Legal Internships in Pakistan

Legal education in Pakistan is reflective of the class system where students from elite and well-informed backgrounds opt for foreign degree programs while others who may be first-generation students pursuing law or belonging to less privileged classes opt for local degree programs. It is submitted that an internship application should not be turned down merely on the basis of an aspirant coming from a local institution.

Unfortunately, law firms in Pakistan tend to maintain this dichotomy within the legal community, thereby contributing further to the divide. One segment consists of conventional lawyers and advocates who usually lack quality training and are often not equipped to deal with the prevalent bar politics, giving rise to an environment that does more harm to fresh graduates than good. The other segment is saturated with attorneys coming in with law degrees from foreign law schools and the Inns of England.

The atmosphere of local bars is mostly exploitative of young lawyers and detrimental to fresh graduates at the beginning of their professional careers since seniors are usually unwilling to share space and they also tend to abusively employ their mentees for political gains at the cost of their time and energy. The elite law firms on the other hand try their best to evade dirty politics and concentrate on the quality of work instead in order to keep up with their contemporaries, which ultimately does create a competitive nourishing environment for the headfast and dedicated entrants.

There is no doubt that foreign law graduates are equipped with several skills. Their Anglo-American accent can also give them an upper hand in communications while working in a country with colonial history. It is also true that they are well versed in British laws as compared to local graduates who may be poorly trained even in local laws. Regardless, it’s neck and neck for both as they both require professional mentorship to learn and master domestic laws, therefore, both have to begin from the ground up. Unfortunately, the ‘locals’ are treated differently and not at par with the ‘imported’ ones. They may have similar knowledge of the law of the land but they meet different fates at the doorstep of top-notch law firms.

Students from local law schools, who gather enough courage to approach esteemed law firms for internships with a résumé that depicts diverse hard work during undergraduate years, ought to be evaluated based on their potential and ability to make the most out of scarce opportunities. To mention a personal experience of seeking an internship, I was turned back at the gate of a renowned law firm when questioned as to whether I came from a particular elite institute in Lahore or some university in England. I was told not to waste time trying my luck at a place where the curricula vitae (CVs) of even my seniors had been stockpiled in the trash. I was further told not to wander around law firms as good as theirs without any influential reference. Looking at my surprised face, they compassionately offered to refer me to someone at the katcheri, but by then I just wanted to dodge them.

In such a hostile environment, it seems nearly impossible that struggling youngsters will be allowed or enabled to pass the barriers to entry and flourishing conditions will be fostered for students from underprivileged backgrounds and marginalized groups (such as women). The social responsibility to provide an equal and fair chance to local applicants lies with the law firms operating in the country. Leading law firms employing local graduates deserve massive accolades. Others should also give equal weightage to law students finding their way up from the public institutions of the state. For all we know, an unpaid, hardworking intern from a public institute may actually end up being a worthy associate and quality professional, ultimately adding to the firm’s glory in the long run.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of or any other organization with which he might be associated.

Khizar Ahmad

Author: Khizar Ahmad

The writer is a law student at Bahauddin Zakariya University Multan and intern at RIAA Barker Gillette Global Alliance. He has participated in several moot court competitions including Philip C. Jessup Global Rounds.

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