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.
Guest writer Wong Yen Ni shares her thoughts on law firm internships. She spent June at Donovan & Ho, and is spending July at Peter Ling & van Geyzel, ahead of entering her second year of law at The University of Leeds.
If you told 16-year-old me that I would be writing an article on legal internships, I would probably have laughed at the absurdity of it, and given you my assurance that I would not go anywhere near the subject of law. But the forces of the universe conspired in special ways to ensure that the exact opposite happens.
Before my enlightenment, I had earnestly vowed not to read law because I felt that it was simply not for me. I found it difficult to imagine finding a sense of belonging in such a seemingly daunting, unforgiving place that did not seem to resonate with my aspirations and personality. I felt that it was hard to be individualistic in a place where everything seemed so rigid and matter-of-fact.
However, I soon discovered that this image of the legal industry that I had constructed so prematurely did not do justice to what it truly embodied, and that I could not be more wrong in my initial thoughts. It turns out that not every lawyer you meet has it all figured out, nor had the ultimate dream to be a lawyer in the first place. And the law, multi-faceted as it is, only grows more interesting with each encounter.