Living Locum Legalis | Part One

This is the story of how for one moment I together with a friend created a smartphone application for Malaysian lawyers like no other in the world and how it came to an end.

It all started with the legal practice of ‘mentioning on behalf’, popularly known as MOB; we pronounced each letter individually. MOB was the practice of a lawyer appointing another lawyer to stand in and attend a routine court appointment for them.

Before the court administration system was digitized, MOB was common because a lawyer had to be physically in court to attend a routine court appointment. A lawyer would have another lawyer MOB such a court appointment for them when they could not attend it, did not want to attend it, or when it was convenient and cost-effective to do so.

An example of when a MOB was convenient and cost-effective to use would be in the following scenario:

I act for a defendant for a legal suit filed in Penang. The plaintiff’s lawyer is based in Penang. My office is in Petaling Jaya, Selangor. There is a routine court appointment in Penang for both parties’ lawyers to attend. The purpose of this appointment is commonly to update the court about the progress of pre-trial preparation. Such an appointment often took anywhere between two to ten minutes. It usually does not require both parties to be present. One of us will suffice to keep the court abreast of developments.

In such a situation, I would commonly ask the Penang plaintiff lawyer to MOB the routine court appointments for me. Or I may get another lawyer in Penang to MOB them. Whatever the case I would not be attending. If I got another lawyer to MOB for me instead of the plaintiff lawyer, I would usually have to pay the lawyer MOBing for me a small fee. It would be anything between RM 50 to RM 150, depending on what the MOBing lawyer was asking.

To have a lawyer MOB an appointment for me has several benefits both to the client and lawyers. It is a win-win all around.

Firstly, it is cheaper for the client to have a lawyer MOB for me a routine court appointment than it is for me to attend it personally. If I flew up for it, there would be my airfare, airport taxi, food and time costs. That easily exceeds RM 1,000. Hiring a lawyer to MOB only costs RM 150 then. The client benefits from the huge cost savings for routine court attendance with MOB.

Secondly, it is convenient for me to hire a MOB lawyer. I am relieved of the task of having to attend and wait around the court to attend such an appointment, only for it to be over in a few minutes. I can use my time now for something more productive – schedule a meeting, work on a submission or case, etc.

Thirdly, a lawyer gets to earn a fee for attending a routine court appointment for another lawyer. It was easy work for a MOB lawyer. They knew only what they needed to know about the case. They didn’t have to read up the whole file or deal with any law per se.

If a MOB lawyer could score RM 150 per appointment and get five cases a day, that worked out to a sweet RM 750 per day. Multiply that by twenty days in a month. That’s not small change to be sniffed at for a solo or small firm for very easy work.

I heard at one point there were certain firms that ‘specialized’ in MOBs. That meant the firm’s work consisted primarily or only of MOBs. The MOB fee income helped the smaller and newer firms find a form of income when legal work did not come through.

However, being a MOB lawyer was, over the long term, a dead-end job. It was like working at a fast-food cashier or cook for life. You earn but there’s not much to learn and almost no career growth. The downside for a ‘pure’ MOB lawyer was that nobody would ever think of them to conduct a matter of any importance in court.

MOB was around the moment I started practice. In fact, that was the first assignment I was given as a pupil: Get a lawyer to MOB the firm’s case that morning and ‘get another date’ pending compliance with court directions or something or other.

So my first day and assignment of pupilage saw me approach at least five or six lawyers who were queued up before the court interpreter to inform them of their presence. It was important to do this. The court interpreter was the one that called up the cases for the court to deal with. If she didn’t know you were around, she would only call up our cases towards the end of the court’s sitting, which was close to noon.

Back then, not all lawyers were keen to MOB a case for another lawyer, especially one they did not know. So we, pupils assigned to such a task, had to persevere a bit and keep asking any lawyer we saw to help us out. If I exhausted the supply of unwilling lawyers in a particular court, I would then roam the other courts to find a willing lawyer. I had to do this for Session Court matters because as a pupil I had no right of audience there.

Finding lawyers to MOB a case for us in the Kuala Lumpur or Shah Alam courts was a tedious and nerve-wracking experience. I remembered as a pupil, always wondering what would happen if I could not find a lawyer to MOB our case for us. Thankfully, I somehow and eventually found one each time I needed one.

However, that was not as bad as finding a lawyer to MOB a case for us outside the Klang Valley. That was something I continued to do well into my early practice because we had cases in the courts throughout the country – Kedah, Penang, Perak, Pahang, Melaka, and Johor, for example. That meant routine court appointments at all these places. That meant finding lawyers to MOB for us in states we had cases because we were reluctant to travel there for a routine court appointment.

Because we didn’t know lawyers from other states, it was always a very painful experience to get one in other States for a court matter. Even if we did know lawyers outstation they usually weren’t close to the courts we wanted. So how we found someone to MOB a case for us back then would be to open up the Bar Council Directory, physical copy of course, and call up firms in the vicinity of the court to attend the appointment for us.

This exercise could take anywhere between five minutes or more than an hour depending on our luck. Five minutes with luck. More than an hour without. Each call took time. We had to explain with each call why we were calling. We had to run through more or less the following script:

“Hello! Is this Messrs XYZ? Hi, I’m Fahri, calling from Azzat & Izzat. Does your firm have lawyers that go to court? I need them to go to court ABC tomorrow for a mention. The mention is to take another date for parties to file 123. Okay, I will hold.”

It will be a two or three-minute wait, sometimes longer, before the clerk answers, no, we don’t have any lawyers, or yes, we do and puts me through to the lawyer and I explain the case to the lawyer. The script also does not reflect me having to repeat myself, spell out my name and my firm, and even explain what a MOB is to the clerk. I remember once I must have repeated that script at least fifteen times over the course of more than an hour.

Because of how difficult it was to secure an outstation MOB lawyer, all of us who were tasked with the work, dreaded it. I absolutely hated it. It felt like stupid, enervating work. The moment I was senior enough to get out of having to do it, I did and left it to the pupils and the young lawyers. Despite that, I felt bad for those that tasked with it. I thought one day ‘solve’ the problem of finding lawyers to MOB cases for us. No one should have to suffer such silly work!

I sketched out a solution to it sometime in 2010 – 2011 after I considered the MOB concept in LoyarBurok in 2008 here. Because MOB was primarily about ‘getting the next date’. I titled the sketch the LoyarBurok Dating Service. The idea was simple – create a platform online to put together lawyers that were looking for MOB lawyers and lawyers who wanted to MOB. Putting them together would make searching for a MOB lawyer and offering one’s services to MOB much quicker. Voila! Problem solved!

I pitched it to a few friends who thought it was clever but took no further interest. I continued to refine the idea whenever I felt like it even as I looked about for some seed money to develop the idea further with someone.

It was in 2014 that I finally got around to writing a five-paged proposal filled with more about the law and a description of how the ‘the MOB Exchange’ was supposed to work. I pitched it again to my LoyarBurok gang. Although there was more encouragement this time that I should do something about it, that was it.

I tried to find a software developer to work with but was apprehensive about spending money on the idea at the time. I would pitch the idea every once in a while to friends or those I thought might find it of interest, refining the pitch as I went along. I wanted to see if any would show interest in the idea and work with me on it.

Thankfully, I did not have to wait long. The idea gained fresh and new impetus after a conversation with my close and brilliant friend, Max, in late 2014. It was over one of our social visits to each other when we got on the subject of technology, specifically smartphone applications.

We knew each other since secondary school. Back then, he was always far more technically proficient with technology than I was. I knew just enough about the computer to play games. He was the sort that could write clever simple programs and knew his way around the computer. He later was a corporate finance guy with an interest in coding for fun. He was entirely self-taught. When I asked him how he could code, his answer was, ‘Just sit yourself every day in front of the computer and give it a go.’

The idea for the MOB Exchange came up. After I explained the whole MOB concept to him, I pitched him the idea about the MOB Exchange:

“The MOB Exchange will be a platform comprising of MOB lawyers and those seeking MOB lawyers on it. There will be a Master Calendar. There, those looking for MOB lawyers can input out details for the appointment for MOB. That is the MOB request. It would contain information about when the appointment is, where the court is, which court – subordinate courts or superior courts, what for – what the MOB lawyer had to do, and the offered MOB fee. Once the MOB request was made, it would go out to all the MOB lawyers on the platform. Those MOB lawyers that wanted to accept can click on the appointment to accept it. MOB lawyers can also register on the Master Calendar when they were available, for which court in terms of hierarchy and location, which time, and the fee they would do it for. That is a MOB offer. The point here is to help them find each other as quickly and as painlessly as possible.”

“And is this thing a need? What I mean, it’s not just something nice to have?”

“Dude, we will make many lawyers’ lives easier if we had something like that. You cannot imagine how those who need MOB lawyers will be grateful for this. I think the MOB lawyers too, it’ll be easier to find jobs to do.”

“Alright. I get it. It’s a great idea. Let’s work on it. Send me the proposal and I’ll send you something back early next year and see how you like it.”

“Seriously? What are you gonna do man?”

“Yeah, seriously. I have an idea. Let me show it to you next year. See where we go from there.”

And we were off.

2 thoughts on “Living Locum Legalis | Part One”

  1. ‘It was like working at a fast-food cashier or cook for life. You earn but there’s not much to learn and almost no career growth.’

    While i acknowledge and understand that your take on the matter is coloured by your personal experience of handling MOB during your time, I respectfully beg to differ with the above, specifically on the not much to learn part.

    Having been an MOB lawyer the first 5 years of my practice (before E-Review came into the picture) i find that there are much to learn from doing MOB work.

    MOB work is the whetstone upon which one can hone one’s craft and all manner of skills and practical knowledge needed by a practitioner to navigate the justice system if one would open one’s eyes and perk up one’s ears.

    It is not disputed that most MOB work revolves around getting a new date, in fact some request for MOB  i have received consisted of one line, three lines tops (if you count the please-provide-us-your-banking-details line and the salutations) despite requests for further details.

    Any lawyer willing to go court armed with nothing but a printout of a three liner email for more than once, would have my utmost respect.

    Sure you can march in, hide behind i’m-afraid-i-cannot-assist-you and my-instruction-is-to-get -next-date until you actually get the next date but there is no fun in that vending machine like transaction and you build no rapport at all with court. If any you’ve earned yourself a black mark with whomever you have dealt with for not being prepared and to have not cared at all about the brief.

    To be prepared is to know every facts backward and forwards, to be able to parry any possible attempt by any member of the Judiciary to toy you with the facts. To do that, you need the cause papers. Not some but all of it. Pleadings, applications, affidavits, bundles, and whathave you. 

    Having the cause papers also means that you now have a wealth of precendents and exposure to areas of law previously unknown to you to draw upon if need be. It can range from your vanilla banking/recovery matters to the fringe, unheard of cause of actions or areas of law. For a new practitioner, that is very valuable.

    So yes, a cook an MOB lawyer is but a cook manning the fryer he is not. After a year (at least) an MOB lawyer should have a recipe book loaded with a variety of dishes to rival our grandmothers.

    Sure, precedents alone does not necessarily translate into experience in the said area of law. It can be a bad precedent or it can be an excellent one. All they provide is a starting point. Whether you want to blindly follow the recipe and your taste buds be damned or to make corrections or to make further research as necessary is entirely up to you. Point being, you now have the recipe.

    MoB work also give one the opportunity to pick up the nuances of legal practice itself such as characteristics/pet peeves of any TP or judge. Which court is friendly to newbies, which magistrate is perpetually grumpy.

    Legal practice at the heart of it is about dealing with people and their issues within the confines of the law. It is a practice and what better way to practice the practice of law than to do MOBs. The more you do it more it (lawyering) comes naturally to you.

    MOB work can be the end all and be all for some hence the fast food cashier analogy you have given but it can also be the prelude to greater things.

    Like a guitarist developing guitar fingers out of constant practice, doing MOB work would allow you to develop that apolegetic smile and the thick skin, the confidence for greater things like a full blown trial or appeal in short time. That, i would say is a good contribution to career growth.

    Also, that very very senior solo practitioner you have spent listening to the past 1 hour while waiting for your case to be called could be looking to pass on the baton to a worthy young blood. Who knows, he might take a shine to you after seeing you listen enraptured to his court room exploits.

    There are plenty of things that can be gleaned, lessons to learned and knowledge to be distilled from MOB works. Your time at court doing MOB is rarely wasted when you are a young practitioner. The money is good but the exposure is better.

    Alas, all i have said in the above are pre E-Review, pre E(for Industrial Court) and most importantly, BC: Before Covid.

    Just as your experience of MOB revolves around phone calls and phone directories, mine has been by way of emails and WhatsApps. Times changes and with it, the legal landscape. There are less and less physical appearances in court making any physical court appearances a privilege and an honour to those who have them.

    Sure, the role of MOB lawyers is somewhat diminished. But as long as there are physical courthouses still standing, there will be that out of the blue last minute email, WhatsApp message or phone call at night inquiring:

    Can you MOB for us tomorrow?

    Reply

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