Lawyer as the Profession
Facts about Lawyering
From “Becoming a Bhutanese Lawyer,” by Prof Nima Dorji, JSW Law
The Realities of Legal Profession
Unlike many other occupations, the legal profession exists to help people. In this respect, it is similar to the medical profession. His Majesty the King noted this similarity, noting, “When people are sick they need treatment and when they are wronged they need justice.”
Lawyer is a position of trust. People place their fullest of trust in lawyers. They often come to lawyers with only as a last resort, when they have tried everything possible to resolve their problem and issues. These problems and issues are related to their lives – and, if not managed well, can ruin their lives.
For example, in Bhutan right now, divorce cases are rampant. If such separations are not managed well it can have negative impact not only on the separating partners, but also on their children. In a criminal trial, the accused comes to a defense attorney, desperate that the lawyer can prevent him or her from imprisonment – a punishment that can have deeply detrimental effects on the prisoner but also on his or her family.
In order to find solutions for your clients, it is not enough merely to understand the law, or even to understand the legally relevant facts. You must understand the context and environment around the law and the facts. You must identify the underlying interests of the parties and only then recommend a workable solution to your client’s situation.
In a small society like Bhutan, this mediating role is profoundly important. Bhutan cannot afford to have unnecessary conflicts between the government and the people, among the people, or among institutions. Lawyers bear the responsibility of mitigating these conflicts by playing important roles as a negotiators and advocates, and ensuring harmony and peaceful co-existence in society.
All of this means that lawyers must be very well informed – about the law, the legal system, and about all aspects of the society in which law operates. Reading, therefore, is integral part of legal profession. As a law student, you will be required to read many legal texts, case laws, legislation, and legal articles. As a legal professional, while practising law, you will have to continue reading to keep yourself updated on changes in laws and legal issues. Both as a law student or a lawyer, there is no substitute for constant, critical, and diligent reading. You will devote most of your time to reading.
Until recently, the career path for law graduates was very well defined. Upon graduation, lawyers would either join judiciary or Office of Legal Affairs – the predecessor of the Office of Attorney General. Almost all graduates became judges, and competition for these posts was almost non-existent. Very few joined other government agencies, and not much asked of lawyers.
But with the rapid development of both society and the legal system, Bhutan has seen an increasing need for lawyers, in a wide variety of roles. As democracy deepens in Bhutan, the need for able and dedicated lawyers continues to grow, and there is an even greater diversity of career options for lawyers.
The judiciary is one of the important branches of government. The judiciary has historically been the biggest employer for lawyers; this should continue for the foreseeable future.
In the past, entry into judiciary was not so difficult; a fresh graduate could be recruited directly as a Court Registrar and expect regular promotion through the judicial ranks. Henceforth, however, lawyers will enter the judiciary as a Bench Clerk, and climb the career ladder based on professional performance and integrity.
Note also that it is possible to transfer into the judiciary mid-career. The Royal Judicial Council and National Judicial Commission may draw from outside the judiciary to fill judicial posts in the lower-tier courts, and “eminent jurists” can also be considered for appointment directly to the High Court or the Supreme Court.
Office of the Attorney General
The Office of Attorney General (OAG) is another important legal employer. Attorneys in the OAG generally work as prosecutors., representing the State in the courts of law in criminal cases. Advocacy skills are critical effective execution of a prosecutor’s job. You should have the ability to communicate exceptionally well throughout trial process to persuade a sitting judge. Team work is also important, as prosecutors must work with investigation teams from the Royal Bhutan Police and the Anti-Corruption Commission.
Corporate lawyering in Bhutan is recent phenomena. In the past, companies had very little need for lawyers. However, as a result of the growth in business opportunities including Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), there is increase in business transactions. This in turn has led to increase in corporate and business laws, making the corporate world relatively complex. Many state-owned corporations, other companies now recruit lawyers to serve as corporate lawyers or company secretary. A corporate lawyer must be fluent in corporate and business transactional law, and also be knowledgeable about the business environment more generally. Corporate lawyers are usually paid very well, as their performance is directly related to the company’s success or failure.
Parliament is the legislative branch of the government. As Lawyers have two paths into the Parliamentary world: as a legislative officer or as an elected Member of Parliament.
The Secretariats of the National Assembly and the National Council each recruit lawyers to serve as Legislative Officers.
Lawyers are also uniquely qualified to serve as elected Members of Parliament, either in the National Assembly or in the National Council. In many countries, the national parliament includes a great many lawyers, and this should come as no surprise: lawyers are trained, after all, to draft, critique, and analyse laws, and their negotiation and advocacy skills are very useful in parliamentary debate. Bear in mind, though, that Parliamentary candidates need not have a law degree, and a Parliamentary candidate will stand for election against competitors from all walks of life.
Government Legal Officer
Many government agencies and institutions, including the Constitutional Bodies, require lawyers. As a result, ther are many opportunities for lawyers as legal officers throughout the government. These legal officers play an advisory role to their agencies and institutions. However, the precise nature of their roles differ from organisation to organisation. For an example, the legal officer of the Election Commission will be responsible for advising the Commission on electoral laws and procedures. Likewise, the legal officer of Dzongkhag administration will be responsible for providing legal advice to Dzongdag and Dzongkhag officials on laws and rules of day-to-day operation. Similarly, the legal officers in different departments of the Ministries will have the role of providing legal advice to such ministries in their relevant fields.
Did you join law school with an ambition to provide free legal services to the economically disadvantaged, indigenous people or other vulnerable groups? Legal services are often expensive, and not many people have access to such services. As a lawyer, you have this unique opportunity to provide help to needy without having to incur direct expenditure – all you need is to use your expert knowledge to help them. The justice sector in Bhutan is still in the process of determining how legal aid will be provided in Bhutan, but whether on a full-time or voluntary basis, you and your classmates will have the opportunity to help mold this critical role of the legal profession in Bhutan.
Civil Society Organisations
Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) are public-service organizations devoted to filling society’s needs not otherwise addressed by the government or the private sector. Some of prominent CSOs in Bhutan are RENEW, Ability Bhutan, NCWC, Bhutan Nuns Foundation, Tarayana Foundation, and religious organizations. Like any employee of a CSO, the role of the CSO lawyer is to support the larger mission of the CSO, and the nature of work differs from CSO to CSOs. For example, a lawyer working for RENEW will likely provide advice to individuals facing domestic violence, matrimonial discord, and other gender-related issues. Such a lawyer would also likely act as an advocate for policy and legal reforms designed to protect such individuals.
Mediator or Arbitrator
Formal justice mechanisms, in the form of the modern court system, are a comparatively recent development in Bhutan. It was not until the 1960s that the judiciary was first established. Therefore, for the vast majority of its history, Bhutanese society has resolved disputes through informal means – what is known as alternative dispute resolution in other parts of the world. Negotiation, mediation, and arbitration will contribute in maintaining and promoting unity and peaceful co-existence in the society. The skills you learn in law school will make you an ideal candidate to serve as a full time mediator, arbitrator, or negotiator, whether attached to a court or as a freelance dispute resolver.
With the establishment of the Jigme Singye Wangchuck School of Law (JSW Law School), there is a new path open to Bhutanese law graduates: that of legal academician. If you are interested in teaching and research, you can become a lecturer or researcher at JSW Law School or, for that matter, at other law schools around the world. Fresh graduates join JSW Law School as junior lecturers, and gain experience teaching and researching over the course of their careers. The law school also engages professionals in support roles, including administrative and management positions.
Private Practice (including Law Firms)
“Private practice” refers to lawyers who are in the business of representing clients. That is, a private-practice lawyer might represent multiple clients, for fees, on a wide variety of matters. Such lawyers may work by themselves (as “solo practitioners”) or in companies with other lawyers (in “law firms”). In many countries, jobs at top private law firms are among the most prestigious and well paid in the entire legal sector.
In Bhutan, however, there are relatively few lawyers in private practice, for the simple reason that demand for private lawyers (whether for commercial matters, for litigation, or for advice) has been very low. This appears to be changing, however, with the growth of a private commercial sector and with the ever-complicating of relationships in a democratic society. There are opportunities to join one of the small number of existing law firms, as well as to start your own law firm.
In addition to the skills required to be a great lawyer, lawyers in private practice need to be savvy businessmen and -women. They need to market themselves to clients, keep a good reputation in the marketplace, and keep their fees reasonable and competitive with other firms.