01 November 2012

Press Release: Bar Council Surveys Explore Employability of New Law Graduates and Working Conditions of Young Lawyers

The standards of lawyers at the Malaysian Bar, and their welfare, are of paramount importance to the Bar. 

The Bar Council therefore conducted two major surveys recently.  The first survey was aimed at obtaining the feedback of employer-law firms as to the attributes, skills and abilities that they deem important, and look for, when seeking to employ new law graduates, and to what extent such requirements or expectations have been met.  This employability survey was conducted with a sampling of 393 employer-law firms throughout Peninsular Malaysia who had volunteered to participate.

The second survey was conducted by the Bar Council National Young Lawyers Committee (“NYLC”), to gather data on the working conditions of the younger Members of the Bar, particularly those within the first three years of employment.  227 lawyers (predominantly in their first year of practice) and pupils in chambers participated in the survey, which yielded useful statistics on, inter alia, the work relationship between young lawyers and their employers, and the nature of remuneration received by  young lawyers.

On 20 October 2012, the NYLC held a public forum to discuss the results of the two surveys.  Based on the results of the second survey, the NYLC made the following recommendations: 

(a) Young lawyers ought to continue and strive to improve themselves, particularly by attending the Bar Council’s Continuing Professional Development seminars and courses;

(b) As a guide for employers, the proposed allowance for pupils in chambers should be a minimum of RM2,000 and RM1,000 per month, within, and outside, the  Klang Valley, respectively;

(c) As a guide for employers, the proposed remuneration for first-year lawyers should be a minimum of RM4,000 and RM2,500 per month, within, and outside, the Klang Valley, respectively; and

(d) Employers should consider including both cash and in-kind benefits in a young lawyer’s remuneration package.  For example, if a firm is unable to offer the recommended monthly amount of RM4,000 to a first-year lawyer in Kuala Lumpur, that firm could consider offering medical and dental benefits, or a telecommunication allowance, so that the value of the remuneration package would approximate the proposed figure.  This proposal represents a short-term measure in the hope that employers will eventually offer the recommended minimum salary amount in cash.

The NYLC also noted concerns expressed regarding the perceived exploitation by some employers, who offer very low amounts of remuneration.  However, while NYLC is aware that market forces ultimately dictate the level of compensation for young lawyers, NYLC hopes to persuade all employers to offer better remuneration packages, to take into account the high rate of inflation and steep cost of living.

The Bar Council’s employability survey revealed that there is divergence between the expectations and requirements of employers, and the attributes and skill sets of some of the new entrants to the Bar.  Law firms that responded identified these four skill sets and attributes as priorities: proficiency in spoken and written English; communication skills; knowledge of the law; and commitment to the firm.  The survey responses indicated that lawyers with foreign law degrees generally fare better in these areas than those with local qualifications, except where “commitment to firm” is concerned.  Within the former category of graduates, those who need not undertake the Certificate of Legal Practice (“CLP”) generally fare better than those with the CLP qualification.1

The expectations and requirements of the legal profession are dictated very much by the market, and the demands placed upon lawyers by the public, who are the consumers of legal services.  Employer-law firms were also concerned over the disparate and multiple routes of entry into the legal profession, which has led to differing standards of learning and training amongst the new entrants.  This appears to be a cause for the disparity in the skill sets and attributes detected by the survey.

An overwhelming majority of employer-law firms felt that a single entry system into the legal profession, as is the case in other jurisdictions, is desirable and viable.  To this end, they agreed that a Malaysian Common Bar Course, with a vocational training component, is needed to enhance the employability of new entrants to the Bar.

The NYLC’s forum was a useful platform for a discourse on the requisite training of young lawyers, and their work conditions.  We are therefore disappointed that The Star, in its article “Lawyers not up to par” (published on Sunday, 21 October 2012), misquoted and did not accurately represent what the speakers had said at the forum.  The Star’s generalisation about the quality of all young lawyers who have been in practice for less than seven years was an unfair and skewed portrayal that placed all the Bar’s young lawyers in a poor light.

We have strongly protested to The Star, and placed on record our unequivocal position that the employability survey covered new entrants to the Bar (and not all young lawyers), and that it is not our stand that all our young lawyers are below par.2

As a whole, the two surveys provide valuable insight on the future of the legal profession.  The Malaysian Bar aims to train, and retain, our young talents by making efforts to improve working conditions, and putting in place a comprehensive and uniform system of training, in order to be regarded as a top-notch, 21st-century legal profession.

Christopher Leong
Malaysian Bar

30 October 2012

The survey reflects the views and experiences of the employer-law firms in seeking to employ new law graduates, and was not a survey to determine the quality of such law graduates per se.

Click here for the full version of our Letter to the Editor of The Star.

No comments:

Post a Comment