COVID, MCO, and the Malaysian legal industry — Part 2: Work culture, mental health, jobs, and the future

This market report is brought to you by The Malaysian Lawyer, co-founded by Lee Shih and Marcus van Geyzel.

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.

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COVID, MCO, and the Malaysian legal industry — Part 1: Money (paycuts, revenue), remote working, and technology

This market report is brought to you by The Malaysian Lawyer, co-founded by Lee Shih and Marcus van Geyzel.

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 were lots of new law blogs launched (21 are still active), and law students, lawyers and firms were noticeably more active on LinkedIn (when TML wrote about Malaysian law firms on LinkedIn in 2019, we could only find 8 active accounts; when researching our latest law firm LinkedIn list, we found almost 80!) and Clubhouse (the biggest Malaysian legal Clubhouse club Malaysian legal community has 3,600+ members).

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Case Update: The Interim Judicial Manager to Protect Assets in Jeopardy

Lee Shih and Huey Lynn write about the Singapore decision on the appointment of interim judicial managers.

The Singapore High Court in Re KS Energy Ltd and another matter [2020] SGHC 198 granted an order for the appointment of interim judicial managers (IJM) over two companies upon the application by a creditor.

This decision is useful in setting out the principles for the appointment of interim judicial managers. This decision is also persuasive for Malaysian law as Malaysia’s judicial management provisions are modelled after Singapore. Continue reading