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