The Pakistan In-House Lawyers Forum ("PILF")
by Tajamal Shah
Founder and President of the Pakistan In-house Lawyers Forum
The Pakistan In-House Lawyers Forum (“PILF”) met for the first time in Lahore on 4th December, 2009, and many would contend that the setting up of such a forum was long overdue.
In this article, I will briefly discuss what drove me to set up this forum, the objectives for the forum that have been agreed upon to date and finally, the way forward shall be submitted.
Having spent my educational and working life in the UK, I took the decision in 2000 to move to Pakistan by joining Pakistan Tobacco Company as its Head of Legal. I knew that in order for me to have a smooth transition into the local legal and business environment, I would need to get to know the legal in-house community as quickly as possible. However, I was a little surprised to learn that even though the concept of legal departments was at a developed stage in Pakistan, there were no mediums established via which, in-house lawyers could engage with each other. Thus, I took the initiative of personally writing to a select few in-house lawyers, introducing myself and requesting a meeting. I was thoroughly encouraged by the response and the kindness shown by all the recipients of my letters. My relationship with them developed into a friendship, thus a gain on a personal front. However, but more importantly on the professional front, these lawyers assisted me greatly in allowing me to overcome the challenges I faced, in my role as an in-house lawyer working for a multinational in a legal and business jurisdiction which was totally new to me.
My experiences led me to discuss the idea with others, that surely there must be in-house lawyers in the same predicament as I, looking for professional support, as they settle down in their new roles. Hence, the legal in-house community should set up a forum which would allow lawyers, both new and experienced, to network and exchange ideas. There was an overwhelmingly consensus that such a forum was badly needed. The idea was thus conceived, but the energy and the time to bring this to fruition was misdirected and it was not until 2009, that steps were finally taken to get such a forum underway.
At the introductory meetings of PILF, the first held in Lahore and the second in Karachi, the general objectives of the forum were agreed upon. These were:-
1. Networking - The foremost and most important objective was to provide opportunities to in-house lawyers to get to know each other and develop professional working relationships through the various engagement opportunities which the forum could create. The forum would encourage the lawyers to continue to meet informally and discuss mutually beneficial issues at every available opportunity.
2.Knowledge sharing - PILF accepted and recognised two ground realities at its inception. Firstly, that sound legal knowledge through text books which could direct these lawyers to find solutions to common problem were not readily available in Pakistan and secondly, that external lawyers being mostly focused on litigation work, did not fully appreciate the needs of the in-house community. Hence, in order to capitalise on what was available within the forum, it was imperative for the in-house lawyers to share their learnings with other PILF members in order to pass on their knowledge and prevent the replication of effort and cost. Knowledge sharing would actually provide a financial benefit to the members’ organisations in the form of savings in legal bills, as well as giving confidence to the members that their knowledge is based on practical issues rather than just theory. Additionally, this would also provide the younger, less experienced lawyers, access to a group of experts from which to build their knowledge base.
3. Discussion Forum - Another objective of PILF was to provide a platform where members could freely discuss their concerns and ideas as well as clarify their thoughts regarding current legal issues, as well as on initiatives to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Pakistani legal system.
4. Engagement Platform – PILF to provide the platform from which to engage the government and other bodies on common issues of concern in order to ensure that the importance of the desired message was not diluted by an individual approach. Through the forum, members could discuss emerging issues of common concern and prepare and agreed upon a position and the forum could engage with the concerned authorities, to present the views of the forum.
Engage with external lawyers - It was recognised by the members that the forum could contribute in improving the services given by external lawyers to businesses by assisting them to better understand the needs of the in-house lawyers. Hence, PILF could continually assess the impact and quality of the legal services provided by external firms and thereby benefiting the businesses in which the individual members were engaged in, by ensuring the provision of a vetted pool of qualified and efficient external counsel.
The initial meetings proved to be encouraging but in order to truly become the groundbreaking organization that PIFL was envisioned to be, it is vital that these early steps must be built upon and that there is no laxity on part of the early participants. PILF was meant to be a national as well as a local support organization and hence it is essential that individual city or region-wide chapter of PILF be formed. Local chapters of PILF meeting on a regular basis can identify and meet the specific in-house needs of the lawyers of a particular region.
On a broader or national level, PILF aims to meet at once every calendar year so that the experience gained across the country, in various industries can be shared. Not only shall this be a great learning platform for the participants but shall also facilitate the career prospects of lawyers who desire to move from their current organization to a new industry.
Whereas organizations such as the Law Society in Britain have a long history and have traditionally played a vital role in supporting its members, in Pakistan such support is often lacking from the local bar councils and in-house lawyers in particular, are often marginalized in a profession which is mostly focused on the needs of litigators. The need for PILF to bring together members of a community of lawyers, who tend to become isolated from the fray and are overlooked, is very great indeed. PILF is a positive way forward that will result in greater efficiency for businesses and is an opportunity for real personal growth for its members. It is vital then this initiative should not be abandoned.
The auther is a Solicitor qualified from the Law Society of England & Wales and is the Director, Legal, at Pakistan Tobacco Company, which is the oldest multinational in Pakistan. Comments may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org .
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