This item has been updated since initial publication.
By Joachim Xavier
The much–anticipated talk entitled “The Three R’s: Creating the Future of Our Industry – R–evolutionise the Profession, R–adicalise Lawyers, R–eshape Solutions” began with the moderator, Mah Xian–Zhen of OMESTI Group, cautioning participants that ideas that may at first come across as controversial, may be the very ideas that can change the world in the future.
The Honourable Justice Lee Swee Seng, who was the first speaker, focused his presentation on change that could be introduced to conveyancing practice in Malaysia. The thrust of Justice Lee’s presentation was “simplicity, security, speed, skills and satisfaction”.
Justice Lee observed that sales and purchase agreements (“SPA”) and loan agreements (“LA”) have become too wordy, and are drafted in legal language that is difficult to understand and do not resonate with the typical parties to a sale. Further, many of the clauses in such agreements are of little relevance to the parties to the sale, eg clauses relating to bank charges.
Justice Lee suggested that the basic terms found in the SPA and LA be standardised into easily–read terms that are prescribed by statute. Terms which are automatically incorporated by way of statute would go a long way in reducing the SPA and LA into single–page documents that are easily understood by the parties to the sale. Any other terms which are peculiar to the transaction can be annexed to the simplified SPA and LA.
In terms of security in property transactions, Justice Lee touched on concerns surrounding the issuance of titles to the wrong persons, either inadvertently or by reason of fraud. He suggested that an online identification card verification system be introduced so that the identities of the parties involved in the transfer of properties can be accurately ascertained.
Justice Lee was also of the view that more speed can be introduced into matters concerning property transactions. One example he gave was redemption statements that ought to be issued at far quicker rates than what was being done at the moment.
The upshot to all of the above is that lawyers would derive more satisfaction from their legal work. This is because lawyers would be freed up to do work that they really want to do, ie real legal work which the lawyers have been trained for.
Azhar Azizan @ Harun (Art Harun), a lawyer from Messrs Hisham Sobri & Kadir, stunned the participants by starting his presentation with a bold statement that legal practice was a business. He later qualified his statement by saying that the running of a law firm ought to be approached from a business point of view. Mr Azhar hastened to add that what he propounds does not detract from the important role of lawyers to serve the community in whatever way they can, including doing pro bono work.
Mr Azhar suggested that firms begin to think about how to outsource certain types of legal work to external parties provided that confidentiality issues are first ironed out with the client. He argued that the outsourcing of legal work is already being practised widely overseas and, to some extent, in Malaysia too. Some examples of work which Mr Azhar suggested could be outsourced include document review, due diligence, litigation support and legal research. There are also senior lawyers, who prefer to act as counsel, who outsource solicitor work to junior lawyers.
Mr Azhar was of the view that outsourcing has its benefits. The first is that outsourcing affords an opportunity for lawyers to specialise in a particular area of law. Secondly, lawyers who receive outsourced work also stand to earn better incomes as they become better known for their specific practice areas.
Looking into the future, particularly in the area of corporate restructuring, Mr Azhar foresaw “one–stop station” entities coming into existence to facilitate corporate restructuring. Although Mr Azhar did not go into details as to how this one–stop station would come into existence, he did say that it would require significant liberalisation of the legal profession and other professions as well. The one–stop station would primarily consist of investment bankers, accountants, lawyers and other professionals who collectively would be able to provide the necessary advice and services for a smooth and efficient corporate restructuring exercise.
The final speaker was none other than Edmund Bon Tai Soon, a well–known human rights lawyer who recently set up his own firm, BON Advocates. Mr Bon had previously openly advocated for the revolutionising, liberalising and radicalising of lawyers. He loathed the fact that much has been said about the need for change in the legal profession but very little has actually been done to make that change happen.
To revolutionise the legal profession, Mr Bon argued that access to justice has to be dramatically improved. He was of the view that certain legal services such as SPA, wills, and divorce templates can be made available to consumers rather than have lawyers prepare them. Step–by–step guides written in plain English about the legal process involved would go a long way in helping consumers be better informed. A lawyer would only be involved when it was absolutely necessary.
In terms of liberalising the legal profession, he provided the example of the United Kingdom’s Legal Services Act 2007 where major strides were made to liberalise the profession. For example, conveyancing in United Kingdom is now done by licensed conveyancers who are not lawyers.
Finally, Mr Bon advocated for better remuneration for lawyers and argued that this could be achieved if lawyers were paid according to actual work done on a brief rather than a fixed salary, which is often far lower that what the lawyer actually earned for his/her firm. Mr Bon also suggested that the legal education system be overhauled to better prepare new lawyers for the profession.