Being paid to move a call

From the Blog

Being paid to move a call

Share on

I have been told and thanked on enough occasions to finally accept that I am good at moving a pupil’s call. I don’t think I have any particular talent at this. The two things that distinguish me from the run-out-of-the-mill mover are firstly, my desire to give as good a speech as I can given what I have. Secondly, I craft my own speeches. Because, if you want something done just right, you best do it yourself. My goals and therefore my approach are different from that of others.

The differences between mediocre and good calls are that marginal. You would be pleasantly surprised how far giving just a little bit more drives us past our comfort zone, past the realms of mundane, routine and predictable experiences into the realms of originality and creativity.

Several months ago, one of my young colleagues mentioned that I should consider charging a fee for moving a pupil’s call. Given how much effort I put into my call speeches and how good they are, it is not unreasonable to command a fee for it. He envisaged a sweet side income stream from such a service. No one could begrudge me for it. My speech and its delivery are sufficient proof that paying me to move their call was money well spent.

In short, since I am already doing it for free, why not make money from it? I thanked him for his flattering entrepreneurial suggestion but told him I had no plans to demand a fee for it.

After all, who would pay for a call speech?

The Universe, apparently, heard me ask this question in my head because recently I have received a messages from pupils inquiring whether I moved calls as a service and if so, how much.

Finally, the opportunity to earn money for this voluntary and free service had arrived! Finally, I was going to be financially reimbursed for my efforts! Finally, my time in the monetary sun had arrived! It was time for the Elite Bespoke Call Speech Service (TM) division to be set up at the firm.

Instead of feeling all that, the truth is, I was filled with overwhelming sadness and a sense of tragedy at reading those requests. If tears were available, I would have spilt them, but I have so few left these days. I know what you are thinking. What? Someone asked you for your fee rate to move a call and you want to cry about it? Man up and send that fee quote!

Let me explain why. It will give you some insight into why I think I am considered to have the values, outlook and attitude of an anachronism.

I need to start with how I appreciate the call to the bar.

Firstly, I am traditional about it. As I understand the tradition of the bar, it was a privilege to be invited to move a pupil’s call. The mover is akin to a midwife at the birth of a lawyer. We are important to the pupil’s call, but our importance is only for this one occasion. To accept an invitation to move a pupil’s call is to accept that privilege of midwifery.

Another tradition of the bar is that masters find movers for their pupils. This was the practice because it is far easier for a senior lawyer to find, ask and secure a fellow senior lawyer’s participation as compared to a pupil. It is not the business of the pupils to find their movers. It is difficult because they are complete strangers to the mover. But that is now regrettably the practice.

I frequently get pupils contacting me directly to move their calls. I don’t like this, but I understand. Their masters abandoned them. The fault for this lies exclusively with irresponsible lawyers that take pupils on and fail to do their duty by them. As a master, arranging a mover is one of the at-least-you-could-have-done things. If you are not willing to do this, do not take a pupil on. They are an apprentice, not an employee in the legal sense of the word.

Second, I have respect for the occasion, the court, the pupil, their parents and the general audience. Even though to us lawyers and the judge it is just another call to the bar, we appreciate the importance and significance of the call not just for the pupils but for their family and friends, so we play our part.

Playing our part means taking the occasion seriously.

I demonstrate my seriousness by treating the call like I would an application hearing in court. That is why I must interview the pupil before I prepare my speech; to get at the facts. How can I give a call speech without having at least a passing acquaintance about this person? I acquaint myself with sections 10 – 28E of the Legal Profession Act 1976 (LPA76) and the cases relating to them; to get up on the law. How can I as a lawyer not read any law before going in for a ‘hearing’?

Like any other case, I go over the material with a fine toothcomb. Find the character traits that make for a good character. Look up references. Find answers to turn into narratives. When I sit down to write the speech, the materials are close at hand. Keeping it relevant, rich and resonant. Like any other case, I try to make the best out of the materials given to me.

Third, being a mover is one of those ‘traditions of the bar’ matters. When a fellow brother or sister-at-law asks me to move their pupil’s call, it is, as I said, a privilege, but it is the master that owes me the ‘favour’ of the call, not the pupil. And that favour is nothing sinister. It is more or less returning the favour of moving my pupil’s calls when I need them to.

Although it is common for the pupil to give me a gift, there is no duty or obligation on the pupil to do so. And I, personally, though I am grateful and appreciative of them, I have no expectations. Gift or no gift, my process is the same. It is enough thanks that they and their family enjoyed and are happy with the speech. The speech would have achieved its purpose and so would I.

Since moving a call is a tradition of the bar matter, one traditionally does not charge for such things. We do it freely, out of camaraderie at the bar, a sense of duty, for the pleasure of moving calls, or whatever other reason. We do it because we are lawyers and we, as the senior members, should be there to usher our young lawyers to the bar. These are our traditions. Our traditions, ethics and duties are what distinguish us as lawyers from a person that is willing to do anything for money.

In all my years of moving calls, I have never asked for any recompense or financial remuneration for my speeches. The thought never even occurred. Honestly, the idea of charging a fee for moving a call strikes me as a vulgar one that naturally repulses me. I move calls out of obligation, out of duty, out of the spirit of camaraderie, because my very good friends ask me, and who knows, maybe I will have the privilege of moving the call of a great future lawyer. One thing is clear; I have never moved a call for financial recompense.

Now coming back to why I was sad about pupils writing to me about my fee for moving calls.

Firstly, those requests are an indication of how frequently this happens; masters abandoning their pupils after their pupillage period is over. You can only be a master after completing 7 years in practice, after which you are a ‘senior’ lawyer. This problem suggests that this problem is more widespread than I think. A lawyer that does not care for their pupil, does not care for the bar’s future. Maybe they don’t care or they don’t care to know but the effect is the same. Both prejudice the pupil and sadden me equally.

Secondly, it is improper for the pupil to pay the mover anything for moving his call. This is thoroughly against traditions of the bar. It opposes fostering an environment of camaraderie ship at the bar. Whatever payment or recompense for moving the call lies with the master. As explained earlier, the favour is ‘owed’ vis-a-vis master and mover, not pupil and mover. To place that responsibility on the pupil is again an abandoning of a master’s obligation to their pupil.

Third, and more importantly, paying for a mover to move a call to the bar encourages the commodification of these favours that are the building blocks of relationships between lawyers. It replaces the warmth of favour and the building of a relationship with the coldness of cash and the whims of a commercial-based relationship. In putting a fee to it, the call becomes transactional. It is not personal anymore. Instead of the fluid favour between colleagues at the bar, it becomes a hard number with defined obligations and liability.

It makes the already tedious process of being called to the bar not only more tedious but unnecessarily more costly for the pupil. The worrying part is that if more pupils think in this fashion, this is likely to become a new practice in the future, and that would be very unfortunate.

This has happened to those areas which were considered domestic traditions at the bar.

Let me give an example of this in the area of MOB or mentioning on behalf. To MOB (mention on behalf) of someone is to basically stand in their place. So, if I cannot go for case management in Ipoh, for example, I can call up an Ipoh lawyer and ask him to MOB the case management for me. He will attend on my behalf and sort the matter out. Or if my opponent cannot make it for case management, he can ask me to MOB for him so he does not have to turn up for it. A more thorough explanation of the concept is found in my essay, Locum Legalis | Part One.

When I started pupillage in 1998, lawyers did not charge a fee to MOB for you. It was done for free. It was treated as a favour between lawyers. I do one for you. You do one for me next time. Back then lawyers did not go to court specifically to MOB a matter. They would MOB for you because they had a matter in court, and they would sort yours out since they were already there. No letters were exchanged to confirm the MOB or to confirm a fee. All of it was verbal.

It went like this in securing a MOB:

‘Hi Fahri, can you MOB a matter for me tomorrow in the KL Sessions Court 5?’

‘Sure. What’s it about?’

‘It’s a substituted service (SS) application. Papers are in order. I need you to get order in terms for me.’

‘Sure. Fax the application and affidavits over.’

‘Will do. Thanks.’

This is what it sounded like when I got back to him about the MOB:

‘Hi Azman, SS application allowed. Next date is 13 June 2014.’

‘Thanks, man.’

That’s it. The whole transaction took less than five minutes to instruct verbally.

All that changed when the courts required a letter to prove that you are MOBing for the other party. This happened because disputes broke out over non-attendances in court for matters that were MOBed. The MOB lawyer denied agreeing and the requesting lawyer had no proof to show for it. Those bad apples ruined it for everybody.

That led to lawyers having to prepare a formal letter confirming the appointment and the lawyer attending the MOB. That could be shown in the event the court questions our authority. This led to having to prepare a formal letter to report about the MOBed appointment so it could be filed. These formalities take time, attention, effort and resources. These formalities also inevitably demand a fee.

After a few years, the MOB fee became the norm. It is so normalized that lawyers now don’t think twice about asking for a fee to MOB and think that this was always the case. It wasn’t. I was there and watched the formalization of the MOB process lead to its capitalization. Heck, I even created an application that hastened and embedded it.

I see the call speech going that way if that request from those pupils to me becomes the norm one day.

There will be ‘call speech fees’. One fee if the pupil does it themselves. Another fee, if they want the mover to prepare it. A bonus if the judge smiles. Another one, is if the gallery claps. The pupil gets a speech from a senior lawyer who gets reimbursed for his time and effort to deliver it. It is a win-win!

What gets lost often cannot speak up or make themselves noticeably felt to jolt them into our awareness. It is that sense and feeling of duty, tradition and responsibility that keeps us from being completely and utterly mercenary. It is that tradition itself and all the ties that bind us together as brother and sisters-at-law. It is a sense that there is more to our relationship inter se as lawyers than being partial to our client’s instructions.

Perhaps we have gotten too large or too mindless for that.

What happens if the pupil is unhappy with the speech? What if the speech embarrassed her, not in a defamatory way, instead of lauding her? Inevitably, the question will turn to, how do I get the fee back? What if I wrote the speech but couldn’t deliver it? There will be that oneeee fella who will take it to court. Sure got one.

Why get into all that? If we went by tradition, it would be just tough luck that your master chose a crappy mover for your call. That would be the end of it. Move on. The important point is you are called to the bar and can practice. What is important is what you go on to do, not what is said about you on your call day.

But once we bring fee into the mix, everything becomes complicated and a steaming pile of legal mess. There are duties to define. There are standards to describe. There are principles to formulate. There are liabilities to consider. With liability, comes insurance. Will there be a different insurance premium for moving calls? Should there now be training for movers to move calls? All this nonsense rushes in together with the fee.

For me, the tradition keeps it simple. Yes, we can fill our pockets with a call speech fee, but we deprive our legal soul of nourishment and make it that heavier for the fledging lawyer. It soils the space and place. Yes, we can charge for what we do. We can rationalize it and justify it, but it won’t make up for what we lose as a collective. Yes, we get a fee, but we lose out on camaraderie.

I responded to the pupil’s request by informing him that I am the traditional sort and preferred my appointment to take place between master and mover, and no, I did not charge for such a service. He thanked me and I did not hear from him after.

The day I don’t want to move calls, I will stop. I will not soldier on and extract a fee to compensate me for my reluctance and misery.

And until that day comes, I will not charge a pupil for moving their call.

Leave a comment

From the Blog

Recommended Readings

How I Came to Read

When it comes to entertainment, reading is my first choice over watching, listening, or any other

An Advocate and Solicitor’s Oath

An oath is an old human ritual.

Do the Best You Can Until You Know Better

Kindness in the legal profession is often overlooked, but a simple manifestation of it can remind
Surreal grasshopper and elephant.

Intuition v Preparation: Trusting the Elephant

We acted for the mother who was claiming custody over her children in a continued trial

Notes for a Talk about Affidavits

An affidavit is a sworn statement of facts. It is about facts, not opinion, not argument,

Flexing My Legal Cred

I know some delight in flexing the fact they are a lawyer at every perceived opportunity,

Experience the art pieces
up close and personal.

Some of the commissioned art are installed in my restaurant called
Ol’Skool Smokehouse here. Visit us to savor them in person.