Mass Calls to the Bar

My experience of calls to the Bar is one borne from moving calls mostly at the Kuala Lumpur (KL) and, occasionally, at the Shah Alam High Courts. Rarely have I been called to move a call out of the Klang Valley.

I used to look on in horror at the mass calls to the Bar practiced by the Singaporean Bar. I used to think our Malaysian practice of calling each newly minted member of the Bar and giving them a few minutes of glory recognizing their individual uniqueness and achievements by their chosen mover was an experience laden with greater meaning and sense of occasion compared to the mass calls in Singapore. I was a big fan and supporter of the Malaysian practice, and struggled mightily against the standard issue call speech recommended by the Kuala Lumpur Bar Committee.

It has been 12 years since I wrote my piece A meditation about moving by an occasional mover over at LoyarBurok, and in that time I have changed my mind about the Malaysian and Singaporean practices. I think the KL courts should move to doing mass calls.

The first reason for this change of mind is hearing my pupils regularly tell me of how long their call dates were – the longest I recall being about a 4 months wait. I know of a few lawyers who had to file their call papers in other states like – Melaka, Perak and Pahang to get an earlier call date. The reason for the long wait is due to the sheer number of pupils due to be called in KL. A pupil should be called to the Bar as quickly as possible. They should not be delayed from practice for administrative reasons beyond their control.

The second reason is a consequence of that delay, the pupil’s potential income is reduced. Because they are not called to the Bar, they are usually asked to take a paralegal position pending their call. This loss happens because of a logistic issue. A logistic issue is solvable.

The third reason is that it is truly a tedious experience sitting through a series of standard call speeches for an hour or so. I admire the judges that need to be stoic through the occasion. It would be a different thing if each speech were different, interesting, and an attempt to demonstrate ‘good character’. Once in a long while a mover takes the less traveled path of preparing his or her own call speech and it is like a ray of sunshine. But most often they do not, and drudgery ensues.

The fourth reason is a consequence of my third reason, the occasion of the call to the Bar has become ritualistic and performed without the ‘sense of the sacred’ about it anymore. It is constantly described in mover’s speeches as a historic occasion, but there is none of in the mover’s delivery or the atmosphere of the occasion. I use to think it was the KL Bar that was to be blamed for this but I realize the fault lay with just the sheer number of pupils coming to be called to the Bar in KL. The fault lies with the mass. The KL Bar’s solution was simply to standardize it as a solution; but that ended up turning the entire process into a mechanistic and soulless one.

The solution is mass calls. Recently, the Singapore courts carried out mass calls over video-conferencing. Perhaps that is the inevitable course of developments for the occasion of the call to the Bar. Numbers won’t be an issue anymore. All pupils can be called within a month of completing their pupilage.

My sense of it is that in the not too distant future the call to the bar will be completely perfunctory and will no longer be an occasion steeped in the legal tradition of oral advocacy; and then it will one day disappear completely and be a relic of history. The occasion may one day be marked simply as a notification on our communication device no different in form or medium from a notification thanking us for paying the monthly Unifi bill promptly.

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