Pakistan Bar Council finally came up with a magic bullet to end all the woes and sort out all the dilemmas that legal education faces in Pakistan. The recent decision to make LL.B a 5 year degree is welcomed by many of the lawyers and few among them aired their reservations. The state of legal education has been deteriorating steadily since late 70s and the mushrooming of private law colleges everywhere has imperilled the integrity once extended to legal professionals.

In a recent development, new rules have been conveyed by PBC to the 28 law institutions concerned that the duration of LL.B - the basic degree required to enroll as an advocate in any bar of Pakistan - will be of five years from now on. Previously it was a three year degree if done after bachelors. The LL.B Honors, however, is of five years and was offered to those students who have passed their intermediate or A-levels.

I asked the lawyers, both senior and newly practising, their take on the decision aimed at ameliorating the standards of legal education in Pakistan.

Babar Sattar, renowned lawyer and analyst, hailed the decision as good and long overdue. ‘Teaching mechanism to train lawyers in Pakistan is broken and flawed. In the West lawyers are trained rigorously both in theory and practice. To pass a bar exam is akin to Herculean task in countries like America and England. In our country the lawyers representing litigants in courts neither know the theory and are oblivious of the decorum and procedures to be followed’, Mr. Sattar said.    

Mr. Khashih Ur Rehman, Additional Draftsman/Joint Secretary at Ministry of Law and Justice said that the decision to increase the duration of LL.B is good as it will deter many crooked elements from entering the legal profession.  

According to Mr. Majid Bashir, senior associate at ABS & Co, the decision will adversely affect the colleges and the novices. The remedy lies not in limiting the number of students or increasing the years of the degree but elevating the standards of education imparted to future attorneys.

‘The increase from three years to five is a futile exercise in entirety. The present nomenclature of legal education allows those students who remain absent all year from their classes and then pass their annual exams and then bar exams and become license-wielding advocates. So, it doesn’t matter whether it is five years or 10. The same lot will be churned out year in, year out’, Advocate Nasrullah Shah, who practices at Rawalpindi District Courts spelled out his stance in a measured tone.

Syed Muhammad Tayyub, President Islamabad District Bar Association, also cherished the decision by PBC. ‘The beauty of the profession lies in the persons who practice it, if people who want to grind their own axe enter as advocates the practice and image of advocates will suffer. It is better late than never. I hope it’ll be implemented in letter and spirit’.

Couple of decades back the legal profession even transcended medicine in exclusiveness. Back in the 60s there were only two colleges imparting legal education in all of Pakistan; there was Punjab University Law College in Lahore and Sindh Muslim Law College in Karachi. The seats were limited and the competition was cut-throat. The lawyers who attended these institutions excelled not only in legal practice but also made their name in bureaucracy, business and other walks of life.

Both the bench and bar have shown concern in past few years over the unusual number of advocates parcelled out by universities and their affiliated colleges. The overwhelming interest in law skyrocketed during and after the movement of restoration of judiciary to reinstate Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary and other judges. The movement proved to be a watershed for legal profession and for some time it seemed as if everyone wanted to don a black coat and brandish his ‘license to litigate’.

Mushtaq Ahmed Mohal, a senior lawyer of Supreme Court with more than 25 years of legal practice, said, ‘If you want to make good lawyers, train them adequately, teach them the tricks of trade, mere passing of written exam and cramming of countless sections from civil and criminal law won’t do any good. A lawyer is not a person who wins the case by hook or crook, rather he is the facilitator of law, he helps the court to dispense justice according to the merits of the case’.

Uzma Nawaz, advocate High Court, an active member of Islamabad Bar, gave her take on the issue, ‘The wealthy and rich opt for foreign universities and their children come back and join corporate law firms and earn good and lead a comfortable life, primarily because they are well-connected and well-off. The advocate who hails from the middling classes has a tough path to tread. And this is the section that PBC has targeted in order to cut the behemoth of legal profession to size’.     

Beside increasing the duration of LL.B, the PBC also limited the seats to maximum of 100 in an institute. The evening sessions have also been barred and the classes will be conducted in the morning only.

In the light of above views one can safely assume that there is no denying the fact that rigorous and comprehensive steps to improve legal education in Pakistan are the need of the hour. But they must be gradual and well-thought-of, any band aid solution or magic bullet will completely miss the mark by a very long margin.