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By Eddie Law
After securing places in law schools, students should reflect over the career landscape open to them. For instance, do you know your legal career options upon graduation?
Graduates should chart their career path in a number of sectors, each of which can be promising. Get an overview and analyse the options available such as the following:
1. Private Practice
Practising law in a legal firm is the most traditional career choice. A newly qualified lawyer must graduate from a law school or university that is recognised by the Legal Qualifying Board.
Thereafter, a graduate is required to undergo nine months of pupillage (or known as “chambering”), during which he/she will read in a senior lawyer’s chamber. During this period, the pupil will only be receiving an allowance (as opposed to salary). Currently, the range of allowances vary from RM1,500 to RM2,500 per month for those attached to law firms in Klang Valley.
Upon completion of the pupillage, you will be called to the Bar and become a full-fledged lawyer to practise law. Like many peers join law firms, you will hold the position of Legal Assistant or Associate with a starting salary of RM3,000 to RM3,500 per month in Klang Valley.
After three to five years, you may be promoted to become Senior Legal Assistant or Senior Associate. When you work with a relatively small-sized law firm, you may be made its partner at this stage. In most reputable or large law firms, you will only be admitted as a Partner after you have acquired at least seven to eight years’ post- qualifying experience (PQE).
In general, there are two types of partnership in Malaysia: salaried or equity partner.
As a salary-earning partner, you are not entitled to profit-sharing of a law firm. In reality, you are an employee (as opposed to an owner) of the firm, which will pay you a monthly salary plus a discretionary year-end bonus.
On the other hand, an equity partner is a co-owner of the firm where you will get a fixed percentage of the profit-sharing of the firm’s total net profit. Sometimes, you are required to buy its “shares” and can “sell” them when you decide to leave the partnership. In some situations, you will be given the “shares” (or “points”) for free; you may not sell or transfer them when you leave the partnership.
Alternatively, you can choose to set up your own practice and become a sole proprietor. It is however risky to make this ambitious move at such an early stage owing to lack of experience and exposure to liabilities.
Of course, you enjoy certain advantages after gaining three years of PQE: a stable income, high salary increment, an unlimited income if you are an equity partner, good professional exposure, and work flexibility and independence.
There are also the disadvantages: long working hours, stresses in certain areas of practice and greater responsibilities.
2. In-house career
Another career option is to be attached to a corporation, usually a financial institution, public-listed company, multi-national organisation or any company that requires a full-time corporate lawyer.
You may start your career as a legal officer/legal executive, assume a managerial position or be appointed the head of a company’s legal department (sometimes called general legal counsel).
The starting pay and salary increment may not be as handsome as those in private practice. However, if you work “in-house” for several years, you can command a higher starting salary than a counterpart in private practice. Moreover, corporations often provide many attractive perks or ancillary benefits. For example, if you work for a financial institution, your EPF contribution will be higher, and you are also eligible for loans subsidies and other benefits.
The advantages include good exposure to the commercial realm (instead of being confined to legal work), attractive ancillary benefits and lucrative salary package in senior position.
The disadvantages: a relatively low salary increment (in some corporations), a less challenging career compared to that in private practice (in certain corporations) and need to climb the corporate ladder.
3. Government Service
You may choose to work in the public sector and join the legal departments in various Ministries or serve the Attorney General’s Office.
Most lawyers in this field prefer to join government agencies and Ministries such as the Attorney General’s Chambers, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Home Affairs, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MAAC), Royal Malaysia Police and Inland Revenue Board of Malaysia (LHDN).
In addition, you may opt to join the the Judicial and Legal Services. You are likely to serve as a magistrate or senior assistant registrar.
The advantages of working in this sector include: good exposure to governmental or public administration, stable employment, attractive ancillary benefits or staff welfare, stable working hours and pension. You also get a respectable social status when you are a magistrate or deputy public prosecutor.
The disadvantages: relatively low starting salary and yearly increment (in certain departments) and a less challenging career (in some departments) compared to that in private practice.
4. Academic Field
You may also consider to be a law lecturer or professor in a law faculty of a college or university. This career path is straight- forward and mostly academic.
Advantages: stable working hours, a respectful job with an independent and less complicated management.
Disadvantages: a low salary increment compared to that in a private firm, fixed income and limited exposure to legal practice.
The range of legal career options is wide and is not confined to the four fields mentioned herein. In fact, you may want to be a legal consultant, legal aid adviser, legal editor, policeman or immigration caseworker.
Whatever your choice may be, it should be driven by passion and not monetary reward. Success calls for hard work and perseverance. You should cherish high standards of professional etiquette such as integrity and honesty.
In the fast-changing world, we see many candidates who do not stay long in a particular employment. Job-hopping in the legal field is detrimental to career development as many employers do not like to hire a “kangaroo”.
Dedication and determination are some of the vital ingredients of success, whether you are working in the same company or industry. With perseverance and loyalty, you will gain trust. At the same time, you will acquire sufficient networking in the legal and commercial arenas.
Writer Eddie Law was in legal practice before founding eLawyer.com.my — an online recruitment service provider for law graduates and lawyers. It is the first-of-its-kind specialised network to offer employment services to established law firms and large corporations in Malaysia. You can email your feedback on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org