It is now thirteen years and counting since I decided to embark upon the journey that would change my life forever: the noble profession of law. ”Aa kar vakalat karo meray saath… banday ka putar bun jaao ge”, said my Ustaad back then, when clouded with uncertainty, I had just completed a BSc. in economics and was dreaming of investment banking in a big city. After all these years, I still don’t know if I have been able to become a banday ka putar, but I have had a feast that is yet to be digested; statutes, case laws, humble pie-eating in court and countless Sundays at work. The litigating lawyer in Pakistan – a cunning fox; a diligent laborer; a three piece black suit surrounded by a hoard of juniors; a “professional” who goes to all lengths to get a “W” for his client. Either that, or a human being who cares about their craft, attempting to help their client seek justice and paying attention to their duty to assist the Court. I am a lawyer. I am an Advocate. And in Pakistan, you have the opportunity to shine if you care for and nurture your craft – and I hope that by sharing some of my experiences as a lawyer, you – the reader – might make better sense of what it is that we lawyers do.

I have had the greatest privilege of working with an Ustaad who has not only taught me how to attempt to “find the law”, but also to submit to the discipline of law. To this day, I am still attempting to do what he calls “quality law,” but over the years I have been lucky enough to encounter all kinds of people and have discovered a freedom to choose the way I practice law. And if you don’t believe me, make your way to the subordinate Courts, the High Courts or the one and only superb pillar of Justice in Pakistan – the Honorable Supreme Court of Pakistan. You will get to witness Advocacy at its best (and worst), and you will walk away with a sense of reality. Contrary to how us lawyers are picturized through the print and electronic media (thanks to the almighty Lawyers Movement), there still remain a few who actually prepare for their battles as Sun Tzu would, a la “The Art of War.” And getting to watch them in action is a treat and an invaluable learning experience for any young lawyer. Move over Harvey Specter and Alan Shore; we lawyers are fortunate to watch some of the living legends of our profession battle it out for hours on end and have also encountered stalwarts who will take it upon themselves to rile up an opposing Counsel and take a Judge on a journey into the realm of just plain nonsense.

True Story: on one of my first few cases that I had to argue in the Civil Court, I was pitted against a “learned” Senior Counsel on the opposing side. Wearing about half a dozen rings, with gelled back grey hair and armed with a tray of precedents to his name, he was a daunting sight. I argued my case and then came his turn, after which I had the chance to rebut his argument. After about an hour or so, when it became apparent to the opposing Counsel that I was possibly succeeding in taking the Judge to a decision in my favor, he turned towards the Judge and said “Janaab-e-hazoor, in ka license check karien – mein nahee manta hoon ke yeh larka vakeel hai.” (“Your Honour, please check his license, I refuse to believe that this boy is a lawyer.”) I looked at him while he said this, then I turned towards the Judge and said, “Your Honor, mein tou apna license nikaal loon ga, lekin meray learned Senior se keheen ke vou bhi apna license Court mein pesh kar dein. Mujhey tou sakhaaya gya hai ke senior Counsel ka ahtraam karna chaye hai aur Seniors, junior lawyers ko encourage karte hein ke vou iss paishey mein kuch vakalat seekh jaaein aur izzat kamaaein.” (“Your Honor, I will oblige but please request my learned Senior to do the same. I have been taught only to respect the senior Counsel, and they in turn encourage junior lawyers to earn some respect of their own.”) The opposing Counsel and the Judge looked at me in disbelief. The Judge turned towards me and said “Iss tarha senior Counsel ko jawaab nahee detay hein… theek hai… aap ke arguments note kar diye hein. Order ka intizaar karein.” (You don’t answer the senior Counsel back in this manner. I have noted your arguments. Please wait for the order.”) I left the courtroom feeling depressed, thinking that I should have kept my mouth shut. After waiting a couple of hours in the great weather of June, the case was called again and surprisingly, the Judge ruled in my favor. To this day, whenever I see that “learned” Senior, I go out of my way to be respectful. Not only because of my Ustaad’s training but also because the Senior taught me an invaluable lesson that day so early on in my career: when you come to Court, hope for the best, expect the worst and be prepared for the unexpected.

Given the professional environment in which we practice, being a litigating lawyer in Pakistan is a tough choice to make. But you have the freedom to be any kind of lawyer you want. Nowadays, young lawyers armed with their notable degrees choose to embark upon safer career choices in our profession. And that is fine. But to be a litigating lawyer, is to be a poet, a philosopher, an engineer and an actor all in one. I am off to Court in the morning, praying that a strike doesn’t get called because a lawyer’s relative was “wrongfully” arrested for trying to flee the Sessions Court premises after his bail was refused. Never a dull day in the diary of a vakeel.

The writer is a legal practitioner with hopes for a better future for his profession in the land of the pure