. They have many opportunities to apply their expertise ethically for the benefit of clients and society.

In Malaysia, the legal profession continues to be seen as a resilient industry that is well-positioned to harness the opportunities presented by the ongoing Fourth Industrial Revolution.

As seen during the Covid-19 pandemic, the legal profession has evolved to embrace online court hearings, online service of documentation and electronic case management, among other innovations.

Likewise, the teaching of law in universities has also kept pace with technology by harnessing the potential of artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), gamification in classrooms, and distance learning to make legal knowledge more accessible and fascinating.

The legal profession thus remains a thriving industry that the younger generation aspires to join, often with parental encouragement.

As evidence of this, applications to study law at top public and private universities in the country continue to outstrip the number of available spots, such that some higher education institutions have introduced an interview requirement, besides exacting entry requirements in terms of pre-university achievements.

Qualifying as a lawyer in Malaysia involves three distinct phases, which are completed sequentially: the academic phase, the professional training phase, and the apprenticeship phase. How one completes the first two phases depends on which institution one enrols in.

Those who can get a place in one of the nine Malaysian universities offering a four-year Bachelor of Law course will complete both these phases within the degree programme itself. Law graduates from other recognised universities in Malaysia, the United Kingdom, Australia or New Zealand must pass the Certificate in Legal Practice (CLP) exam set by the Legal Profession Qualifying Board to fulfil the professional training phase.

Alternatively, graduates from recognised UK universities can opt for the Bar Practice Course or to qualify as a solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales.

Upon completing academic and professional training, aspiring lawyers enter the apprenticeship phase, known as pupillage.

They will “read in chambers” for nine months under a designated “‘pupil master”, gaining practical experience and mentorship in the ways of the profession. Pupils may also begin to handle certain legal matters before courts after a milestone called the “short call”.

Instead of commencing pupillage, aspirants can apply to join the Judicial and Legal Service (JLS). If selected, in the JLS, they may serve as deputy public prosecutors, federal counsel or judicial officers, performing various legal roles. After a year in the JLS, they can apply for a certificate exempting them from pupillage, thereby fulfilling the apprenticeship stage.

When all three stages – academic, professional training and apprenticeship – have been completed, the “call to the Bar” can be scheduled.

This is a formal High Court hearing, at which the now fully qualified aspirant will be officially admitted as an advocate and solicitor and have his or her name added to the Roll of Advocates and Solicitors.

It is typically a momentous and highly memorable ceremony attended by friends and family, in which the aspirant will be individually addressed by the judge.

His or her journey will be commemorated in the “call speech” by the lawyer who presents the case for admission and, to complete the process, the pupil master then places the robes of an advocate and solicitor on the former pupil.

Besides professional legal practice and a position in the JLS, there are a multitude of career opportunities available to a law graduate.

He or she may seek a career in banking and finance, journalism, corporate affairs, academia, the administrative and diplomatic service, and law enforcement bodies such as the Royal Malaysia Police and the Royal Malaysian Customs.

A law degree is also an excellent foundation for a career as a regulator with bodies such as the Central Bank of Malaysia, the Securities Commission Malaysia, and Bursa Malaysia. It is therefore no surprise that a law degree continues to be a much sought-after qualification among students in this country.

To secure the continued effective administration of justice and the rule of law, it is essential that the legal services community continues to attract the best and brightest to the service of the public through a career in its ranks.

As law teachers at university level, our role is to help students realise the tremendous potential of the law to positively impact society; to cultivate students’ appreciation of the multifaceted intricacies of the law; and to inculcate the skills of “thinking like a lawyer”.

It is our hope that regardless of which career pathway or vocation our students ultimately fulfil their life’s calling in, they will act with a clear appreciation of how law can be harnessed for the common well-being of society.

Dr Wilson Tay is senior lecturer at the School of Law and Governance and hub leader at the Impact Lab on Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions at Taylor’s University. The views expressed here are the writer’s own.

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