‘The Non-Practising Advocate & Solicitor’

A consideration of whether the phrase ‘The Non-Practising Advocate & Solicitor’, which is increasingly popular and used by law graduates who were called to the Malaysian Bar and did not or have left the practise of law, is meaningful.

non-practising superheroThere are many categories of people that relate to the practise of law.

One of those categories comprise of law graduates who either (i) never bothered to be qualified as lawyers or (ii) who have qualified and did not practise, or (iii) left soon after tasting practise.

Those in subcategory (i) often mistake if not insist that the completion of an undergraduate course in law as sufficient qualification for the entry into the arcane practise of law. It is a mistake because they have no comprehension whatsoever that the practise of law is a whole different nastier, more aggressive beast than the comparatively genteel study of law. A similar comparison would be that of playing with a kitten as compared to trying to kill a tiger with nothing except your already shredded loin cloth.

Any respectable practising lawyer will tell you (of which I make no claims to since I am a LoyarBurok), that an undergraduate degree is merely proof that you stayed the course and paid enough attention to pass your exams during that 3 year holiday which masqueraded as an undergraduate program. The sole function of that degree is to help you slide your foot into the narrow opening to the entrance door to the legal realm. It is important to appreciate that the degree does not enable you to pass through.

For that you need to take a professional exam. In England it is the Bar Vocational Course (for barristers, a court going lawyer) or a Legal Practise Course (for solicitors, who often do not go to court and carry out corporate and conveyancing transactions). In Singapore you have the Postgraduate Practical Law Course (PLC). In Malaysia it is the dreaded, roulette game known as the ‘Certificate of Legal Practise‘, more popularly known among budding lawyers as the Legal Qualifying Exam of Death (because of the high repeated failure rate), which really should be run by Genting Holdings Berhad instead of the Legal Profession Qualifying Board of Malaysia.

When you pass the relevant exams only then can a lowly law graduate remotely associate himself with a lawyer. A law graduate had best not attempt to pass himself off as one in the company of true lawyers. He will find himself come up short mighty quick among them. If and when such posturing is discovered, the lawyers are entitled in equity, if not law, to laugh heartily and derogatorily at the law graduate’s misplaced sense of occupation. They are also encouraged to point emphatically and ridicule the unfortunate law graduate, for his own benefit of course, so that his error is so seared into his experience that he never attempts such foolish a thing again.

After all, to be a lawyer is bad enough, to pretend to be one is just criminal. And so it is heartening to note that impersonating a lawyer is an offence under section 205 of the Penal Code punishable with a maximum of 3 years and fine, or both if you are so odious a character. So if you hear a mere law graduate talk, walk and spit like a lawyer, you are duty bound to lodge a police report against him, more so if he can drink you under the table. Only professional lawyers are qualified to undertake such hazardous work, getting drunk above and under the table, I mean.

To call those in subcategory (ii) lawyers is as misguided calling those those who know how to fish but don’t fish fishermen. Just because you now know how to fish, are permitted to buy a boat and get out there and start fishing you will not be known as a fisherman if you then stayed at home and did fishing on your Wii machine, Playstation 3 or Xbox 360.

You will be known as a gamer, not a fisherman. Similarly someone who is merely qualified to commence practise cannot be properly known as a lawyer because they have not practised law. An accurate description for them would be ‘Someone Qualified for the Practise of Law’. We should rightly refer them as an SQPL, an ugly looking computer programming language sounding abbreviation that reflects the confusion of purpose about their intended career in law.

What then of those in subcategory (iii); surely, surely Encik Fahri, they are entirely deserving and entitled to refer to themselves as lawyers, no doubt some would fairly ask. I mean after all, they are qualified and have some experience, never mind, how meagre or dull that experience was. Since they have tasted that practise of law, they are now entirely deserving of that right to think and refer to themselves as lawyers even though they may have devoted the rest of their career if not life to some other more disgraceful vocation like politics, for example.

Clearly, even in this circumstance, you cannot. Can you seriously call yourself a fisherman if you only fished for a year and then spent the next 30 years as a Chief Executive Officer of a multinational company? Most often, people would tend to describe you as a CEO, not a fisherman. This illustrates that to be known as a member of a profession necessitates devoting yourself to the profession. It is not enough to taste it and know its flavour, it has to hit the belly, so to speak. Before you can call yourself a lawyer, or claim the title to any other profession, you have to be in the belly of the or that profession. The moment you leave a profession, you cannot claim its title anymore.

You can claim that you think, talk and even swear like a lawyer but you cannot claim to be a lawyer, nor represent yourself as one. Because a lawyer is one who practises law, and if that is not what you are doing then you are not a lawyer. And by lawyer I mean ‘advocate and solicitor’, which is the statutory description of a lawyer.

It is as simple as that.

Lately, I have noticed an unhealthy growing trend amongst those in subcategories (ii) and (iii) who have moved on to other careers or a job related to the legal profession (editors of legal journals, in house legal executives, etc.) but state on their cards, in addition to their present vocation, ‘Non-Practising Advocate & Solicitor’. I used to look upon that with bemusement which has now settled into amusement.

Why is it funny?

Firstly, it suggests a desperate though futile attempt on the part of that person to associate if not connect themselves to their abandoned legal heritage – the practise of law. The use of the words ‘Advocate & Solicitor’ serves as a reminder of what could have been instead of that alternate dimension to their qualifications. It could be a scar of dreams dashed and intentions thwarted. What is amusing is that these people choose to reveal a part of their innerselves so nakedly without thinking through the implications of assuming a title, or a non-title in this case.

Secondly, to describe yourself as a ‘non-practising advocate and solicitor’ is not really so much a description as it is a non-description. If you think about it, as a lawyer, I can quite possibly put on my card ‘non-practising shower scrubber’, ‘non-professional tennis player’ ‘non-charging credit card holder’ or even ‘non-sitting Judge of the Federal Court’ (since I’m qualified for the position but have not been appointed). In short, you can put just about anything to describe yourself from the perspective of what you are not.

It is for this reason that the practise developed of defining your occupation by what you are instead of what you are not. It is a sensible practise that seems to have forgotten in this mad rush to demonstrate one’s qualifications or credentials. I often note from such calling cards bearing such a non-description that they try to include as much of their qualifications in it as possible, no matter how irrelevant. If they think that that 3 day baking course they did at Aunty Kim’s house the other day might improve others’ impression of them from a professional or intellectual standpoint, you can bet your briefs (not the legal ones, of course) they would stick it in there if they thought it.

So why do they do it? I would really like to know myself.

As a lawyer my competency only extends to whether and why a person can describe themselves as an ‘advocate and solicitor’. Why someone describes themselves as a ‘non-practising advocate and solicitor’ is not a legal issue but rather a psychological one. So a therapist is more appropriate to explain such psychological issues; and by therapist I naturally mean not the ‘non-practising therapist’.

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Fahri Azzat practices the dark arts of the law. Although he enjoys writing and reading, he doesn't enjoy writing his own little biographies of himself. Like this one. He wished somebody else would do it for him. He has little taste in writing about himself in third person. He feels weird doing it. But the part he finds most tedious is having to pad up the lack of his accomplishments, or share some interesting facts about his rather uneventful life, as if there were some who found that oh-so-interesting; as if he were some famous person, like Michael Jackson. When he writes these biographies, the thought, 'Wei, Jangan Perasaan- ah!' lights up in his head. So he usually just lists what he got involved with, positions he held and blah, blah. But this time. Right here. Right this very moment. Uhuh. This one. This one right here. He's finally telling it like it is.

Posted on 2 March 2010. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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17 Responses to ‘The Non-Practising Advocate & Solicitor’

  1. Lawyers in Chd

    People who are facing legal problems for those your post is really helpful. everyone like your post. keep it up sir. thanks.
    Lawyers in Chandigarh

  2. ali

    what a rubbish article. purportedly came from self-proclaimed loyar burok.

    using non-practising advocate & solicitor show that person used to be in the profession and wants to retain 'the legal heritage' for being known as one. advocate & solicitor in malaysia is very much privileged ones but yet someone claime exclusivity of using the term A&S. come on. lawyering is not only revolve amongst the court practitioners. it fly accross the boundaries such as academician, legal in house counsel etc.

    obsessed with titles are inherent in human. nothing wrong with that.

  3. Narai

    Gosh, such a distateful article and full of bull-shit! Well, wat can you expect from a LAWYER turned BLOGGER eh..? ;)

  4. Soriyan

    alamak.. i sense envy in the article.. janganlah jeles ABANG LAWYER ;) i find the NON-PRACTISING ones are better informed and knowledgable as opposed to the half-baked ones in practise running up and down the court room corridors with their poorly drafted documents.. and that too with loads of spelling and grammar errors ! It is about time they send those to proper ENGLISH lessons first!

  5. ArcAngel

    To claim that those who have made a personal choice to travel down an unconventional career path albeit being qualified as an advocate and solicitor as having "abandoned their legal heritage'" is harsh and displays some form of bitterness rather than bemusement on the part of the author. This in turn begs us to consider the underlying values of our "legal heritage"-it is not merely sound oratory or research skills but the integral values of discipline, hard work, perserverance, courage, commitment and dedication to your chosen career (even the unconventional ones such as editors of legal journals or in house legal executives, etc) . After all, the current re-elected President of the United States of America, Barack H. Obama was once the President of the Harvard Law Review, a legal journal run independently by student editors which continues to serve as an effective research tool for practising lawyers as well as law students.

    Let us not rob those who have earned their right to such credentials despite their personal trials and tribulations as that would be an undignified thing to do. Live and let live!

  6. Jaschintaz

    You're still very much a lawyer if you're in house. Only people who have actually experienced the demands of in-house careers will know what I mean. You aren't actually able to keep you clients at an arms lengths which hones your client-management skills which wa-hey! All goes to the package of being a great lawyer, no?

  7. CDCDCD

    WHat are the career prospective for those who did not want to practise law? In-house counsel?

  8. Casual Observer

    Perhaps if Encik Fahri, as an Advocate & Solicitor, could first begin to get the difference between 'practice' and 'practise' right, his rant would be a little more palatable.

    Secondly, putting one's insecurity and self-righteous indignation aside for a moment, what is it that is really so unacceptable about obliging a non-practising lawyer to identify himself as such? Isn't this ruling merely an effort to inform the man on the street and provide a 'caveat emptor' of sorts for him at the end of the day?

    Surely, the words 'non-practising' or the absence thereof has no bearing on the real quality or skill of the advocate & solicitor? Just as how a fisherman who goes out to fish everyday may not necessarily be able to catch any fish. Assuming he would and thinking that one who isn't actively fishing is therefore a lousy fisherman (and is not worthy to be called one) is pompous, is it not?

  9. Mei Yong

    I think ME1o is correct. Some Non practising lawyers seem to know the law better and even speak better than practising ones. The forced categorisation of practising and non practising lawyers should end especially when the bar council is seen taking steps to allow non practising lawyers to become subscription based members too, as in singapore and Hong Kong and England.

  10. William Blackstone left practice in 1750, and The great positivist guru of British jurisprudence , John Austin, quit the bar in 1825 or so. Both were great LAWYERS. They were not even regarded as 'mere' lawyers as you LoyarBurok seems to imply – for lawyers who are 'non practising'. Your narrow approach is suspect and disgusting to lawyers who have actually been called to the Malayan Bar, and not those who left the law school and hang their degree on the wall simpliciter. No wonder.

  11. Shenaaz K

    My name card reads:

    I am the pastry of GOD (No relation to Aunty Kim)
    Non-practising Advocate and Solicitor OF BEASTLY NASTINESS

    I sense some indifference everytime i give out my card.

  12. Googs

    It's just the Malaysian obsession with titles.

    Children thinks they're just a tad cooler if they add their father's titles into their names.

    Mothers/wives believe their husband's title gives them access to more tea parties, dresses and jewellery.

    Fathers would even allow themselves to be honoured by the forsaken, disgraced Sultan of Sulu.

    So naturally, a non-practising lawyer would want to hint to the world that he's a tough guy who went through the hell that is chambering and lived to tell his tale…not that it mattered to him whether he'd learn anything from it..

  13. Ultraman, well, uh, that's courtesy of our impeccable Ministry of Defence and our military. I am waiting for the scandal to break where we have 'non-shooting guns' or 'non-wheeled jeeps'. Heh.

    Shan, thank you for your possibly sensible view that I would not agree with when sober ;)

    Tong, nothing wrong with that. It just won't look cool on the calling card. Trust me on this. For example you are now Head of Legal of some sexy big asses conglomerate. Would you really want to your title below your name on your calling card to read, 'I used to be a lawyer, but now I am Head of Legal'? Zero cool factor dude. Sounds like t-shirt slogan!

  14. Tong Soo Tim

    What wrong with just referring to themselves as “Law Graduate”, or “I studied law but am now working in the corporate world” or “I used to be a lawyer, but am now into business”….I think it’s less of a mouthful than “non-practising Advocate and Solicitor”.

  15. Fahri's rant reflects an outdated vision of legal "practice" still prevailing amongst many in Malaysia.

    Many in house counsel very often "practice" more law than many advocates and solicitors with a current practicing certificate but who spend more time on the golf course than in the office or court. Indeed, in many jurisdictions, in house counsel are associate members of the relevant bar associations.

    In fact, I do not see why Malaysian lawyers who have left practice should not be allowed to continue to describe themselves as Advocates and Solicitors, so long as they make it clear that they are not qualified to act as such (to comply with section 37(1)(b)of the Legal Profession Act). The addition of "non practicing" serves that purpose well.

    The "non practising" bit is in fact a reflection of their integrity, to emphasise that they are not actually in practice and not qualified to act as an advocate and solicitor.

    As Fahri himself points out, getting to call oneself an advocate and solicitor is no easy task. Every person whose name is on the roll and who has been admitted to the Bar should be entitled to continue to describe him or herself as an advocate and solicitor until and unless he is struck off the rolls. We should not begrudge them their justifiable pride in getting that qualification.

  16. animah

    I have it on authority that Aunty Kim cooks a mean assam pedas.

  17. the original non flying ultraman

    Hahahah…good one Encik Fahri,

    Err…how about the non-submerging/diving submarine? Or the non-engined jet?