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Unity in Legal Firms

As we commemorate Malaysia’s merdeka, it is essential to reflect on the values that have made our nation strong and prosperous.  One such value that holds significance not only for our country but also for the legal industry is unity.
Unity is the act of coming together to achieve a common goal.  It involves reaching a consensus and working towards a shared objective.  This may sometimes seem to be a difficult task, but it is most certainly achievable.  In the legal industry, this form of unity can be a powerful force that propels firms towards success and fosters growth and innovation.
The Legal Industry
The legal industry is diverse, with lawyers focusing on various areas of law.  While this diversity is a strength, it can also pose various challenges.  This creates a need to identify the threats to the legal industry, recognise its inherent weaknesses, and explore its untapped potential.
The legal industry is old, with a rich history and many traditions which are held in high regard.  The legal profession is an honoured and respected one because of the traits that have moulded it: courage, dedication, and an unwavering pursuit of justice.
Even though occasional jokes or insinuations are made about lawyers, their true worth becomes evident when individuals find themselves in need of legal assistance.  Lawyers are known for their determination and fearlessness in standing up and fighting for the best interests of their clients.  They are advocates of justice who play a vital role in shaping society and upholding the rule of law.
It is important to recognize that the role of lawyers extends far beyond the confines of courtrooms.  While they are often associated with litigations and trials, lawyers also serve their clients in a myriad of other ways.
Advocates and Solicitors
In some jurisdictions, there is a distinction between advocates and solicitors.  Advocates handle court matters, while solicitors deal with other legal affairs.  
Take, for instance, the legal landscape in Hong Kong, where advocates rely on solicitors to refer cases to them.  The solicitors' direct connection with clients places them in a unique position to understand their needs and bridge the gap between the legal issues and the advocate's experience and knowledge.
In Hong Kong, where there exists a separation of practice, the expenses incurred in running a solicitor's firm are significantly higher than those of an advocate's office.  
A solicitor's firm would involve the maintenance of a team of staff, the investment in modern office facilities, the adoption of cutting-edge technologies, and the establishment of a robust social media presence.  Such a firm would also need to implement risk management strategies and comply with various mandatory compliance programs.  The fees collected from clients would have to cover all these expenses.
Compare that with an advocate who could operate without the burden of maintaining staff or additional liabilities.  All fees earned by the advocate would go directly to them, allowing for a greater profit margin.
In contrast, jurisdictions like Malaysia allow lawyers the freedom to practice as both advocate and solicitor, leading to a more comprehensive approach to serving clients.  However, such freedom does bring about unaddressed and unresolved problems concerning cost management and profitability.
Lawyers who intend to undertake both the role of advocate and solicitor should be aware that managing a dual legal practice can and will prove to be more financially demanding.  Such lawyers would have to balance the costs of running a solicitor’s firm while simultaneously ensuring competitive service fees.
Additionally, the compliance requirements for anti-money laundering further add to complexities as these list out five gazetted activities — all of which focus on firms engaging in the work of solicitors.
Specified Area of Practice
The realisation that no lawyer can be proficient in every area of law would open the door to a world of opportunities.  Just as the saying commonly goes, “a jack of all trades is a master of none”, it is clear that exclusively focusing on certain practice areas is the key to success in the legal industry.
A common phenomenon among lawyers is where, fresh out of law school, a lawyer would start to practise whatever areas of law they come across and slowly begin to focus on the area they excel best or the one in which they have created strong client trust.  The eventual outcome, more often than not, is a product of chance.
However, we are all masters of our own fate.  Even before starting practice, a lawyer can make conscious decisions and efforts to head towards the area of law they wish to focus on.  Well-thought-out plans and strategies can go a long way towards making that wish a reality.
Exclusively focusing on practice areas opens up numerous opportunities for a lawyer to establish a cohesive legal firm that can cater to a wider range of clients.  Moreover, a lawyer who focuses on a specific area of practice gains the advantage of attracting clients seeking lawyers who are knowledgeable in that area, thus creating a steady stream of clientele.
Furthermore, focusing on niche practice areas also presents ample opportunities for collaboration with practitioners from other areas of law.  A niche lawyer would be able to seamlessly collaborate with lawyers from other fields as there would be fewer, if any, conflicts to be addressed, due to the ensuing synergy and more holistic approach to the matter at hand.
Types of Management
In the legal industry, various types of management structures are possible for law firms.  The possibilities are endless, especially in light of the changing times.  The conventional norms that already exist in Malaysia and in other jurisdictions do not restrict creativity in the creation of a law firm.  In this regard, the sky is the limit.
In this pursuit of change and creativity, the true challenge would be for legal professionals to understand, familiarise themselves with, and embrace novel management structures and practices.  The hurdle that lies ahead is not the lack of possibilities but rather the willingness to step beyond the comfort zone of tradition.
Malaysia's introduction of group law practice serves as an illustrative example of embracing innovation.  This approach can be seen as a harmonious combination of experienced legal minds from diverse areas of practice, all working under one roof.  The essence of such an approach lies in the unity of purpose as practitioners unite to come together, share insights, and collectively address legal challenges.
Ultimately, what is important is the acceptance of change.  Progress cannot happen without the willingness to embrace novel ideas and grow.  The legal profession united in the desire to move forward and change would surely lead to new beginnings and the first steps on an exciting journey.
Unity in the Legal Firm
What does all of this have to do with unity?
Unity and diversity may seem like contrasting concepts, but when it comes to the legal industry, they can complement each other to create a vibrant and resilient unit.  The introduction of a kind of diversity that can be properly managed could result in a prosperous outcome.  An environment full of different experiences, perspectives and management methods would only serve to drive solid discussions that lead to more innovation and effective problem-solving.
Imagine a scenario where a highly sought-after criminal lawyer, an experienced tax lawyer, a respected employment and industrial court practitioner, a seasoned dispute resolution lawyer, and a practitioner with a knack for handling appeal courts come together as a united force.  This dream team — the Fantastic Five, if you will — would undoubtedly rock the legal industry.
However, the formation of such an imaginary partnership hinges on the willingness of these legal professionals to set aside their personal agendas and egos, step beyond the security they have created for themselves and prioritize a greater goal that supersedes themselves.  All of this is to say nothing of their need to be able to effectively communicate between themselves and their employees.
While such an undertaking might seem formidable, a more feasible route is for a group of young lawyers to join forces and establish a practice that focuses on niche practice areas, with each agreeing to hone their abilities in the respective chosen areas of law.  Pursuing a master's degree would only add to their knowledge and visibility.  These hypothetical young lawyers would also do well to actively engage in social activities and to partake in events held by the Malaysian Bar.  This would easily create the kind of unity that has a higher chance of success.
Even when change does not seem like an option, giving up is never a choice.  Malaysia’s legal sector has the potential to develop exponentially and bring about increased profits, reduced costs, and unparalleled stability.
Lawyers need to stand united in this mission of advancing the legal industry to new heights.  Even though the road ahead may be challenging, this goal can be achieved through the focus and unity of the legal profession.
In Malaysia's journey to merdeka, the nation achieved greatness through the alignment of expectations and the recognition of commonalities.  It is a formula that has proven successful time and time again in the annals of history and it is one that the legal industry needs to wholeheartedly embrace to achieve greater heights.
Let us shape a legal industry that truly flourishes, and together, we shall be an integral part of its legacy.