The Malaysian legal market is currently undergoing structural reform while competition is increasing. Here’s an update on the market in the second quarter of 2015 from Eddie Law, Founder of eLawyer.com.my:
How would you describe the overall current state of the Malaysian legal market?
In general, I would categorise the Malaysian legal market into retail and corporate markets from the perspective of law firms businesses. I would say approximately 95% or more of Malaysian law firms are focusing on the retail market where they mainly focus on providing legal services to individual clients or SMEs (as opposed to big corporations) and less than 5% of law firms are focusing on corporate market where they provide legal services to large corporations and high-net-worth individual. I guess this is similar to the demarcation of our market overall. Most of the corporate work is monopolised by the few large law firms and mid-sized boutique law firms. I also see Malaysian legal market as getting more vibrant with the recent amendment to the Legal Profession Act and the passing of the Legal Profession (Licensing Of International Partnerships And Qualified Foreign Law Firms And Registration Of Foreign Lawyers) Rules 2014, in which foreign law firms and foreign lawyers are now be permitted to practise in Peninsular Malaysia.
Have there been any notable foreign law firm expansions into Malaysia recently?
Trowers & Hamlins, an international law firm originating from the UK, has recently become the first foreign law firm to be granted a Qualified Foreign Law Firm (QFLF) licence in Malaysia. It is interesting to note that they have operated as a non-trading representative regional office in Kuala Lumpur since 2012. I also realise that Allen & Overy has been working closely with their Malaysian clients via their Singapore office. It is interesting to note that they are also one of the winners in the recent ALB Malaysia Law Awards. On another note, there are a few notable Singaporean law firms aggressively tying up with Malaysian law firms, which includes but not limited to, Wong Partnership, Rajah & Tann and Allen & Gledhill.
Which practice areas appear to be most in demand at the moment?
Corporate practice is still most in demand by the market. Secondly, law firms or lawyers who are specialising in certain niche areas of practice are also increasingly in demand, as the consumers (or in-house lawyers) are more legally savvy now-a-day where they tend to go for specialist instead of general practitioner to provide solutions to their legal issues.
How do you see hiring trends currently?
Due to the recent slow-down in the property sector, conveyancing practices have been affected accordingly. Therefore, the demand for conveyancing lawyers has slowed down. However, the hiring for experienced corporate lawyers are always highly in demand. Many experienced corporate lawyers have either opted to work abroad or go “in-house”. Coupled with the increasing demand of corporate work — this has caused a shortage of corporate legal talent available for law firms. Apart from providing recruitment services to law firms, I also help corporations to recruit in-house lawyers. And the demand of in-house lawyers has recently increased too.
What’s the current status of legal market liberalization?
The parliament recently passed the relevant amendments to the Legal Profession Act which allows foreign law firms or lawyers to practise in Malaysia in 3 ways: 1. As a Qualified Foreign Law Firm, 2. In International Partnership and 3. By allowing Malaysian law firms to hire foreign lawyers. There are 5 licenses of Qualified Foreign Law Firms status which may be granted to those who are able to demonstrate that their expertise and experience is in international Islamic finance practice as benefiting to Malaysia. As mentioned, Trowers & Hamlins is the first one who has obtained such license. I would see official announcements being made for the other 4 licence holders soon. I have yet to heard of any foreign law firms seeking to embark upon setting up an International Partnership nor are any Malaysian law firms thinking of hiring foreign lawyers thus far. On the another hand, due to the aggressive development of the ASEAN economy, more and more law firms are seeking to position themselves as leading law firms or one-stop-legal providers in the ASEAN market. This has seen foreign law firms, especially Singaporean law firms — seeking to actively partner with Malaysian law firms.
What advice would you give law students about how to prepare for entry into the legal market upon graduation?
I’ve been invited to law schools and the KL Bar to speak to the law graduates and young lawyers about the legal career landscape and also the expectations of the legal market. In short, there are 4 main pieces of advice that I always give them in most of my speeches: 1. Master the command of English (poor English will hinder career options and advancement of a lawyer) , 2. Passion in legal practice and seeing purpose in the job are crucial factors to keeping a lawyer in a legal career for the long term, 3. Having the right attitude will make a lawyer shine (actually in any kind of job), 4. Keep an open mind on career options other than private practice. There are many other jobs that a lawyer could opt for.
Tell me about your work with eLawyer Malaysia and how you help both law firms and lawyers in the Malaysian market?
I am the founder of www.eLawyer.com.my and am the recruitment director with eLawyer Recruitment. I see myself playing 2 roles: First, I act as legal recruiter to employers (mostly law firms and corporations) where I help employers source legal talent that match the requirements of the employers. Employers may also advertise job openings on our website. Secondly, I also act as a legal career adviser to lawyers, where I help them to discover their strengths, advise them on career options and areas of practice that are more suitable to their personality and profile. I also work closely with lawyers to help strategise career paths to match their career goals. Recently, due to the talent competition in Malaysian market, I also advise law firms on employer branding exercises. I understand that many laypeople are not familiar with law firm areas of practice and lawyer specialisms. Therefore, through our website, we also connect potential clients with suitable law firms (this is done on pro bono basis).