PETALING JAYA: Foreign law firms and lawyers are now permitted to practise in the peninsular, said Malaysian Bar president Christopher Leong.
He said this was possible because of amendments to the Legal Profession Act (LPA) and the Legal Profession (Licensing of International Partnerships and Qualified Foreign Law Firms and Registration of Foreign Lawyers) Rules which came into force on June 3.
"The opening up of Malaysia to foreign law firms and foreign lawyers is a natural progression as world and regional economies become more integrated in trade in goods and services," he said in a statement yesterday.
Leong said with the liberalisation of the legal market, the challenge was for Malaysian lawyers to build capacity and abilities to be more competitive.
He said a major consideration behind the new legislation was to ensure that the liberalisation of the Malaysian legal services market and the entry of foreign lawyers were balanced with the need for the development of Malaysian law firms, and to enable these firms to achieve expertise to compete with foreign counterparts on a level playing field.
Leong said three-year renewable licences could be issued to foreign law firms to operate either an international partnership with a Malaysian law firm or a qualified foreign law firm (QFLF) under the newly created Part IVA of the LPA.
A Malaysian firm, which chose to employ a foreign lawyer, would be given a three-year licence if approved.
Individual foreign lawyers, Leong said, needed to register themselves, adding that registrations had to be renewed annually.
Under the new amendments, foreign lawyers would now be allowed to enter Malaysia for arbitral proceedings.
Those advising on non-Malaysian law could also come to the country and work on a project for up to 60 days subject to immigration approval, he said.
Leong said international partnerships, QFLFs and individual foreign lawyers employed by Malaysian law firms would be regulated by the Bar Council. They would only be allowed to practise in permitted areas.
"All international partnerships, QFLFs and foreign lawyers employed by Malaysian law firms will have to comply with the same rules and regulations governing advocates and solicitors in Peninsular Malaysia," he added.