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Continuing Legal Education in Pakistan

By Zeeshan Adhi

The concept of Continued Legal Education (CLE) is conspicuously missing from the Pakistani Legal System. It appears that absolutely no thought has been given to this crucial aspect of the professional development of both young and seasoned lawyers in Pakistan. Law is a profession that involves continuous change, development, and evolution. For a profession that changes this fast, a suitable system of continued professional study is absolutely necessary. Even otherwise, a cogent Continued Legal Education system is all the more important considering the fact that a large number of lawyers in Pakistan have been trained outside the country. In this short article, I intend to highlight the importance of Continued Legal Education and also wish to underscore the importance of CLE in promoting ethical lawyering.

What is Continued Legal Education?

Continued Legal Education refers to the training received by lawyers after they have been admitted to practice in their respective jurisdiction. This sort of training is not unique to lawyers; doctors, engineers, financial analysts, all are required to undergo such trainings by their respective governing bodies. Continuous Legal Education takes a range of forms and can include seminars, lectures etc. It is most common in United States of America and it is mandatory for most lawyers to undergo a certain amount of Continued Legal Education to remain in good standing with their respective state bar (Iit may be remembered that the legal profession in the United States of America is regulated by the bar associations of the respective States). In the United Kingdom, the four Inns of Court are actively involved, and lay substantial emphasis on continuous training of the barristers. Similar requirements are in place for practicing solicitors. Needless to say that this tendency of making it mandatory for lawyers to go through a certain amount of training every year is becoming universal, although the momentum varies from country to country. Similarly, the extent of training required also varies from country to country, and increasingly, there is a trend of allowing, and sometimes encouraging lawyers, to pursue Continued Legal Education opportunities by way of distance learning and/or online learning.

Why is Continued Legal Education Necessary?

Continued Legal Education is necessary for a number of reasons. First and the foremost, it provides an opportunity for practicing lawyers to come to grips with changes in law. Common law, by its very nature, is constantly changing. This change is brought about in two ways. First, in common law, judgments of the superior courts are binding on the lower judiciary, and consequently, by this very fact, each judgment which is announced alters and/or develops the law in a certain manner. Secondly, there are an increasing number of statutes being promulgated by the federal and the provincial legislatures, thus resulting in continuous change in the law of the land. This evolution makes it imperative that lawyers stay abreast of these changes so that they may perform their duties diligently, that is, to assist the court and to put forward their client’s case.

There is another very crucial aspect of Continued Legal Education. CLE has been used across the world to impart, amongst lawyers, ethical concerns surrounding their practice. The unethical nature of the legal profession in Pakistan is well-known. A constant reminder about what is manifestly unethical, and what repercussions such behavior may have for one’s career, could potentially minimize the unscrupulous activities in the legal profession. If nothing else, this could be a start, and could remind the practicing lawyers of Pakistan, that they are bound by certain ethical considerations. Of course, at the end of the day, any substantial change in the ethical standards of the legal practice in Pakistan will depend upon mechanisms that will enforce the rules governing unethical practices., Nevertheless, ethical seminars during Continued Legal Education can prove to be a step in the right direction.

In addition, and very importantly, Continuous Legal Education opportunities provide an ideal occasion for networking amongst lawyers. It is one rare setting where both young and seasoned practitioners are participating at a similar level, and this can prove to be highly beneficial especially to the younger generation of lawyers. The importance of networking in the legal profession is well-known across the world. This is one of the reasons that participating at domestic and international conferences is encouraged in the United States and United Kingdom. (More often than not, lawyers earn CLE credits for attending such conferences). On the other hand, law conferences are practically non-existent in Pakistan, thus substantially limiting networking opportunities available to lawyers. CLE can substantially fill this gap.

Last but not the least, Continued Legal Education provides lawyers with an opportunity to take a step back from their busy schedules, and critically examine, discuss, and deliberate over various legislations and judgments. This could potentially strengthen legal scholarship in Pakistan, the lack of which is in itself a serious concern.

Why is Continued Legal Education Particularly Important for Young Pakistani Advocates?

There has been a trend since the very independence of Pakistan for individuals to travel to London (and the rest of United Kingdom) to receive legal training. In fact, this phenomenon existed in the pre-partition India and was prevalent due to the fact that the British India followed the English Legal System and the Common Law. This trend continued for a number of years,. However, the depreciation of Pakistani Rupee against the British Sterling inevitably resulted in its decline. The gap thus created in legal training, was replaced by the introduction of University of London External Degree program. This program allows students to complete a degree from University of London on a distance learning basis, and is recognized by the domestic bar councils for enrollment as advocates. This means that a number of lawyers admitted to practice in Pakistan, particularly in the larger cities, do not possess any legal training in Pakistani law. The author is himself guilty of this since he also qualified from outside Pakistan and did not receive any training in Pakistani law before he started practicing. This means that the new lawyers have absolutely no idea about the basics of Pakistani law when they enter practice. On the other hand, the situation in law colleges teaching Pakistani law, barring a few exceptions, is hopelessly abysmal. With this state of affairs, it goes without saying that CLE becomes even more important. In fact, it is essential for newly qualified lawyers to not only receive Continued Legal Education, but also, it must be mandatory for all law graduates who want to enroll as Advocates, to go through an extended period of vocational training in Pakistani law and legal system. This is essential in order to avoid producing plethora of Advocates who have very limited understanding of law.

Who will impart Continued Legal Education?

Unfortunately, the existing hierarchy of bodies that could potentially play a leading role in imparting CLE are plagued with politics and nepotism. Similarly, it is not optimal to ask the courts to implement this concept, because the courts are already overburdened with judicial and administrative responsibilities. In the author’s opinion, the process of Continued Legal Education must be started on a voluntary basis by an association of lawyers, preferably leading corporate law practitioners and litigators, who are acutely aware of the importance of Continued Legal Education. By ensuring that such training is voluntary in nature, this program will not attract the political interference which is a sad reality in Pakistan. Even though voluntary in nature, the program can be highly successfully if the leading law firms make it mandatory for their associates and partners to attend CLE trainings. It is very important that such training is not given in the hands of an institution / department in which the government has any interference whatsoever. Once the trainings are successfully implemented on a voluntary basis, and are made essential by law firms, they will become virtually omnipresent in the top corporate and litigation law firms, and amongst in-house lawyers, thus ensuring that the benefits of CLE are achieved without involving undue red-tape and bureaucracy.

What type of Training should be imparted?

There are a number of ways in which Continuous Legal Education can be imparted. Lawyers can be asked to attend lectures, seminars or short courses. Similarly, CLE points can be given for attending conferences or for writing for law journals. Imparting CLE through conferences will encourage the trend of organizing and attending legal conferences in Pakistan on contemporary legal issues, which is sadly non-existent. CLE training can also be imparted by way of distance learning and/or online learning. In addition, professional lawyers can be encouraged to attend international conferences and / or pursue postgraduate qualifications, assuring them that the same will count towards their annual requirement for CLE certification. The content of CLE training can be as diverse as trainings in environmental law to trainings in advocacy skills. They can be designed keeping in mind the needs of lawyers and law firms.

Ending Thoughts

The importance of Continued Legal Education is manifestly apparent to all practitioners. So is the fact that such trainings are practically non-existent in the Pakistani Legal System. Nevertheless, what is not clear to many practitioners and policy-makers are the negative, yet far reaching implications of the lack of such trainings. The purpose of this short piece is to raise awareness amongst partners and associates in various law firms, and lawyers working in-house, about this crucial aspect of legal training which is totally ignored. It is hoped that this article will prove to be a first step towards the eventual establishment of a Continued Legal Education system in Pakistan in times to come.

The author is a Barrister. He is an Associate at Khalid Anwer & Co. and teaches law at SM Government Law College. He has degrees in law, economics, and finance. Prior to joining the legal profession in Pakistan, the author worked as an Investment Banker in the United States. He can be contacted at