The legal profession has long been touted to be the exclusive domain of the elite class. I have heard many senior lawyers boast that it is a “profession of the lords”. Such elitist beliefs foster a systemic hierarchical structure in the profession, by entrenching privilege. They also play a crucial role in threatening the compelling and meaningful perspectives of diversity and inclusion.
I vividly remember one of my teachers once in a lecture bluntly telling us: “There are three categories of private-sector practicing lawyers in Pakistan— the swindling pettifoggers; the early or mid-career associates/junior partners; and lastly the bigwigs/owners of well-established law firms”. Although unnerving, his evaluation was brutally honesty.
In 1982, sociologist E. Goffman proposed a theory called the ‘Interaction Order’. He termed it as a “social system with boundary-maintaining tendencies”. He further argued that “quiet interactions” produce a social order which constructs hierarchies on the basis of class, gender, religion, language, ethnicity, age, disability and so on.
If we apply this sociological theory, then we may understand the reasons why the legal profession in Pakistan has well-established obstacles to entry and progress for the underprivileged and underrepresented. If efforts are made to change the outlook of interactions between practitioners, adjudicators, academics and students within the legal profession, only then can these longstanding barriers and glass-ceilings be broken through.
In understanding how interactions influence inclusion or exclusion, we might be able to identify behavioural, social, cultural and religious patterns which can be reviewed. This may sound too philosophical, so let’s add some practical examples and some empirical data to analyse such perspectives.
For example, a typical private law school in Karachi or Lahore would have a homogeneous student cohort which comprises of students recently graduated from elite private schools having strong family links to upmarket legal professionals. On the flip side, a public-sector law university would be made up of a student cohort from underprivileged backgrounds who would be surviving on state-sponsored scholarships or family savings.
According to unofficial statistics, women’s representation in the superior judiciary is under 6 percent (6 out of 110 superior court judges are females). Overall, out of 4000 total judges in our country, only 519 are women (under 13 percent).
Unfortunately official empirical data is unavailable in our country so it is impossible to gauge the actual magnitude of selectivity and discriminations rampant in both legal education and the legal profession.
According to unofficial statistics, women’s representation in the superior judiciary is under 6 percent (6 out of 110 superior court judges are females). Overall, out of 4000 total judges in our country, only 519 are women (under 13 percent). There are more than 3000 registered Advocates of Supreme Court (ASC) out of which 102 are women (under 4 percent). In Islamabad, there are around 4800 registered lawyers, out of which 842 are women (under 18 percent).
Surprisingly, there is only one transgender lawyer out of more than 200,000 legal practitioners in Pakistan, which constitutes negligible representation. In a historic first, a differently-abled person (without eyesight) topped the written judiciary exam competing with 6,500 aspirants back in 2018. Lamentably, out of around 4000 total judges in our country, representation of differently-abled persons is negligible.
Multiple articles of the constitution of Pakistan use the word “non-discrimination” (articles 22, 25, 26, 27) which signifies that this notion is inseparable from fundamental human rights. The legal profession itself is obligated to avoid engaging in discriminatory practices by the supreme law of the land. Then there are moral, cultural and religious obligations (if interpreted positively) which place great value on the diversity and inclusion imperative.
The legal profession is facing legitimate criticism and backlash for its failings to open up to a more diverse and inclusive set-up. It is the need of the hour that a multi-pronged approach is considered to further the diversity agenda within the judiciary.
Since over 64 percent of Pakistan’s population is the youth, change has to be brought in legal education first. The discrimination that the current and past generations have faced in the profession can only be corrected if the case for diversity is introduced and advocated to the youth.
In the American case of Grutter vs. Bollinger (2003) it was held that a diverse student group provides a richer learning environment than a homogeneous one by facilitating cross-cultural understanding; breaking-down stereotyping; preparing them for a diverse workforce and developing skills for a globalised marketplace.
In Pakistan, if top-tier institutions could introduce financially-aided equity and diversity pathways in admissions, it would be a great service to an honorable cause. This means specific allocation of greater seats for access to legal education for deserving students from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
In Pakistan, if top-tier institutions (both private and public sector) could introduce financially-aided equity and diversity pathways in admissions, it would be a great service to an honorable cause. This means specific allocation of greater seats (scholarship-based and fully-funded) for access to legal education for deserving students from lower socio-economic backgrounds; older students; linguistically and culturally diverse students; females; gender-diverse persons; refugees and even the differently-abled.
Rather than preserving exclusivity and promoting elite-capture, such admissions policies will improve the institutions’ quality and prestige and encourage competitiveness. Whilst providing equal opportunities to underprivileged students seeking premium and high-quality legal education. This will also help develop these future lawyers’ and judges’ optimistic sense of justice.
Another plausible solution is to update the curriculum that could include subjects which educate legal contexts to comparative gender studies; comparative cultural studies; globalisation; comparative religious studies; comparative history and so on. This can help future law graduates develop a multi-jurisdictional and global frame-of-reference. The students’ ability to recognize the causes of historical discrimination and stereotypes will also grow.
Discrimination is rooted in asymmetric, prejudiced and unequal relationships. Demolishing such structures in the legal profession, which are jealously guarded by the mighty and influential gatekeepers, requires an environment of assimilation, mutual respect and inclusivity right from the law school classrooms to the palatial courtrooms.
data is available, please see: https://www.lawyher.pk/Uploads/State%20of%20Womens%20Representation%20in%20Law%20Report%20-%202021%20Lawyher.pk_bd26.pdf
Thank you Ma’am for the correction. Even the data mentioned in this article has been extrapolated from your previous works. I have also followed your work and lectures available online. It’s just that I wanted to present a wider perspective to diversity in addition to the gender (male/female) inclusive debate, which encompasses classism/religion/ethnicity and many other bases of discriminatory exclusion. As a fan/follower of your work, I hope you use your platform to further these perspectives as well.