Law graduates in limbo — J Philips

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JULY 18 — The Legal Profession Qualifying Board (LPQB) released a statement yesterday (17 July 2021) that, due to the uncertainty and unpredictability of the current pandemic, the LPQB had decided to conduct the Certificate in Legal Practice (CLP) examination for the 2021 batch between February and April 2022.

For those who are not familiar with the qualification required for legal practice, the CLP is one of the two prominent pathways for students from private and foreign universities to become lawyers in Malaysia, the other being the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) in the UK. Due to the cost involved in pursuing the BPTC in the UK, the CLP pathway becomes a popular choice for students who do not have the means.

Previously, the main examination for CLP had always been held in July to August each year, while the supplementary paper for those who had failed only one out of the five subjects was conducted around October to November every year.

This is not the first time that LPQB had postponed a sitting to a following year. The main examination for the 2020 batch was also postponed to March 2021 due to the pandemic. The examination for the 2020 batch was supposed to be held in July or August 2020, but it was not possible due to the raging pandemic. However, the Board was only able to inform the 2020 candidates in late August 2020 that the examination will be held in December 2020. Nonetheless, due to the surge of cases after the Sabah State Election, the December session was again postponed to March 2021.

The nightmare for the 2020 batch did not end with the March paper. For many years prior to this, the results for a sitting will be released approximately 2 months after the paper. The 2020 examination ended on 8 April 2021, so the candidates expected to receive their results in June. However, on 19 June 2021, the LPQB again released a statement that due to the Movement Control Order and the resulting work from home arrangement, the results for the 2020 sitting cannot be finalised (“dimuktamadkan”), as all documentations regarding the CLP results are confidential (“rahsia”) and not allowed to be accessed remotely. No estimation was given as to when the results will be made available, and the LPQB advised the candidates to wait for the Board’s announcement from time to time.

The new exam requirements will make being called to the bar more challenging. ― Picture by Saw Siow Feng
The new exam requirements will make being called to the bar more challenging. ― Picture by Saw Siow Feng

The 2020 batch are then thrown into a limbo where they cannot progress in their career in the legal industry without their CLP results. Some candidates from this unfortunate batch that I know of had actually given up their ambitions of becoming lawyers because the entire waiting game is just mentally draining. Many of them instead joined legal departments of private companies rather than continue to wait indefinitely.

God knows the incompetence of the LPQB did not stop with the misery of the 2020 batch. After one whole year of the pandemic, the LPQB has not figured out a better solution than to simply delay and postpone the examination as they did to the 2020 batch. These bureaucrats who have no regards to the interest of the candidates refuse to implement changes in the ways they run things. There are other viable alternative solutions available rather than simply postponing the examination altogether, and conducting an online examination is definitely one viable alternative. Many professional examinations can be and have already been conducted online, I don’t see the reason why a law exam, which is 100% essay based and does not involve diagrams and graphs, cannot be conducted online. Renowned law schools such as the University of London and University of Cambridge had all adapted to online assessment. The Board has no issue in accepting students from these universities whose assessments were conducted online, yet they themselves refuse to implement the same.

It was still at least understandable for them not to do the 2020 CLP exam online due to the limitation of time and technology. However, after one whole damn year of the same problem, the same excuse that we are in the midst of a pandemic is simply unacceptable anymore. Teaching institutions had begun to conduct online lessons and assessments as soon as the lockdown began last year, and even the makciks selling nasi lemak at the roadside warung had adapted to the circumstances and learnt to use Grab and Foodpanda, yet conducting an online examination still seems too technologically challenging for the LPQB.

I cannot see any reason for this decision to postpone the sitting other than pure incompetence, laziness and arrogance. The fact that this Board is totally unaccountable to anyone is the reason why they can just make these ridiculous decisions over and over again with impunity. Even though the Malaysian Bar President and the Attorney General sit on the Board, the LPQB is not accountable to either the Bar or the AG Chambers. Candidates had tried reaching out to these bodies for help but they said they simply could not do anything, as the LPQB is not “under” their supervision.

The incompetence of these people had disrupted if not destroyed the lives of not one but TWO batches of candidates. These candidates form a substantial part of the future of the legal profession, but they are being held back from contributing to the industry through no fault of their own. These bureaucrats living in denial of the current situation are stopping thousands of aspiring lawyers from progressing in their legal careers while the rest of the world has been evolving to cater to the pandemic.

The Malaysian Bar must do something now. The elder generation of lawyers cannot lament about the drop in quality of younger lawyers yet do nothing to stop the loss of talents to other industries. You cannot be standing by and watching a forest burns, and at the same time expecting it to supply you with oxygen tomorrow morning. It is time for lawyers, law students, law lecturers and teaching institutions to come together as stakeholders to hold the LPQB to account and rescue these law graduates from the limbo they are in as a result of the LPQB’s irresponsibility. Let us all put a stop to this absurd, infuriating and damaging episode of the legal industry.

*J Philips is a law lecturer who does not want any of his students to experience the above disaster.

**This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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