Most people know that it’s not easy to become a lawyer but they don’t know exactly how not easy it is. If you’re at level 1 familiarity, you might think that all you need to do is to get a law degree and sit back while the money rolls in. If you’re at level 1.5 familiarity, you may have heard of certain terms like LLB, CLP, and Bar.
Well, let’s now raise the bar on your level of familiarity. To start off with, lawyers do need a law degree but aside from that, they must also get called to the Bar – not the kind to knock back some cold ones, but the simplest description is that it’s the association of lawyers (sort of).
To see how this works, the first thing you must know is…
Having a law degree doesn’t make you a lawyer
Depending on where our lawyers graduate from, their degree might be for 3 years or for 4 years. If they graduated from local universities such as University Malaya or Multimedia University, then their degree course takes as long as 4 years. On the other hand, if they graduated from overseas universities such as from the UK, Australia, or even from an external programme, their course is typically 3 years long.
But it doesn’t end here! Graduating with a degree is only the first step.
The difference lies in the fact that students who graduate from universities overseas or who hold an external degree must undergo a fourth and final year of study to gain their Certificate of Legal Practice, commonly known as the CLP….. or more commonly known to CLP students as the most stressful year ever. The CLP is a post-graduate course taken by such graduates to become a qualified lawyer in Malaysia.
Essentially having a law degree means that you are a law graduate but it doesn’t make you an advocate and solicitor (official name for lawyers) of the High Court of Malaya – or Sabah/Sarawak depending on where you get called – yet.
To see how someone can be admitted as an advocate and solicitor of the High Court, we must look at section 10 of the Legal Profession Act 1976 (“LPA 1976”). Section 10 tells us that the High Court has discretionary powers to admit either any qualified person or any articled clerk as an advocate and solicitor (emphasis added):
The High Court may at its discretion and subject to this Act admit as an advocate and solicitor of the High Court—
(a) any qualified person; and
(b) any articled clerk who has complied with section 25:
Provided that no person who is a qualified person by reason of his having passed the final examination for the degree or other qualification which makes him a qualified person under paragraph (a), (b) or (c) of the definition of “qualified person” in section 3 shall be admitted as an advocate and solicitor before the degree or other qualification has been conferred upon him.
The two questions you would probably have right now is who is a qualified person and why can clerks become lawyers?
We will deal with the articled clerks first. An articled clerk is not your average clerk but they are basically trainee solicitors. In exchange for working for a certain number of years under a qualified lawyer, the clerk basically “graduates” as a lawyer upon finishing those years of training. It’s basically like an internship with a guaranteed job.
The definition of a qualified person can be found in section 3 of the LPA 1976 and it basically tells us that a qualified person is someone who has taken their final exams from certain universities that the Legal Profession Qualifying Board (“LPQB”) has set out. The more important part lies in sections 11-13 which tell us about the additional requirements to be a qualified person and what happens after passing the CLP.
If you think that passing the CLP means that you will get called to the Bar immediately, well...we hate to burst your bubble but the answer is no.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Overworked Pupils
After completing the CLP, law graduates would have to undergo a 9 month pupillage (also known as chambering) with their respective firms. This requirement is found in section 12 and it tells us that a Master (the qualified lawyer) and pupil (the law graduate) relationship must exist.
Further to this, section 13 tells us that the Master must a senior lawyer who has been in practice for at least 7 years and the pupil is allowed to have different Masters during the 9 months. Section 13 also further explains how you can get up to 6 months’ exemption from your pupillage but we won’t go into that for the purposes of this article as it’s not really relevant.
Section 11 is the section that sets out the qualifications for admission and in brief, they are:
- A citizen or permanent resident of Malaysia
- At least 18 years old
- Has good character
- Completed the necessary period of pupillage
- Has not been adjudicated bankrupt
- Has not been convicted of any crime
- Has not done any act which, if you are a barrister or solicitor in England, would disbar/disqualify/suspend you from practice
- Has not done any act which would disbar/disqualify/suspend you from legal practice in any other country
After completing all this, you would have to do a bunch of procedural stuff such as filing your admission petition in court and so on. If you have successfully ticked off all the boxes above and have completed your 9 month pupillage, then you will be admitted as an advocate and solicitor of the High Court after which, your name will be entered on the Roll. The Roll is basically a list of all the lawyers that have been called since H.R Wrigglesworth, the very first guy to be called way back in 1948.
Having your name on the Roll is not all though. In order to practice as an advocate and solicitor, you must have a valid practicing certificate. This is found in section 36 of the Act which tells us:
“...no person shall practise as an advocate and solicitor or do any act as an advocate and solicitor unless his name is on the Roll and he has a valid practicing certificate authorizing him to do the act; a person who is not so qualified is in this Act referred to as an “unauthorized person”.”
The case of Badan Peguam Malaysia v Kerajaan Malaysia further explains that an advocate and solicitor who has been admitted to the High Court but who practices without a practicing certificate is an unauthorised person. According to section 37, anyone who pretends or acts as an advocate for someone else can be punished with up to 6 months in prison and/or a fine of RM2,500. An exercise of this section can be seen in Re Ramanathan Velu where a solicitor who appeared in court without a valid practicing certificate was punished for contempt of court and sent to prison for the full 6 months, so yeah, they really don’t play around.
Aside from getting admitted as a qualified person or an articled clerk, there are actually another two special ways that an advocate and solicitor can be admitted…
If you are a foreign lawyer, you need special permission
Under section 28A, the Attorney-General can issue a special certificate for admission of an advocate and solicitor to the High Court if they satisfy the requirements set out in the section. There hasn’t been an admission under this section (yet) but in brief, the requirements also relate to being a qualified person whether in Malaysia or any other country.
The other section which foreign lawyers would use is section 18 which allows for admission by the court in special cases. Note that this is different from establishing a foreign law firm or international partnership in Malaysia. This section is about admitting a foreign lawyer for a specific case. The section reads:
“...Court may, for the purpose of any one case...admit to practise as an advocate and solicitor any person who, if he was a citizen of, or a permanent resident in, Malaysia, would be eligible to be admitted as an advocate and solicitor of the High Court and no person shall be admitted to practise as an advocate and solicitor under this subsection unless—
(a) for the purpose of that particular case he has, in the opinion of the Court, special qualifications or experience of a nature not available amongst advocates and solicitors in Malaysia; and
(b) he has been instructed by an advocate and solicitor in Malaysia.”
This basically tells us that the courts are allowed to admit a foreign lawyer if he has special knowledge related to a particular case and such knowledge is not available to our local lawyers. The last case that saw a lawyer admitted under this section was the case of Re Geoffrey Robertson QC where Geoffrey Robertson represented Raphael Pura, an Asian Wall Street Journal journalist, in four defamation suits.
At the end of the day…
The road is long and hard
Unfortunately the road to becoming a lawyer is not an easy one as not only do you have to obtain a degree, you must pass a post-graduate course, and complete 9 months of training with your Master.
With this, if you are a budding lawyer-to-be, good luck and practice saying this: