In Bangladesh, the life of an apprentice lawyer is mostly one of misery. The battle to get a license from the Bangladesh Bar Council is the leading cause of this hardship.
The apprentice lawyers are feeling somewhat neglected by a system that is inefficient and apathetic towards their misery. Moreover, the Appellate Division's order to "complete the applicants' enrolment process to be enrolled as advocates in the district courts each calendar year" is hardly ever complied with.
The delay in the advocate enrolment examination has already caused deep disappointment among them. Apprentice lawyers who qualified at the Multiple Choice Question (MCQ) stage of the Bangladesh Bar Council Examination have been protesting for months now, but till date, no concrete steps have been taken by the Bar Council and no date has been announced for the next stage of examination.
To obtain a Bar Council license, one must pass the MCQ, written, and viva exams administered by the enrolment committee of the Bangladesh Bar Council. However, apprentice lawyers insist that due to the pandemic there is uncertainty about when the written and viva exams will take place.
Apprentice lawyers from 2017 have provided a memorandum to the Deputy Commissioner and the Prime Minister to relax the written and viva test of Bar Council enrolment during the pandemic. They demand to be declared as lawyers through a special gazette considering the current crisis.
Delaying of Bar Council enrolment is not a new thing, but it is a key source of collective and increasing disappointment among aspiring law graduates as apprenticeships become less of a privilege over a long time.
There is a legal necessity for a law student to complete a six-month apprenticeship under a senior lawyer with at least ten years of experience practising law. However, finding such senior lawyers is often difficult due to the prolonged delays in the granting of licenses for practice, which creates a lack of vacancy.
Some aspiring lawyers claimed that their seniors tend to pay extra attention to those who have attachments to famous lawyers or were backed by lawyer families. In the meantime, ordinary students do not get much consideration despite having good results. Additionally, their seniors are unwilling to take them along to court and instead kept them busy with administrative or clerical tasks.
The apprenticeships were supposed to give them more experience but if they do not get a chance to learn by going to court, for example, how can they be prepared to make a living out being an advocate?
Some aspiring lawyers say they did regularly go to court with their seniors to collect files and dates of the cases and submit them at the courts, as well as also help seniors prepare notes. However, the pay was minimal, making it impossible to survive on such meagre salaries.
One apprentice lawyer who did not want to disclose her identity said, "seniors earn Tk50,000 to Tk60,000 from a single case but hesitate to give us even Tk100 or Tk200. Nothing can be more embarrassing and frustrating than having to ask for pocket money from our parents at the age of 28 despite having undergraduate degrees."
In certain cases, apprentice lawyers face 'lack of respect' in the workplace. Delays in publishing results, not getting proper respect, as well as low remuneration discourages most apprentice lawyers from joining the legal profession.
Many apprentice lawyers claim that their difficulties would be solved if the enrolment examinations were held every year and the results were published within the shortest possible time, according to the verdict of the Supreme Court.
Many apprentice lawyers feel the need to demand reforms in the existing system, but fear losing their apprenticeships if they voice their demands. If their seniors would treat them with some respect and compassion, the apprentice lawyers would feel conceivably less frustrated. Several apprentice lawyers also stated there should be a system of accountability where they are legitimately trained for their future as advocates, rather than be given ancillary roles where they have to undertake whatever tasks delegated to them.
As apprentice lawyers are suffering for a while now, they want their demands to be met with immediate effect and have been protesting against the aforementioned injustice for a long time. They are not demanding anything exceptional. All they want is to secure their right to sit for the bar council exams and fairly and transparently obtain their right to become advocates so that they can earn a living and support their loved ones.
Despite their great effort, the question still remains: will they prevail? Let's hope so, for if they do not, the future of the legal profession will be bleak.
Tazmim Hossain Mim is a research associate at the Bangladesh Forum for Legal and Humanitarian Affairs (BFLHA)
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.