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OP-ED: What it means to practise law in Bangladesh

  • Published at 08:02 pm June 20th, 2021
Photo: Bigstock

Even during the pandemic, lawyers remained in demand

In the last 15 months, thanks to the pandemic, there’s been a dramatic transformation with regards to the professions in demand in our society. Many were forced to shut down their businesses, many others have lost their jobs on the ground of redundancy, and those who still do have a job are rethinking their career choices since going out in the crowd for a living is no longer an option.

Therefore, if you are still a student and not sure about your aim in life, how about considering studying law? Be it the pandemic or simply a local economic disaster, a lawyer is never out of a job. You can literally turn your home into your workplace and become your own boss.

Now, in a broader sense, there are two types of lawyers in this world -- those who have the permission to make submissions before the court of law, and those who don’t. In Bangladesh, those with the licence to submit are known as advocates and the rest are simply referred to as law graduates, or in-house lawyers.

In the English legal system, however, the ones with permission to submit are called barristers, and the latter are known as solicitors. Now, you may be wondering: “Then who are those claiming to be barristers while working as lawyers in Bangladesh?”

Well, they are the people who did LLB in English Law instead of municipality law (ie, Bangladeshi law), and then went to the United Kingdom to receive professional training in order to acquire the title of a barrister. However, after receiving it, they decided to return home and work here in Bangladesh instead.

“Do they automatically acquire the right to submit in Bangladeshi courts?” The answer is no. They have to go through the same advocateship exam as any other lawyer in our country to acquire that right; but they do get a waiver of certain pre-requirements, which are generally mandatory for other law graduates to fulfill in order for them to become eligible candidates for the exam.

This means that the barristers we see practising in Bangladeshi courts are actually lawyers who have cleared two bar exams of two different legal systems from two different continents by learning both legal systems.

So, you may ask why go through double the amount of hardship if, in the end, barristers are also required to prove their worth almost the same way as any other lawyer here? The thing is, the title barrister comes with its own charms.

Thanks to the internationally recognized professional training they receive, clients (be it an individual or a multinational company) generally feel less hesitant while trusting and investing their hard-earned money on barristers.

Now, this doesn’t mean advocates are any less qualified. I have personally had the opportunity to work under the supervision of two lawyers -- one of them is an advocate who previously worked as DUDOK’s lawyer and is currently known as a high profile defence lawyer, and the other one is literally the very first female barrister of Bangladesh. And, honestly, based on my personal experience, I found them both sufficiently skilled and charming in their own ways. Neither was less than the other.

But this does not make the approach general clients usually take unjustified. There is a reason why they tend to prefer barristers more in high profile cases.

Unfortunately, in Bangladesh, after completing LLB (ie, an undergraduate degree in law), there is currently no arrangement for professional training. They learn client handling, case management, chief and cross-examination techniques, and court procedures all by themselves by way of gaining years of experience.

This is another reason why even the Bangladesh Bar Council allows barristers to apply for the advocateship exam without clearing the pupilage stage; the experience a law graduate claims to have gained through their pupilage, a barrister gains by attending a training course that is acknowledged worldwide. A course where you have to compete against applicants from every corner of the world simply to ensure an offer for a seat.

Now that we have learned about the the consequences of studying both English and Municipality law, I would like to conclude with some advice that I once received from my father (former district and sessions judge) and my maternal grandfather (former deputy secretary, Ministry of Education):

“If you want to study law, study English Law. This will open more career options for you. After becoming a barrister, you can either join a chamber immediately, or grab a corporate lawyer’s job and earn some decent money until you get your licence to practise since barristers get easy access to such jobs.

“But if you want a more settled job, you can still apply for BJS and become a judge even with this English Law degree. And later in life, if you feel like you need a more flexible job, simply join part-time teaching. English law students here, due to being part of a distance-learning course, often look for external academic support. Therefore, if nothing else, you can start giving them some guidelines online.”

Although this is advice I received eight years ago, it seems more befitting now during this pandemic.

Atia Aman Azizee is currently working as a faculty for the University of London International Programme at BAC International Study Centre. She also serves as a Principal Officer at the Law & Recovery Division in National Bank Limited.

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