In Malaysia, there are actually two ways to be an advocate and solicitor.
The first is the law degree route.
You obtain a law degree from an approved university. A graduate from a foreign university must pass the English Bar exams or return home to Malaysia and pass the Certificate of Legal Practice (‘CLP’) exams to be eligible to apply to be a pupil-in-chambers (‘pupil’).
For some local Universities, such as University Malaya, International Islamic University, and University UiTM (Shah Alam), a local graduate is immediately eligible to apply for pupilage after they complete their law degrees. Not all local universities have this privilege.
Those universities I mentioned are ‘CLP-exempted’ because they are supposed to have baked the CLP syllabus into their law degree curriculum. Even though this is requirement is set by the Legal Profession Qualifying Board (‘LPQB’) that sets and evaluates the exam for CLP subjects, the LPQB does not assess the student. That is done by the universities.
Generally, be it from a foreign or domestic university, a law graduate must serve a 9-month pupilage. There are exceptions but that’s not relevant here. After pupilage, barring any unforeseen event or objection, a pupil is called to the Bar as an advocate and solicitor.
The second is the non-law degree route.
That route is through an articled clerkship. This route is prescribed by law under the Legal Profession Act 1976 (LPA76) and is still in force. It was enacted for those who wished to practice law but didn’t have a law degree or a degree at all.
Regrettably, it has fallen into disuse. I had my intern call up the LPQB to ask about articled clerkships and they told us they do not have them anymore.
Why? I don’t know. Perhaps too few applied for an articled clerkship to make the effort worthwhile. Perhaps it was a way to force those who did not have a degree or a non-law degree to take a law degree. Perhaps the LPQB forgot its other statutory duties. Whatever the reason – and if you happen to know, please tell me – it is puzzling how the articled clerkship faded into non-existence given how important it is from a legislative standpoint. Three reasons to make my point.
Firstly, the LPQB was established to set the standards and exams for law graduates and non-law graduates to be a ‘qualified person’ i.e., someone eligible to be called to the bar as an advocate and solicitor. Out of six of LPQB’s functions, four relate to articled clerkships. Only three functions relate to pupils or law graduates: see sections 4 and 5 LPA76.
Secondly, out of the nine powers accorded to the LPQB, five of those powers relate to articled clerkships: see section 6(2) LPA76.
Thirdly, in the section on Qualified Persons in Part II, LPA76, there are 16 provisions, sections 10 to 25. 6 provisions are devoted exclusively to articled clerks and it shares in some of the other provisions i.e., sections 10, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 19 LPA76.
That is how important the articled clerkship is from the legislative standpoint.
It is therefore not just a shame but short-sighted for the LPQB to abandon this route to being an advocate and solicitor, it is a breach of their statutory duties. Not once is it referred to on LPQB’s website. The only time that word is used is under ‘Membership of the Board’ which sets out the LPQB’s powers.
But first, what is an articled clerk?
An articled clerkship was the route to being an advocate and solicitor if you did not have a degree or a law degree. It was for those who (i) did not have a degree or (ii) have a degree but not a law degree. An articled clerk apprentices under a principal (the equivalent of pupil master) for a certain period of time.
An articled clerk who does not have a degree must possess education qualifications prescribed by the LPQB and does an articles of 5 years. For one who has a degree but not a law degree, his articles are 3 years: see sections 24(1) and (2) LPA76. Because a pupil has a law degree, their apprenticeship (also known as the ‘pupilage period’) is only 9 months.
What articled clerks and pupils are expected to do are the same. Like a pupil master, an articled clerk’s principal must be an advocate with at least seven years of active practice at the Bar. If he isn’t, the principal must get special written leave from the LPQB.
In order to be called as an advocate and solicitor, an articled clerk has to satisfy 4 requirements. Firstly, serve his period of articles. Secondly, attend whatever courses required by the LPQB. Thirdly, pass whatever examinations prescribed by the LPQB. Finally, pass the Bahasa Malaysia Qualifying Exam: see section 25 LPA76.
That is not very different from what pupils have to satisfy to be called to the Bar. Pupils now have to attend a certain number of legal courses by BC or the State Bar Committees and pass an ethics exam in order to fulfil the requirements of being a qualified person.
All that is needed to revive the articled clerkship is for the LPQB to set up the examination for the articled clerks to pass. Everything else is already in place. The legislative and educational structure is in place. The Legal Profession (Articled Clerks) Rules 1979 were in force since 28.12.1979. The agencies to educate and supervise it are already established.
More importantly, the 1979 Rules set out what subjects an articled clerk will be examined on and the body to set the exams. This is what the 1979 Rules provide:
The syllabus and reading list for the examination shall be those prescribed from time to time by the University of Malaya for the examinations for the Degree of Bachelor of Laws.Rule 6(4), The Legal Profession (Articled Clerks) Rules 1979
An articled clerk has to take 2 examinations. An Intermediate Examination and a Final Examination.
For the Intermediate Examination, an articled clerk will have to pass papers on contract law, tort, criminal law, criminal procedure, public law, land law and family law. For the Final Examination, he will have to pass papers on equity and trust, evidence, company law, conveyancing and laws relating to tenancies, commercial transactions, civil procedure and a choice of revenue law, labour law, banking or Islamic law.
There is no need to come up with a curriculum for articled clerks. The undergraduate syllabus and reading list from the University of Malaya suffices. The only thing holding up the articled clerkship is that the LPQB does not run the Intermediate and Final Examinations anymore.
What appeals to me most about the articled clerkship is the longer apprenticeship compared to a pupilage. The apprenticeship for an articled clerk is between 3 to 5 years. I know it is long. But I think that is a more suitable period for someone to really learn the ins and outs of legal practice and cultivate the appropriate skillset to be ready for practice in this day and age. Now, 9 months is too little too quick and too soon.
I would urge and call for the revival of the articled clerkship. I think it would benefit those who see a career for themselves in the law as well as benefit the legal profession as a whole.
These are my reasons why.
The first reason is that it benefits those who know early in life that they want a career in the law. The minimum age for an articled clerkship is 17 years old. If a 17-year-old told me he did not have ambitions for any other profession or manner to earn a living except by the practice of law, I would tell them to forget a law degree and get into an articled clerkship straightaway. Why?
Firstly, it is quicker by 2 years. It is a 5 year articled clerkship for someone without a degree. That is basically being a pupil-in-chambers for 5 years. If all goes as planned i.e., that person passes the Intermediate and Final exams, they can be called to the bar as early as 22 years old.
With the law degree route, you spend two years in college, three years in university, a year for bar exams, and then pupilage. All in, that’s about seven years to being called to the bar. Law graduates on average are called to the bar at the age of 24 years old.
Secondly, an articled clerk would be (or at the very least, should be) paid during their articles. They are in a true sense a lawyer-apprentice. It may not be much. But the point is this – they are paid to learn instead of paying to learn. The articled clerk or his parents do not have to pay for college, university, and the bar course or the CLP examinations. They or their family will not be in debt or would have spent thousands or hundred of thousands on their education.
Thirdly, a 5-year articled clerk would have greater practical and relevant experience compared to a law graduate who passed the bar or CLP. They would have or should have had 5 years’ worth of the daily work that goes into legal practice. When they are called to the bar, they would be far more ‘practice-ready’ compared to their peers with law degrees. Or should be, because they have had 5 years of working closely with their principal (i.e. the equivalent of the pupil master).
So an articled clerkship is an accessible and practical route for those who have no other ambitions other than for the practice of law. It is for those that intend to devote themselves entirely to legal practice. It will also a better grounding in the practice of law compared to a law graduate.
The second reason for reviving the articled clerkship is that it will benefit the legal profession in the long term. How?
An articled clerkship is 3 years for a non-law degree. So an articled clerkship should be the route into legal practice for those who studied something else for their undergraduate degree, such as history (Lord Sumption) or maths (Lord Denning). Someone who already has an undergraduate degree should not have to take a law degree for the sole purpose of being an advocate and solicitor. What a post-graduate requires is guided and moderated experience from an experienced practitioner of the law. Not a law degree. That is primarily an academic and theoretical immersion in the law, not legal practice.
A law degree is no guarantee of legal competency or readiness. In fact, the main complaint among employers lately is that pupils are not ‘practice-ready’ to be called to the Bar. The gap between what our national schools produce between what our law schools require is vast but the gap between what our law schools teach and what law firms expect is even vaster.
Therefore, it is better for those who did a non-law degree to do an articled clerkship – they get actual experience of legal practice instead of an academic experience of the law. They will escape the complaint many law graduates attract – not being ‘practice ready’. If that is coupled with the right training and education, that will improve their readiness.
Articled clerkships are a great way to encourage the growth of multi-disciplinary lawyers too. Lawyers who studied or have experience in other fields or professions – engineering, medicine, accounting, computing, etc. – are and will be an asset to the legal profession. They create opportunities for specialization in their areas of expertise. They bring different perspectives to the law and legal practice. They should be welcomed and encouraged to join the Bar if they are so inclined.
An example to illustrate how a non-law degree holder can benefit the legal profession. X studied psychology. Practiced as a psychologist for a while. X decides he wants to practice law. X does an articled clerkship. X gets right into the thick of practice. X gets a ringside seat in the practice of law but can appreciate his experience from a psychologist’s view.
After a few years of practice, X can carve out his niche in legal practice, maybe relating to mental health laws or other related areas. Or perhaps, he may quit legal practice and return to being a psychologist that works exclusively with lawyers because X now better understands them. There is a need for profession-specific psychologists and therapists.
Whether X stays in or out of the legal profession eventually would benefit the legal profession either way. That is just an illustration of how I see those that come through the articled clerkship have the possibility of benefitting and being advantageous to the legal profession as a whole and its clientele whether they remain or leave legal practice.
Given the present situation where law schools are not serving the needs of the legal profession and are simply expensive pieces of paper issued by institutions of learning that have turned into mere money-making machines, perhaps it is time to consider reviving the articled clerkship.
If you really want to get into legal practice – take up an articled clerkship. If you want to study something non-law before you get into legal practice – take up an articled clerkship. If you want the whole university life experience or an academic career in the law – do a law degree. If you are serious about only about legal practice, don’t waste your money getting a law degree, get into an articled clerkship.
A longer apprenticeship period gives more time and opportunity for training and experience to graduates (law or otherwise) to be practice-ready before they are called to the Bar. A longer apprenticeship should recalibrate the expectations of lawyers that demand practice-ready lawyers from the get-go and make the point that such expectations are unreasonable under the current scenario.
Now, this brings me to my proposition to you who are reading this. I intend to revive the articled clerkship. I intend to put in an application with the LPQB. As a principal, I can take on two articled clerks at any one time. Pretty much like I can take a maximum of two pupils at any one time. I have already one slot taken up by my staff who is keen. There is one more slot for an articled clerkship open.
If you do not have a degree and wish to do an articled clerkship and are up for a bit of a legal adventure, write in. If your reasons appeal and commitment to an articled clerkship appeal to me, I will invite you to join application.
I must caution you not to expect things to happen immediately. It may be a while before the clerkship starts. If the LPQB does not have the articled clerkship course set up, there is a likelihood we may have to take legal action on the matter. Don’t worry, we will take legal advice on this. I work with some fine young lawyers that will be more than happy to advise us on the proper course of action to get our articled clerkship started.
Although I may have come to legal practice by way of a law degree, I am now minded to think a law degree is good, but an articled clerkship would have been better.