ANTHEM FOR DOOMED YOUTH
Every year is the same story.
It is election season for the Bar and it is inevitable that something akin to a guard of honor will be stationed near the entrance of the Civil and District Court in Lahore. Wading through the mass of political card throwing, with complementary handshakes thrown in for good measure, there is something you cannot help but notice: The number of young lawyers whose entire year has come to revolve around this ritual gathering in the name of their senior’s political aspirations.
Leaving aside those who do this off their own free will. My attention is directed towards those first year associates who are roped into this practice as ‘part of their job’, given little choice in the matter. It is galling for many young lawyers, who may have landed a job with some difficulty, to have a substantial amount of their year being spent in electioneering activities. That is one year of learning sycophancy and badgering that could have been spent learning the art of advocacy.
What stops them from leaving? A first year associate drops into the saturated pool which is the legal market having very little value. They lack any set of skills (because of the wonderful legal education imparted by law schools in this country) to make them appealing prospects to legal practitioners and firms. Their quest for a job is not an easy one. After constant rejections, they will latch on to the slightest prospect of being hired. Once they are in, they are afraid of leaving lest they add ‘quitter’ to their already lacking résumé.
This scenario is not a rare one. I have come across a number of young lawyers who are treated as little more than grunts by their employers and senior lawyers. The starting salary for most associates fresh out of law school is usually either nothing or a token sum. The rationale for this is that employers need to train them before they can actually be of any worth to them.This rationale, sadly, is not as unfair as it seems. The legal education system in Pakistan does very little to train lawyers for the first year of practice. The entire concept of how a case actually moves through the different layers of the court system is alien to them. They lack basic drafting skills because of the lack of practical training in law schools, and are given no exposure regarding advocacy skills or client interaction.Left adrift by the institutes that are supposed to be their lifeboat into the stormy waters of the legal profession, they must paddle their way to whoever is willing to train them when they graduate-whether or not they are paid well.
However, this rationale for low pay would be convincing if it only applied to an initial training period of a year. The low pay actually continues on. A majority of young associates who have worked for three to four years in the profession are given around 15-20 thousand. This is done regardless of whether they are subjected to 10 hour workdays. What is completely beyond understanding is that most senior lawyers respond to this injustice by stating: ‘We went through the same,’ I wasn’t aware that the precedent system applied with such rigor to exploitation in the workplace.
Salary aside, the truly sad factor is that many senior lawyers just do not allow themselves to trust young associates. I have seen experienced, hard working, intelligent associates be little more than glorified researchers in litigation firms because their employers just refuse to give them substantial work that actually involves going to court.Most employers just do not care about building an effective workforce for the future. They are autocratic one-man only machines, which have limited their own ability to grow. What these employers don’t seem to understand is that even if they are a major success, they cannot do all the work themselves. Just look at some of the biggest law firms in the world, they cannot possibly be run by one person. Their acknowledgement of that is seen by their constant training and supervision of their workforce. This fact seems to be lost on most employers in Pakistan.
Layering into these problems is ethical disfiguration. When I was teaching at a law school in Lahore my students felt that the legal community neither expects nor merits high professional standards, clear moral vision, or quality legal thinking. This thinking is not upended because there is no process involved in legal education of inculcating professional ethics into law students. Leaving that aside, one factor in the issue is how many employers and lawyers tell young associates that they cannot survive in the legal system without having deceit, manipulation, bellicosity and a propensity to bribe in their repertoire.
The young lawyers in this country are the future lawyers of this country. The sooner we start to appreciate that fact the better our legal system becomes. I was blessed enough to have as my employer (and mentor) a man who appreciates this fact and has always treated me and my fellows with respect, and has made us feel proud of being in this profession and working with him. His brilliance and philosophy of hard work inspires me to always push myself to do the best. I know many others are not that lucky. Senior lawyers need to start to believe that their associates are so transitory because they do not feel valued. Train them, respect them, and pay them on the basis of their work ethic and your own burden will be reduced in the future. Teach them the values of honesty, professionalism, and decorum and people will see them as manifestations of who you are.
I address employers in Pakistan: Reform of legal education can do much to break this vicious cycle, but what can be done now is a change in the thinking of those who hold the future of our youth in their hands. Do they not have an obligation to refrain from exploiting these individuals? Have they forgotten how they felt going through the same process? You are not making them ‘tough’ by subjecting them to this treatment, if that were true employees in the U.K. or the U.S. would be the weakest lawyers in the world. You are only disillusioning our youth as to what they are to expect from the legal profession in our country. You are only playing the background score to the decimation of the hope that springs from youth.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any organization with which he might be associated.