*This article was written for IIUM Law Faculty Press
As many other law students from all over the world, I feel privileged to have the opportunity to read law. Other than politicians, law students might be the only ones standing a chance to amend and make new laws for the benefit of the society. The pride goes without saying; there’s always a positive connotation associated with confidence, oratory skills, proficiency and high self-esteem (or ego, as how most people look at it). It’s with such regard that certain law faculties are looked upon highly; try walking into any courts of law in Malaysia and the impact of its prestige tends to generalise all of its students as “well-trained and high quality”, even though it’s never absolute. Take University of Malaya, as an example.
I tend to think the same way, too. Indeed, our law faculty in IIUM boasts the evergreen reputation of Tan Sri Datuk Professor Ahmad Ibrahim; a law practitioner and academician who was well-respected around the region.
But I’d rather live in the future than dwelling in the past.
Often times that I’ve been told that there’s more to quantity than quality in terms of law graduates every year. The negative impression unfortunately, doesn’t stop there.
Whenever I’m in conversations with students who actually spend 20 times more on their semester fees just to read law in private institutions, they are more inclined to assume “You’re lucky to be in IIUM, but of course…you’re a Malay.”
Despite all the hard work one sweated through for his completion of LL.B, how would it then feel when the society and industry at large take on you as nothing, but another lawyer-in-the-making product by Malays, for Malays?
This is already proven in a jointly conducted research by Dr Lee Hwok Aun from the Department of Development Studies at University Malaya and Dr Muhammad Abdul Khalid, a Research Fellow at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia whereby“Chinese job applicants are 16.7% more likely to secure job interviews than their Malay counterparts”.
Of course, this depiction may not necessarily be accurate. However these are the impressions of the public at large, especially the non-Malay employers when an IPTA graduate gets out of his comfort-zone.
My point of contention is not to undermine anyone’s quality, neither to justify whether one deserves to read law in IPTA or otherwise. Before we began to pinpoint fingers, it’s vital for us to concede that applications to read law in IPTAs should’ve been more thorough and stringent in living up to legal profession’s standard. We need to ask ourselves from the very beginning if the legal profession is where our dreams will be made of. I’m not denying the fact that having an LL.B is a versatile advantage to work in any fields, but the issue is when there are limited spaces; quality, passion and objectified determination must be given priorities.
When I first started in Ahmad Ibrahim Kuliyyah of Law (AIKOL), I was surprised to know during introductory session that most of my tutorial classmates didn’t even apply to read law.
Hence it’s rather not surprising when the recent survey done by National Young Lawyers Committee on law graduates, pupils in chamber, and lawyers in their first year of practice found out that “most do not have basic attributes like English proficiency, communication, critical thinking skills and commitment to the profession.”
This problem is mostly attributed by mediocre standard of law faculties in local institutions.
“Many of them are bad because of the low-quality training they received at local institutions of higher learning,” Court of Appeal judge Datuk Gopal Sri Ram said, in an interview quoted from New Straits Times.
While there may be many reasons to the deteriorating standard of law faculties in local institutions, I wish to address the most relatable aspect as a law student in an IPTA, myself.
It’s time for law faculties, especially, to only take the best from the best group of students with passion for law. Be it in the name of race or religion, the time has passed for us to ‘quantify’ the number of Malays in our legal profession. If we were to maintain reputable precedence of law, preserving law and order at its best, and the high-quality service to the wronged members of the society, this is the first step of doing it at mainstream level. True, the non-Malays are already given opportunities to read law in IPTAs, but let us reflect the demographics of students in all law faculties first, if that’s the argument brought forward.
Once the playing field is equal at all entree-levels; be it Matriculation, STPM and etc., interviews and preliminary tests shall later be conducted to thoroughly filter the applicants’ proficiency, critical thinking, and interest without looking at the race and religion ‘ticking box’, beforehand. I’d like to note this interesting point in my own alma mater that despite gearing for ‘Internationalisation’, we’re restrictive (with quota) in accepting applications from the non-Muslims. I believe that the best learning curve is when there are varying perspectives from different backgrounds, hence promoting the real values of Islam through the impart of knowledge and life examples.
Some may argue that I’m being hypocritical as I speak on the point of having been accepted to read law in an IPTA, but let us imagine if the ideal learning bastion does take place; I wouldn’t heave a sigh of disappointment if meritocracy is what separating me from the best. Do people feel unfairly justified when Oxford or Cambridge reject their applications to read law on valid reasons? The answer is a big no, simply out of respect and self-determination.
The then Bar Council President, Ragunath Kesavan, once said that “the issue of poor-quality lawyers was an ongoing issue which needs a comprehensive change of the whole structure”.
A winning football team had always comprised of the best 11 players on field. While there may be many other factors affecting the end results, the determination point is often decided by the performance of best players on field. In order for us to re-live, or to maintain (if you prefer so) the reputation of AIKOL, the first and pivotal step is for the faculty to have more autonomy in the selection of crème de la crème through a stringent, comprehensive and non-discriminatory student intake system.
I’m a proud law student of AIKOL, and I hope it’ll remain so in the future.