By Ben Clarke
In November 2012, I undertook 4 weeks work experience at Thomas Philip Advocates & Solicitors, a law firm located in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. By participating in an international internship, I was able to not only step out of my comfort zone in both a cultural and practical legal sense but also demonstrate my willingness and capability to apply myself to the best of my ability and achieve results for the firm. From day one I wasn’t treated like your average intern, but rather as a member of the team. I was expected to pull my weight and reach deadlines for research tasks and drafting legal documents. In this regard, I thoroughly enjoyed the feeling of taking on the role of a practising lawyer which I found to be an invaluable experience.
You hear rumours that law firms aren’t afraid of throwing you in the deep end to test your capabilities and to see if you sink or swim. This is no rumour. On my first day, I was allocated some research tasks relating to a high profile case which, although I felt very privileged to be exposed to such a sensitive matter on my first day, made me feel as if I was somewhat thrown in the middle of the ocean without any aid . Despite feeling rather disheartened from being thrown in the deep end, I honestly believe that I benefited from it enormously. It gave me the opportunity to not only test my understanding of what I have learnt in law school and put it into practice, but also my capacity to resolve real life legal disputes as opposed to fictional problem solving scenarios. One basic thing I found extremely beneficial was to simply ask questions. By doing so, I formed stronger relationships with the other lawyers who in turn pointed me in the right direction and helped me to stay afloat.
Throughout the duration of my internship at Thomas Philip I was exposed to a wide range of legal matters covering a variety of areas of the law. I was given the opportunity to do a lot of pragmatic legal research for a number of cases, sit in on client interviews and board meetings, read and analyse company’s articles of association and witness statements and draft legal documents.
Before I finished my internship I was also fortunate enough to go to Malaysia’s Magistrates Court, High Court, Court of Appeal and Federal Court several times to witness matters being heard. Here, I was able to observe some the finest, and some of the most terrible, advocates I have ever seen. Funnily enough, the latter proceeded to get into a heated argument with one of the judges from the Court of Appeal by utterly disregarding anything His Lordship had to say and continuously talking over him. This was rather amusing for the rest of us in the courtroom, but not so much for the client he represented.
As a part of the internship I was also expected to participate in a moot in front of the partners, other lawyers and 30 visiting Chinese students which was rather daunting at first. Despite never having been a confident public speaker, I saw the moot as a great opportunity to improve my advocacy skills, especially with the feedback of trained professionals and inspiring lawyers. I was given two days to prepare my submissions in an area of law I had no background in. I thrive off challenges and found the moot to be extremely rewarding and beneficial. I also was proud of my efforts as this was the first time since commencing my law degree that I have not simply read or memorised my submissions, instead I found that the most effective means of delivering my submissions was to become familiar with them and speak to a number of key dot points. I have learnt that confidence is an essential characteristic to the law profession on the basis that if you can’t argue a point of law with a sense of conviction then more often than not you’re going to find it difficult to convince a judge of your argument as well.
Nevertheless, my internship at Thomas Philip wasn’t all work and no play. I was fortunate enough to form some great relationships with many of the lawyers from the firm, all of whom are remarkably intelligent, kind and generous people. This allowed me to truly immerse myself in the Malaysian culture – whether it be eating local Indian food off of banana leaf with my bare hands at the infamous Batu Caves, or having a drink in the local markets and seeing the spectacular sights Malaysia has to offer. I can honestly say that I will value and cherish this international experience for the rest of my life.
I approached my experience at Thomas Philip enthusiastically and with an open mind as I saw the opportunity to participate in an international internship as an invaluable chance to grasp an understanding of the theoretical and practical aspects of legal practice. My experience has done that and more – it has taught me an enormous amount about legal practice with a focus on core litigation skills including interviewing, ethics, communication, independence, research, drafting and advocacy. I honestly believe that my internship at Thomas Philip will provide me with a competitive edge in the forever competitive job market in Australia and overseas and that I will be able to use my internship experience as a springboard into my future career as a lawyer. Unlike most Australian states, Malaysia has a fused profession in which lawyers act as both solicitors and barristers. This appeals to me as I would now like to do both despite my previous hatred of public speaking. My experience has not only affirmed my decision to pursue a career in law, but I also feel as though it has assisted in developing me as an individual. I cannot speak highly enough of the overall experience.
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