In Conversation With Pakistani Lawyer, Anumtah Gul
Interviewer: After obtaining two foreign degrees (LLB and LLM), what difficulties have you faced during your practice in Pakistan?
Interviewee: People mostly fantasize that the life of lawyers is similar to the one portrayed on TV series like Suits and have high hopes. I tried to save myself from having such a high expectation. I visited the courts and met with lawyers to make up my mind about their lifestyle and the struggles that they go through.
I started practising by joining the lower courts. The very first hurdle that I had to overcome was understanding the system of courts over there. During my LLM degree, I had excelled in research for cases, but the lower courts had a completely different system. Cases were being won on the basis of tactics and not research. It took me a while to understand such tactics and deploy them efficiently.
Another concern is that the attitude of judges towards young lawyers seems discriminatory. They favour names over the arguments presented which is very disappointing to say the least. If the grantors of justice follow such trends then obviously an ordinary person will definitely be expected to curse the people of our profession.
I had to overcome some language barriers as well. The language used in the relevant FIRs and other documents was new to me. It used to be really embarrassing for me to go to other colleagues for the mere purpose of understanding a document which, to my astonishment, was not even understood by some of the law graduates well versed in Urdu as well, leaving us at the mercy of our seniors. Our legal education system should design programs to help young lawyers for practical work.
I spent a year in the lower courts to grasp all the basics and then moved to a senior firm to assist with High Court cases. I had to start from scratch again owing to the fact that the system followed at the High Court was completely different from that of lower courts. The first issue was to find a cooperative senior lawyer since most senior lawyers rope in young graduates by indulging them in useless research and consequently waste their time. I managed to find a mentor who not only polished my research and drafting skills but also gave me an opportunity to assist him in court.
On the other hand, once you get stable, you have to work day and night and then you remember why people say lawyers don’t have a life. But if your work gets valued then you manage to gain back your energy to work even harder and help your clients win their battles.
Q: As a young female lawyer in a patriarchal society like Pakistan, how has the legal system treated you? Is it generally accommodating or does it pose difficulties because of the overwhelming gender imbalance?
A: It is very difficult to claim your space in a male dominated profession. On many occasions I found the system as well as the system-runners discriminating against women on the basis of gender. When I started applying in law firms, many rejected me simply on the basis of my gender. It was quite disheartening but it was not anything new. Women face discrimination in various sectors of Pakistan on a daily basis.
Another hurdle I had to face was gaining the trust of clients in the cases of lower courts. Most cases involved feudal issues where the clients considered women to be incompetent to contest. Apparently, my degrees and studies did not make me qualified or capable enough to represent them so I really had to convince them to give me a chance to work on their case. It sometimes felt very disrespectful but one had to be patient and tolerant to progress.
There are many laws regarding equal pay. But in Pakistan I found their implication to be very challenging. Women face discrimination in their pay not only by their employers but even by clients. Just because I’m a female I’ll be paid less but still expected to work more than a male colleague because I have to prove myself, whereas male colleagues ‘deserve’ all the benefits naturally. While the law has empowered me in many ways, law-makers and justice-providers have often suppressed me in their suffocating shelters.
Women are generally preferred and recommended for in-house and desk/research jobs while men are encouraged to go for litigation because court cases, particularly of a criminal nature, are not considered ‘safe’ for women. It’s ironic how people are concerned for us when they are the ones making the profession unsafe in the first place. Thankfully, there have also been those who have continuously empowered me to survive in this system.
Q: You have also founded an NGO named the ‘HOPE Movement’. Tell us about what it stands for and important initiatives taken by it.
A: HOPE stands for ‘Help Our Pakistan Enliven’. It was founded in 2010. The main initiative of HOPE is to protect human rights and provide the underprivileged with basic necessities of life; food, shelter, education, medical facilities, jobs, etc. An important aspect that can be highlighted here is that we also provide training to marginalized communities, differently abled people and transgenders, and arrange respectable jobs for them so that they can live and earn independently.
Q: How has your law degree helped you in furthering the aims of your NGO, the ‘HOPE Movement’?
A: After officially becoming a licenced lawyer, I furthered the agenda of HOPE by turning the organisation into a platform that would provide free legal services to those in need, because no one should be denied access to justice simply because they don’t have the funds to afford legal services. Most of the cases we have received so far are related to domestic violence, child abuse and medical negligence.
We also started providing legal assistance to wrongly accused prisoners looking for help and legal aid, in order to help them get justice and get released so that they could reunite with their families.
Q: In your opinion, what is a good step that can be introduced or adopted to make the transition from law graduate to lawyer less painful?
A: The concept of introducing a minimum basic salary for fresh graduates would be good. Most law firms do not pay at all or pay a very nominal amount to fresh graduates until they have 4-5 years of experience. As a result of this, instead of earning from work, they are forced to spend from their savings. Consequently, fresh graduates either end up taking other jobs or switch to teaching to cover their expenses. That is synonymous to killing their talent and taking their well-earned opportunity away for which they have struggled hard. A fixed basic salary for them could ease their career path.
Q: What advice/message you would give to the following:
- People who are interested in becoming lawyers,
- People who have just started their legal career, and
- People who want to help the unprivileged members of the society?
A: (i) They should know that the life of a lawyer in Pakistan is a lot different than that portrayed in the movies, so they should not have such high and glamorous expectations. Moreover, they should not think of the subject/sector as an escape route from other subjects such as Mathematics because when it comes to trust law and property law some pupils might actually prefer going back to Mathematics. Institutes should arrange workshops and interactive sessions for students so that they can discuss their concerns before deciding whether they want to pursue law.
(ii) Young graduates should try to be patient while adjusting into the system. They need to be consistent in order to get to a safe and secure position. They shouldn’t try to get big cases as soon as they start practising. They should start with very basic ones. Even if they lose, they shouldn’t feel disappointed. Practically becoming a lawyer needs just as much time as it has taken to get the relevant degree. Senior lawyers should also encourage them during this period, keeping their personal motives aside.
(iii) They should first make up their mind about how and how much they want to help someone and then contact the relevant organizations. They should try to physically go the extra mile to provide such help even if they trust the organizations to do so. This will give them personal satisfaction as well as make them more thankful to all the blessings of Allah that they have been enjoying. Moreover, a person should not hesitate to donate even a small amount as it can still mean a lot to someone.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any other organization with which he might be associated.