Fall Of The Fallen: Why Our Lawyers Behave Badly
“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”
Dick the butcher in Shakespeare’s King Henry VI, Part 2
Lawyers throughout the world are notorious for their manipulative, scheming ways. Their infamy resonates so well with the public sentiment that no great writer or statesman seems to have missed an opportunity to take a jibe at them. Indeed, if lawyers had been dispensable, they would have long ago been declared by law to be thieves and swindlers.
But a lot of people still do become lawyers, and the best of them do not choose this route because they are looking for solace in becoming indispensable. Nor do they choose it simply because they like it. Law is not a flavor of ice-cream. It is a profession requiring the most difficult skill that human beings have ever aspired to: persuasion – a profession shared also by prophets and statesmen. When questions arise of land, livelihood, inheritance, family, life and death, and justice is sought, a lawyer offers themselves up as the custodian of your rights, if you can pay their fee. So those who become lawyers do so because they think they can work hard enough to find persuasive arguments in favour of their client, and be worth the money they are paid. It is a business and a passion, like medicine or engineering. Indeed, if the laymen professed to know as little about law as they do about medicine and engineering, there will not be a lot of lawyer-based jokes out there.
You may have guessed by now that I am a lawyer myself with the idealism of a recent graduate. But you can hardly begin to surmise the pain I felt when I heard about lawyers in the Lahore High Court using slogans and vandalism as their arguments to persuade a judge [read: attacked PIC as a mob]. I could have done medicine, I could have become an accountant, but I felt that law was my true calling. But unfortunately I am bound to practice law in Pakistan. Poor me! The shattered hopes and dreams!
But I knew it all along. So it’s fine. What I am interested here in sharing with you is not how shocking and unreasonable the behavior of lawyers was, but the causes of this apparent oxymoron of unruly lawyers. My thesis here is a very simple one, but I hope you would trudge through the premises with me before we get there.
Becoming a lawyer in Pakistan is not the really the first option of a bright child. I have yet to come across a non-lawyer parent who wishes to see his or her child become a lawyer. While I was at GCU for my pre-medical eight years ago, I saw the smartest kids from all over Punjab gearing up to join one of the two professions – medicine and engineering, and later, of course, to try their luck at the CSS exams. However, if the kid is “average”, the next option would be to queue up for Commerce or MBA. If not that, then perhaps computer sciences. If that’s too difficult, then a Masters in Economics would be handy. Joining the army is an option too. But if they have exhausted all options and do not have parents rich enough to buy them a job, only then does our hopeless kid knock at the doors of law. It is not difficult to imagine the amount of intellect and passion behind this choice. Just ask the first desi lawyer you meet about their qualifications.
The tough journey to the choice of law is followed by another humongous task: English. The goddamn language of the law. A language that people in Pakistan speak mostly to show off that they know it, but seldom to persuade anyone. I was employed for some time in the Supreme Court of Pakistan and I can tell you that they do not speak it regularly even there, especially not if ordinary claimants and witnesses are part of court proceedings. The “minglish” that is used in the High Courts and the lower courts has always been a comic drama for me titled, “Lost in Translation.”
However, after English, the sufferings of our new recruit are reduced to a minimum. The law schools try to keep their students at as much ease as possible. Except for reading statutes, that is laws enacted by the Parliament, there is hardly anything they are required to do. They do not have to write much. And, for their own benefit, they are forbidden to speak. They just have to listen to the boring lecture of a person who often has the same degree that they are teaching for. Having an LL.B. is enough to teach an LL.B. class. At the time of final exams, if the student has memorized all the words in the same order as in the statute, success is guaranteed.
Then there is a final formality required to get a licence to practice law: the bar exam. I heard an anecdote once on good authority that an official of Lahore High Court Bar Council was proud of the fact that the pass rate in their bar exams was a perfect 100 percent. For all practical purposes, it is just a matter of paying the licence fee and showing up for the exam and the interview in a purple (or some such colour) tie. (Only just bear in mind that at least half of the students who take the bar exams in New York or Tokyo fail to pass). Finally, we have our recruit ready to practice law, usually as an apprentice to a senior lawyer who went through the same process earlier in his life.
Let us follow our new lawyer one step further. Since we are a common law country, our legal system relies on statutes as well as precedents. This precedent business is really tricky. While there is usually only one statute on a give legal subject, there might be dozens of precedents scattered over a long period of time and hidden in several volumes of law reports. Discovering those precedents is the most important task of a common-law lawyer. The purpose of this exercise is to see how courts have historically dealt a particular legal problem and which arguments can or cannot be used to convince the court. Usually, this task is made easier by legal scholars who labour through these precedents, analyze them, criticize them and try to find the correct legal position at any given point in time. The products of such labour are encyclopedia-like books called treatises. But it is an amazing fact in Pakistan’s legal history that it can boast of only one treatise, which was published in 1958 by Mr. A. K. Brohi on the constitutional law of Pakistan.
A practicing lawyer, of course, does not have the time to do all that scholarship. So they just pick up the precedents that support their case and ignore the rest. The lawyer for the other side does the same. And the judge cannot do any better because they rely on the two lawyers to help them understand the law. Consequently, nobody really knows what the law is on most of the subjects.
There are a few exceptions: lawyers who studied at Ox-bridge, Harvard, or other big names close by. They are as good as they come. Intelligent, hardworking, eloquent and witty. It was some of these who inspired me to study law. But the general picture of the legal profession I have drawn above still stands. In fact, I have said hardly anything new here. Those who care have already written reports and journal articles about the sad state of legal profession in Pakistan.
Most of the lawyers in Pakistan are thus not worth the name. They are not the sharpest minds out there; they are not the most eloquent; they are not the most knowledgeable about law. With these credentials in mind, when I think about the violent behavior of lawyers in the Lahore High Court, I am not shocked at all.
Our legal education and practice fails to dispense two of the most important qualities a lawyer must have: the skill of sound legal reasoning and the ability to acknowledge a sound opposing argument. Well, the need to acknowledge an opposing argument does not even arise when they all know that none of them is capable of coming up with one! And this is the crux of why lawyers were violently protesting against the judges [read: attacking PIC as a mob], that is, they cannot do any better.
Author’s note: This article was originally drafted in October 2010 when lawyers in Lahore had attacked the office of a judge.
The author is a lawyer and a civil servant based in Lahore.