Do lawyers really want to resolve disputes?

Published: October 11, 2012
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The writer is a graduate of Columbia Law School and a partner at the Lahore-based law firm of Rana Ijaz & Partners

The writer is a graduate of Columbia Law School and a partner at the Lahore-based law firm of Rana Ijaz & Partners

I recently attended a conference in Lahore on clinical and experiential legal education, where speakers talked about the advantages of these clinics. The primary objective of these legal clinics is to train law students in different practice areas to enable them to acquire and hone practical legal skills so that they hit the ground running once they graduate from law school. One of the speakers talked about a legal clinic at a prestigious American law school, in which students are trained to resolve disputes outside the court. He highlighted a series of steps that could be taken to resolve these issues before the parties involved decided to go to court. Therefore, as far as dispute resolution is concerned, students attending this clinic are trained to consider courts as a last resort for resolving disputes.

What I found remarkable about such a clinic is that it is set up at a top law school in the US, a country known for its heavily litigious society, a country where apparently everyone sues for virtually everything. It might take a long time before the American society comes around to the idea of avoiding courts as much as possible and setting the justice system in motion only in those rare cases where they have exhausted all other options for dispute resolution. However, training law students to try to settle their clients’ disputes before going to court is certainly a good start since it is ultimately the lawyers who have to advise clients regarding the courses of action that could or should be taken for dispute resolution.

While listening to the speaker, I could not help but wonder how such a clinic would do in Pakistan and how welcome such a system would be. Wouldn’t life be so much better for litigants exasperated by the seemingly endless court proceedings? Sure. But the question is whether or not Pakistani lawyers would welcome such a proposition.

My sense is that instead of being gung-ho about it, Pakistani lawyers would vigorously oppose any such proposal that may be considered a threat to their jobs, which are heavily dependent on litigation of disputes. This is not surprising. A decrease in the number of litigants would essentially make them irrelevant and powerless, since the prospective litigants will have figured out ways of staying away from the courts. The fear and paranoia of becoming irrelevant and powerless would be more pronounced considering that most, if not all, lawyers in Pakistan either do not have a clue about how disputes could be settled out of court or know it too well to undermine and oppose it. Worse still, even the ones who do not have a clue about such methods would oppose it once they have the slightest inkling about it.

This attitude of the lawyers is indicative of a conflict of interest. Their personal interest of making a living by advising clients to litigate the matter — sometimes in cases when it is not the best way of resolving the dispute — is in direct conflict with their client’s interest of resolving the dispute quickly and cheaply. To be fair to Pakistani lawyers, they are not the only ones guilty of having this attitude. A lot of lawyers around the world thrive on litigation of disputes that could be settled out of court.

As an ardent advocate of resolving disputes out of court whenever possible, I am reassured by a small, yet growing number of lawyers in Pakistan, who are proponents of resolving disputes out of court. These people are not selfless saints solely driven by their desire to have their clients’ disputes resolved quicker and in a more cost-efficient manner. They do it for a living, too, but one fundamental difference is that in an effort to resolve disputes out of court, they give their clients an option that could potentially save them a lot of time and money.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 11th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (4)

  • Mirza
    Oct 11, 2012 - 2:17AM

    This is a good advice to our lawyers and judges. It is a fact that in the US most cases are decided by mutual settlement. This settlement can be between the parties before going to the court till just before the end of the court case.
    One of the most imp things here is truth and integrity among lawyers of both sides. The lawyers tell the client the whole truth about the case and what may happen down the road when the case goes for trial. The lawyers of opposing parties negotiate for their clients and come up what is best for them. There is no concept of selling their client to the opponent. After negotiations if the parties do not mutually agree the case goes for trial. Even before the trial the court office/judge ask them to go and negotiate one more time to resolve the matter. In short the court trials are avoided as much as possible. Even in criminal cases the trial is avoided by plea bargains by offering shorter sentences. By going this way the long expensive trials are avoided, the lawyers are paid quickly and they have more new clients. On the contrary in Pakistan there are cases rotting in the higher courts for decades with no end in sight. This is a good solution but the only question is whether the lawyers and judges can be completely open and honest in their advice?

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  • Zohaib Tanwiri
    Oct 11, 2012 - 5:11PM

    Certainly the Pakistani legal fraternity would be under a threat if they follow the advice, even after the intoduction of the National Judicial Policy not much speediness has been seen and the cases are still being dragged in the apex courts since decades. Outside court settlement is the best way to curb the unnecessary litigation and huge backlogs in the Courts. Only if the fraternity was also politics free, than this idea would have been very much practical. However our most renowned lawyers are even so much into this politics game that they forget what are they fighting for and what “justice” actually means. Politics being the grant of interim injunctions which they would assume as the death of a case with (maybe) the innocent party being restrained and suffering for ages to come. However the lawyers get paid highly for obtaining such temporary orders because of their face value in the Courts, the Courts do not want to see right and wrong, they want to see the ‘faces’.

    God bless Pakistan and our lawyers!

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  • JQ
    Oct 11, 2012 - 9:16PM

    If lawyers become saints then how can they milk their clients! The proposition is fantastic but would be hard to implement in Pakistani society. We already have ADR in place however, it’s presence seems negligible. Nevertheless, let’s hope that legal clinics would function in our society one day to deliver speedy and quick justice at the door steps of an aggrieved party.

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  • AAH
    Oct 11, 2012 - 10:20PM

    Legal system of Pakistan is far below international standards of Justice and they calim that this is free Judiciary. Is there any system of Checks and balances on lawyers in Pakistan. They brutally plunder thier clients with hefty amounts of fee and the cases are pending and undecided for decades. Supreme Court of Pakistan took 3 years to decide the draft of a single letter to be written to swiss authorities. In the 21st century time is money, and this useless court is not only wasting its own resources, infact the money of tax payers. I think, there should be certain KPIs attached to SC, so that the overall performance of Judiciary can be assessed and the money of tax payers can be justified. “Justice Delayed is Justice Denied”

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