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MGG: Lawyers can now hawk their services
By M.G.G. Pillai

12/12/2001 2:56 am Wed

[Skandal CLP membayangkan Malaysia sudah lama dipenuhi dengan loyar duit dan loyar buruk rupa-rupanya. Kerajaan memang tidak senang dengan peguam yang pakar undang-undang sebab itulah profesyen ini sudah lama dibiarkan tunggang-langgang. Lagipun, peguam yang tidak handal atau haprak akan memudahkan kerajaan dan kroni melakukan penindasan tanpa perlu merasa gentar dan terancam oleh hujah peguam yang pintar dengan undang-undang. Peguam (mungkin) adalah musuh terbesar kerajaan selepas pembangkang!!
- Editor

The thin line between the professions and the trades disappeared a long time ago when schools "maximised" profits by charging an arm and a leg. The professions came with it an implied public service, difficult to get in but affordable; the trades did not have such restrictions, and allowed any one to enter it, but it is often expensive to get into. That is no more. It costs half a million ringgit and more to earn a professional degree, almost as much if you went into the trades. So, if the tradesman can advertise, why should not the lawyer? In Malaysia, clout counts. In the law as much as in carpentry; though the carpenter would now be seeped in debt for billions of ringgit building a bridge from nowhere to nowhere. Malaysian lawyers are now business men, and insist that they should, like business men, advertise their wares. The Bar Council dragged its feet for year, not really addressing the issue but, as one has come to expect in Bolehland, on the irrelevancies of the argument, and tie themselves in knots.

So, a few law firms, those with tens, if not hundreds, of lawyers on their staff, went ahead and advertised their wares on their websites, and cocked a snook at these arcane arguments. The Bar Council did not think it worth their while to chastise them, although a few would be asked to follow the rules, usually when the clamour for it was too much. These firms are too powerful and some have implied immunity to break the rules as they think fit. I do not need to spell out which these law firms are. So, it was but natural that the Legal Profession (Publicity) Rules 2001 relaxed the existing rules so strict that they could only admit to being advocates and solicitors. The New Straits Times in a front page story today (11 December 2001) describes the lawyers as being shackled by stringent advertising rules, and that they can now breathe easy. They can advertise abroad, they want a level playing field, whatever that means, can compete for expensive regional corporate work and put Malaysia on the global legal map.

I do not believe such advertising is of much use. It traps the unwary foreigner, but you are really touting for business. Most people who would engage such a firm are corporations, not individuals, and they would have been advised by their legal advisers who they should get in touch with. That decision would not be reached by a partner surfing the Web found it, or an advertisement in the New York Times, the Guardian, or the New Straits Times. But it does build up the law firm's ego. The bigger the firm, the bigger the ego they need. And this is a concession to that. There are excellent law firms in this country, already a force in the international legal world for their expertise on Malaysia, and they reached their stature under the old rules of no advertising. Some have fallen by the wayside, but that is because its partners thought they could rest on the firm's reputation.

But, of course, the old fictions are believed: lawyers do not tout (I can, off hand, list scores of lawyers who do, and blatantly); they do not advertise (I have seen them hand out their calling cards at cocktail, wedding and dinner parties); they are competent and do their work diligently (I know of some in the best regarded firms who are not.) I have come across good and bad lawyers, some I would entrust my life to and others I would shudder at having to meet. This is no different from the other professions.

It is by such word of mouth that point one to the lawyer one finally takes. And how their names reach the ears of well-connected lawyers overseas. It has nothing to do with competing with foreign law firms. But law firms now advertise their services widely elsewhere in the world. All we do is to catch up with global practice. It should not be enshrined in such rubbish as competing "more" effectively with foreigners. If you are effective, you are; can you then be more effective, if you are not? But the corporate law firms want their advertising toy. All that the government has done is to give it that. Nothing more, nothing less.

M.G.G. Pillai