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An overview of career options for lawyers in Malaysia

April 10th, 2012 · 40 Comments

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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 eddie@elawyer.com.my

Tags: Chambering

40 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Michelle Amelia // Apr 11, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    Which path do fresh law graduates usually take?
    Which is the recommended path for someone totally new to all this?

  • 2 Eddie Law // Apr 19, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    Micheele – most lawyer will choose to go for private practice 1st

  • 3 Clara // May 3, 2012 at 7:29 am

    Hi Eddie, I’m glad to find your blog.
    I am contemplating to switch my son to an international school after his PMR exam this year. If he does not take BM paper in SPM, will he have problem if he wants to be a lawyer in Malaysia next time?

  • 4 Eddie Law // May 3, 2012 at 8:43 am

    Hi Clara – the requirement of credit in BM paper in SPM exam (or passing of Malay oral interview by LQB) is a must in order to admit to Malaysian Bar under the current ruling

  • 5 Clara // May 3, 2012 at 9:31 am

    Hi Eddie, thank you very much for your prompt reply. Now I think I don’t need to worry to switch my son to international school since it is either the SPM BM, or passing an oral test. All the while I thought only those with SPM BM will be qualified for it.

  • 6 Eddie Law // May 3, 2012 at 9:36 am

    Hi Clara – just to be on the safe site, I am not sure if Legal Qualifying Board has changed their rulings / requirements since my time (2002). It is advisable for you to double check with the Board on this requirement.

  • 7 clara // May 3, 2012 at 11:24 am

    Thank you very much, Eddie!

  • 8 Zero // May 17, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    Hi Eddie

    I’m currently read law in local university . I just want to ask if there any such thing as martial court lawyer/army lawyer or joining the army as a lawyer ?

    And second question . Currently I’m a part time insurance manager where I’m earning a good 4 digit income and expecting an increment to 5 digit soon . But what I heard in my situation I would not be qualified for practicing certificate according to Legal Profession Act 1976 ?

    Thank you Eddie :) :)

  • 9 rani // Jun 24, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    dear sir, im 26 now. and i wanted to do law as my second degree. and i prefer to do 2+1 programme. kindly advise me which private university i should continue my studies. thanking you in advance.

  • 10 nana // Jul 12, 2012 at 12:28 am

    hi sir!.i’m a spm holder and in serious mood to be a lawyer.but i am not really that good in maths and i heard a lawyer must be good in maths.so i wonder am i able to be a lawyer?

  • 11 Eddie Law // Jul 12, 2012 at 12:50 am

    Nana – there is a joke that lawyer are not good at figures but good at Words. so being lawyer doesn’t require good math, however, a good lawyer will need to have good analytical skill.

  • 12 Cynthia // Jul 12, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    Hi Eddie, it is great to read Ur blog. I wish to ask whether a non legal profession can b a partner in a law firm as the partner inject the capital? I appreciate a lot! Thanks =}

  • 13 Eddie Law // Jul 12, 2012 at 12:40 pm

    As far as i know, I don’t think a non lawyer can be the partner of a firm as based on the relevant rules, lawyer is prohibited to share profit with non lawyer. Anywhere you can double check with Bar Council.

  • 14 nana // Jul 12, 2012 at 11:17 pm

    hi sir!.mind if you can recommend me some good private university in malaysia for law?.:)

  • 15 Jade // Jul 20, 2012 at 1:31 am

    Hi sir, would u mind explaining what is CLP and what is Chambering? And do lawyers need to do both if he or she doesn’t want to go to court?

  • 16 Eddie Law // Jul 20, 2012 at 10:16 am

    Jade – you can read this post http://www.laweddie.com/wordpress/how-to-become-a-qualified-lawyer-in-malaysia/ to understand more about CLP and chambering

  • 17 Jarvis // Nov 4, 2012 at 2:44 am

    Hi Eddie,
    I am currently in my first year of UK transfer degree. However, I would love to take on selective such as human right, and criminal related selective. It is my dream to practise as a barrister but I am not sure about what should I do to be a barrister in Malaysia. I know that in Malaysia there’s no barrister or solicitor but I would love to practise my legal skills in court more than cooperate and paper work. Can you guide me to be a more court based lawyer? Or for this field of job I should consider trying to practise in oversea such as HongKong because they deal with more court/criminal related issue.

    Thanks for your guidance.

  • 18 michelle lee // Dec 14, 2012 at 11:22 am

    Hi Eddie,

    What are the career options for someone who holds an LLM but does not want to practice?

  • 19 Eddie Law // Dec 17, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    Hi Michelle – fresh LLM graduates may consider lecturing law. or if the candidate enjoy writing / reading can consider legal editorial works. (Let me know if you wish to explore the legal editorial job)

  • 20 Eddie Law // Dec 17, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    Hi Jarvis – if you want to practice as a litigation lawyer, you may consider to join a firm who specialises in litigation practice. Pls take note that there are many types of litigation practice e.g. banking litigation, general litigation, corproate litigation, criminal litigation…& etc.

  • 21 Jason // Feb 25, 2013 at 5:06 pm

    Hi Eddie

    I am confused of getting a lawyer to represent me in the industrial court. I am getting a lot of different kind of quotations which varies by a lot.

    Eg.
    1. 1 lawyer charge a flat fee (RM8k) and 20% from winnings
    2. 1 lawyer charge a flat fee and progressively depending on the trial. No % from winnings.
    3. Trade Union rep which is much cheaper.

    I am confused with such a wide range of practice. I am more confident with lawyer 1 but it seems to be extremely expensive. Is it normal to charge so much? In the end after tax and everything I will get very little if I win.

    Thankss!!

  • 22 Fillex Co // Mar 3, 2013 at 11:05 pm

    Hi Eddie,

    Is it easy to become partners of a big firms? I heard that there are almost 100 over lawyers in big firms such as skrine. Does it mean when they have worked after 8-10 years, all of them will be promoted to partner?

  • 23 Rex // Mar 7, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    Hi sir,

    I am planning to study a law degree after finishing my accounting degree this year, but I heard that you can’t be an accountant and lawyer at the same time, it is banned by both the accounting and law association.

    So, I am kinda lost now, what kind of career pathway do I have if I go with the double degree studies, don’t want to waste time on worthless thing though.

    A million thanks in advance.

    Best,
    Rex

  • 24 Eddie Law // Mar 7, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    Rex- you should decided what profession you want to pursue. don’t think double degree will help much in choosing either field, although having account background may be useful when doing corporate finance works, but not a must.

  • 25 Eddie Law // Mar 7, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    Hi Fillex Co – years of experience is only one of the consideration factors when promoting someone to partner level. There are many other factors to consider, e.g. can the lawyer work on his/her own independently, leadership quality, interpersonal skill, client management and business development skill, loyalty and commitment level. I knew a lawyer who only has 6/7 PQE has been made a partner of a large firm.

  • 26 Eddie Law // Mar 7, 2013 at 1:54 pm

    Hi Jason – in litigation matter, the scale of legal fees is not regulated unlike conveyancing matters. It depends on the complexity of the case, the seniority and experience/expertise of the lawyer. Yes the fees can be varied.

  • 27 Fillex Co // Mar 13, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    Hi, Eddie.

    I wonder how’s the working life of a lawyer is. Can you give me some insight on this matter? Is it a desk-confined job? Do we get chances to go oversea? Do lawyers interact with each other often? I heard that a first year LA will have their own office automatically, is it true?

  • 28 Kirsten // Apr 8, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    Hi Eddie,

    do you know if one can hang on to a job with a company (under a sabbatical leave) while undergo pupillage (chambering)? My take is that since pupillage is training and not employment as you are not paid salary but paid allowance… Can one be legally be on sabbatical (with one company) and doing chambering with a firm? does the Bar Council allow that?

  • 29 Eddie Law // Apr 8, 2013 at 6:29 pm

    Kristen – Perhaps you should consult Bar Council on this issue.

  • 30 Tarmizi Aziz // Apr 18, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    Hi Eddie,l have a quick question…a friend of mine is a law graduate from Sarawak and works in government service.Suddenly,he decided to quit his current job and wants to join PDRM..the question is ,Is it possible if he pursue his career in PDRM even though he’s already working in a public sector? Thanks for your answer..

  • 31 AiN // May 8, 2013 at 3:06 am

    Hi Eddie,
    I am SPM Leavers for 2012 (6A 4B) and my result not fulfill eligibility from IPTA and IPTS MMU due to BI = B . May i know which one IPTS that can increase the possibilty for me to become a lawyer. What should i do? is it SEGI , BAC, A-Level , or anything that not costly (have financial problem). Please! i need advice.It is my dream to become a lawyer. Thank you

  • 32 mike // Jun 11, 2013 at 12:52 am

    hello Eddie, i am currently doing my UK Transfer degree LL.B. so i will be graduated in one of the UK university and i am planning to be a legal worker for an oil and gas company in Malaysia. i would like to know whether i have to take the CLP in Malaysia once i graduated in UK.

  • 33 Mahmood Saleem // Jun 21, 2013 at 6:05 am

    Dear Sir,
    This is Mahmood Saleem from Pakistan. i have been practicing since 2003 in different courts of Pakistan. i have an acute knowledge of law and i have also a huge experience of corporate law practice in Pakistan. i have 10 years of experience of practice as a Lawyer in Pakistan.
    so now i want to join any law firm in Malaysia may i qualify to join any law firm in Malaysia?
    please reply me i will be thankful to you.

  • 34 chambering student // Jun 25, 2013 at 11:38 pm

    Hi Eddie I am fresh law graduate student seeking for the suitable law firm for my pupilage. As i read your previous post which regards as to the guidelines in choosing a suitable law firm for chambering . I have some questions on this matter
    (i) Do we need to choose the law firm based on our interest of law ?
    (ii) As we just read the law and we are not really know about the practice of the particular law which we want to practice in our future. How we need to overcome this problem ?
    (iii) If just based on our academic result solely and decide apply to the firm specialises in that area of law which we think is our interest of law will it be accurate?
    (iv) Any recommendation of small or medium firm which only speacialise in criminal litigation and also intellectual property in Petaling Jaya or Klang ?

  • 35 erin // Jun 28, 2013 at 3:42 pm

    would you happen to know the salary for a conveyancing cum corporate lawyer with 2-2.5 years experience?

    is there a big difference for both West and East Malaysia.

    Thanks.

  • 36 Eddie Law // Jul 1, 2013 at 10:26 am

    Hi Erin, in Klang Valley, the salary range for 3rd year lawyer is about RM3,800 to RM5,000 per month. Not too sure about the salary scale for East Malaysia.

  • 37 Eddie Law // Jul 1, 2013 at 10:47 am

    Hi Chambering Student, If you are still not sure of what area of practice you want to venture into, it is advisable to do your pupillage in a firm which could expose you to various areas of practice. You may email your CV to me if you need me to recommend you law firm for your consideration to do your pupillage. My email eddie@elawyer.com.my

  • 38 Eddie Law // Jul 1, 2013 at 10:50 am

    Hi Saleem, in order to practice law in Malaysia, one needs to be a resident or PR. You may read this post: http://www.laweddie.com/wordpress/a-consideration-for-foreign-practitioners-entering-the-legal-profession-in-malaysia/

  • 39 Eddie Law // Jul 1, 2013 at 10:51 am

    Hi Mike, CLP is not a pre-requisite to work in-house, however, it is always preferred to have.

  • 40 Vivian // Mar 6, 2014 at 3:56 pm

    Hello, in regards to the judicial department, can you be ‘promoted’ to be a higher court judge? if yes, how long does it usually takes for it to happen? is there a salary range? can you switch from private practise to be a judge? and lastly, is there any particular requirement to being a judge? Hope to hear from you soon, thank you. =)

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