My one-month internship period in Alex Chang & Co was definitely an unforgettable one, especially taking into account the fact it took place during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
This pandemic has undoubtedly turned the world upside down, with a new string of Standard Operating Procedures set in place, such as the requirement of wearing a face mask in public, maintenance of social distancing and the limitation on the number of people in premises, and many more in hopes of flattening the curve and prevent the spread of the virus. There has been a huge shift in norms and from there “new normals” have emerged. As an effort to comply with the Ministry guidelines, and at the same time to uphold accessibility to justice, comprehensive SOPs for the courts were formulated, with the focus being placed on shifting traditional in-person applications and procedures online.
Thanks to this internship, I have first-hand experience on how technology is assimilated into the judicial process. With the implementation of the conditional movement control order, new lawyers are being virtually admitted to the High Court of Malaya through Zoom calls. As Mr Chang was the representative for the KL Bar, I had the opportunity to witness the proceedings online as well. Although it is vastly different from the traditional long call, I was honoured to be able to witness this historical proceeding.
The Court has also widely utilized Zoom as a platform to conduct hearings, case managements and even witness handling. Managing cases online though convenient, does come with its stumbling blocks, mainly in the form of internet connections. Case managements online tend to run longer than physical ones, especially if either of the parties’ internet connection is not stable enough. That being said, since everything is being done online, parties are spared the hassle of driving to court, finding a parking and waiting for their case to be heard. As such I am of the opinion that online case management is a move in the right direction.
The highlight of my internship will definitely be the opportunity to participate in an online trial. Although I was not able to stay until the case comes to a fruition, it was nonetheless an unforgettable experience.
Given that trials being conducted online are still considered a novel proceeding in Malaysia, I deeply appreciate the opportunity to be able to witness one myself, and to be given the chance to take part in the preparations for it is truly amazing. “How much preparation is needed before you present your case at court?” for me, the answer is A LOT. Besides having to know the case inside out, I learned that the way the documents and information is prepared and stored is very important as well as you have to be able to access that information during trial as soon as possible.
As the trials are being conducted online, an additional test run of the system is required before the start of the trial. Devices such as speakers, an additional laptop, multiport adapters and table lamps should be prepared to facilitate the trial or to handle emergency situations. This would require foresight of the parties to be able to be prepared for any contingencies.
During the trial, the witnesses had to give their evidence and be crossed through Zoom. Checks and balances mechanisms where devised in order to ensure the fairness of the trial is not compromised. For example, the witness must be in a separate and independent room away from the party calling him. If both parties are in different locations during trial, the other party would have to send a supervising solicitor over while the witness is giving evidence or being cross examined. Likewise, the party calling the witness can also have a representative to ensure that the supervising solicitor does not interfere with the witness. Yet certain aspects such as the ability for the judge to observe the demeanour of the witness, cannot be replicated via online trials.
What about if the witness is in a different country? Where travelling is impossible and to employ a supervising solicitor is not practical? Well, this was easily solved by having three cameras instead of just one. Aside from the one the witness is using to communicate with the court, the other two cameras were placed in the witness room at a location which allowed a panoramic view of the witness in the circumstances the evidence was given.
Another notable change would be the way documents are referred to during trial as counsels would have to utilize the “share screen” function on the application to share documents to the judge and other parties. Even though the proceedings were conducted online, it seems to me to be a mere change in venue from a physical to virtual one and does not in any way, alter the essence and procedure in a civil trial.
Furthermore, it seems that with Zoom trials, counsels are able to have as much desk space as they want, rather than being limited to the table provided in the court room. This helps parties to present their case in a more effective manner as documents or statutory authorities referred can be arranged and placed in the most accessible position.
It is undeniable that online trials will never replace the solemnity and grandeur of submitting a case in physical court. The traditional method of advocacy is in every way preferable, but what is usually preferable may not always be practical and given the circumstances, it is likely that technology will be the way forward. As such although I was not able to attend court physically, I am still grateful to have the opportunity to have the real-life experience in observing court trial, albeit through Zoom.
Internship during the Zoom-ing Era
Throughout the month-long period, I was exposed to hands on works that added much value to the internship. I have been assigned to read case files, learnt about the proceedings in the court, conduct proper legal research on various topics, write articles, translate documents and to even draft cross examination questions. Most importantly, I learned the importance of reading judgments properly.
Having completed the Bar Professional Training Course in the UK, I am not familiar with the Rules of Court in Malaysia. Mr Chang thus required the interns to read one Order daily and to write a summary on it. He would quiz us on the rules to ensure we fully understand its application. I am thankful for this exercise as it had definitely prepared me for practice in the future. Aside from the legal work, I also observed the day-to-day running of a legal business.
The biggest takeaway I received from this internship experience is the importance of truly enjoying what you do. The saying “choose a job you love and you never have to work a day in your life” does indeed hold water. Despite the long working hours, this is an invaluable opportunity in helping me to achieve another milestone, and most importantly, for allowing me to further ensure what I want to be in the future. Although it is not easy, but I believe that this is how you improve and learn to tackle the daily challenges of practice in reality.
Although the pandemic did affect my internship experience in that I was not able to attend physical court, it did further enhance my insight and knowledge on novel areas, such as the judiciary’s approach in embracing technology. As such I do not think that my internship experience was hindered in any manner.
I would like to express my gratitude to the very friendly Ms Janice, Ms Chow and Ms Elaine for their guidance and patience. Especially to Ms Janice who prepares our delicious lunch on a daily basis. Not to forget legal assistant, Ms Lim for always taking the time to explain and guide me despite her busy schedule, thank you for sharing your experiences and advice. Also, the fellow pupil and intern Aini and Jeff, who helped me throughout my internship and also for my learning experience. Thank you for always lending a helping hand whenever I needed it. Last but not least, I would like to thank Mr Chang for his guidance, willingness to teach and knowledge that I will never forget.
University of London
Bar Professional Training Course