LLB graduate Amina Malik reflects on Rumi, the perils of rote learning and representing Pakistan.
Contributed by Amina Malik.
“As you start to walk on the way, the way appears.”
This is one of the most renowned sayings of the Persian poet and jurist, Rumi, and one which I personally cherish as being particularly insightful as to even the most mundane affairs of human life. Indeed, it is often so that one fails to embark on a journey, or at least does not consider oneself likely to succeed, simply because the entirety of the journey has not been previously mapped out. My journey with the LLB (Hons.) degree was quite like one of these instances.
Having just graduated from high school with a pre-medical background, I had no inkling of what legal studies or a legal career meant, or how I should conduct myself to attain success in the degree. In one of my first few classes of Public Law, I was very confused about two cases which had the same Applicant and Respondent, and yet two very different judgments. I thought the Professor was discussing two different cases and I still remember the shock on his face as he explained it was simply that the case was on appeal.
As surprising as it is to most who know me, the truth is that my journey towards attaining a First Class Award started out with sheer scepticism: in myself, my ability to study those excruciatingly lengthy legal textbooks, and my chances of actually being able to emerge with a degree at the end of the three years.
However, as many have said, if ever there was a great enemy to scepticism, it is the persistence of skill. I knew that I wanted to practise law, I always had a love of the courtroom and being able to lay my case in front of a judge gave me a sense of satisfaction I cannot explain. Hence, I did not give up and instead worked to channel these fears and doubts into a more focused and determined course of study.
I started with a basic reading of the study guide every day to corroborate my lecture notes. And, as Rumi says, as I started, the way began to appear. As I worked through the guide, it became easier and easier to refer to the textbooks and the essential reading materials. I went from reading just a few lines per case to being able to read whole judgments and understanding them.
The only piece of advice I would give to anyone who is working towards this degree is not to get apprehensive because of the volume or complexity of the material. If you work at it slowly and take it one step at a time, it will all make sense. Truly, there is no milestone that cannot be achieved if one dedicates time, attention and hard work.
Additionally, I believe it is very important to recognize that each person is different, and consequently their method of learning and retaining information is also different. Regrettably, it is a very commonly painted picture that success in legal studies is purely a product of mere memorization. This could not be further from the truth. While I did fall prey to this tactic initially, and attempted to memorize every section of every statute or every judge mentioned in every case law, I soon realized that the amount of information I had was no help because I had no idea how to analyse it or how to integrate it into an answer.
Rather than just memorization, one needs to be cognizant of the underlying problem that each statute or case law attempts to address (much like the mischief rule we learn about in statutory interpretation), the means it employs to achieve its objective, and to what extent it is successful – and these questions cannot be answered by mere rote learning. In my humble opinion, the key to any good answer, whether First Class or not, is to engage directly with the question asked, and alongside the core material of statutes and case law, provide a creative outlook which shows that one addressed the question in a critical and reflective manner.
Further, I truly feel that my success in this degree was shaped not only by the academic aspect, as there is much more to the degree than just books and exams, but also catalysed by my extracurricular involvement in the debating and mooting societies of my institution. I had the honour of representing Pakistan College of Law in various national competitions and even represented my country, Pakistan, in one of the biggest international moot court competitions in the world, amongst 132 other countries.
Through these Moots, I was able to enhance my skills of oral argumentation, preparation of written documents such as memorandums, and analytical research. While mooting definitely requires a lot of time and dedication, it cultivates skills which are part and parcel to any career in the legal field and thus is more than rewarding to any student who chooses to participate.
Lastly, this reflection would be incomplete if I did not mention that no milestone, including this degree, is possible to achieve alone. I owe my First Class Award first and foremost to my parents, who are the most loving and understanding pillars of support anyone could pray for, the ever so accommodating and obliging faculty at my institution, and the friends and family who put up with my constant worrying and whining about the workload. A special note of thanks is due to Ms. Shabnam Ishaque, the Director at my institution, who provided much needed guidance and doses of rationality about everything that was school related and everything that wasn’t.
To sum it all up, to say that it has been a long journey is an understatement. It has been a journey of scepticism, persistence, and ultimately success. It is a journey that I never thought I would undertake and one which I now cannot imagine my life without. It is a journey that I hope every aspiring lawyer across the globe embarks on – and succeeds in ways we can only dream of.