May 21, 2009

Big town lawyers vs. small town lawyers

In 1999, after I managed to endure the 9 months of chambering, being told what to do and being sheltered by my parents from the real world, I bid adieu to the legal firm which showed me what being a lawyer is all about and opened up on my own small legal firm. As the legal firm was in Seremban, a small town south of Kuala Lumpur, I had the chance to feel how a practice in a small firm is all about. Other than me, there was another  lawyer, my partner, an ex-public prosecutor who coincidently was from the same university as me but we have never met before that. I proposed to him to be a part-time lawyer with his firm but he proposed for me to be a partner after just 2 months.

The best thing about being an owner of a small firm in a small town is the camaraderie that is felt among all lawyers in the town where nearly 150 lawyers were practising. For a town of maybe a half a million people (which have grown significantly now) there are still enough cases to go around that we tolerate each other well. We played sports together like football and tennis. Have gatherings for all major celebration from the Muslim Eidul Fitri to Hindu's Deepavali to Christmas. We attended each other's weddings and deaths. We know who are the outsiders in court and know how each judge will act at any given time and type of cases. We are small but not in the type of Grisham's A Time To Kill small. Even when a new lawyer is admitted, we have a small reception where nearly all lawyers attend. It was a very friendly atmosphere.

When I transferred my business or more correctly terminated my business in this small town and move to try to get a bigger cut of the cake in Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur, I was surprised. Although that year 2000, the lawyers in whole of Malaysia were nearly 12,000 in which 6,000 of them are practising in the KL, I only knew those who I have known in my alma matter. The others I only get to know after I became active in my Bar Council activities. I get to play team sports when I moved to my current neighbourhood and not with other lawyers. Even the lawyers who play together have at least something in common either they were from the same universities or was in the same town while taking law in England or Australia. There were no gatherings or people just hanging around together unless they were on opposite side in a suit. It is all about work and no lawyers know each other except if they work together.

I still think both have their own advantages and disadvantages. As an ambitious person, knowing another lawyer is not of utmost importance. If I need another expertise, I can always hire one and pay them accordingly. I don't need to be friendly with them. As a human, the small town teach me making a living does not necessarily makes you a robot and cannot be civil with your fellow colleague. It may just be a different perspective but after being in both type of places, sometimes I do wish I still am practising in that small town.

Just to make sure I keep my perspective of life clear.

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