This is Part 2 of our special market report on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the various MCOs on the Malaysian legal industry. Before reading on, you should read Part 1, where we addressed the financial issues (paycuts, volume of legal work, and revenues), remote working, and technology.
In this second part, we report on the impact of the pandemic on office/work culture, how law firms addressed employee mental health issues, and examine how the industry could have done better in dealing with the various challenges, and what the future holds. Again, these findings are not our own conclusions, but are a collection of the views of several lawyers who very kindly took the time to share their experiences with us. Some have asked to remain anonymous.
If asked to think back to March 2020, when Malaysia first went into “lockdown” or a “Movement Control Order” (MCO), Malaysians may feel like the period of time that has passed has been the equivalent of several lifetimes. Or that it now seems to have gone quickly, and certainly doesn’t seem like it was 18 months ago. Or perhaps that it simultaneously feels like both a very long time and a very short time ago, in that time-bending perspective-warping haze that the pandemic seems to have permanently brought into our lives.
For the Malaysian legal industry, much has happened. If we cast our minds back to those early-MCO days, there was a scramble for lawyers to figure out how to operate outside of the office, without access to printed documents and files.
To be honest, some lawyers still haven’t quite figured it out, but there has been much progress overall. Compelled by the judiciary, lawyers shuffled out of the Stone Age and into conducting video trials online. The National and State Bars successfully convened their AGMs online (after a huge COVID scare from the in-person KL Bar AGM). Law firms rolled out pay-cuts, and freezed hiring, increments, and bonuses. As work dried up in some areas, many lawyers pivoted into new practice areas. Call ceremonies also moved online. Aspiring lawyers had to deal with huge delays to CLP exams and results.
There have been a few very noticeable changes in the Malaysian legal industry in 2020. Most of these are attributable to COVID-19 and the resultant restrictions under the Movement Control Order (MCO) since 18 March 2020, and subsequent on-going Conditional MCO.
One significant development was the proliferation of webinars. By the middle of April, it seemed like there was at least one webinar a day to tune into, depending on your area of interest. Almost all of these were free, with some requiring prior registration. In recent weeks we have seen the shift to paid webinars, and webinars will very likely be a mainstay for the foreseeable future. It is looking increasingly unlikely that big conferences will be possible for the rest of the year.
To gain some insights into the rise in popularity of webinars, particularly in the legal industry, there is probably no better person to hear from than Richard Wee. He was one of the first movers who promoted and hosted webinars during the MCO — both in collaboration with Brickfields Asia College (BAC), and through his own firm, Richard Wee Chambers (RWC). Richard has since hosted more than 20 webinars, covering a broad range of topics.
This is a guest post by Joshua Wu. It is one of the 3 articles selected to be published on TML following our open call for submissions. We would like to thank everyone who sent in their articles. We hope to see more quality legal writing published, which will hopefully lead to vibrant discussions and thought leadership in the Malaysian legal industry.
Malaysia’s Judiciary has proposed amendments to the civil procedure rules for online civil trials by remote communication technology. As detailed below, online civil trials can have positive effects but with possible weaknesses as well.
On 23 April 2020, the Malaysian Judiciary made history as it live streamed a Court of Appeal hearing. The live stream was opened to the public and was done so on the Judiciary’s website and YouTube channel.
The anticipated next step is the introduction of online civil trials. This is not a unique phenomenon as courts in other jurisdictions, such as China and the United Kingdom, have experimented with online trials. Indonesia has also recently announced that it will be embracing online trials.
The move towards holding online civil trials in Malaysia is already in motion. The Judiciary has proposed amendments to, among others, the Rules of Court 2012. Some of the key amendments will allow for:
proceedings through remote communication technology;
a person or witness to give evidence through remote communication technology; and
the examination, cross-examination, and re-examination of a person or witness through remote communication technology.
Some of the positives and negatives associated with holding online civil trials in the Malaysian context will be briefly examined. Continue reading →
On Saturday 20 October 2018, 10am to 1pm, the Kuala Lumpur Bar Young Lawyers Committee is organising a seminar on Business Development for Lawyers: Building Your Career Beyond Legal Skills. I will be speaking with Foong Cheng Leong at this seminar. The seminar is open to all and the registration fee is only RM30. You can sign up at the event page here.
We will share our own business development experience and tips. Topics covered will include building your practice as a young lawyer, getting your first client and expanding your clientele, client management, and utilising social media.