In recent days, the pandemic curve has been showing signs of flattening. This occurs as Malaysia enters its third phase of the Movement Control Order. The government has begun to ease restrictions on certain sectors to resume business operations. The legal industry is one such sector, but the move could have benefited with more careful thought.
Guidelines published by the Legal Affairs Division of the Prime Minister’s Department on the 15th of April confirmed that only conveyancing and corporate law firms could operate, but only twice a week for just 4 hours. This, however, only applies to law firms located in ‘green zones’. Law firms of all kinds in red zones were to remain closed.
Allowing law firms to operate depending on locality and the type of law they practice may not be the best choice. What could have worked better is letting the urgency of matters a legal firm is handling be the deciding factor.
Our Southern neighbours Singapore had recently permitted legal firms handling:
I. Criminal, civil and family matters with a court date between 7 April 2020 to 4 May 2020;
II. Commercial transactions with statutory, regulatory or contractual deadlines between 7 April 2020 to 4 May 2020;
III. Conveyancing transactions with deadlines where time is of the essence, or with milestone deadlines between 7 Apr 2020 to 4 May 2020; and
IV. Urgent and essential Wills and Probate matters requiring completion within the period 7 April 2020 to 4 May 2020,
to open within their “Circuit Breaker” order.
We should be allowing firms to open only if they are handling time-sensitive matters, albeit on a scaled-down operation as per the Guidelines and the MITI circular on operations. Since the Courts have extended many deadlines due to the MCO, there will be far fewer firms dealing with time-sensitive matters, and as a result, there will be fewer firms with the need to operate, thus lowering the risk of infections. By allowing legal firms with non-urgent matters to operate during the MCO may actually heighten risks. While there is no way to ascertain the rate of exposure amongst the legal fraternity, the fact remains that we are a large industry. Just in Klang Valley alone, there are about 13,000 lawyers registered under the Bar Council in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor with many more thousands of clients and stakeholders which they have to interact with.
But most importantly, by treating all law firms equally, instead of discriminating according to location and practice will lead to more clarity and less confusion.
Chan Quin Er
Quin Er Chan