Rarely had the Bar Council (BC) lost all of its motions proposed at a members’ general meeting as it did last weekend.
Going into the Malaysian Bar’s Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) on 25 September 2021, I intended to support the product motions numbered 1.1 (LexisNexis) and 1.4 (eLaw). In terms of pricing, the other three products in the motions numbered 1.2 (CLJ), 1.3 (LawNet), and 1.5 (Westlaw) were not as competitive. Our firm would be paying more than we currently are.
As my firm uses some of these products, I do not question their merits – they are essential to legal practice.
Unfortunately, as the meeting progressed, with sharp questions by members, one thing dawned on me. The manner in which the motions was being presented gave the impression that members were being held at ransom by the BC or LexisNexis Malaysia Sdn Bhd (LNM), or both.
The BC proposed the five motions and should have supported all of them. However, the President and the BC’s speakers appeared to push members to support only the LexisNexis motion, while being ambivalent and even ambiguous about the other four motions. The BC started to sound like a LexisNexis sales representative. Why?
As was soon revealed, the BC was compelled to call the EGM and put motion 1.1 to the vote as it faced a legal suit by LNM. Mediation negotiations led to this meeting. Apparently, the other legal products were proposed just to make up the list of legal products in the market and to create an illusion of choice for members.
I commend the President for his attempts at answering each question posed at the EGM. Oddly, when addressing the suit and the mediation, his responses came across as either flippant or dismissive. While he admitted a connection between the LexisNexis motion and the suit, he assuaged us not to think about the suit as the Bar had “a good defence”, but urged us to “do the right thing”.
Instead of being convincing, his answers confused me further. It sounded as if the BC had something to hide. (I am not alleging that the BC is hiding something though.)
No details were revealed about the terms of the mediation. What would happen if members passed motion 1.1, and what if we did not? More clarity should have been given.
The President also did not satisfactorily address other questions:
- What about our existing subscriptions with the service providers?
- Why were the other motions regarding CLJ, LawNet, eLaw, and Westlaw necessary when they only empowered the BC to negotiate further and enter into agreements at its sole discretion?
- Why did the Selangor Bar Committee proceed on its own to sign the agreement with LNM in March 2021, knowing that BC did not table the LexisNexis motion in 2019 and that a suit was ongoing?
- Is it fair for the BC to carve out the Selangor Bar members from paying the LexisNexis levy while they retained the right to vote on the motion?
- What did the President mean when he said that the LexisNexis motion was not tabled in 2019 due to “competition law” issues?
More time for debate at the EGM should have been allowed to resolve these questions. My doubts about the BC’s sincerity in moving the motions increased as the meeting progressed.
To date, it is unclear what the actual facts are. I hope that the BC can be transparent on the LexisNexis story. If mistakes were made, members ought to know, especially when the BC seeks members’ sanction. Members are loath to be shepherded to vote one way or another, at the risk of losing a lawsuit that may cost us large sums of money without being given the full details.
Fortunately, this setback to the Bar is temporary. Group subscriptions (such as our professional indemnity insurance scheme) undeniably benefit members because we are able to reduce the price for each user through bulk purchases. Efforts to sign up for legal research products by the Bar must continue, but perhaps on an opt-in basis.
The rejection of the motions at the EGM is a message by members to the BC – to think through its next move and properly exhaust the possible negotiation avenues with all the providers before tabling similar motions again, and at more favourable prices. Nothing less is expected.
Nevertheless, the EGM was not about the pros and cons of the products or their prices. The BC wanted us to focus on those when, in reality, there was more to it.