To moratorium or not: The future of legal education in Malaysia

https://www.astroawani.com/berita-malaysia/moratorium-or-not-future-legal-education-malaysia-345342

AWANI Columnist

Februari 6, 2022 08:53 MYT

To moratorium or not: The future of legal education in Malaysia
As law degree in Malaysia provides human resource for various job markets, it would be a viable move should the Ministry lifts the moratorium imposed on law schools. – geotimes

INTRODUCTION

There are approximately 9 institutions of higher learning that offer Bachelor of Laws program in Malaysia as of 2022. The law school of Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia (USIM) was the latest to receive full recognition from the Legal Profession Qualifying Board (LPQB) in 2021.

It took USIM more than 10 years to get its law program fully recognised, indicating the high level of standards imposed by the LPQB in evaluating the quality of law schools. Taylor’s University is the only remaining institution that have yet to obtain full accreditation by the LPQB. Unlike other universities, law graduates from Taylor’s are required to seat for Certificate of Legal Practice (CLP) prior to becoming ‘qualified persons’ under the Legal Profession Act 1976.

Despite these stringent requirements, there have been a number of legal practitioners who were complaining that law graduates in Malaysia are not prepared for pupillage. Among the complaints include that law graduates are not knowledgeable in law and lack legal skills.

In order to improve the situation, a moratorium on the introduction of new law schools was imposed by the Ministry of Higher Education to ensure that Malaysia does not face excessive production of law graduates. The Minister of Higher Education Malaysia, Datuk Seri Dr. Noraini Ahmad contended that the ratio of lawyers to the population is ideal in Malaysia as of 2021.Should the 15-year-old moratorium remain or be removed?

FUTURE OF LEGAL EDUCATION IN MALAYSIA

A senior lawyer in Malaysia in his article entitled ‘On the Bench and the Bar’ published in the Star back in 2020 reiterated the incompetence of local graduates, in exception of those from three universities namely University of Malaya, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and Multimedia University. These findings were made according to his own observation, unsupported by any data or credible facts. He may have arrived into this conclusion as he could have only dealt with graduates from these universities, and not with graduates from six other institutions in Malaysia.

The writer, who is also a senior lawyer, glorified Singapore and the United Kingdom as role model for legal education, as if legal education in Malaysia is of substandard quality. He repeatedly contended that local graduates have poor command of the English language, but then again, this claim was uncorroborated by any credible sources.

Local law graduates are also said not having ‘practice-ready’ qualities. Nevertheless, the term ‘practice-ready’ itself has not been defined in any circulars issued by the BAR. If one approaches practitioners to unearth the mystery behind the definition of ‘practice-ready’, this effort would be in vain as different practitioners define the term differently.

THE MYTH OF UNEMPLOYED LAW GRADUATES

According to the website of the Malaysian BAR, there are about 20,000 practicing lawyers in Malaysia, roughly 0.06 % of the entire population. On the other hand, according to the Ministry of Higher Education, Malaysian law schools produce about 1, 700 graduates each year. This means only a small percentage of these graduates chose to become practitioners while most of them opted not to practice law.

As such, legal practitioners who made unwarranted remarks against law schools must stop living in small little world of theirs and must realise that law schools do not only produce future practicing lawyers, but provide workforce for other job markets as well. In fact, tracer studies conducted by the Ministry of Higher Education on local law graduates indicated that just a small percentage of them are unemployed subsequent to graduation. Therefore, why is there a need for a moratorium?

Should these graduates choose to practice law, only then they should undergo pupillage. If law graduates are expected to know everything and to be practice-ready from day one, what is then the purpose of the 9-months pupillage?

This applies mutatis mutandis to other professions as well. Budding medical doctors are required to go for 2 years housemanship and even academics are obliged to undergo 3 years (or even longer) period of PhD studies before they are certified as competent researchers.

SCRUTINISE CHAMBERING

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 neglected his or her pupils during the nine-month of chambering and learnt almost nothing.

Has the LPQB or even the BAR Council establish a committee to supervise and overseer how law firms conduct pupillage? It is not wise to blame universities as courses in universities are audited and accredited not just by the Malaysian Qualification Agency (MQA), but the LPQB itself. The accreditation process in itself is lengthy (could take up to a decade) and arduous.

It is to be reminded that universities provide legal education in 4 (or 5) years of the LLB program, 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.

CONCLUSION

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

It is a fact that these practitioners were educated in law schools prior to recognition as qualified persons and later admitted as members of the BAR. Malaysian universities have also produced not just successful lawyers, but successful individuals possessing law degree engaging in employment opportunities outside the scope of legal practice.

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 ten, twenty, thirty or forty years ago? In addition, not all legally related professions require candidates to entirely be ‘practice-ready’.

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.Its time for the LPQB or any related bodies to begin scrutinising and conducting regular audits on how legal firms conduct pupillage, the same way universities are being audited yearly.

As law degree in Malaysia provides human resource for various job markets, it would be a viable move should the Ministry lifts the moratorium imposed on law schools.


Dr Mohd Hazmi Mohd Rusli, Dr Syahirah Syukor and Dr Amalina Binti Ahmad Tajudin are lecturers at the Faculty of Syariah and Law, Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia.

** The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of Astro AWANI.

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