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Fair play

B Y A D E E L W A H I D 2023-09-25
THE business model of law firms in Pakistan is oppressive. It is exploitative and unfair, and not meant to attract individuals with talent, integrity and ambition.

One of the major criticisms of the legal profession is that it is ironically manned with many who unreservedly resort to any means, even unfair, to get things done. To ensure that they hold on to their clients, lawyers may provide services of bribing court staff, stenographers and sometimes allegedly even the judges, too. And not all bribes are considered the bad 1(ind; some are expressly asked to be paid by the litigants themselves. The snail`s pace at which the judiciary can be brought to function requires, at times, greasing palms only to get things moving.

There are many reasons why the lawyers in Pakistan are the way they are: dismal legal education, tribalism and politicisation of bar associations, and unprofessional and unethical practices normalised through their pervasive use over the years.

Most ironically, however, it is not a profession that the aspiring and diligent high school students in Pakistan usually have their ambitions set on. Most of the time, the upright ones just want to steer clear.

Structurally, the challenges are many.

To begin with, employment opportunities in law are few, the graduates many.

Pakistan`s economy is primarily informal, not governed by established principles and rules. Second, the judicial system is badly broken and is highly unpredictable.

The better option for litigants often is to opt out of the ordeal of an unwieldy system. Third, the state and moneyed interests, as apparent from recent events, do not consider themselves bound by any rules. The result: there is just as much that the law and lawyers can do in Pakistan.

And then there is this entrenched status quo of lawyers, guarding their monopoly with ever watchful eyes. The `face value` already exists, the stays come easy, with no incentive to pay even below-minimum wages to fresh graduate lawyers. It should come as no surprise that in a society where many lawyers are seen as having few qualms about employing unjust means to obtain relief for their clients, the lofty notions of fairness do not dictate the manner in which the new entrants in the profession are treated.

The results in the courtroom are not necessarily procured on the basis of the cogency of arguments or the strength of evidence. If they were, even for the most part, there might have been a need for people with aptitude and talent. But, it seems there is no such need.

Even without any such need, there aresome brilliant lawyers in Pakistan. And most of them deservingly do get to the top.

But when they do, the bookkeeping instincts of many kick in. Upending the status quo might not fit in their calculus.

And very little is allowed to trickle down, and by design.

Meanwhile, results from the courts, in many instances, can be attained on the basis of other considerations. In a classconscious society, from the perspective of an employer, it can potentially be more rewarding to hire graduates who went to the right school and, even more importantly, who have relatives in the right positions, since that may be a firmer guarantor of ensuring a ready stream of clients and favourable orders. This cohort also comes with the added advantage of not being solely dependent on the meagre stipend initially handed out.

And who cares if any hardworking, ambitious and talented potential lawyers, not from those right schools and backgrounds, are compelled to choose othercareers. Who advised them to do law anyways? The industry monopolised by some, with no meagre contribution from judges, requires a reset. And in such a reset, there is guidance to be sought not from any wisdom produced by the legal minds in Pakistan. It maybe better to look outside, and askance, towards the culture that pervades the world of venture capital, contained in Sebastian Mallaby`s The Power Law: Venture Capital and Making of the New Future.

While the dynamics of Silicon Valley are completely distinct, there is still inspiration to be sought in its original story, which prominently features Arthur Rock and his key insight, that the most opportune investment is in the `intellectual book value` where the emphasis has to be `on the people who you hope will capitalise on their intellect`. As Arthur Rock would put it, it is all about `backing the right people`.

Arthur Rock, `a self-made loner`, also famously said, that `I never wanted to be the richest corpse in the cemetery`, and that too, in a world curated to make money, and not justice. • The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.