Monday, July 4, 2011

Lawyers casting professionalism aside to stay alive

BINTULU: It’s a dog-eat-dog world in the legal fraternity and this has forced a growing number of young legal eagles to seek greener pastures elsewhere.

Advocates Associations of Sarawak (AAS) Bintulu chairman Henry Ling lamented that most lawyers in the state were underpaid because legal firms lower their fees to stay afloat due to stiff competition.

“With fierce undercutting, low income and no increase in legal fees, the legal profession has been very stingy towards young lawyers who worked under other lawyers.”

Ling said because of this situation many lawyers only looked good on the outside but are a disappointment financially.

“In Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah, the legal fees for providing legal services are revised upwards to meet the high cost of living.

“In Sarawak, the fee scale has stagnated since 1988 despite the rising costs of living. Compounding to this problem is that many lawyers are still undercutting the scale of charges,” Ling said at a `Ngiling Bidai’ (rolling of the mat to signify the closing of Gawai Dayak) here last Saturday. The event was organised by AAS Bintulu branch.

He told those present that in Sabah legal fees had been increased by between 30 and 120 per cent under the Advocates Remuneration (Amendment) Rules 2010 which came into force in October last year.

Ling lamented that some developers and financial institutions had taken advantage of the situation in the state by disregarding what was stipulated under the Advocates’ Ordinance with regards to legal fees.

“They fixed (developers and financial institutions) their own extremely low scale of charges for law firms who rendered service to them in Bintulu.

“Lawyers, in undercutting of legal fees and charging cheap or cheapest legal fees, are usually those who have problems and very desperate for quick money.”

Because of this problem, members of the public now tend to opt for firms which could offer them the lowest fees. Most of these clients are now blind to professional quality, intellectual ability and work standard.

Ling said proposed amendments on the revised remuneration rules and the scale of charges and other matters were “still under discussion” in the state.

He lamented that it was now very tough to operate a law firm because the operating expenditure was high and client’s demand had soared, unlike in the old days.

“The pressing need now is for the Advocates’ Association to enforce the minimum scale of charges and to demand lawyers to adhere to the profession’s scale of charges, which is part of the code of ethics.

“We need to uphold the dignity of lawyers and to provide a good quality of legal service, not discount, to uphold justice without fear or favour. “Law firms charging extremely low fees and undercutting the scale of fees are bad lawyers and the black sheep in the legal profession. They provide a poor and low-class service for various works at cheap fees which had tarnished the reputation of the profession.”

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