12 July 2011

Better Lawyers makes Better Bar (From The Star 8/7/2011)

by Richard Wee

THE National Young Lawyers Committee of the Bar Council recently held its Young Lawyers Convention on July 1-3 in Malacca. The convention, which takes place once every three years, saw about 140 lawyers from all over Malaysia in attendance.
The theme for the convention was “Towards a Better Bar”, which is consistent with the NYLC’s project to push our lawyers, particularly the young ones, to continue improving themselves.
The logic of this is that better lawyers will likely lead to better interpretation and implementation of the law. Higher standards incorporated into our legal profession and our legal system would result in Malaysia becoming an attractive regional legal hub like Hong Kong and Singapore.
The theme also included a holistic improvement of Malaysian lawyers, to not only advocate for intellectual progress, but also for moral and benevolent development.
In fact, many times at the convention, speakers reminded lawyers to maintain the highest ethical standards, and to conduct themselves with integrity and responsibility.
The convention impressed upon the delegates that being a lawyer signifies an important professional position in society, where elements of trust and principles are intertwined with the need to maintain high intellectual capacity when discharging their duties as advocates and solicitors.
In short, it isn’t easy to be a lawyer, but if you are one, you strive to be a good lawyer and an honest one, too.
With the theme in mind, the NYLC worked closely with the Bar Council’s Continuing Professional Develop ment (CPD) Committee.
The convention discussed the need to increase the quality of the content of the CPD at the Bar. Young lawyers were urged to attend CPD classes to acquire extra knowledge on practical aspects of legal practice.
Further to this theme of self improvement, the NYLC is proposing to form Work Practice Groups (WPGs), where young lawyers can join small groups under the mentorship of senior practitioners in specialised areas of the law like international arbitration or cross-border transactions.
The aim is for young lawyers to learn better and quicker under experienced mentors.
Going global
Young lawyers were also encouraged to attend conferences and conventions overseas. Subject to costs, these international law conferences would be a gateway to international networking and learning.
Other aspects of improvement would be for the NYLC to assist young lawyers to set up their own legal firms and to learn the proper way to do so.
The NYLC will be working with a department in the Bar Council which organises the “Getting Started” seminars. These seminars provide excellent insight into the “how and what” of setting up legal firms.
The NYLC also recognises that to ensure young lawyers continue to strive for excellence, the work conditions must also be commensurate with that desire.
The prospect of better remuneration and a better working environment at legal firms would be a good driving force to ensure that young lawyers will want to improve, and to continue staying in legal practice.
Bar Council statistics show that more than 60% of the lawyers in Peninsular Malaysia are in practice for less than three years. The principal reasons for many lawyers leaving practice after the third or fourth year are usually the high level of work stress and uncertain remuneration.
It would be difficult to urge young lawyers to improve themselves when they cannot see a bright future in terms of career advancement and better remuneration.
With that in mind, the NYLC will conduct a national survey on remuneration and career advancement within the next six months to obtain statistics on the views of young lawyers on their work conditions. The results of that survey may lead to forums and dialogues with the employers of the young lawyers.
The convention also saw the re-visiting of section 42 of the Legal Profession Act 1976 (LPA) which states that lawyers have a duty to uphold the cause of justice without regard to their own interests, without fear or favour, and that there is a duty to protect and assist the public in all matters ancillary or incidental to the law.
The delegates at the convention, in subscribing to the spirit and intent of the theme, spoke of their moral duties to uphold justice at all times. Section 42 of the LPA became a battle-cry in one of the sessions at the convention when discussing activism at the Bar.
When the Statement of the Con vention was issued at the end (as further described below), the delegates added a provision in the statement calling for the authorities in this country to adhere to the Federal Constitution and that the young lawyers are prepared to stand up and defend the law if the law is incorrectly and improperly implemented.
At first glance, the convention may look like a stew with too many spices or like a plate too full for the NYLC to handle. To the contrary, many spices are required to make the stew better and the varied ingredients will ensure the Bar remains progressive and at the cutting edge of the law.
A five-point statement was issued at the close of the convention. Fondly dubbed the “Malacca Statement”, reflecting the location of its birth, it reflects the theme of the convention, calling for the implementation of projects towards achieving a better Bar.
There are many classy and intelligent lawyers in Malaysia, and the Malaysian Bar is a strong Bar. Of course there may be a few bad apples among the Bar but the NYLC will focus on the strengths of the Bar and harness that quality to ensure the Bar strives forward.
The NYLC intends to challenge young lawyers who join the Bar to move outside their comfort zone and to push them to persevere and persist towards progress.
> The writer is the Chairman of the National Young Lawyers Committee. Putik Lada, or pepper buds in Malay, captures the spirit and intention of this column – a platform for young lawyers to articulate their views and aspirations about the law, justice and a civil society. For more information about the young lawyers, please visitwww.malaysianbar.org.my

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