Law is still very much one of those university courses which carry a great deal of prestige in Malta, and the title of ‘Dr’ is at the heart of that status. While recent alterations have led to the title being all but eradicated from the practice’s labelling, freshly-graduated Maltese lawyers will still be allowed to use it.
In recent years, the law course at the University of Malta has changed from a 6-year course after which students receive their LL.D. (Doctor of Law) qualification, to a “4+1”-year course after which students are awarded an M.Adv. (Masters in Advocacy) qualification. This was done to adhere to the EU-regulated Bologna Process, because, as the Maltese Faculty of Laws themselves had put it, the previous structure was “archaic” and “unnecessarily lengthy”.
Simply put; the new regulations state that, after graduating from a law course at the University of Malta (or anywhere in Europe which follows the Bologna Process), graduates need to use M.Adv, and not Dr, since that would be… well, illegal.
That, however, is where things get a little complicated.
Last February, GħSL (Għaqda Studenti Tal-Liġi) had said this new change “comes with a necessary evil” which might actually prove to be an obstacle to new law graduates.
“The student body has qualmed that the compliance with the Bologna Process and consequential removal of the “doctor” title, has prejudiced their position as future practising lawyers,” GħSL had said, clarifying their position on the matter. “Moreover, the students maintain that the difference in title shall serve as a prejudice to their potential employability and especially how they are regarded by the lay person.“
Because of all this, the organisation invited “concerned parties to explore and exhaust all possibilities of retention of the “Doctor” title”. Which is what they did.
On Monday morning, kicking off the new semester, JCA (the Junior Chamber of Advocates) executives announced that, “following various discussions with Cabinet”, they – together with the Government of Malta – will be supporting new lawyers and notaries who still stylise themselves as ‘Dr’, “as a matter of courtesy”. The press release further referred to the title of ‘Dr’ as “a matter of convention”.
“ELSA (European Law Students’ Association) Malta welcomes this development and thanks both the Chamber of Advocates and the Maltese Government for safeguarding the best interests of law students,” ELSA president Daniel Vella told Lovin Malta.
While this will definitely help newly-graduated lawyers keep an equal footing with other already-practising lawyers, especially when it comes to the issue of public perception, not everyone seems too sold on the whole idea.
“This practice is immoral, unethical, and even illegal under EU law,” an anonymous reader told Lovin Malta.
“Contrary to popular belief, the ‘Dr’ before lawyers’ name is not a professional title, but an academic one,” they continued. “One may graduate in law at Harvard or Oxford, but they would graduate as Mr/Ms – but at the prestigious University of Malta, law students graduate with a Dr behind their name.”
“Simply put, it is illegal because the Bologna Process specifically states that the ‘Dr’ prefix is entitled only to those that are medical doctors and those whom have finished their PhD (or other doctorate degrees),” the person said. “Hence, this practice goes against EU regulations. It should then be enforced that lawyers use the professional title ‘Adv.’ behind their name.”