LETTER | Law graduates unprepared for pupillage?


Mohd Hazmi Mohd Rusli & Noor Dzuhaidah Osman


LETTER | Quite recently, there are a number of legal practitioners who are complaining that law graduates are not prepared for pupillage. Among the complaints include that law graduates are not knowledgeable in law and lack legal skills, claiming that “chambering is an extension of legal education through no fault of law students”.

Hence, the blame is on the law schools and the university where it is said that skills education in law schools has not evolved quickly enough for law firms to be motivated to recruit pupils.

Law graduates are also accused of not being “practice-ready”. Some legal practitioners have been ranting about this for years on social media and news outlets. As Malaysia is a country that embraces free speech, perhaps it is also pertinent to look at this issue from a different angle – the perspective of law academics.

It seems that the Malaysian legal profession expects law graduates to know every single aspect of legal practice from day one ie the day the graduates begin their pupillage. 

In fact, some experienced practitioners require universities to produce students that are practice-ready. Nevertheless, in most cases, these legal practitioners themselves are to a certain extent confused or unable to explain in detail what practice-ready really means as different practitioners define the term differently.

Legal practitioners should not expect the university or the law school to do everything for them. Law schools provide legal education and some bits and pieces of legal training due to constraint of time as law students are required to take up to six subjects per semester.

Law faculties are not law firms and have limited means to sufficiently provide comprehensive legal training to them.

It is to be remembered that law schools do not only produce legal practitioners, but also future academics, bankers, administrators, diplomats and the like.

Law graduates could only experience hands-on legal training when they undergo pupillage or chambering at legal firms. If law graduates are expected to know everything and to be practice-ready from day one, what is then the purpose of the nine-month pupillage?

This applies mutatis mutandis to other professions as well. Budding medical doctors are required to go for two-year housemanship and even academics are obliged to undergo a three-year (or even longer) period of PhD studies before they are certified as competent researchers.

Generally, law firms are not required to pay remuneration for their pupils-in-chambers but a certain amount of money is paid as allowances. In the Klang Valley, this may range between RM800 and RM2,000 depending on how huge and established the law firms are. This amount of money is so meagre, considering the fact that the cost of living in the Klang Valley is considerably high.

Pupils are placed under a master when they undergo chambering for nine months. According to the website of the Malaysian Bar, the primary duty of a pupil master is to help, guide and advise his pupil in the traditions of the legal profession and to supervise the training of the pupil in the practice of an advocate and solicitor so that the pupil may obtain the maximum benefit from his period of pupillage.

While there are masters who take good care of their pupils, there are cases where the master totally ignored his or her pupils during the nine months of chambering and left them learning almost nothing. When everything goes wrong, just put the blame on the university – how convenient.

It is to be reminded that universities provide legal education in four (or five) years of the LLB programme, both in substantive and procedural laws. Within this period of time, law students are required to study various subjects as law schools do not only produce lawyers or legal practitioners, but provide human resources for other professions as well.

Legal practitioners have to stop blaming law schools as law academics in universities in Malaysia are qualified educators, as a majority of them hold PhD degrees in various fields of law from universities all around the world. In addition, some of them are former practitioners too.

It is a fact that these practitioners were educated in law schools prior to recognition as qualified persons before being admitted as members of the Bar. Lawyers do not become successful legal practitioners overnight.

Maybe the time has come for legal practitioners who are expecting too much from law graduates to reflect on themselves – were they practice-ready when they first began their pupillage 10, 20, 30 or 40 years ago?

Chambering is not an extension of legal education. It is, as a matter of fact, an extension of legal training that law graduates have to undergo in preparing themselves as qualified practising lawyers. 

Extension of legal education could nevertheless, be acquired through the enrolment of accredited Masters or PhD programmes in any law schools in Malaysia or abroad.

It is not the sole duty of law schools to achieve this end. Both law schools and the legal fraternity must work hand in hand to build a better legal profession in Malaysia.

The writers are academics at the Faculty of Syariah and Law, Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia. 

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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