When the Certificate in Legal Practice (CLP) was conceived, it was done so with good intentions. It was, as Pro Bono Publico has pointed out, to enable British-trained Malaysian lawyers who cannot be called to the English Bar to take bridging examinations to facilitate their admission into the Malayan Bar.
The CLP was supposed to be the Malaysian equivalent of the English Bar exams. But while the English Bar exams have been thoroughly revamped to impart more professional skills such as advocacy, drafting of pleadings, client interviewing, etc, the Malaysian equivalent has predictably stagnated and as Pro Bono Publico has tried to hint, a tool of political social engineering and gone down the road to hell.
Let me just first say what needs to be said: The CLP is an exam which is a complete waste of time. It is just a stupid mugging-type exam which imparts almost no skills except perpetuating the Malaysian tendency to study by spotting and rote, use as little thinking as possible and be almost completely useless upon completion of the exam.
I have had tutors and lecturers tell me that it is useful, but that is at best an unsupported assertion and at worst, a blatant lie. The CLP taught me absolutely zero professional skills. Worse, one of the most fundamental skills a lawyer requires, drafting, is virtually non-existent. On top of this, there is no real understanding between the tutors and lecturers on the one hand, and the markers (which tends to be subcontracted to lawyers, lecturers, etc.) in terms of how they expect the question to be answered. As a result of this, the results tend to be on the low end and gives the misleading impression that this silly exam is intellectually or mentally difficult. It is not. It's memorisation.
And as if that were not bad enough, despite the official line and protestations and assurances from the tutors and lecturers, I believe there is a quota. It cannot be that the overseas and external law programme graduates have an average passing rate of approximately 30% or thereabouts pass each year. Our third-year exams were way harder than the CLP. But I will get to that in a moment. Lastly, the CLP should be scrapped immediately and the board should look immediately towards the English or Australian Bar courses and exams, modify them and adopt them.
Malaysians are generally intelligent - they may at times be selfish, corrupt, talk a lot of nonsense, be petty, cowardly but beneath it all simmers an intelligence that they usually call upon in those very crucial moments to get them out of a jam. And the CLP is one big jam. So if the exam is really not that difficult, then the low passing rate must be a result of the quota system. Why the quota then?
From my meagre experience at the Malaysian Bar, I conjecture that it is to help out the local graduates that are being churned out by the aircraft-carrier loads from the local universities get jobs. The truth is that most of these local graduates, who often tend to be Malays (because it is 'difficult' for the non-Malays to get in) possess very poor skill sets - very poor language skills (both in Malay and English), the level of sophistication in their thinking is very low, they lack a creative critical faculty and have poor research skills.
I know this because I have interviewed fair number of them during job interviews. Of course, the best in these local universities are really good and can probably blow away even those top overseas graduates out of the water. I would say that the proportion between the excellent, good, average and poor in these local universities is in the shape of a pyramid.
Those lacking in these skills predictably have difficulty finding employment. And that is the main complaint of a lot of the established or law firms that maintain a very high standard. They don't want to hire these local law graduates. Given a choice they would hire a foreign graduate because they generally tend to possess most of those necessary skill sets to some measure.
I am certain that sometime in its development, somebody must have come up with a brilliant plan to 'Tolong Melayu' and made the CLP harder to pass so that the influx of foreign graduates turns into a trickle. The scarcity of these foreign graduates naturally would force these law firms to bite the bullet and hire the local graduates. If they don't do this, they lose the fee.
And does this help the locally graduated lawyers or the entire legal profession in the end? No. In fact, it encourages and perpetuates a worsening of standards.
Firstly, even though they may be hired, they will be given the work that matches their skill set i.e. mindless unimportant work. They will not be able to develop themselves in the course of their work and have to take initiatives to improve themselves outside their working hours. But then how many lawyers do you see consuming and digesting voluminous amounts of literature, articles and arguments in their free time? How many of them take the trouble to refine themselves to reach the eloquence and class of Raja Aziz Adrusse?
Secondly, these lawyers may open up their own law firms and have their own clients. You can be sure that the clients will not be getting their money's worth and may even find their cases messed up because the lawyer simply doesn't know or have the experience to deal with the matter. So the client gets poor service and has to fork out at least two sets of fees because inevitably, another firm will have to take over the mess. The public is short changed.
Thirdly, a lot of these local graduates who feel they cannot cut it in the private sector or are unable to get jobs tend to end up in the judicial legal service i.e. government because there is a lack of discernment in its recruiting policy. This means that these inexperienced, poorly skilled graduates will be sitting in judgment as senior assistant registrars or magistrates or conducting cases on behalf of the government as deputy public prosecutors or senior federal counsel and rising in time (and being on the right camp) to become chief justice, attorney-general or to some other highly influential position.
It is when they get into higher positions and have not developed their skill sets that the national worsening of standards and quality occurs. When your policy makers and implementers are of poor quality, so to will be their decision-making process and hence the decisions. The newspapers are replete with daily examples of this.
It is important to acclimatise the foreign graduates to local law besides training them with the right skills set for their chosen profession because you will not get that in university. The CLP should transform itself into an exam administered properly, professionally and seriously with its guiding aim in mind being imparting the necessary and right foundation of skills for lawyers to then develop and improve upon.
What should stop is the use of the CLP as a tool of political social engineering to give a leg up to the local, especially Malay, graduates. When you have one leg up, it's easier to fall down. It's best to let them stand on their own two feet and see whether they are fit enough to survive. Because if they are not, then they have no business being there in the first place.