A litigating lawyer is a shopkeeper. He or she has to earn their livelihood through their clients, who are, more often than not, always ready to readily contact their lawyer whenever there is a problem. Tis’ a tough life being a litigating lawyer. Having to get to Court early in the morning, waiting for one’s turn to come for a case to be heard, dealing with an opposing party delaying the adjudication of a case and attempting to get the Client to remunerate the lawyer for their services on time. Then there are multiple deadlines to meet on any given day - legal research that has to be completed, drafting to be meticulously done, Court documents to be filed and preparing for arguments on a given day. When do us lawyers ever get a break? The truth is, we hardly do and when there is a possibility to take some time off from work, withdrawal symptoms happen. Since litigation involves complex thinking, countless procedural issues and ever-evolving strategy-making, there must be some danger of burning out. Or is there? Rather, should there be?

My Ustaad is a workaholic. He is over 80 years old. He doesnt sleep much and is always thinking - mind you, he is not always thinking about the law only, he thinks about a lot of other things that define his life. He has practiced law for over five decades now and his love of the profession - of all its components that grant a lawyer respect - is what makes him the kind of lawyer he is and always has been. We often work on Sundays and in fact, there are some months when we are lucky to even get a Sunday off. I recall once, when I had just obtained my license to practice and the slow month of August (when the subordinate Courts and High Courts are closed in Punjab, barring life and death matters which are heard by Judges assigned to sit in Court during the vacations) had arrived. I asked my Ustaad if I could go on a holiday for 10 days. “Holiday? What holiday? I havent taken a holiday in 55 years - why do you need a holiday so soon?” Turned out that during that year, there were cases to be prepared and argued in Karachi (the Courts are open in August there) and there were plenty of cases to prepare for the first week of September, when Courts re-opened in Punjab. So that was that. In retrospect, it was a good decision as the time spent during the month of August at work, preparing for the onslaught of work to come, made life somewhat easier to deal with, when September came. 10 years down the line, even now, when one wants to ask for a holiday, it still is a daunting task, but more manageable.

New entrants in the profession who seek be litigating lawyers should be very wary of what to expect, work-wise and “time-off” wise. Litigating lawyers do not have normal 9 to 5 working hours jobs; there are no health and insurance benefits; there are no designated “holidays” or “leave” days in a year. And it can be very tough for such lawyers who have families, with little children. I have two young children (daughter 7 years old and son 6 years old) and from the time they were born till they were about 3 or 4, I remember I was hardly at home. Now, I do make it a point that I go home by 6 pm, spend some time with them, put them to bed, and then go back to work if there is a lot still to do - in any case, as they have found their voices, and owing to the new generation of children being more expressive, they demand that I return home, even if it is for a little bit of time. Of course there are days, when the work pressure is so much that one doesnt get to spend that quality time at home, but such is the sacrifice that one has to pay. I attempted to prepare my wife, when we got married for the times ahead, by showing her books with quotes such as “a lawyers’ chamber is that of a jealous bride” or the statement of Lord Eldon that in order to become a great lawyer one should “live like a hermit and work like a horse”. It is imperative that for a litigating lawyer to earn their respect in the profession, the necessary support and understanding of their families is very important.

Having said all of the above, I can confirm that after spending almost a decade and a half in the noble profession of law, I have had the opportunity to appreciate all the hard work and sacrifices that our previous generations and the generations before them, had to put in to take care of their livelihoods and earn respect for themselves in their professional lives. However, no matter how much is invested in one’s profession, it is important to switch off, occasionally. And I sincerely hope that when and if my Ustaad ever reads this, he understands that I will continue to be at work...on Sundays and beyond.