Writer: Chris, Low Yen Hau
References: Poh Seng Yong, LLB University of Liverpool, Pupil in Chambers, ZAID IBRAHIM & Co.
In Malaysia’s existing pool of professional graduates exists a large group who’ve completed their degrees in foreign universities. This holds true for the legal field, among others. While most would be forgiven for assuming that these graduates can immediately move on to practice after completing their LLB- that is not the case. Under Section 3 of the Legal Profession Act 1976, those law graduates will have to either complete the Certificate in Legal Practice, a.k.a CLP (a Malaysian qualification), or the Bar Professional Training Course a.k.a BPTC (a U.K based Qualification) before kicking off their legal career as a Pupil-in-Chambers. The choice between the CLP and the BPTC can seem daunting, with law graduates often pondering which path they should take to move forward in their legal career, and how their choice will impact them. This article aims to provide some insight into the options available, and their potential impact on your legal career.
Potential CLP and BPTC candidates are expected to meet certain academic requirements in order to qualify as candidates in the first place. Students sitting for the CLP examinations are expected to have a minimum of 3 credits at SPM level (including passing your compulsory subjects such as BM and Sejarah), or GCE ‘O’ Level. Following this, CLP candidates will also need a minimum of 2 principal passes at STPM level, GCE ‘A’ Level, or, more recently, a recognised foundation programme; and finally, to complete your law degree without failing/ retaking any of the 6 core law subjects.
BPTC candidates, on the other hand, have slightly differing requirements as STPM/ GCE ‘A’ Level results are not mandatory. Instead, a candidate must have a qualifying Law degree (with EU Law as a compulsory core subject), followed by a pass in the Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT), and a minimum score of 7.5 in each section of the IELTS academic test. Candidates must also apply to become a member of one of the United Kingdom’s 4 Inns of Court. It is also important to note that the minimum grade requirement for universities offering the BPTC course is a Second Upper in your degree.
The CLP and BPTC do have certain fundamental differences. The CLP is entirely exam based, with no assignments or practical sessions. In the one year period of the course, students will need study volumes on Malaysian Law, a whole new ballgame when compared to their degree syllabus. While you will learn to understand the theory and application of law in your pre-U and degree classes, the CLP syllabus instead focuses on the application of Malaysian, rather than the UK based law. This culminates in a three-hour long examination covering the 5 subjects of the course- Civil Procedure, Criminal Procedure, Professional Practice, Evidence and the General Paper. General consensus among the CLP alumnus on the best way to pass the CLP is to study hard, practice with past year questions, and hope for a bit of luck! However, don’t be discouraged by potential difficulties and the time frame- being an advocate and solicitor is all about constant learning and determination.
The BPTC, on the other hand, is a mix of exams and practical assignments. Students will need to complete 8 compulsory modules, as well as 2 optional subjects based on their preferences. Students will also be given practical lessons in the form of live advocacy training- giving you a slight taste of what working in the legal field is like. Students will be given both written and practical exams- with practical exams giving you the chance to prepare for and carry out cross-examinations, examinations in chief and client conferences. In addition to this, you will also need to attend at least 10 Qualifying Sessions at their chosen Inn of Court. These sessions will serve to provide opportunities to develop both professionally and ethically, while giving you a chance to begin developing a network among potential co-workers, or fellow members of the field. It must be admitted that the BPTC is slightly more lenient than the CLP, in that students will be given multiple chances to re-sit any failed papers, students sitting for the CLP are given one opportunity to re-sit a failed subject paper- failing 2 or more subjects would result in needing to retake the entire exam from scratch.
Impact on Your Career
So, how does choosing between them impact your legal career? Well, it depends. The practical exposure BPTC students receive often works in their favour as they get to polish their public speaking and advocacy skills- building their confidence. The constant interaction with classmates or inn mates, and practising client interactions also helps improve your professional confidence, which can go a long way in impressing legal partners during pupillage interviews.
However, that is not to say the CLP students are at a disadvantage. CLP students, in committing to covering a heavy syllabus within a limited frame AND passing the required examinations will have a solid grasp of local legal issues, as well as (one hopes) fantastic time management skills. This often gives them a leg up over BPTC students, whose syllabus focuses exclusively on English law, and who will need time to research and better their understanding of Malaysian law as a result. However, the CLP’s emphasis on rote memorisation means that CLP students will not get much of a chance to polish their practical skills, unless they manage to squeeze in some work experience in the form of internships.
A Piece of Advice
While it may seem daunting, it is best to consider your options early on in your degree. Planning ahead is better than panicking later on. Consider your own preferred method of learning, and consider which learning system suits you better- practical (BPTC) or theory based learning (CLP)? In doing so, do not forget to factor in other considerations, such as personal skills which need bolstering, e.g. public speaking, networking, memorisation, etc. It is also wise to consider the financial aspects of the respective courses, given that as a UK-based programme, the BPTC is much more expensive than the CLP. It may not be an easy choice to make, but take comfort from this- your decision is yours alone. There is no wrong choice- only what you feel works best for you. Good luck!