What can the Bar Council do for aspiring lawyers during the coronavirus pandemic
I happened to become an Advocate at the age of 24. I was down in the dumps for one and a half years after completion of LLB as the whole process of getting the license took very long. Eventually, I did not pursue practice, but during those days of 2013-2014, of being an apprentice, either getting paid a monthly stipend of Tk5,000, a daily allowance of Tk150 or nothing at all, were saddening.
Truth be told, the perception that exists at present is that, until you are an advocate, not only are you barred from appearing before the court, but neither do you earn enough money to socialize with your contemporaries at other professions, nor possess a social standing.
I felt like a nobody with a private university law degree, struggling to take pride in how I had enrolled myself in a weekend master’s program at Dhaka University.
Now, imagine that those one and a half years being dragged up to three years (with reference to the time span in between the past two exams), or maybe five to six years for those who would fail to pass the bar the first time.
Before readers begin to think that I am ranting, let me highlight how the Bangladesh Bar Council has been an utter disappointment, and what works they might consider in order to be in aid of the apprentice lawyers during this corona crisis.
The bar examination
On completion of LL.B., a six-month pupillage under a certified practicing lawyer (an advocate who has practised law for at least 10 years) is required to be done, in order for one to be eligible for appearing at the bar exam.
There are three stages (MCQ, written and viva voce), passing all of which would license a law graduate to practice at a lower court (every district has a court of first instance) of his/her choice as an advocate.
The arrangement of exam
The council, however, in the recent past, has been best known for not holding the advocacy examinations in due time.
The last preliminary MCQ examination was held after nearly three years.
Failing to abide by the usual norm of bar exams being held twice a year has meant that the number of candidates only kept rising due to the council’s lethargy. Thus, they experienced the largest crowd of examinees in the country’s history in February 2020 -- around 41,000, of which about 21% qualified to the next stage of the examination.
It is also notable that the gaps between the aforementioned three stages, alongside the publication of results, altogether usually take nearly a year.
The eccentric kind of exam
Once, what used to be known as the royal profession has in the past few decades been perceived to have become one which is taken up by only those failing to excel elsewhere. Thus, whereas the increasing interest of well-schooled students in pursuing law practice is good news, the council’s way of screening the most worthy candidates in the first phase (through the preliminary MCQ) certainly calls for debate.
Having gone through the preliminary questions of the past two examinations, it is safe to confirm that, in order to score 50% (requirement to pass the stage), one would need to memorize all seven legislations in the syllabus, more from the end of what each section state, rather than emphasizing on their contents. Questions were solely related to how well one’s memory would serve in remembering the sections of laws and nothing else.
The overall number of failures portrays the recent years’ unconventional pattern for testing one’s merit of becoming “learned” advocates. If the council was afraid of too many candidates passing, they could still arrange for an exam that would be considered being of reasonable standard by, for instance, declaring that the top 25% percent would make it to the next stage.
That way, the cream of the crop would pass, and such an exam would keep the council away from criticism.
Given the fierce and, perhaps, unfair competition, the percentage that makes it as advocates is significantly low.
And if a law graduate is expected to appear for the bar exam in his/her late 20s, let alone the majority who would have to move to other professions, it looks as though they must ensure monetary security from their families already. Even as an advocate, one has to face financial hardships in the initial days of practice -- while the progression is slow anyway, the council could have at least acted more responsibly.
The council during the Covid-19 crisis
Excuses might be in abundance on the part of the council to justify the delay of exams each – time, blacklisted law schools, universities graduating more law students than the prescribed number, etc.
Rather than portraying the current crisis as a defense for further procedural delays, the council might as well set up an online registration service which would require candidates to provide the necessary details and upload scanned copies of all required documentation with attestations.
The council would also be able to provide online admit cards, and hold the next exam, as soon as the situation gets normal.
Lastly, while the council would have a list of official apprentice lawyers, they might as well make it mandatory for the experienced advocates who consented at the intimation forms and took up pupils to actually pay a certain amount of money, however nominal it may be, to those under their guidance.
I believe that a lawyer, who has at least practiced 10 years in the court, would be able to afford such stipend for his/her trainee(s).
Saquib Rahman is a lecturer of Labour and Employment Law at North South University, and an Advocate of the Dhaka Court.