- The country’s law education needs to be raised and reformed
- Young lawyers must understand the whole judicial system before joining as a profession
Interview with Mr. Muhammad Akif Khan — legal expert
PAGE: Tell me something about yourself, please:
Muhammad Akif Khan: I come from a typical middle-class Pakhtun family in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Luckily, in our family, education is always considered the priority for all. Both of my grandparents were in the teaching profession which then transformed the next generations and we have all shifted from lower middle to upper middle class because of making education our bread and butter.
My mother is a writer, and an author of a few books and many articles and has therefore been an influential personality for me throughout.
I did my LLB Hons and LLM Corporate Law from International Islamic University Islamabad. In 2005 I started my professional career as a legal practitioner in Islamabad. Initially, like every rookie, there were numerous ifs and buts for me on how to start, whom to start with, and what should be the direction for my career as the scope of practice had 360 dimensions.
In today’s world legal field has developed and offers diverse career opportunities. At that point in time, I opted for hardcore litigation practice at the beginning with the flexibility of understanding that I may well switch to corporate practice and then ultimately to in-house counseling as it was envisaged as the best way forward for me and was understood to suit my style of work. 17 years down the road, I am on the path where I wanted myself to be (and of course, the game is on for further excelling in it), an in-house counsel in an Oil and Gas Exploration and Production Company.
My career opening litigation practice gave me first-hand knowledge of how the courts in Pakistan work. The always go-slow attitude of the whole legal system encompassing the law, lawyers, judges, police and all related thereto including the litigants was a hard lesson to learn and has always been my worry on how to get justice from such a “rotten system”. It was also this reason that pushed me to corporate practice, as mostly the work was not dependent directly on the response/behavior of other related parties. At AQLAAL and Amhurst Brown, the then leading law firms of Islamabad, I have got to opportunity to learn further and improve my drafting, research, vetting and advisory skills. Afterward, I briefly joined Petrosin and then PTCL and in 2014 I got an offer from OMV Pakistan Exploration GmbH where I headed the legal section of OMV Pakistan. In 2017, OMV decided to exit Pakistan, so I switched to Pakistan Petroleum Limited where I am performing my duties for the past five years.
PAGE: Could you tell me about the common legal issues in the corporate sector?
Muhammad Akif Khan: Well, this is a very broad question and every sector has its own issues to deal with. Yes, the commonality is in regard to i) policy issues, that various sector faces while dealing with the government and its affiliated departments ii) Regulatory issues that are pending with various regulators, iii) executing/enforceability issues that various industries face while they do have the policy/regulation in their favour but due to poor law-enforcement or frankly speaking due to legal-knowledge the implementation is not properly done in order to secure the investments and last but not the least our current judicial system for providing justice is so over occupied that once the issues land in courts they do not get decided for years and years which directly impact various business and the economy as a whole.
PAGE: What is your perspective on law education in Pakistan?
Muhammad Akif Khan: Legal education in Pakistan needs a major upliftment as the law has advanced with the passage of time and now in practice, we see specialized lawyers in different fields. There are few good educational institutions for law but are not sufficient in order to cater to the demands of time. This fact is evident from the number of students who either go abroad for their studies or who join various external distance learning programs while they are still in Pakistan. This shows the lack of trust in local educational institutions.
Moreover, those who study abroad, mostly get preference in various legal positions, hence confirming the lack of trust of society in the local legal education sector. Although, there are really good lawyers who are the output of local education and others who are not impressive despite having a foreign degree, the general perception in Pakistan remains the same. My view is that one has to apply himself to the legal practice and the stage is wide open to welcome anyone who performs better and can excel accordingly, as for me, it is more of self-education and self-learning and it works more in law than in any other field.
PAGE: Could you tell us about employment opportunities for young lawyers?
Muhammad Akif Khan: Honestly, my advice to young lawyers will be to not look for employment in their first two-three years of practice. As they need to have first-hand experience in legal practice, that will enable them to understand the whole judicial system and will always be helpful for them in making important decisions in their employment and of course, they will be able to join back the practice, should they desire so.
Nevertheless, for all aspiring an in-house career, must start the practice immediately, preferably in a corporate law firm and then whenever any opportunity arises they may join accordingly. Many institutions offer employment like High Courts, Supreme Courts, all major multinational companies, local companies, banks etc. Nowadays, most of the positions are advertised on their websites and in the press which provides an equal opportunity to all. Moreover, many companies offer internship programs, some offer them in summer only while others offer them throughout the year. For a lawyer, the most important thing to learn/understand is that he is never unemployed since he is a professional and employment is only icing on the cake. Lawyers should always occupy themselves with work even if it is pro-bono as this cause them to grow and provides them with the cutting edge over their fellow colleagues.
PAGE: How would you describe your experience as a law faculty member?
Muhammad Akif Khan: As you are aware that I have been teaching various law subjects, as visiting faculty in the International Islamic University Islamabad for almost 14 years. Teaching is great fun and it pays off when one sees the faces of his pupils shine and is satisfied with the lecture. My understanding is that teaching is an art in itself as what matters most is the delivery of knowledge to the students and passing on the wisdom, and ideas to others to spring them up and inculcate in them the passion for learning more and more.
I hardly consider any student as poor/weak rather my criteria is to gauge myself from the result of my class. If they perform well, I get satisfied and if the students get low scores, it is a message to me that I need to improve my teaching behavior.
Moreover, with teaching, the real learning part is in understanding the beauty of various laws. As in every new reading, some further interpretation arises and one learns more and more. That’s why I have always enjoyed teaching and even repeating a course again and again. Another great feature is that at times students do come up with questions for which there is no clear answer, and this is where everyone jumps in to participate and hence mission accomplished.
Last, but not least, in teaching one gets the opportunity to interact with the best legal minds of academia and learn the latest legal issues, and their critique on various laws and judicial decisions, which is helpful in understanding the broader spectrum of law.