Justice Qazi Faez Isa's arrival may offer hope for constitutionalists, but it does not even begin to put a dent in the exploitation of junior or new entrants within the legal fraternity by their seniors. It is imperative to delve into the root causes, obstacles, challenges, and necessary reforms to uplift the competence of the legal fraternity. Recent live streaming of Supreme Court hearings, while a step in the right direction, showed that "actions speak louder than words," revealing disappointing legal arguments and advocacy. This emphasizes the pressing need for enhancement within the legal fraternity.
Harvey Specter in "Suits" created an enticing illusion for young LLB students, portraying a glamorous image of lawyers adorned in expensive suits, effortlessly settling disputes and amassing wealth. Unfortunately, this fantasy does not align with reality, as law colleges emphasize glamor rather than grit, especially with the advent of external distance-learning LLB degrees offered by the University of London. Students from privileged backgrounds, enamored by this misleading image, enter the legal realm, only to face the harsh reality in the courts of Model Town or the dusty alleys of Aiwan-e-Adal. When their sweat stains turn their white shirts yellow, leave salty marks on their coats, and their polished shoes lose their shine, they come to realize that this profession isn't what they thought it would be. The focus on litigation over corporate law exacerbates the issue, adding social pressure for new entrants to pursue a path of litigation-contrary to the Netflix portrayal. Consequently, disillusioned young lawyers, often opt to leave the profession after their obligatory 6-month training period, either seeking opportunities abroad if financially feasible, or resorting to teaching or salaried positions in other sectors. This stark disparity between perception and reality stands as a significant factor contributing to the shortage of competent, new lawyers in the legal fraternity.
It is imperative for bar councils to mandate that every legal associate has a formal contract with their firm, which must be submitted to the bar councils’ records.
The legal profession in Pakistan grapples with a supply and demand imbalance. There are over 160,000 lawyers nationwide, with a significant portion in Punjab alone. This oversupply of lawyers, in contrast to the actual demand for legal services, leads to a situation where senior lawyers can easily exploit newcomers. Efforts by the Supreme Court by introducing the Law Admission Test, graduation test, and extending the study duration to five years along with prevention of evening classes, aimed at creating a more qualified and passionate legal community. However, this intent was diluted by lenient entry criteria in external distance learning degrees, requiring only three years of study with open book examinations and no entrance exams. Furthermore, the number of allowed Law-GAT attempts increased from 5 to 7, and in the process compromised the competency of the legal fraternity.
This influx of new entrants seeking practical experience makes them vulnerable to exploitation. Seniors often opt to hire individuals willing to work without compensation, undermining the necessity of stipends for training. The financial strain and limited remuneration from top firms mean only those from affluent backgrounds can endure the profession's challenges. Consequently, this has led to a drain of talent, with capable individuals coming from prestigious institutions like LUMS leaving the legal sector due to exploitation. In effect, a few dominant families or cartels control the legal arena, hindering growth and fostering an unhealthy work environment.
The @LUMSLawAlumni had a three hour long discussion on compensation in the legal profession. Starting out, I was personally very ambitious and determined to purse a career as a lawyer and decided to leave because I no longer could “afford” being part of the profession. (1/n)— Aman Rehan (@amanrehann) September 14, 2023
Now coming towards the solutions to the above obstacles. More than 150,000 students participated in the MDCAT examination, yet there are only 7,800 available seats in public sector medical colleges across Pakistan. This scenario leads to a system where only the top-tier students secure admissions, fostering diversity by encouraging others to explore alternative fields. This selective process helps maintain a high competency level within the medical profession.
Similarly, the legal field would benefit from a competitive entry test for all prospective students, including those pursuing external distance learning. Such a process would ensure that only passionate and competent individuals enter the field, reducing the likelihood of exploitation by senior professionals. Students who undergo this rigorous selection process would be less likely to compromise their integrity and hard work by accepting unpaid positions. Additionally, this approach would deter the practice of working for senior lawyers during election campaigns.
The current scenario, where work often goes unpaid, allows senior lawyers to disregard the performance and skills of their associates. Hiring through references perpetuates this problem, overlooking many talented individuals.
Moreover, making court visits and internships mandatory for law students as part of their degree requirements would help dispel misconceptions about the legal field perpetuated by elitist portrayals. It would expose young entrants to the realities, challenges, and issues within the legal profession, offering a more grounded understanding beyond the idealized depictions found in universities and Netflix legal dramas.
Furthermore, it is imperative for bar councils to mandate that every legal associate has a formal contract with their firm, which must be submitted to the bar councils’ records. These contracts should stipulate a minimum wage per month, ensuring that positions within law firms are compensated fairly. This shift will compel firms to remunerate new entrants, fostering a competitive environment where hard-working and passionate lawyers are sought after. The current scenario, where work often goes unpaid, allows senior lawyers to disregard the performance and skills of their associates. Hiring through references perpetuates this problem, overlooking many talented individuals.
By implementing this condition, the legal profession would attract and retain more talented individuals who might otherwise leave due to exploitation. During their university years, students would actively seek basic practical experience through internships to compete effectively in the field once they obtain their degrees. This approach mirrors the competitive nature of exams like CSS or medical entrance tests, where individuals fully prepare and compete based on their dedication and skills. Ultimately, enhancing competency in the legal fraternity through fair compensation and merit-based hiring would address the challenges faced by young lawyers and elevate the overall standard of the legal profession.
Implementing these steps will boost the legal fraternity’s competency and standards, instilling public confidence in lawyers' advocacy skills, the deficiency of which was especially evident during the Supreme Court live streaming. Fair compensation and merit-based hiring will improve legal representation, aligning with public expectations and enhancing trust in the legal system.