The Counsel

Interviews
interview wih Ijaz Ahmed & Associates

What are your education and professional qualifications?
I have done my LLB from the Punjab University Law College, Lahore, followed by a Masters in Urdu literature, however, the latter qualification was without formal instruction. Thereafter, I attended the University of London for an LLM at  the School of Oriental and African Studies. This was after I had been offered scholarship and after I had practised for a few years.

As for professional qualifications, I have recently applied membership for the Supreme Court Bar Association and am also a member of the Lahore High Court Bar Association and the Sindh High Court Bar Association.

I have also participated in SAARC Law forum and regional forums such as the Asia Pacific Jurist Association.

I joined Zafar Law Associates in 1992 (headed by Mr. S.M. Zafar), which was later renamed as Mandviwala & Zafar Law Associates (M&Z).

What got you interested in the legal profession as a young man?
My becoming a lawyer was purely by accident. I have no family connections in the legal profession as my father was a soldier and my grandfather was a farmer. Initially my father objected to my career choice as he was of the view that lawyers lied for a living.  But I eventually persuaded him that this is not the case as lawyers, like all other professionals, have a choice to do the right thing.

How was your experience as a junior level Associate at a Law Firm?
As a junior, I had a relatively tough time. My LLB did not give me any guidance from a practical perspective. For instance, I could not even find a citation as I did not even know the basic research tool was the Annual Law Digest (ALD), which is the index of all published legal journals in Pakistan. Further, it was difficult to find a placement at one of the good firms and I had to start my pupilage without any remuneration. Since my family was of humble means, I had to teach part-time in the evening to make ends meet. Ironically, I taught biology and Urdu.

When I become a mid-level associate at M&Z, the most important thing that changed was that I was paid decently. Then, once I had some experience, I was in a position to manage my work much better. My hours did not improve but I was able to cope given that I was engaged in both corporate and litigation work. At a fairly early level in my career, I was allowed to interact with the clients – both with mid-level to senior management clientele. The more exposure and responsibility I had, the better the quality of work I was able to produce.

What are the important attributes, in your view, that an Associate lawyer must possess to be a successful practitioner?
There are two or three attributes I feel are crucial for a younger associate to develop if he or she wants to be a competent legal practitioner. Firstly, I find that young associates are very eager to rely on their own common sense concept of the law, which often does not match with the law. As a result, they are not inclined to research the law, frame an opinion and then go with their product to their senior. Generally, young associates assess basic facts and then make a view of their own, which they feel is the correct view, based on their common sense understanding. Although they can complete their assignment quickly it does not improve their knowledge base, which is the most important aspect for a young associate to develop. The law has its own logic and that can only be understood by comprehending legal concepts as these are developed over time.

Secondly, very few young associates I have come across are able to sift through the correct facts from the entire set of facts. The first step to legal problem solving is that the lawyer should be able to frame the questions that need to be answered. Thirdly, young associates must make a serious effort to understand the law on their own and only once the research has been exhausted should a conclusion be reached with application of the relevant facts to the applicable law.

Thus, in my view, the above is critical to grasp for young lawyers at the eve of their professional careers.

Can you share with the readers your experiences at the Law Firm you worked at before starting your independent practice?
My experience was very good. It really helped that the law itself is what attracted me to the profession and once I started working I enjoyed it immensely. In terms of my experience, since I was working at one of the good firms, I was exposed to a large variety of work. As I made progress, I was trusted (both quantitatively and qualitatively) with more intricate tasks and recieved greater exposure. So for me, it met the expectations I had from an institutionalized firm in terms of the opportunity to deal with clints and to work independently. In the last few years, I was handling most of the work I was given on my own.

Do you see a future scope for institutionalized law firms in akistan where upward mobility within such Firms is performance-based and meritorious?
Absolutely. I was at M&Z from 1992 to 2006, for a period of 14 years. There are more examples recently of successful institutional firms and increasingly lawyers are understanding the values and benefits of institutionalized practice. There must be a change in the mindset to appreciate that the individual is what really matters as it is the lawyer that adds the value to a professional firm. Conversely, if you do not have institutionalized practice, that would stunt professional practice to the detriment of the profession.

What range of services and expertise are you offering your clients?
We are offering a fairly broad range of services including banking, corporate and commercial law, Intellectual Property, regulatory advise (SECP and Competition Commission) and capital markets. At the moment, we are engaged in a significant project relating to regulatory aspects in the capital markets sector involving the Karachi Stock Exchange, National Clearing Company and the Central Depository Company. This is in addition to the commercial litigation practice. If I were to call myself an “expert” in any areas of law it would be in capital markets, banking and finance, insurance and  commercial contracts.

You are known in the legal circles as an equally successful litigator. How do you balance between Court attendances and corporate advisory service?

Well success, of course, depends on how people look at it. It is a difficult task to manage both given that I did not receive adequate training in corporate or commercial law at law school. Nor did I have the benefit of a bar vocational course. However, relatively early I realized that corporate work had to be complimented with a good understanding of court practice, and in particular, how the judiciary interprets such issues and to have a keen eye towards judicial trends and development in commercial areas of law. It is these considerations that ought to shape commercial drafting and not precedent agreements readily available at large law firms. In fact, corporate advisory and commercial litigation handsomely complement one another, contrary to public conception. Although our Firm earns more from corporate practice, I get more excitement with litigation work, which is personally very gratifying.

Do you ever take holidays? How do you manage the professional and personal divide?
My routine work day is usually 12 to 13 hours long. This is the toll of doing both corporate and litigation work at once. In addition, I am normally required to put in another 4 to 5 hours on a Sunday in preparation for the following week. So you may arrive at your own conclusions regarding my holidays.


Mr. Ijaz Ahmed is the founding partner of Ijaz Ahmed & Associates, Advocates and Legal Consultants. Comments may be directed to editors@counselpakistan.com.