History bears witness to many things. Chief amongst them is the exploitation of the many by the few. Cloak this machination with cloth cut from a bundle of hard work and of an ideology that can justifiably assign the brunt of grunt work to lackeys, and you are good to go.
I had the good fortune of graduating the past year and qualifying as a lawyer. For all its imperfections, the profession has, thus far, been a fulfilling one. A few hindrances, however, are too significant to overlook.
A few months’ journey of navigating Kafkaesque courts leaves a lot for the mind to learn, absorb, and put into action. Naturally, it takes time — quite a bit of it — before you are of much use. Until then, the chances are that you are seen as deadweight who is expected to work long hours without any recompense. Such an expectation betrays a callous attitude eerily reminiscent of Romulus and Remus being left to drown in the Tiber, and as glorious as Ancient Rome might have been, you wouldn’t want to hold your breath finding Lupa amongst a pack of wolves.
I have happened to come across senior lawyers who think a few years of grind is worth its weight in blood and that, in due time, prayers are answered in form of lucrative dividends. They are probably right. Hard work and patience undoubtedly lead to success. However, conflating such a line of reasoning to justify the thriving of a veritable Shylock is untenable. Someone as entitled as me can afford to weather the storm. Many cannot. The world is a ruthless place and the realist does well to acknowledge that but — and in spite of that — it doesn’t have to be this way.
Many senior members of the legal fraternity have started taking a principled stand on this matter, and a recent campaign for the mandatory introduction of a minimum stipend for fresh law graduates in Sindh seems to be a rising tide that may yet submerge us all.
The problem is not limited to the new kid on the block. It goes to the very core. The munshi, as the foundation of any lawyer’s practice, can attest to that. It is well known that these enterprising individuals earn their livelihood by fleecing the unassuming client, who pays tenfold for the simplest of procedures. Having been graced with the presence of such art in action, I cannot, for fear of being charged with complicity, divulge the extent to which the munshi can choose to levy this ‘multiplier effect’. Therein lies the problem; ends must be met, and when a large chunk of the legal community operates without a regularised system of remuneration, chaos reigns supreme. Chaos does many things. It may, for example, deem that hours of research, drafting, and appearances in the courts are not quantifiable currency-wise or, it may fling open — through necessity — a trapdoor leading to an abyss riddled with malpractice.
All this is not, by any means, intended to forebode a future imbued with hues deathly dark. Rather, it seeks to provide a diagnosis that can effectively address the tumour within and remedying it. Thus far, the report can be surmised along these lines: a seat at the table is a coveted position that demands arduous effort and time, and if everyone showing up to the party is shown to their seats, then that makes for a sordid tale. After all, the pie can only accommodate so many slices and a career must necessarily be inaugurated under the labour of Herculean tasks; the ragra must be respected.
Ascribing to such a school of thought is myopic. Wilful neglect and omission, by those who can do something about the prevalent state of affairs, is a miscarriage of justice — by those who swear to uphold Lady Justice’s scales no less! The hour calls for a community that takes ownership, of itself and its fledglings, in pursuing a vision that seeks to uplift and accommodate: not one that deems trial by fire the only actionable route and then awaits the emergence of Prometheus. To unashamedly quote Lion King, Simba did not become king of the savannah merely by fending for himself upon Mufasa’s heart-rending demise: that would be dishonest towards Timone and Pumba. Instead, he walked the winding path, forging friendships with beings who helped him, and, by extension, grew themselves. That might well have been the reason it became a box office hit (but that is beside the point). Camaraderie goes beyond hosting luncheons and idle chit-chat. Sleeves must be rolled up, and brass tacks must be gotten down to; superficial varnishing will no longer do.
Perhaps, change might be on the cards, and sooner than we think. Many senior members of the legal fraternity have started taking a principled stand on this matter, and a recent campaign for the mandatory introduction of a minimum stipend for fresh law graduates in Sindh seems to be a rising tide that may yet submerge us all. For that to happen, however, the status quo must be recognised as problematic and as much as the lawyer loves temporary injunctions (endearingly called stay orders), some matters cannot be allowed to persist.
The writer is a law graduate. He tweets at mir_smam.