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Solo legal practice in a changing Malaysian society: ethnic and class elements in lawyers' responses to state intervention


This study is about a group of solo lawyers in Peninsular Malaysia. It is concerned with their professional and extra-professional roles, relationships, problems and responses to sources of patronage and state intervention.
Theoretically, this study examines the influence of corporate patronage - an institutionalised form of control - on the legal profes­sion. Our contention is that because of the distinct ethno-class influence and strong corporate patronage, professionalism as a form of occupational control is not fully developed in this country.
The analysis is based upon an intensive interview of 105 solo and 34 firm lawyers. To supplement these data, we employ participant observation which involved a close study of 12 lawyers, and content analysis of newspaper reports, periodicals and official records.
This study is divided into three parts. The first deals with the theory and method. The second outlines the background and setting. It traces the basis of corporate patronage £rom the colonial period to the present and shows how it affects the legal profession. The last part examines the patterns of patronage, problems· of practice and the consequences of state intervention in the profession.
The findings confirm our contention that professionalism is not well developed within the Bar. The selective patronage of the state and the ethnic-insulated market demands for their services have kept lawyers apart. Stratification within the Bar is based on ethnicity and specialisation with the established Chinese solicitors mostly divorced from the Indian newcomers or the Malays who benefit from the patronage of the state. The weakness of the Bar has encouraged the use of touting and other unethical methods as a means of obtaining clients. The
lack of unity in the Bar and the strong reaction of the government keen on maintaining political stability to attract foreign investment quickly stifled the lawyers' initiative to effect a radical change in the laws of the country.

Publication Date Jan 1, 1979

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