I was first exposed to exploitation within the lawyer community last year in August, after being enrolled as a lawyer at the Karachi Bar Association.
I met with a typist named Mubarak Ali — who over a cup of tea — narrated a story about a lawyer and his intimate relationship with a client, who had come to him for the dissolution of her marriage.
Lawyer: "Why do you want to dissolve your marriage?"
Client: “He beats me up; makes me do all the housework for his family. He doesn't help me financially in the upbringing of our children. I started stitching clothes and selling them in order to manage household expenses. When he is drunk, he sexually abuses me.”
Lawyer: “That’s really sad. You are just like my sister and I’ll personally look into the matter. I usually charge Rs20,000 for such cases but since you are just like my sister, I will just charge Rs10,000.”
Client: “Wakeel sahib, I stitch clothes to my pay bills. It’s hard for me to even arrange Rs10,000.”
Lawyer: “For now, just give me Rs4,000. I have to rush for another case right now but meet me in the evening at my place and I'll see what I can do.”
Client: “Okay, but I’ll be late because I have to drop my son to his khala's.”
At his house, the lawyer ruthlessly told the woman to pay an additional Rs6,000 for dissolution of her marriage or grant him sexual favours.
With no means of affording the fee, the woman succumbed.
Classism within the lawyer community
The legal fraternity is divided into three classes:
At the top are those individuals who obtain degrees from foreign law schools. They subsequently return to Pakistan, and have enough capital and plenty of affluent connections to open their own practice.
The second class comprises those who finish law degrees from local universities like Lums, Lecole and Szabist. These graduates are usually hired by the corporate sector since they are well versed in English — the lingua franca of the sector.
The third class, which is the most vulnerable, includes those who graduate from public-sector colleges like SM Law College, Islamia Law College among others; I belong to this class.
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It takes around six months to enroll as a lawyer at a district court. Frantically searching for seniors to mentor them, male lawyers are not on payroll during this time.
Female lawyers are paid but often in return for certain favours — ranging from having to forcibly dine out with a senior to going on long drives at night or acquiescing to sexual favours.
Walking blind through the fog
Whenever I turn to my seniors for advice or guidance on complicated cases, none of them are particularly helpful. In the case that they do offer advice, I need to make sure that it is devoid of agenda.
Every class enjoys maintaining a certain level of monopoly over language and information. It is common to hear phrases like:
"You always need a senior. Books won't teach you anything."
Every senior (determined by age, not the years of practice) has a master-slave relationship with his/her junior. This means the vulnerable newcomers must do menial work like ensuring office maintenance, taking adjournments and holding files for their senior counterparts.
To assert that he is the absolute authority, a senior lawyer will often openly abuse his colleagues or negate their opinion in front of juniors — the king must simply never be questioned.
Arrogance and competition
I know many people who practice law after working for several years as typists. There is a huge class of district lawyers who can barely speak English or know how to draft proposals. By giving anywhere from Rs600 to Rs1,000 to a typist, they get the job done.
Typists, who later graduate and practice law, have experience in drafting thousands of cases for lawyers and consequently transform into arrogant know-it-all variations.
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Thousands of lawyers are enrolled every year at bar associations without any planning on the government's part to grow the market to accommodate the influx. This results in cut-throat competition for work. Under these circumstances where survival of the fittest is the rule of the game, ethics and fair play take a back seat.
Bigotry and exploitation
Two friends of mine from S.M Law College — one of whom is a Judicial Magistrate — are examples of the bigotry prevalent in the legal community.
Last year in November, a Christian lady married a Muslim real estate agent and changed her name to Marium. This change was also reflected on her personal documents.
She came to me because she wanted to revert back to her previous name. She needed to do this because all her educational documents were created in her maiden name. To be eligible for a job position, her employer asked her for documents that bore the same name as her CNIC.
When I discussed the issue with my friends, they shrugged and remarked sardonically, “Why is she reverting in the first place?”
It saddens me that discrimination and callousness have permeated the profession that I represent, and passionately chose to be a part of.
Our job entails us to protect the citizens of this country from abuses by governments; we cannot do that while we are exploiting justice ourselves.
—Names have been changed to protect identities | Photos provided by author