*taken with permission, from a Lawyers' e-Forum. An email from Chairperson of CPD Committee of Bar Council, Mr HR Dipendra to the members of the Forum.
I thank those who have responded to the email on the CPD Scheme. I thought it would be best to wait for a number of comments first before responding as it is not wise to clog all your in-boxes with individual replies. I now respond to all the comments made against the CPD Scheme, in addition to what I have already said in my earlier emails.
(1) Why the CPD Scheme?
The CPD Scheme is not about whether the legal profession is broken or whether standards of Malaysian lawyers are declining. There are many lawyers who are of the view that the standard of lawyers in Malaysia requires improvement. But the point is this, and to answer the good Lt Colonel Syed’s argument that we should wait for things to be broken before fixing it, is, why can’t we, as professionals, take steps to constantly improve the standards of lawyers?
In Malaysia, the accountants, architects, chartered secretaries and engineers already have in place their own CPD Scheme. The accountants for example, have to comply with 20 hours a year and their courses run into the thousands of ringgit. These professionals abide by such a requirement because there is an expectation by the public that they do so.
Criticisms have been levied against the BC for not doing enough to improve the standard of lawyers in Malaysia. Other major legal jurisdictions like the UK, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Ireland, South Africa and the US all have mandatory CPD schemes. I cannot find any justification why we, should be the odd one out? We should aspire to be as equal, if not better, than these legal jurisdictions.
Given the impending liberalisation of the legal services sector, there is a need to brand Malaysian lawyers so as to attract legal work into Malaysia. With Asean opening up and the lingua franca of the business world still being conducted in English, Malaysian lawyers should and are poised to take advantage of this.
Government agencies like Ministry of International Trade, the AGC, Bank Negara and with the BC are working towards making Malaysia a viable destination for legal services. We compete with HK, Singapore and to an extent, the UK and Australia. All these countries have a CPD Scheme and the BC believes that having a CPD Scheme will go a long way in making Malaysia an attractive legal destination.
(2) Why mandatory?
We are a “self-regulating” body. The BC is, unfortunately, under an obligation to maintain and set quality standards befitting of a professional body. Please do not look at “mandatory” as a chore, an added obligation that will encumber or burden us all. Mandatory is merely to ensure that all of us take the CPD Scheme seriously and it operates as a reminder of an obligation to ourselves and to the public. If we all agree that professional development is important to our legal careers, then the fact that the CPD Scheme is mandatory is merely psychological or a mind over matter issue that we can overcome.
(3) Earning CPD Points and the logistics
As the proposed CPD Scheme is intended to be mandatory, some of you remarked about the challenges in earning CPD points. The FAQs and Guidelines contain a lot of information about how a lawyer can earn points with minimal cost. I have attached the Guidelines and FAQs (Page 17 onwards) which I hope will help answer the questions you have.
The bottom line is this: How a lawyer earns CPD points is entirely up to him or her. There is no compulsion to attend specific BC or State Bar Committee seminars, or to take up Legal Aid files or to attend AGMs or even to participate in Bar committees. As long as you can show that you have taken part in an event (whether as a participant, in a teaching capacity, or as a researcher etc) and that event has professionally developed you as a lawyer, you are entitled to the allocated CPD Points.
The BC wants to make earning CPD Points as seamless as possible and as compatible as possible with a lawyer’s daily work but with the added requirement that lawyers make an attempt to improve themselves in a structured manner.
To answer some of the points posed by Rohaizad and Sachpal, one does not need to go back to school to earn CPD Points. As I have stated, you can earn points in many ways.
Some of you regularly give talks to your clients about updates in the law. Some of you attend non BC or State Bar events that have a legal component to it. These count as obtaining CPD Points. Rohaizad talked about Islamic classes at mosques. If the Sharia Law Committee organises this, CPD Points are given. Many of you regularly attend 3rd party conferences and seminars, all of which will attract CPD Points.
All you need to do is to get a little creative and understand the CPD Scheme better.
To answer Charles, the Bar Council cannot regulate by listing all possible methods for you to earn CPD Points. It provides a list (as a guide) and this list is constantly updated to take into account the expectations of lawyers and current conditions.
By listing exhaustively, this defeats the purpose of trusting lawyers to choose the way in which they would continuously professionally develop themselves. This will also help overcome any logistics issues about sufficiency of courses that Kheng Hoe had advocated.
(4) Attending AGM/Taking up Legal Files/participating in Bar Committees
I chose to make this a separate sub topic and to answer the points raised by Charles, M Menon and Kheng Hoe. The reason these were added because firstly the BC feels that lawyers do derive professional development from these events. Some may find this cynical but the BC is all inclusive in this regard. Some members have told me that by attending AGMs, they find that they learn about current practices and developments. Legal Aid is one way for younger members or those who don’t regularly do general criminal work the opportunity to take up some of these files. The BC wants to be all inclusive and want to make the CPD Scheme as broad as possible.
Participating in Bar Committees cannot be viewed narrowly as some of you have suggested. A lot of serious work goes on in some of the committees like the Legal Profession Committee, Trade in Legal Services, Human Rights and specialist committees like IP, Shipping and Arbitration. Many members go beyond mere attendance to thoroughly research and produce opinions and advice that guide the BC in its decision making.
Why should they not be entitled to CPD Points? The same applies if you attend or teach ethics courses, risk management courses or even sit in the DB. We also give points to the lawyers who assist the BC by attending Inquiries, attending court for the BC, obtaining injunctions on behalf of the BC. There is an element of professional development there.
I fully understand that lawyers don’t like much change. I am a partner in a small firm and I too, like, many of you sometimes struggle to practice. I understand the frustrations voiced out by Vasanthi, Subashini and Sivam. They are genuine concerns and I believe the BC is doing something about it.
But this is a separate issue and the BC and the PSDC committee having thoroughly debated the CPD Scheme, are convinced that this is a positive development for the Malaysian legal profession. It is unpopular no doubt, but a right move to improve standards of the legal profession. One can always encourage but without a mandatory element to the CPD Scheme, it will be futile.
The Malaysian Bar is still a highly respected institution. Just as we all expect the public and the government to respect for our views, the converse will hold true. There will be an expectation that we, too, must be seen to be setting high standards among ourselves.
All I ask of you is to give this CPD Scheme a chance. As Damian from Melaka has pointed out, members can always vote it out if it does not work or is too burdensome for some reason at the next AGM.
Chair- PSDC, Bar Council