Budding lawyer’s insights after entering legal profession an eye-opener

After one-and-a-half years of A-Levels, three years of Undergraduate Law Degree, one year of the Bar Practice Course, and nine more months of pupillage, I have finally set myself up to obtain a Practising Certificate as a lawyer.

For the non-law students, a Practising Certificate under Section 29 of the Legal Profession Act 1976 is required for one to practise as an advocate and solicitor in Malaysia.

I have recently completed my pupillage and am waiting for my long call date (the ‘long call’ is a procedure whereby pupils are formally admitted by the High Court as an advocate and solicitor). I have experienced a challenging past nine months as a pupil, but now, perhaps entitled to the leisure of hindsight, I can say that I probably enjoyed it.

I employ the word ‘challenge’ above not in an obstructing sense, but rather the need to abandon preconceptions from the influence of prior academic education. A professional environment is very different from a textbook, academic environment focused predominantly on legal theory.

As a lawyer, the law is no doubt the crux of the job, however, as with everything in modern society, it falls within a system – a system that was not a part of our education syllabus.

For instance, many law students are infatuated with intellectual property law, an area of interest which understandably reflects the ease of media production in modern times. What is taught in universities are the principles and theories of law, for example, trademarks must be distinct and unique to be qualified for protection.

In practice, a lawyer’s job is not only to assess trademarks and advise the client on the law, but to also handle the entire procedure of trademark protection. This procedure requires registration with the Intellectual Property Corporation of Malaysia (MyIPO). From my experience as a pupil on the files, registrations tend to be rejected.

As a fresh law graduate, the law is something familiar to me. But that knowledge is not as important as I thought it would be, or rather, as it was made out to be, from all the rigorous exams I was subjected to during my university days.

In a professional environment, what was required was the ability to secure the protection of the client’s trademark. This means having to learn the entire registration process, the appeals process when a registration is refused, and the social ability to deal with clients in the event of a failed protection attempt.

Also, for the current and aspiring lawyers who have pursued the legal pathway because of your abhorrence towards mathematics, you may be disappointed to learn that you are still required to do some level of maths and deal with numbers in legal practice.

Rest assured, you will not be required to perform calculus equations, but at the very least, if you are pursuing a civil or white-collar crime practice, numbers and mathematics are inescapable. Do not forget that at the very least, you will require some mathematical ability to calculate and prepare an inventory of your professional work done for billing the client!

But that is not all. Perhaps the most drastic change that requires students to quickly adapt to, is the lifestyle changes. Despite being a pupil, which is a position more formal than that of an intern but not quite an employee, you are still expected and required to adhere to a work schedule.

Other jobs generally have a 9 to 5 work schedule of eight hours, but for the legal profession, that is not the case. Work does not end at 5pm for a lawyer, so it also does not end at 5pm for a pupil. Legal firms often have way too many files, and the workload is in large volumes.

What about the weekends? Well, while it is unlikely that you may be summoned to the office on a Saturday or a Sunday, there is the expectation that you will be reachable on the weekends. It will not be an exaggeration to say that pupils are expected to be reachable at any hour of the day, seven days a week.

Now, before anyone jumps to the conclusion of workplace exploitation, that may not be the case and there is a very simple reason for this: one of the lawyers in the firm I was a pupil in, compared lawyers to doctors, with both professions having an overriding duty to the patient or client.

In the hands of the doctor are the lives entrusted to him by the patient, and to the lawyer are their livelihoods in civil matters, and their liberty, in criminal matters.

The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the writer’s and do not necessarily represent that of Twentytwo13.

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