start­ing a prac­tice

Per­cep­tions may have changed but hard work and com­mit­ment re­main the back­bone of le­gal prac­tice.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ENVIRONMENT - BHAG SINGH

Hard work and com­mit­ment re­main the back­bone of le­gal prac­tice.

AFEW weeks ago, I was asked to talk on the sub­ject of Busi­ness Of Le­gal Prac­tice dur­ing a work­shop or­gan­ised by the Bar Coun­cil for those in­tend­ing to ven­ture out on their own or had re­cently done so.

Of course, there were other use­ful topics such as Bar Coun­cil And You, Ac­count­ing And Tax­a­tion, Con­veyanc­ing In A Com­pet­i­tive Cli­mate and Win­ning Ways Through Civil Lit­i­ga­tion.

My first thought was to ask the co-or­di­na­tor whether it was right to call law prac­tice a busi­ness.

I checked with the Ox­ford Ad­vanced Learner’s Dic­tio­nary and sure enough, “busi­ness” refers to “the ac­tiv­ity of mak­ing, buy­ing, sell­ing or sup­ply­ing goods or ser­vices for money.”

On the other hand, “pro­fes­sion” means “a type of job that needs spe­cial train­ing or skills, es­pe­cially one that needs a high level of ed­u­ca­tion such as medicine, le­gal, or teach­ing pro­fes­sion.”

Of course, the word pro­fes­sion would to­day also cover train­ing and skills in nu­mer­ous other fields.

I was re­minded by the co-or­di­nat­ing of­fi­cer that to prac­tise the pro­fes­sion, one has to be mind­ful of the money needed to rent of­fice space, pay the staff, buy or lease equip­ment or pur­chase books or at least pay for the serv- ices that pro­vide ac­cess to ref­er­ence ma­te­rial. To that ex­tent, it was a busi­ness.

Many of the older gen­er­a­tion would have looked at the pro­fes­sion in a dif­fer­ent way. Had we not read about bar­ris­ters who had pouches at the back of their gowns into which so­lic­i­tors slipped money with­out the bar­ris­ter look­ing at it. Law was a call­ing, an hon­ourable pro­fes­sion for which the bar­ris­ter re­ceived an “hon­o­rar­ium”.

Changed per­cep­tion

And then I was re­minded about two in­ci­dents some years ago which had reg­is­tered in my mind. One was a chance meet­ing with my niece, and the other, a for­mer em­ployee.

I ran into my niece in a busy part of the cen­tre of Kuala Lumpur one day.

“Un­cle! I have passed my CLP!” she ex­claimed ex­cit­edly upon see­ing me. Well, that was good news, I said to my­self. Then she asked me: “What shall I do – work for a le­gal firm or bank?”

Be­fore I could ex­press any view she fol­lowed up with: “Which one pays more?”

The other in­ci­dent in­volved a for­mer em­ployee who had left to work in a bank. One day she turned up and told me: “Mr Bhag, I have fin­ished my law stud­ies. I am cham­ber­ing now.”

“You have done well,” I told her, and asked her what she in­tended to do. She said she would like to be a crim­i­nal lawyer.

So we had a chat since she was still un­der­go­ing cham­ber­ing.

And for what it may be worth, I gave my views about a lady do­ing crim­i­nal law work. This is not to say that there have not been lady lawyers who have suc­cess­fully repre- sented clients in crim­i­nal mat­ters.

But be­fore we parted com­pany, she asked me rather cau­tiously: “Once I am called to the Bar and have started work­ing as a lawyer, can I earn RM25,000 a month?”

What san­guine ex­pec­ta­tions!

Get­ting started

Whether one de­cides to go solo or team up with an­other as­so­ci­ate, each has its ad­van­tages and draw­backs. The younger gen­er­a­tion have their own ideas re­gard­ing lo­ca­tion of the of­fice and how it is to be fur­nished.

How to get clients is an­other as­pect that is of in­ter­est to any­one start­ing a prac­tice. Again the young of to­day know how to reach out to peo­ple and to mar­ket them­selves.

There are dif­fer­ent ways and dif­fer­ent rea­sons why a client goes to one lawyer or an­other.

How­ever, in all these mat­ters, it is im­por­tant that the lawyer takes his re­spon­si­bil­i­ties se­ri­ously. Apart from col­lect­ing fees, the lawyer should have the knowl­edge and ca­pa­bil­ity to han­dle the work en­trusted to him.

In­stead of start­ing one’s own prac­tice im­me­di­ately upon be­ing qual­i­fied, a lawyer should prefer­ably work for sev­eral years with oth­ers, whether as an as­sis­tant, as­so­ci­ate or oth­er­wise.

This will en­able knowl­edge acquired in the course of his stud­ies to be ap­plied and tested against prac­ti­cal and real-life sit­u­a­tions.

Con­trary to the view taken by many, there are no le­gal re­stric­tions against a lawyer start­ing his own prac­tice im­me­di­ately upon gain­ing the nec­es­sary qualifications.

Those who do so end up with dif­fer­ent re­sults and are some­times con­fronted with

dif­fer­ent con­se­quences.


Up­per­most in the minds of many at­tend­ing the ses­sion was, “how to get clients?” Of course, this may not be a prob­lem for those who are well-con­nected in one way or an­other to per­sons or or­gan­i­sa­tions which have or can gen­er­ate le­gal work.

How­ever, for oth­ers it is a mat­ter of hard work and per­for­mance on the job. Whether the per­son stays on in the same firm or leaves for an­other place, clients will even­tu­ally come to know about their abil­ity to per­form.

An­other op­tion for those who want to start their own prac­tice is to look out for se­nior lawyers who are ad­vanced in age and are about to re­tire. Some of them may, at a cer­tain age, de­cide to stop prac­tis­ing and close shop.

The own­ers of such firms who are plan­ning to cease prac­tice may ac­tu­ally be slow­ing down and there­fore are not pre­pared to pay big salaries to new lawyers who join the firm. But the younger lawyers with long-term aims could use their en­ergy and en­thu­si­asm to re­vive ac­tiv­ity in the firm.

If this can be achieved, the se­nior lawyer may have the sat­is­fac­tion of see­ing his firm flour­ish­ing again. The young lawyer here could be the ben­e­fi­ciary of valu­able guid­ance and be on the re­ceiv­ing end of what­ever good­will that the firm en­joys.

Once the se­nior lawyer re­tires from prac­tice, the younger lawyer would in­vari­ably be left to con­tinue the prac­tice. Even if some pay­ment needs to be made, this could be min­i­mal com­pared to the ex­pe­ri­ences gained and the good­will acquired.

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