KUALA LUMPUR, April 19, 2015:

A proper command of the English language is no longer a given for a majority of law graduates in the country.

Lawyer Edmund Bon Tai Soon said an increasing number of law graduates lacked either speaking or writing skills and were facing difficulties in finding suitable employment as lawyers upon completing their nine-month pupillage (the final stage of training to be a lawyer).

Bon said it was a great concern for the legal fraternity that the English standard had dropped tremendously and this was linked to weaknesses in the primary and secondary education.

Bon, who lectures law students in Universiti Malaya, was baffled as law students don’t have a good command of spoken and written English.

He said words were a lawyers’ tools of the trade as they were constantly required to use the English language in court to present information to large groups of people, including judges and clients. This is despite Bahasa Malaysia being encouraged in courts.

“Additionally, legal standards among universities are inconsistent and have dropped.

“The Bar Council had wanted to implement a Common Bar Course (CBC) some years ago to standardise core law requirements for law graduates.

“We need the CBC as law students are increasingly becoming ‘robots’ who only memorise, mug up and study to pass examinations.

“Sadly, the government is dragging its feet in this matter,” he told The Rakyat Post in a recent interview, after his tweets criticised the standard of legal education in Malaysia.

Bon lamented the inadequacies in the education system for law students as these were far divorced from reality and were not delivering law graduates who were fit for the purpose they were trained for.

“Only a handful are good while among the rest, some cannot even properly write about themselves in their CV (curriculum vitae).

“They are not able to apply what they learned in law school to help clients and re-training is needed when they start their pupillage. This is not how it should be.”

Bon said there was an urgent need to change the syllabus to an “experiential system” of legal education, where law students started learning from their first day in university how to deal with real cases to assist real clients, guided by lecturers and lawyers.

National Young Lawyers Committee co-chairperson Ida Daniella Zulkifili conceded that some universities did not provide law students with the necessary training.

“As a result, you get students who on paper have good grades but are unable to discuss simple legal matters in English.”

At the same time, she said it was not a dead end as long as these fresh graduates possessed the humility to recognise their shortcomings and have a relentless desire for continuous self-improvement.

“It is imperative that law firms recognise that fresh graduates are unfinished products and provide them with the platform to learn.

“There have been cases where law graduates are given mostly menial tasks such as photocopying and preparing bundles of documents during their pupillage.

“However, pupils must demonstrate initiative to ask for more substantive work and new responsibilities.

“The firm must give them both time and opportunity to do that. It’s a two-way street.”

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