State Bar Committees Killed the Call to the Bar

If you’ve wondered why the occasion of the call to the Bar is more akin to a funeral devoid of any “joie de vivre” or excitement, you may find my draft written submission prepared for a charge of murder against the State Bar Committees of the call to the Bar of vague interest. The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” is recommended listening as you read the draft. Please ignore the stage directions. Thanks.

My Lurd,

In my earlier submissions to this somewhat Honourable Court titled, A Meditation about Moving from an Occasional Mover I dealt with how and why speeches to the call to the Bar can be improved.

In this hearing, I shall submit that the State Committee Bars, such as the Selangor and Kuala Lumpur Bar Committees along with their other State Bar conspirators, have murdered the sense of ceremony and occasion of the call to the Bar. That’s right, murder, M’lurd. Pre-meditation and all that. The big three-oh-two. It will also become clear during the course of my submission that the killing is not a culpable homicide not amounting to murder (under section 304 of the Penal Code). (Pause and survey the room imperiously)

Yes, M’lurd, that means the victim is dead. Yes, murder is a nasty business. M’lurd is undoubtedly correct and brilliant as well. May I proceed? Okay, one more before we do. M’lurd is quite dashing this morning as well. I’m obliged.

M’lurd, this is a murder most foul for it is against their very own charges – our fellow brothers and sisters at law. If they were in laws, M’lurd, there would be ample room for the introduction of the other customary defences such as provocation or insanity. But in this case there is none! (Thump fist hard on table or rostrum here, work up outraged look, try to make nostrils look angry)

Allow me to proceed directly to the evidence.

Exhibit P-1 is the Format of “Call to Bar” speech to the Master of the pupil. This Format was included in a letter notifying him of the hearing of the pupil’s application for admission to the Bar. The letter is exhibit P-2, M’lurd. In the last paragraph of exhibit P-2, the accused purports to explain the necessity of the Format:

Kindly be also informed that the Kuala Lumpur Bar Committee has streamlined and standardised the format of Call speeches with a view to ensuring some form of consistency in the conduct of call proceedings. Enclosed is a copy of the format for you to bring to the attention of the Counsel moving your pupil’s call.

(Pause for effect)

It is submitted that exhibit P-1 and P-2 sufficiently prove the murder beyond a reasonable doubt.

Let us consider P-1 more generally first. (Hold it up like prize trophy) This evidence proves that most new lawyers will get streamlined and standardised call speeches to ensure a dogged consistency to their mover’s speech. The accused fails to understand that a new lawyer is not simply a product and a call to the Bar is not simply the end of a factory line.

M’Lurd, contrary to popular belief, a lawyer is merely a human being who has chosen to dedicate his career to the law. It is hoped that they in the process also dedicate themselves to justice. (Glare angrily if anybody in the court should chuckle) The call to the Bar is an occasion when this person is introduced to his fellow members of the profession and declared as a lawyer before his family, friends and other members of the public.

In short, M’lurd, the call to the Bar is a milestone event. It is akin to a birth, a marriage or when a politician say something sensible. The call to the Bar cannot be and is not like a condom vending machine where a new lawyer is called every time someone drones through a standardised, streamlined call speech in 3 minutes. (If there is laughter, allow it to subside before proceeding)

Copyright: 2009, Florida Center for Instructional Technology

Copyright: 2009, Florida Center for Instructional Technology

Let us now consider exhibit P-1, the murder weapon, more closely. (Serious look on)

The accused explained that in the 1st paragraph you introduce the representatives of the Attorney General’s Chambers, Bar Council and relevant State Bar Committee. In the 2nd paragraph the mover is to state (i) the Petitioner’s name (ii) the university they graduated from (ii) their post degree qualifications and (iv) the chambers they underwent pupilage. In the 3rd paragraph, the mover is advised to “thank certain people on behalf of the petitioner (e.g. parents, spouse, master)” before delivering what the State Bar Committees seem to think is the climax to the entire tedious affair – declaring that the petitioner is a fit and proper person to be admitted and enrolled as an Advocate and Solicitor, that his papers are in order and there are no objections by the other representatives. Finally the mover is “to pray that the petitioner be admitted and enrolled as an Advocate and Solicitor.”

I can see M’lurd is almost falling asleep already! (Try and time it so he is yawning at the time) My mere recitals of the expected content of the speech has already subdued M’lurd, is it any wonder the call to the Bar has become so interminably boring, tedious, and forgettable, or to put it another way, dead?

What the accused has done by exhibit P-1 is to advise the mover to reduce his call speech to reciting the petitioner’s educational history and thanking his parents, master, and whoever. That is about as interesting as the mover reading the ingredients from a tin of food. There are some freshly painted walls that are even more exciting to watch dry than sit through a call to the Bar session which involves at least 10 calls at one go.

Here we have the actus reus (the criminal act) proven beyond a reasonable doubt. In fact, your Lurdship could even take judicial notice of this fact if M’lurd has presided over such an event.

The sorry part about that speech is that the mover states that the petitioner “is a fit and proper person” to be called to the Bar but the Format does not offer up any fact that supports this submission. So what if someone passes his SPM, got a law degree and completed his chambering? M’urd, every lawyer that gets called has done this (unless they’re from the Judicial Legal Service)! (Lean forward and increase volume)

Therefore, to focus the speech on what is obvious, documented, and irrelevant is not simply a waste of the courts, the public, the movers and the pupil’s time but it is a waste of everybody’s effort. It is akin to calling for a press conference to announce the ingredients of cornflakes which has been printed on the box for the last 10 years. (If brought cornflakes along, wave box about)

M’lurd, as I have argued earlier, the call speech should deal with what is not obvious from the accompanying documentation, i.e. the character and qualities of the petitioner.

The two defences raised as to why the Format was proposed are (i) movers sometimes end up talking a lot about the Master, the Format focuses them (ii) it is hard to find movers, and sometimes those found could not bothered to draft the speech so the pupil has to draft it.

What utter rubbish M’lurd! With respect to (i), the accused should emphasise that to the Master in their letter. With respect to (ii), the Master should take care to ensure that they procure a mover with enough pride and respect for his profession to move the call. What should not be done by way of defence is to “streamline and standardise” all the call speeches that are to be submitted in court. This is the typical punish-everybody-because-of-a-few-recalcitrant-persons-policy that the Barisan National government is so fond of. That the accused did not resort to these same measures is not remotely civil but unforgivably criminal.

I now turn to the mens rea (the requisite intention, because murder needs intention to be proved). This was manifested in exhibit P-2 and particularly in the passage I have quoted earlier. The murder of the call to the Bar was pre-meditated because all those letters sent by the accused are standard and prepared prior to the event. (Pause for effect and consider raising right arm aesthetically above head during the pause)

Though the accused may argue that there was no mention of any murder in exhibit P-2, it is submitted that if exhibits P-1 and P-2 are taken together and its effects realised (as it is every week), clearly the intention of the accused was to murder the call to the Bar.

M’lurd, I humbly submit that the ingredients of the offence of murder has been proved against the accused. They have not disputed exhibit P-1 and P-2 and the fact that it was issued by their own hand. I therefore pray that the accused be found guilty and that the punishment of death by hanging be carried out immediately to save future calls to the Bar.

If M’lurd does not require any further clarification on any area of my submissions, I shall end my submission here. I’m obliged.

(It is envisaged that the gallery goes wild after I conclude and chant “Death! Death! Death!” I would of course try to feign ignorance, remain aloof, and try not to stare at the wild cheering by the bikini cheerleading squad in the gallery, assuming one turns up at the hearing. I shall try my best.)

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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 27 April 2010. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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8 Responses to State Bar Committees Killed the Call to the Bar

  1. teo siew chin

    I wonder who moved the call of our AG in the early years?

  2. Aisya AR

    Then i have got to thank you for not only sparing, but also valuing the life of my recent Call, Encik Fahri. Though I must say, I cannot help but sympathise with the plight of the most of my fellow comrades.

  3. Ong Jo-Lene

    Um… If it's going to be reduced to a one-line announcement of a person's name and "official" entry into a profession, why the ceremony? Just GO to work like the rest of us la.

  4. Loyar Bagus

    Dear Fahri,

    In the interests of civil discourse, I will calm down, put the flamethrowers aside and stop using asterisks.

    I am a proud Malaysian but my first call was overseas. Where I was called, we don't even have a three minute speech. My pupil master, or whoever deigned to move my admission, said "I am ABC and I move that DEF be admitted as a Solicitor of GHI jurisdiction". Judge nodded, "so moved". I said "Thank you, Your Honour" and that was that.

    Am I any less of a lawyer today because of that? No. Am I any less of an individual because of that? No. Was I any less proud that I was joining the fraternity of lawyers in GHI jurisdiction, just because I didn't have a flowery eulogy for my 22 years of misspent youth and repeated Pass grades in law school? No, I was not. I was only thankful for the opportunity that was afforded to me and promised myself that I would do the best job that I could. The "weight and significance" was entrenched in my heart and in my mind, and in the faces of my friends and family. When my friend asked me to move her call (yeah, saying the one sentence), I was immensely proud to play that role not because of the attendant ceremony or because I could display my oratorical skills but because of what it meant TO HER. Seriously, if one did not feel such pride and significance on the day itself, I have to ask what will make one feel that, and whether one has indeed chosen the correct line of work.

    As for me apparently having something personal to thresh out, no I was not referring to anyone in particular. But you don't need to be Einstein to figure out the reputation that lawyers have in any part of the world, and having practised in a few countries, I find the pomposity of many practitioners, especially in this region, pretty hard to fathom. Not gentlemanliness or old-fashioned-ness, pomposity. You know, using 23 words and an archaic grammatical construction to express an idea where six words would suffice. Then again, when we expect impassioned speeches praising us on the cusp of us ENTERING our professional lives, perhaps this does go to our heads. Rumpole called it "judge-itis", a disease contracted when you sit at the Bench all day and have the learned friends bowing and scraping and calling you "Your Lordship". This is probably a case of premature juvenile "judge-itis", as most of us are probably still doing discovery as junior clerks at that stage of our careers.

    But you raise an interesting point, that I "insulted all those who ‘have the need deep down for your pupil master to tell the Court that you are not a factory-made product’". I was surprised to know that there are people who need that validation but if anyone was offended by that, I apologise. But proud as I am of the fact that I am a lawyer, my identity is not defined by my career or my training. And I think that is the point that had me so riled in the first place. It is a speech. It is a ceremony. It is a milestone in your professional life, a rite of passage, but it is not / does not have to be the occasion where the roadmap for the rest of your professional or personal life has to be set out. The fact that you had a cookie-cutter speech for your call in no way diminishes you or the significance of the occasion. That is what future candidates for admission should take away, not the feeling they were wronged because some bureaucrat thought to streamline the process.

  5. Loyar Bagus

    This individualistic freedom will result in pompous, indulgent monologues in which reams of poetry are cited, no doubt?

    LET’S GET OUR HEADS OUT OF OUR ARSES, PEOPLE!!! A call is the beginning of your service, the recognition of your brotherhood and the new chance (if you choose to) to use your strange and terrible powers to make a difference. If you want to eulogise what a great frickin’ guardian you are of human rights and free speech, how about you do something about it for thirty-five years post-call, take a breather and have your admirers toast you at the dusk of a great career?

    And we wonder why lawyers have a reputation for being pompous f*cktards! What other profession would entertain the idea of neophytes clapping themselves on the back for being “human”? We are all “human” and “individuals”. Having a pro forma three-minute speech did not make me any less of an individual, though I can see why some crusading leftie novice needs some validation of his efforts every now and again. I didn’t need a pupil master giving a flashy speech to prove it then, and I certainly don’t need it now.

    On the other hand, if you do have the need deep-down for your pupil master to tell the Court that you are not a factory-made product, you probably already are one.

    • Dear Loyar Bagus,

      Thank you for your impassioned eloquence which possess immense sound and fury but appears inversely proportionate to the clarity of your expression. Your first line is already in factual error and suggests that you do not regularly attend the moving of calls. If you did, you will know that rarely is poetry recited during a call speech. And that its recital is not necessarily a bad thing, if you are the sort that appreciates poetry.

      I will agree that there are indulgent monologues but rarely do they scale the heights of pomposity. More often than not they to be found in the class of monotony. But quite frankly I'm not sure what you are ranting on about except that fact that you seem to be angrily shadow boxing in your own tea cup. If you have a beef against someone then for heaven's sake just say it and say it to them directly. But don't act moralistically when you hide behind a pseudonym, have not the temerity to name whom you are referring to and do so by way of a comment on a public blawg. I certainly don't know whom you are implying and am not sure what you are trying to achieve with your comments except:

      And for all your talk and learning about pomposity and pompous f*cktards in the last paragraph you issue an insult at large to all those who 'have the need deep down for your pupil master to tell the Court that you are not a factory-made product'. Wow. That, if you will forgive the impertinence, sounds awfully pompous. But then you seem to know all about that already.

      The way the call to the Bar is done could be improved if the stakeholders i.e. State Bar Committees, the High Courts, the judges and the lawyers made a real effort to think about how to improve and bring back the significance and weight of the ceremony. The call to the Bar does not have to be what it is now. That it is the way it is demonstrates both the intellectual and creative bankruptcy at both the State Bar Committee level and the courts to think about the problem. There is nothing wrong or improper about the call to the Bar itself with all the attendant ceremony. It's just that many among us no longer know what to and how to appreciate about it. And we are all the poorer for it.

  6. Hear! Hear! We should have those cheerleaders even during the call so that all other so-called senior lawyers (who nowadays like me is afraid to step into the court as we have LAs to do that for us) and have serious good food to cater to our growing girth in order for us to know more about the new lawyers who are embarking on the long honoured legal profession

  7. I remember when I was called to the Bar, and like almost everyone else, I had to draft my own speech. My Master took one look at it and she said, “Why so boring?” Needless to say, I had adopted the deadly “Standard Call Speech” which was a cut-and-paste of my predecessors before me.

    Armed with the task, I then attempted to include more personal details about myself, likes and dislikes, hobbies included. I also took the liberty to state my non-academic qualifications i.e. my music certificates.

    On the Call Day, after the speech was delivered by my Mover, the judge made a comment that I should perhaps put my music skills to use (I must admit though that they are very rusty) during events of the Penang Bar, for example during the visit of the Federal Court or Court of Appeal judges. I smiled sheepishly and mumbled something to the effect of, “Yes, “m’lurdy” :)Alas, that day is yet to come.

    But I digress.

    Indeed the whole point, in my opinion, is to make the judge remember you, and your speech. You never know when the day will come that you have to appear before him or her in court. During my tenure as the Secretary of the Penang Bar, I was the Bar Council and Bar Committee’s representative at many a Call. Some speeches were great. Some were guilty of the crime that Fahri had described. Some were a combination of the two.

    But the thing is, will it be memorable? It has to be, for such an important day in your life.