Saturday March 02, 2024

If you think it’s easy, you’re doing it wrong

April 12, 2017

Many years ago, after being asked one too many a question, I sat down at my computer and hammered out what have henceforth been referred to as the ‘BNR Rules’. Earlier, these rules were printed on a piece of paper. Subsequently, we had them engraved and put on the wall of our office library.

Currently, the BNR Rules are four in number:

1. All work is to be done to the highest possible standards. Always.

2. There is always law. If you can’t find it, look some more.

3. Research is on a strict liability basis. You are liable for finding everything.

4. You can always out-work the opposition.

I mention the BNR Rules because I’m now thinking of adding a fifth rule: If you think it’s easy, you’re doing it wrong.

I’m thinking of adding this rule not just because my firm is blessed with associates who think practising law is a doddle. I’m thinking of adding it because I need to remind myself that two decades of experience doesn’t make the practice of law easy. Easier, yes. Easy, no.

I’m sure that every other profession is difficult. But the type of law I practise is – or so I believe – particularly difficult.

I am a litigator. I argue for a living. If you want to put it poetically, I’m an architect of the imagination: I make and destroy arguments for a living.

High-stakes litigation is difficult everywhere in the world because somebody’s life or somebody’s livelihood is often on the line. But what makes it immeasurably more terrifying in Pakistan is that our advocacy is still done orally, not in writing. That means that when you stand up to argue, you often have no idea what point is going to catch the judge’s fancy or what is going to disturb him: you just have to do your best and try to anticipate everything which might be flung at you.

The further consequence of this oral tradition is that a good lawyer needs to know his entire brief, inside and out, before he stands at the rostrum. As I once explained it to somebody, litigation lawyers are like stage actors: we need to know the entire play. We don’t have the option of only learning the lines needed for the next take.

As you get more experienced, it becomes easier for you to anticipate what point is likely to catch the judge’s eye. And it gets easier for you to extract the gist of the case from a two-foot high stack of documents. But at the end of the day, you still need to go through that stack. And you still need to know everything inside it. Or else.

I may or may not be correct in feeling that my job is exceptionally hard. But my point here is simpler: no matter what the job, doing it well is going to be difficult. If you think it’s easy, you’re doing it wrong.

I make this point because we live in an age where we have a plethora of self-proclaimed messiahs announcing every hour of every day that the solutions to all our problems are easy. In the US, Trump got elected by telling a frustrated electorate that reform was easy. Month after month, he told everybody that he had solutions, secret plans to deal with everything from Isis to healthcare. Now that he has actually been elected, he’s singing a different tune. When his bid to ditch Obamacare ran into trouble, Trump turned in amazement to the press and said, “Nobody knew healthcare could be so complicated.” Wrong. Everybody who actually knew something about the subject knew that it was complicated.

Trump’s experience is relevant to Pakistan because Imran Khan insists, just like his orange counterpart, that he has solutions to every problem. In Imran Khan’s case, not only does he have solutions but every problem has the same solution: getting rid of corruption.

I didn’t vote for Imran Khan last time. And I’m not going to vote for him next time either. But his analysis of Pakistan’s problems still matters to me. Whether I like it or not, the PTI is an important factor in Pakistan’s politics. It is therefore all the more important for the PTI to stop faffing around with meaningless slogans and get down to business. There is no magic solution to Pakistan’s problems. Each of our problems is difficult. Dealing with each of them requires research and insight and hard work. If the Insaafians think that solving Pakistan’s problems is easy, they’re doing it wrong.

Perhaps you think I’m being unfair. After all, does an opposition party really owe anything to the party in power? Answer: probably not. But it certainly owes a lot to all the people of Pakistan. And for their sakes, it has to make a genuine effort to try and attack the problems of this country rather than focus wholly and exclusively on kicking the current government out of power.

During the Obama years, the Republicans had only one agenda item, which was to get rid of Obama. For eight years, the Republicans did nothing except oppose every single policy measure proposed by Obama, even when those polices were based upon Republican orthodoxy. Instead, they focused exclusively on demonising him.

To some extent, the strategy worked. Trump is now president, a conservative has been appointed as a Justice of the Supreme Court, and Hillary Clinton has been reduced to a spectral presence in the woods of upstate New York. But was it worth it?

I would say that the answer is no. Today’s Republican Party has no soul left. All it has left is the ability to say “No”, an ability which it has most recently exercised against the policy initiative of a Republican president. I don’t know what’s going to happen to the US over the next few years. But one certainly doesn’t get the sense that there are any grown-ups in charge.

Like any other job, politics requires hard work. More importantly, portraying politics as easy work does nobody any favours. If you think Pakistan’s problems are easily solved, you’re going to resent the crooks/idiots/patwaris inexplicably failing to do the simple things necessary to fix Pakistan.

Equally importantly, if Pakistan’s problems are such that they can be fixed with a snap of one’s fingers, then one doesn’t need a professional political class: all one needs is a good man at the top of the pyramid to make sure that all is in order. And if you can’t connect the dots between that narrative and the narrative used to legitimise military interventions, then God help you.

We have real problems here in Pakistan. They have real solutions. Very few of those solutions are easy. As the party in power, the primary responsibility for fixing those problems belongs to the PML-N. But just because the PTI is in opposition doesn’t mean it gets to peddle fairytales to the masses.

Politics is hard, Mr Khan. Governance is even harder. If you think it’s easy, you’re doing it wrong.

The writer is an advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

Twitter: @laalshah