by Foong Cheng Leong
Published October 6, 2011
Article first published in Loyar Burok on 06.10.2011.
So, you passed your CLP. Now, what?
Congratulations to those who had passed their Certificate of Legal Practice (CLP). A lifetime of joy and misery awaits you. If you decide to practice, I am sure some of you would wonder where is the best place to go. I hope this article will assist those in doubt.
When a student is qualified to start his pupillage, he has 3 choices to proceed moving forward, namely a large, medium or small law firm. There is no exact definition as to 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.
A chambering student’s allowance would range from RM800.00 to RM2,500.00. A large firm generally pays higher allowance.
Generally, large and medium firms (let’s call them larger firms) 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 generally pay more. When I was chambering, my allowance was RM1,500.00. My friends in the smaller firms were getting RM800.00 - RM1,000.00.
A small firm may not expose a student to many types of work. However, some small firms are boutique firms which specializes in certain areas of law. For example, there are some law firms in Kuala Lumpur which specializes 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 lesser 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 will most like 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 comtemporaries in a smaller firms.
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 larger firm!
When I wanted to look for a place for pupillage, I couldn’t decide as to whether to join a larger firm or go back to the small firm for my pupillage. I emailed a family friend and asked him where to go.
He advised me to join a larger firm so as 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 a 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 connections 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, be active in Bar activities, give talks, join associations etc and recently, through social media networking.
If a student finds that pupillage in a larger firm/small firm is not his cup of tea, he may always switch.
Once a student finishes his or her pupillage, 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 salary in Kuala Lumpur firms may range from RM2,000.00 to RM4,000.00.
Lastly, if you aim to have lifetime career as a lawyer, you should always aim for partnership 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 of the 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.