Choosing a lawyer not like buying fish

N Surendran

Modified 1 Oct 2010, 7:47 am

I refer to the recent controversy on whether Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) had hired a ‘crony legal firm’ where Subang MP R Sivarasa and PKR Information Chief Latheefa Koya (an MBPJ councillor) have their legal practices.

Those who have raised this issue are plainly ignorant as to how professionals such as lawyers are selected and appointed by those requiring their services. Prudent clients select potential lawyers based on recommendations, by their prominence in a certain field, by their seniority and experience or by their general reputation.

Lawyers are barred by etiquette rules from soliciting for work. Therefore, contrary to what some misinformed persons have suggested, open tenders cannot be placed by MBPJ to seek legal representation.

Any lawyer who responds to such a tender will in effect be soliciting for work. In fact, I have never yet heard of anyone putting out open tenders for the services of lawyers!

Again, MBPJ cannot select a lawyer based on how low his fee might be compared to a list of other lawyers. One does not appoint professionals on such a basis. To take an example from the medical field, if you need to have your gall bladder taken out, do you shop around for the cheapest surgeon in town?

Such an approach may be a sure ticket to an early grave. Those who have raised this issue will doubtless seek out the best professionals to attend to their personal affairs but however expect MBPJ to hire just any lawyer off the street at the cheapest rate available in furtherance of some misguided notion of transparency and good governance.

Retaining a competent lawyer who can get the job done is thus a vastly different undertaking from hiring a contractor to collect garbage. These were judicial review cases, for which Sivarasa has something of a reputation.

He is also known personally or by reputation to most of the MBPJ councillors. It was thus a perfectly sensible thing for MBPJ to have retained Sivarasa's legal firm to act as legal counsel for them.

Of all the airy and empty controversies of recent times, this one takes the prize!

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