Student’s Guide to Malaysian Legal Profession

Recently, I received an email from one Yii Zhu, a Law / Commerce student from Australia asking me for guidance about the legal profession in Malaysia. Yii Zhu wants to return home to practice but do not know where to start. After advising him, I thought it would be useful to share this with other law students or those who wants to practice law in Malaysia.

My legal life started off as an attachment student in a small firm in Kuala Lumpur. After my attachment, I joined a large firm and stayed on until now. I am currently a Senior Associate in one of the largest law firms in Malaysia.

When a student is qualified to start his chambering, he has 3 choices namely a large, medium or small law firm. There is no exact definition on what amounts to a large, medium or small law firm. But based on my own view, a large firm has around 20 lawyers, medium sized firm has less than 20 lawyers whereas small law firm has 5 or less lawyers.

The allowance a student gets would range from RM800 to RM2500. A large firm generally pays higher allowance. In respect of attachment students, this would depend on the firm. Some do not pay allowance to attachment students as they take the position that they are doing a favour for the student. Some firms do pay but not a lot – probably less than a RM1000 per month.

Generally, large and medium firms (let’s call them larger firm) can expose a student to various types of work. Most of the larger firms have separate departments where a student will be expose to matters relating to corporate, conveyancing, litigation, intellectual property, employment etc. Some larger firms have a rotation system where a student will be rotated to different departments. Also, larger firms pay more. When I was chambering, my allowance was RM1500. My friends in the small firms were getting RM800 – RM1000.

A small firm may not expose a student to many types of work. However, some small firms are boutique firms which specialize in certain types of law. For example, there are some law firms in Kuala Lumpur who specialise in Intellectual Property. They are very reputable and highly recognised in the Intellectual Property industry. They also have the best clients and the best work. With this, joining a smaller firm does not mean a student will learn less things.

Also, in a small firm, a student may be able to handle files on their own (most of the time under a partner’s supervision). A student may also get to shadow the partner.

In larger firms, it will take time for a student to be able to handle files of their own. A student usually starts off with menial work (e.g research, translation). Substantive work will probably come at a later stage. A student in a large firm may find themselves doing less important work than their counterparts in a small firm.

Also, in a smaller firm, a student may be given more opportunity. When I was an attachment student in a small firm, the bosses decided to send me to Japan for an assignment. This may not happen if I had been attached in a large firm.


My awesome free trip to Tokyooooo

When I wanted to look for a place to chamber, I couldn’t decide whether to join a larger firm or go back to the small firm to chamber. I emailed a family friend and asked him where to go.

He advised me to join a larger firm to take advantage of the networking opportunities. Initially I did not understand what he meant by “networking opportunities” but after a few years, I began to understand.

In larger firm, a student will get to know many people. In the legal profession and as a basic business principle, to make money, it is not “what you know”, it is “who you know”. Of course, legal knowledge is very important but if you do not have the necessary connections, the legal knowledge will be not utilized. There will be no food on your table if you do not have the necessary connection to bring in business.

A student’s friends and colleagues may eventually become legal advisers in companies, businessmen, directors and even politicians. They may become your source of referral for businesses in the future.

But this doesn’t mean that a small firm would lose out in business. There are of course many ways to get business. For example, give talks, join associations etc and recently, through social media networking.

If a student finds that chambering in a larger firm / small firm is not his cup of tea, he may always switch.

Once a student finishes chambering, he may or may not be retained in his firm as a legal assistant/associate (different title but same position). A first-year legal assistant/associate’s pay in Kuala Lumpur firms may range from RM2000 to RM4000.

Lastly, if you aim to have lifetime career as a lawyer, you should always aim for partnership (in a larger firm) or alternatively, set up your own firm (as a sole proprietor or a partnership). A partnership in a larger firm may take a longer time as most of the time, there are many people ahead of you. Even if you are made partner, it will take time to be an equity partner (a partner with shares in a firm thus gets a share of the profits). Most of the time, young partners in a larger firm are only salaried partners. It will take time to be an equity partner. However, such situation in a small firm may vary. Some small firms are known not to take new partners.

I hope the above is of assistance. If you have any comments that are helpful, please share.

47 thoughts on “Student’s Guide to Malaysian Legal Profession”

  1. Can you add on the long hours, sleepless nights and clients who can make your life a living hell? Well, there’s always the pros out of it, like booze and party – usually on the tap on the more ‘senior’ member of the bar..

    Oh, and dont expect to drive a sports car in your early year of practice too.. or a nice big house.. that will come after.. 10 years 🙂

  2. It’s a wonderful insight for law students like me. The future (to me at least) is quite intimidating. I shall explore this further. Thanks!

  3. Thanks for the great info. I’m currently doing the bar in UK and looking forward to go back soon to serve my beloved country:)

    By any chance do you know how it works for me (a Sarawakian) who wishes to be able to practise in both jurisdiction(West & East Malaysia). If I may ask, how/where should I start?

    1. West Malaysia requires 9 months of chambering whereas Sarawak requires 12 months, however if you have chambered and practised in West Malaysia for a period of time, you may apply for a shorter period of chambering in Sarawak. Prior to this, some can get as short as 3 months, but at my time (2008), i managed to get 6 months exemption from the total of 12 months.

      1. Not sure if I would get any reply. But still give a shot. What if I start of pupillage in Sarawak then back to west Malaysia? Is the exemption apply still if any?

  4. If I may add, no matter which firm you join (large or small) a crucial factor would be your attitude and aptitude towards work. A Law student must grow out of the student-ship and acquire the character of a professional. One must step up to take and accept the responsibilities of a Lawyer. Every action you take, may adversely affect or positively support your client.

    When you are ill, you will visit a doctor; surely you would request to receive the best possible treatment o get well asap. It is the same when a person meets a lawyer; and if that lawyer is you; then you must also give the best to a client who comes to you to solve his/her legal illness.

    On a final note, I would recommend law students to join a firm which do general legal work. You may chose to specialise later in your career; but I am inclined to suggest that at the inception of your career, being exposed to a wider spectrum of legal work would be a more positive step.

    Thanks.

  5. Dear Sir,

    Thank you for that useful info. I am currently 6 months into my pupillage in Sarawak and I have assisted in many trials thus far. I was wondering if I have locus to conduct trials? (Magis/Sessions)

    Thanks & Regards.

    1. Zen: there are many corporate firms out there. Most large firms have a corporate department and most of them are okay. There are also mid size corporate firms too. Off the cuff, you can try Shearn Delamore, Skrine, Zaid Ibrahim & Co, Lee Hishammuddin, Kadir Andri, Shook Lin & Bok, Raslan Loong, Wong Beh & Teoh, Peter Ling & van geyzel and Mah Kamariah.

  6. Hi Xes,

    I had just gotten my LLB result (University of London-external). It was a second lower instead of a second upper. I was devastated as the firms that I wanted to chamber in only take in second upper students. Do I still have a chance to join the top firms? Is my future now bleak?

    1. Lee: I know that some firm only consider students with 2:1 degrees. This is because they get quite a bit of applications thus they would put those with better grades into priority.

      But that being said, I got a second class lower degree too and I got into a large reputable firm (you’ll know which firm it is if you browse through this blog a little bit more). In fact, I had to re-sit one paper for my CLP examinations! Nevertheless, I got retained on my fourth month! All I can say is that, don’t worry about your results, it’s irrelevant after you get a job. You may not get the firms you want but that’s not the end of a successful and fruitful career.

      What matters is how well you work. Working hard is given. You gotta work smart and be pro-active!

      1. Hi,

        Nope, I have no intentions of hoping the firm sending me to japan, I am looking for firms related to corporate work so that i can improve my japanese. However most of the corporate law firms require 2.1 for degree or bar qualification will be given preference and i have neither of those.

        1. Gan: I do not know any corporate law firms with extensive Japanese clients. I did have a Japanese client back in the old firm but we rarely get them. Most large firms require a 2:1 degree but 2:2 is still acceptable to some large law firms. You can try well known corporate firms like Kadir Andri & Partners, Raslan Loong, Zaid Ibrahim & Co, Zain & Co, Wong Beh & Toh, Rahmat Lim & Partners and Mah-Kamariyah & Philip Koh. Let me know if you need more names.

  7. Hey, I’ll be starting my degree very soon as I’ve just finished with my A Level. I have always wanted to know if it’ll be at an advantage to study the transfer programme(2+1) rather than the UOL for LLB (3+0)? Or it doesn’t really makes a difference? Lastly, what should I consider most when choosing a law university? Thank you!

    1. Ee Wei: Studying overseas is a great experience. You will get to deal with foreigners whom you may need to deal with in your work in the future. As for universities, unless you’re joining Oxbridge or any of the top 5 universities, the rest of the universities are more the less the same. Check the Times Universities Ranking for rankings.

  8. Hi,

    Just a question, I am a sarawakian and I would like to practise in both jurisdictions (West and East Malaysia), I do know that I could do the chambering in West Malaysia for 9 months and apply for exemption in Sarawak.

    What if I do it another way round? Can I do my chambering in Sarawak and practise in West Malaysia?

    Thanks in advance.

  9. Hi,

    I am a student looking for place to do my 3 months legal attachment, may I know where you did your attachment? Would you recommend it to student looking for place to attach?

    Thank you.

  10. Hi,

    I just graduated from the clp and have obtained a 2:1 for LLB . I am planning to chamber in a firm which practice in family and corporate firm. Do you have any recommendation ?

    Many thanks
    L

    1. L: I don’t know many firms that do both family and corporate work. But I know for a fact that Skrine, Shook Lin & Bok, Thomas Philip – generally the bigger firms – have family law and corporate law practice groups. I guess its because matters related to family and corporate generally don’t cross path (unless we are talking about family businesses).

  11. Hello,

    I currently undergo UOL on part-time basis while maintaining my full time job. Quite confused between attachment and chambering students. From my understanding, attachment applies to law students whose on semester break while chambering is a requirement to be a lawyer. Am I right?

    I planned to quit my job and looking for attachment (regardless of nuts they paid). Do you think the legal firm will hire a part-time student who just finished his Level 1 (another 5 to go)? Does it work that way? Thanks

    1. axtafe: A chambering student is a person who had passed his or her Bar examinations (eg CLP or English Bar) and is qualified to chamber under an Advocate and Solicitor. A chambering student gets an allowance. After 9 months of chambering, the student is qualified to be called to the Bar.

      An attachment student is a person working in a law firm as a student. He or she may not get paid.

      Instead of joining as an attachment student, you can consider joining as a paralegal. You will need to work full-time but will be doing legal work and also clerical work.

      Do check out http://www.elawyer.com.my for law related jobs.

  12. Hi, I just wondering do you have any advice on which medium or small firm that specializes in general litigation that I could apply for chambering?

  13. Hi everyone, I was trying to find supplemental information about legal practice in Malaysia, and as I find out, there are variations when it comes to admission into legal practice in Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia.

    To give everyone an insight about me, I’m a Malaysian national born outside of Malaysia, a domicile of Sarawak (my father is a Sarawakian Chinese, I’m also registered in Sarawak based on my Malaysian IC) and in my late 20s.

    I’ve finished my tertiary education a couple of years ago in a field unrelated to legal studies and was having a hard time finding a job in the country where I was born at. I was recommended to pursue a legal career in Malaysia, particularly in Sarawak, to further my career.

    I know age is not a huge deal when it comes to legal practice. My uncle (father’s older brother), who used to work as a police chief (not familiar with rank/level/grade, but all I know is he is high-ranking and in law enforcement) started his legal career late in his life, he got his Certificate in Legal Practice (CLP) in his late 40s (circa 1998) and was admitted to the Advocates’ Association of Sarawak in his 50s (circa 2000). From what I’ve seen from him, determination and perseverance are the deciding factors in entering this unique field.

    Do you guys think he got an edge in studying and taking up law because he used to be a high-ranking police chief or was in law enforcement?

    I’ve been thinking of getting into University of London External a.k.a UoL (now International Programmes) for my Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) degree. Does anyone of you recommend this program? Based on their Prospectus (http://www.londoninternational.ac.uk/sites/default/files/prospectus/intercollegiate-prospectus.pdf) there are two schemes (A and B), so-called academic tracks, in the program. I’m leaning towards Scheme B so as not to rush myself in studying and can do part-time work while finishing it in a decent 4 years. But are there any pros and cons for taking Scheme A and finishing it in 3 years aside from the shorter time frame aspect? Would I get a hard time by taking all 4 intermediate law subjects at the same time (Common Law Reasoning and Institutions, Criminal Law, Public Law, Elements of the Law of Contract) in my first year as mentioned in Scheme A instead of taking only 3 intermediate law subjects as mentioned in Scheme B? Is there any significance in taking Jurisprudence and Legal Theory subject aside from being a compulsory subject for undergraduate scheme? Another one is regarding EU Law, can anyone help me clarify this passage “▲ In England and Wales, the Solicitors Regulation Authority and Bar Standards. Board require students to pass ‘EU law’ in order to obtain a Qualifying Law Degree”. Does it mean that I can take the Bar exam in England and Wales when I take the EU Law subject or does it mean I won’t be conferred a law degree if I don’t take it? What is the significance of EU Law when practicing in another country like Malaysia? Would it help me if ever I want to work in the UK in the future?

    UoL’s Law degree program, as stated in their program prospectus, also has a “Graduate entry route” as stated below:
    “About the Graduate Entry Route:
    If you have a full first degree that is recognised by us, you may be eligible to take the LLB degree on one of three Graduate Entry Routes…”
    Do I consider myself a “graduate entry” student as I have finished a full first degree but completely unrelated to law, politics and the likes?

    Aside from the law degree program, I’m also looking far ahead as to practicing in Malaysia particularly in Sarawak. Will I be able to practice in my uncle’s law firm? It’s a relatively small law firm, one in Sibu and another in Kuching. I was thinking of helping out in order learn more and to establish myself in the future.

    Also, as I’ve read about the separate admittance for law practice in Peninsular Malaysia from Sarawak and Sabah. Based on Legal Profession Qualifying Board, Malaysia (LPQB), “no qualified person shall be admitted as an advocate and solicitor unless he has passed or is exempted from the Bahasa Malaysia Qualifying Examination.” (http://www.lpqb.org.my/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=85&Itemid=77) Since I was born outside of Malaysia, I’ve never learned to speak nor write Bahasa Malaysia. So with regards to this, I need to learn Bahasa Malaysia and take the oral exam in order to to be qualified. But it wasn’t explicitly stated in the Entry Requirements for the CLP Examination (http://www.lpqb.org.my/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=130&Itemid=77) that I need to speak nor write Bahasa in order to sit in the exam, so would I be able to take the exam or not?

    Eitherway, my main objective is to practice in Sarawak at my uncle’s firm, but I’m unable to find any relevant information (specific ones) regarding the need to read and write Bahasa and admittance is based mostly after rendering Pupillage for 3/6/9 months. Correct me if I’m wrong, but from what I understand, I just need to finish a degree, perform months of Pupillage and not need a bar exam and/or CLP to practice in Sarawak?

    I know I’ve thrown out a lot of questions but hopefully some kindhearted person would lend me a hand and give me some insights on how everything works in Malaysia.

    Thank you very much for taking your time in reading and answering all my questions.

    1. Franz: I’m not sure about Sarawak’s admission requirements as the Legal Profession Act 1976 does not govern them. This being said, the Legal Profession Qualifying Board does not govern the admission requirement for Sabah and Sarawak.

      Perhaps you can speak to the committee members at the The Advocates’ Association of Sarawak. They are a friendly bunch and I’m sure they are able to help.

  14. Hello. Your article is really useful for me. I am currently in my third year. I plan to do the BPTC course. Is it possible for me to complete and pass my BPTC and then complete my pupilage in Malaysia?

    1. Rach: Yes, law students are encouraged to do internship during their break. I am told that it is difficult to get a space for pupillage these days.

      1. I was just thinking to myself how kind you must be to entertain my no brainer question. Don’t know why I’m deliberately shooting myself in the foot seeking reaffirmation on a matter so painfully obvious – I must have really wanted to hear it from somebody else so I can finally let it sink in. Delusional, I know. Thank you for responding and also for this illuminating post!

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