Lawyers And Low Wages In Pakistan: A Cry For Reform

The legal profession is in need of structural reforms to address the chronic problem of young lawyers being underpaid. These will have to start with quality control in legal education, and should encompass the establishment of a minimum, livable wage.

Lawyers And Low Wages In Pakistan: A Cry For Reform

Several law practitioners have written or commented on this topic, following Advocate Feisal Naqvi’s recent article on the remuneration of young law professionals. As a senior partner of one of the largest law firms in Pakistan, I only think it is appropriate that I share my thoughts. 

The legal profession in Pakistan has a rich history and is held in high esteem. However, beneath this veneer of respectability, there are deep-seated issues that have left many lawyers in Pakistan grappling with the harsh reality of low or sometimes non-existent wages. In this article, we will explore the fundamental reasons behind this predicament and present solutions that can foster positive change within the legal community in Pakistan.

Key Reasons for Low or No Wages

Poor Educational Standards: Legal education forms the bedrock of the legal profession. While institutions like PULC, LUMS, and IIUI maintain an acceptable standard of legal education, the broader landscape in Pakistan is marred by disappointingly low educational quality. Numerous law schools fail to provide any meaningful education, leaving graduates ill-equipped to navigate the intricacies of the legal world.

Lack of Practical Training: A glaring omission in legal education in Pakistan is the lack of practical training. Many law graduates find themselves adrift during their initial years in the field due to the absence of real-world experience. This deficiency in practical training contributes to the hardships experienced by lawyers at the outset of their careers.

Influence of Capitalism: Pakistan, like much of the world, operates within a capitalist economic framework that emphasizes profitability. This capitalist approach has created an environment in which senior lawyers prioritize financial gain over nurturing the legal talent of junior associates, further exacerbating the wage gap.

Diminished Human Element: Societal and economic factors have eroded the human touch within the legal profession. Young lawyers, in many cases, are treated as if they were machines, and there's a growing inclination to replace them with something more cost-effective, such as technology, including artificial intelligence. Just as with other sectors and professions in a socially corrupt environment, the legal profession has retained very little of its inherent humanity.

Oversupply of Lawyers: One of the most pressing issues plaguing the legal profession in Pakistan is the oversaturation of lawyers. The number of law graduates far exceeds the demand for legal services, leading to a saturated job market and plummeting wages, sometimes even down to zero. This oversupply is underscored by our recent experience, where out of over 100 resumes received, only two candidates were eventually employed.

Limited Commercial Activity: Pakistan's economy, while showing growth, is not as large as that of some other countries when population size is considered. Most disputes that yield substantial income for lawyers arise from commercial transactions. Litigation lawyers thrive on disputes, especially those linked to commercial activity, while transactional lawyers rely solely on the ebb and flow of economic activity. More often than not, Pakistan has faced economic challenges stemming from socio-political reasons, one after another.

Economic Inequality: Only a small percentage of the population is wealthy. If there are fewer people with deep pockets, there is a corresponding adverse effect on economic activity. Chronic inflation, especially during the last five years or so, has eroded the upper middle and middle classes, severely impacting economic activity in Pakistan.

Hypocrisy: Many of us demonstrate in our daily lives that we are 'religious.' However, the morality prescribed under divine law is often missing in our day-to-day affairs. At times, we act in a manner that lacks the kindness and respect we should show to our fellow humans. Scholars and teachers must work hard to emphasize the divine decree of treating fellow humans well. 'People are of two kinds, either your brothers in faith or your equals in humanity,' as Imam Ali wisely said. While many of us admire him, in practice, many of us fall short of following his and other divine teachings.

Owing to the reasons given above, many law chambers in Pakistan fail to provide lawyers with adequate compensation. While reputable law firms offer competitive salaries based on capability and hard work, these positions are limited in number. Consequently, a substantial segment of lawyers grapple with the challenge of securing a stable income.

Proposed Solutions and the Way Forward

To address the multifaceted challenges faced by lawyers in Pakistan and to ensure that they receive fair compensation for their services, it is imperative for all stakeholders to come together and spearhead efforts aimed at reforming the legal profession. Here are the critical steps that could lead to positive change:

Quality Control in Legal Education: The first pivotal step towards enhancing the legal profession is implementing rigorous quality control measures in legal education. Private colleges and institutes must be regulated to ensure high-quality course content, attendance, and teaching standards. This will equip students with the necessary skills and knowledge to excel in their legal careers.

Mandatory Practical Training: Merging the degree and license requirements and instituting mandatory practical training of at least two years before granting a degree and license is essential. This will provide aspiring lawyers with the real-world experience necessary to thrive in the legal landscape.

Establishment of a Minimum Wage: Safeguarding the financial interests of lawyers necessitates the establishment of a minimum wage for legal professionals. This wage should be reviewed annually to ensure that it remains in line with the economic conditions of the country.

Promoting Junior Lawyers: Encouraging experienced lawyers to take junior associates under their wings is crucial. Each lawyer with ten or more years of legal practice should be mandated to employ at least one junior lawyer. Likewise, lawyers holding a Supreme Court of Pakistan license should be required to employ at least two or possibly three junior lawyers. This not only provides mentorship opportunities but also helps alleviate unemployment among recent graduates.

Encouraging Mentorship: Senior lawyers must remember the challenges they faced when starting their careers and actively engage in mentoring junior lawyers. This mentorship should encompass not only legal skills but also guidance on building a sustainable and fulfilling legal career.

Leaving a Legacy: Leaving behind excellent humans and well-trained professionals who remember you fondly is the best legacy one can leave. Juniors may politely remind their seniors that ‘all will retire one day; what remains will be your legacy.’

The writer is a Senior Partner of a law firm, RIAA Barker Gillette. The views expressed in this column do not represent the views of his firm.

The writer is a Senior Partner at RIAA Barker Gillette.