FOR THE second time in a month, federal Attorney-General Daryl Williams has travelled to Asia on a fact-finding mission to push the case of Australian lawyers keen to break into the market.
After returning from China in July, where he held a round table discussion with compatriot lawyers about their post WTO strategies, Williams last week toured Malaysia with an entourage of top-tier representatives, all of whom were specifically invited by his office.
Accompanying the A-G on his tour were senior members of Corrs Chambers Westgarth, Allens Arthur Robinson, Mallesons Stephen Jaques, Freehills and Deacons. Joining them were a number of university deans as well as acclaimed international arbitrator and former NSW chief justice Sir Laurence Street.
As far as the commercial lawyers were concerned, the main objective of the mission was to discuss the prospects of Malaysia opening up its legal services sector to foreign lawyers.
Kanaga Dharmananda, a Perth-based partner with Corrs Chambers Westgarth and member of the delegation, sat in on wide ranging talks with Malaysian A-G Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail.
“The key focus was how, when and in what manner could foreign lawyers be able to practise in Malaysia,” he said.
Williams said “possible models for access” were raised and Dharmananda added that: “There’s nothing official in the wings at the moment.”
However, it was made apparent that it was unlikely foreigners would be permitted to practise conveyancing or civil litigation and that any liberties, if granted, would most probably be restricted to high-end corporate and finance work.
Additionally, domestic law, as is the case in several other Asian jurisdictions, could only be carried out on the proviso that it was performed in association with indigenous lawyers.
“But that is only a proposal that is being considered,” Dharmananda warned.
The Australian lawyers also met with managing partners from local Malaysian firms. Because Malaysia is still officially ‘closed’ to foreigners, Dharmananda felt it was “a bit of an unknown”. He did, however, believe it was more accessible than larger nations such as the PRC.
“China poses greater challenges because of its sheer size,” he said. “Malaysia is smaller in size and scope and therefore it is easier to gain a focus. We also share the same traditions of the common law.”