The following piece has been originally published by Suraya Saleh on London Connection, the online magazine of the University of London International Programmes. Here Zeeshan Hashmi tells us about fulfilling his dream to work in the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
Why did you choose to study with the University of London International Programmes?
I was looking for a programme and an institution that would give me the skills necessary to excel in legal practice. I found that the UoL curriculum for the LLB to be most suitable for this with its focus on teaching students how to provide legal advice as well as a well-structured scheme of teaching research with the dissertation subject option. The institution I attended was Pakistan College of Law (PCL), which has an excellent faculty that is truly invested in pushing their students to perform to the best of their abilities. The faculty at PCL is not only focused on academic performance; they provide students with opportunities that no other law school in Pakistan provides such as the option, if you are willing to work hard, to be selected for international moot court competitions.
“I saw becoming a lawyer as an opportunity to do something significant with my life, and that is why I decided to study law.”
So what, or who, inspired you to study law?
The lawyers’ movement changed the political and legal landscape of the country in 2007. I was greatly inspired by this movement to become a lawyer. I saw ordinary lawyers on the streets, forgoing their livelihoods for constitutionalism and the rule of law; concepts which afford rights to citizens, but at the same time concepts that most people either did not understand or did not care to understand. I saw becoming a lawyer as an opportunity to do something significant with my life, and that is why I decided to study law. If you ask who inspired me in particular, it was the recently retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Mr. Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.
A couple of years after graduating, you were selected for a judicial clerkship at the Supreme Court, where you actually got to work with the former Chief Justice. That must have been a dream job for you?
It really was a dream job for me. In 2007, I was out on the streets protesting for Justice Chaudhry’s restoration. I had never met the man until I got the opportunity to work with him; for me he represented the rule of law and the supremacy of the constitution. But there I was, six years later, with the chance to directly work with him.
You also worked at the law firm Bhandari, Naqvi & Riaz, immediately after graduating, what sort of work were you doing there?
Bhandari, Naqvi & Riaz, or BNR for short, is a firm specializing in commercial litigation. As a first-year Associate, my work mostly involved legal research and drafting pleadings and legal opinions. BNR was a great experience in that they are exceptionally meticulous and thorough in their work; and they pass on these qualities to their Associates, which is a great form of training for a lawyer at the nascent stage of his career.
“Studying with the University of London definitely gave me the skills that are necessary in legal practice. The IRAC (Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion) method of solving a legal problem is something that stays with you as a lawyer.”
Do you think your studies with the University of London prepared you well for legal practice?
Studying with the University of London definitely gave me the skills that are necessary in legal practice. The IRAC (Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion) method of solving a legal problem is something that stays with you as a lawyer. The most helpful part of the UoL LLB, however, was the dissertation. Doing the dissertation required use of the client-oriented research methodology, which basically means researching on a proposition towards a specific end or conclusion that is most beneficial towards proving the argument that you want to make. This is an important skill for lawyers as we are required to conduct research to substantiate arguments that best advance a client’s interests.
Can you tell us a bit about what your dissertation was on? Would you recommend doing a dissertation to other law students?
My dissertation focused on the Indus Waters Treaty, which is the trilateral water-sharing treaty signed between India, Pakistan and the World Bank. My thesis was that the Treaty should not be modified just because of jingoistic rhetoric against it on both sides of the border. The Treaty contains systems of dispute resolution that are strictly adhered to by both States party to it; and despite the hostile relations of India and Pakistan, both countries have always had recourse to these dispute resolution mechanisms when there has been a disagreement as to the interpretation of the Treaty.
I would definitely recommend students to do a dissertation as it gives you the opportunity to choose a topic that you are interested in and conduct in-depth research and analysis into that topic; so there is no way that you will not be interested in what you are doing. As I said before, the skills and methods that you learn from a dissertation are invaluable in the legal practice as well. Of course, the dissertation requires a lot of hard work, but after you have to regularly work from eight to midnight at a law firm, you’ll think the dissertation was a piece of cake!
How do you think University of London law degrees are viewed by employers in Pakistan?
UoL degrees are generally viewed favourably by employers. The general impression of UoL degree holders is that they have the skills to quickly adapt to the work environment in Pakistan despite not having learned Pakistani law per se in the LLB.
You studied at a teaching institution, do you think that helped your studies?
I think it is best to attend an institution for the LLB if you are a full-time student to receive teaching support from faculty, and also so that you can get the chance to avail the opportunities that an institution can provide such as moot courts and special lectures, both of which were regular features at PCL.
“There is no better introduction to the world of litigation and legal argument than moot court. I always found that a round of answering difficult and tough questions from an experienced bench of judges to be one of the greatest learning experiences that a law student can get.”
You were heavily involved in mooting, can you tell us a bit about this and why you found it beneficial as a law student?
Moot court is a simulation of appellate or international courtroom proceedings where students have to prepare and argue a fictional case. Moot court is an integral part of legal education all over the world. Unfortunately, it is not very widespread in Pakistan. There is no better introduction to the world of litigation and legal argument than moot court. I always found that a round of answering difficult and tough questions from an experienced bench of judges to be one of the greatest learning experiences that a law student can get. I was fortunate to represent Pakistan in international moot courts in India, Bangladesh and Hong Kong, which was an even greater learning experience as I got to interact with law students and judges from across the world. In Bangladesh, I argued before Supreme Court Judges of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and in Hong Kong, the final rounds were held in the High Court of Hong Kong.
Suffice to say, moot court teaches you that in order to reach final rounds and win cases, you can’t simply speak loud and bang the podium. Your arguments need to be measured and well-researched; and the memorials (which are the written arguments prepared for moots) must be meticulously prepared to be successful. It is hard work and requires a lot of extra effort in addition to one’s studies, but my advice to law students is to put in this hard work and try their best to excel in moot court as it not only opens doors to a lot of great opportunities, but is also an enriching and exciting experience in itself.
On graduating, you were awarded the Sardar Iqbal Gold Medal in recognition of your academic success and extra-curricular activities, which is awarded by the Human Rights Society of Pakistan for outstanding achievement in the field of law. In the Henry Dunant Moot in Bangladesh, where the best law schools of India, Bangladesh, Iran, Nepal and Sri Lanka all compete, you were the first Pakistani in the history of the competition to win the Best Advocate in South Asia award. How did it feel to win such awards?
Both these awards were really unexpected. When PCL nominated me for the Sardar Iqbal medal I was speechless; it was because of the opportunities that PCL provided to me and their teaching excellence that I got the award. In Bangladesh, when they announced that I was Best Advocate, it was surreal.
“I think that a lawyer is in a unique position to advance the cause of constitutionalism in Pakistan, to advocate not only awareness of rights but to argue for them in the courts.”
Finally, you’re currently still at the Supreme Court. What are your career plans for the future? Do you intend to stay in the Court system or return to the private sector?
For now, I’m not sure how long I will be in the Court system; but I do plan to pursue LLM studies at one of the University of London Colleges and in the US in the next couple of years. I do ultimately plan to return to legal practice in Pakistan once I am done with further studies. I think that a lawyer is in a unique position to advance the cause of constitutionalism in Pakistan, to advocate not only awareness of rights but to argue for them in the courts. In the words of Critical Legal Scholar Peter Gabel, “The very public and political character of the legal arena gives lawyers, acting together with clients and fellow legal workers an important opportunity to reshape the way that people understand the existing social order and their place within it.”
What advice would you have for students graduating from A levels and FA/FSc out there wanting to become lawyers?
I would definitely recommend the UoL LLB to anybody who wants to do law. And if you’re in Lahore, I would further recommend that you do the LLB from PCL. They give excellent guidance and opportunities to their students.