The Rise of the Young: Enlightened or Entitled?

Are we witnessing a revolution? Can I call it a revolution of the Malaysian legal profession?

I’m very much still reeling from yesterday’s Malaysian Bar AGM. I’ve tweeted one too many tweets on the proceedings that I think my followers would probably appreciate a break from my rants. But truth be told, I think there’s still so much to be said about how things went yesterday.

Firstly, it was an amazing feat to see all motions proposed for the day, save for 1 which was withdrawn, in particular the motions for minimum wage for pupils and the motion to clarify the validity of the Bar Council’s Sexual Harassment Mechanism, being passed despite the heated discussions. I do wonder if the fact that the AGM was held virtually helped in getting these motions passed.

The significance of these motions, I believe, lies in the fact that they were proposed and pushed forward by young lawyers i.e. lawyers practising for less than 7 years, whether they are aligned with the Young Lawyers Movement (YLM) or not.

Much has been said about the manner in which these young lawyers were treated at the AGM and unfortunately, such treatment only validates the cries and complaints of young lawyers to be treated better. The young lawyers were undeterred and each of the speakers held their ground despite having been shut out, spoken over, interrupted, cut-off mid-speech and in the case of one young lawyer, he pretty much got yelled at! I still think many of them were not only very eloquent, far more eloquent than some more senior lawyers, but extremely brave.

Whatever my feelings or views about YLM, which I have tweeted publicly and spoke of privately to at least one member of the YLM, I view these young lawyers with much admiration. For one, the issues which they are raising are not new issues within the legal profession. Much has also been said by more senior lawyers, including my contemporaries, about how we all used to just suck it up and didn’t “whine” as much.

I’ve had this debate, both with friends and in my head, as to whether the young ones are dealing with it better than we did. If we were completely honest with ourselves, we complained just as much but just not as directly and publicly as the young ones do now on social media. Did we not have indirect social media posts about the less than acceptable working conditions back in the day? Think of those Facebook “check-ins” at the office on weekends, cryptic Facebook statuses which your closest friends and colleagues know exactly who and what you were referring to, etc.

Enlightened or Entitled?

I’m sure it’s no secret that many more senior lawyers are quick to dismiss this new generation of young lawyers as entitled or calling them the “Snowflake generation”. At the risk of repeating myself far too much, I simply cannot get over the fact of how this dismissive attitude was so obviously seen at yesterday’s AGM and how I still find it to be absolutely shocking.

But are these young lawyers really “entitled”?

Dare I suggest that they may be far more “enlightened” than we were when we were in their shoes. Of course, I never appreciate the blatant rudeness or misplaced anger demonstrated by some of these lawyers and I’m in no way condoning such behaviour. I maintain my views about certain people in terms of their engagement with other more senior lawyers and the manner in which they handle criticism on social media.

When I say this group of young lawyers may be “enlightened” as opposed to “entitled”, I am very much referring to the fact that, quite unlike us, they are not as willing to accept oppressive and predatory behaviour within the profession. To that, I say, what is so wrong about that? It is about damn time for this profession to be held accountable for bullying, exploitation and harassment. I say this with some self-awareness that despite having real experiences of toxic workplaces, at some point in my career, I was myself perpetuating the same toxic culture which eventually broke me. This is something I hope to speak more about because it was something I had to learn to undo in therapy.

More senior lawyers need to now accept that younger lawyers today will no longer buy the old tune they’ve been singing for far too long. And, as uncomfortable as it may be for them, this is probably exactly what the Malaysian legal profession needs. Maybe, finally, some kind of revolution will happen. When the fear-mongering of fewer jobs, fewer pupillage places as a response to what may be blatantly exploitative and oppressive conduct by some employers no longer hold water, when victims of sexual harassment no longer wish to suffer in silence, when lawyers will no longer suffer bullying in silence then maybe not as many of us will end up leaving the profession or end up in therapy just to get through life. Maybe it is about damn time we hold each other accountable for our poor behaviours.

The young lawyers are causing much discomfort to the old guards and quite frankly, I am more than delighted to live to see this day. Whilst I’m not quite sure if we will see anything life-changing from the newly elected Bar Council office bearers, I do expect and hope to see the YLM and other young lawyers continue to put pressure on the old guards and hold them accountable for taking steps to address and reflect the motions which were passed yesterday. I still maintain my views that more change can happen outside the Bar Council and without interference from the Bar Council but I’d be happy to be proven wrong.

In true keyboard warrior fashion, I will continue to hide behind my Twitter account & this blog and quietly support the efforts of young lawyers forcing the Bar Council and senior members of the Bar to accept change. I believe we are witnessing the rise of the young and it is a great time to be alive to see this happen. I hope they can keep on fighting the good fight and I expect them to be riding high from their victory yesterday.

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