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.