What is Reasonable Quantum for Young Lawyers Salaries & Chambering Pupil Allowances?
Recently the esteemed lawyer Thomas Phillip’s FB post regarding the management of Pupils has many young lawyers, pupils, and law students up in arms. There is an ongoing campaign started by my also learned friend Vince Tan to raise awareness on the need for better wage conditions for Pupils and Young Lawyers. This writing is merely to explore the core contention of both sides, calculating quantum.
Difference Between Employment and Apprenticeship
There is a distinction that needs to be made between an apprenticeship which is essentially practical training in other industries such as engineering, and employment. As an apprentice, or a pupil, you are undergoing 9 months of training under a recognized master of the craft, for him or her to assess on behalf of Malaysian Bar and the Court of your fitness to become an officer of the law.
When your Master robes you, it is recognition of your character (akhlak), knowledge and skill, and his or her stamp of approval that you are fit to serve the world as a practicing lawyer. We sell the value of our knowledge, translating legal jargon for clients’ understanding and protecting their interests.
An employment or employer-employee relationship is basically when a person does not require training of any kind and can do the basic tasks he or she is assigned to. Anything beyond the baseline knowledge and skill that the person came to me as an employee, is my responsibility as an employer to ensure he or she has the resources to figure out the solution for the Clients on his or her own within the parameters of his assigned contractual role in the firm.
The issue of Quantum. How do we decide how much is reasonable?
I support the idea of decent living wages for young lawyers and reasonable living allowances for chambering pupils. I did not come from a privileged family myself as a smol young pupil and I empathise when you do rely solely on the allowance to survive. However, the issue that no one has tackled head on is the quantum of what constitutes decent living wages and reasonable allowances.
What are the elements of decent living wage?
Bank Negara in their 2018 Report outlined what is decent living wages divided into three levels. The first, Basic covers needs (food, clothing and shelter), the second, Minimum Acceptable covers participation in society, personal and family development and freedom from severe financial stress, while the third is Aspirational, which is higher standard or living and higher quality of life.
It is then reasonable to say, OK, how does one quantify this into something that one can translate as salary/allowance median average estimates? Bank Negara also stated that for a single person decent living wages should be RM 2,700 in Kuala Lumpur. I would agree that assuming this covers rent, food, health insurance, public transport of one person it would be survivable.
Let’s be reasonable, a successful business relies on the quality of the team members work within that law firm. Good long-lasting law firms treat their employees well, attract the best candidates and retain them with good career prospects/progression into partnership. In any work environment, good organisations rely on professional friendly relationships with one another to ensure the smooth running of their core services. From my own experience, my pupillage allowance was RM 1800 in 2010. My 1st year lawyer salary was RM 2500 per month in 2011. I thought it was fair as the things I learned from my Master and my former employers carried with me until today.
Based on the National Young Lawyers Committee’s Report, the Average Salary for Lawyers broken down by years of experience today is for First Years, RM 2,000- RM 3,500, Second Years, RM 2,000 – RM 4,000, and RM 2,000 – Above RM 4,500.
When we look at Jobstreet for what are the average salaries for Lawyers in Malaysia, the data is slightly different. They collect data from advertised jobs and current salaries mentioned by jobseekers based on the same keyword “lawyer”. Most common salary for lawyers is RM 3,000 per month. However do note that averages are a little skewed due to outliers as there are those who earns RM 11,500 per month and the lowest salary is RM 2,000 per month.
Do also note that the graph above does not break down salaries with the years of experience which also materially impact the salaries of a lawyer. It does however safely allow us to say RM 2,000 is and could be the national minimum wage for First Year lawyers based on current market value based on data from the National Young Lawyers Committee and Jobstreet.
For a young lawyer under 3 years of service could say that RM 4,000 is your reasonable expectation for what would be the ceiling you can negotiate your salary with. Unlike the NYLC’s data which divides between Klang Valley and Outside Klang Valley, further breakdown is given by Jobstreet divided by state as follows:
Eh you focus so much on young lawyers what about pupils?
The only data I could find is based on the National Young Lawyers Committee’s Report the Average Pupil Allowance. It’s between RM 1,500-RM 2,000 in Klang Valley and RM 500-RM 1,000 Outside of Klang Valley.
OKlah Azira, how much should we pay young lawyers and pupils then?
There is insufficient data for me to confirm a quantum for young lawyers in every state of Malaysia based on year of experience and location. While NYLC’s effort in designing and executing a survey is praised as a first step in opening the discussion, there needs to be a further detailed research with the participation of both the employers and employees. The sampling is limited to Klang Valley and Outside Klang Valley.
Jobstreet only collects data based on law firms and lawyers who opens an account there and I do not have access to the quantitative side of their sampling.
That said, even from my privileged home office perch in Ampang the minimum wage rate of RM 1,100 per month based on the National Minimum Wage Act 2019 should be applied to all Pupils nationwide. Yes, they are apprentices, but we as lawyers who claim to be of noble profession should be reasonable. Pupils are future colleagues of equal standing in the Bar, we should practice the nobility we always claim we have.
This is Azira Aziz combining my Policy Analyst hat with my Lawyer hat. Please feel free to email me at Aziraaziz.firstname.lastname@example.org for any discussion relating to law and policy.
*As published on LinkedIn.