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Profession pregnant with ethical dilemmas Lawyers 1st link between people and authorities

DISCOURAGING litigations, promoting compromise, the sound of reason amidst the storm of conflict. These are just some principles good lawyers keep in mind, in a sense, lawyers have this superior opportunity to be the good persons on a daily basis. Nowadays, nobody wants to read about the honest lawyer down the street that does house loans and wills, people are more interested in the lawyer that stole millions and disappeared. This is not going to be one of those stories, this is going to be about what being a lawyer is all about, and Dr Mohammed Noor, a well rooted lawyer with around 20 years of experience in the field, will help us portray this subject.

Some of the factors that contributed to the birth of the profession, was the increasing tendency of people to ask for assistance from friends and family when they pleaded their cases in the olden days. Similarly, with his abundance of experience, Dr. Mohammed is not only a lawyer to his clients, he is a friend, the voice of reason, some even consider him a part of the family, he ended up being that same person that contributed to the birth of the profession in the first place.

Question: What drew you to the profession?
Answer: There are a number of factors that made me pursue law, first of all I come from a family of professional lawyers, aside from trading of course, as it was the main profession at the time, but at some point “law became a focal point for us, and there is a reason for that. My family originated from Lahore, north of Pakistan, and during the British colonization, the first mayor of the city of Lahore was actually one of my forefathers, who was appointed because he graduated from Oxford University at the time, and that was the beginning, which led to this day where there are currently around 15 to 20 lawyers in our family.

Additionally, the opportunity to help others in need pushed me further, because while growing up, a lot of people used to come to our family to seek legal advice, which I can say is the main reason that drew me to the profession, because it gives you this unique opportunity to help people that do not have any other means to seek justice. I learned about this concept even more when I went to the UK for studies, where I learned about “Pro bono,” A Latin word that means “for public good.” Any law student in the UK is encouraged to take “Pro bono” cases without any fees, helping his/her surrounding community, it’s not only about making money, we were trained to give back to the community, which in return helps raise the level of awareness.

As a student, we were encouraged to take paid internships, but certain hours per week were allocated to serving the community. This idea is followed by all law schools in countries that follow the Anglo-Saxons law code, like the UK, USA and Canada, but the last time I checked, Kuwait doesn’t follow this, but they might have implemented it by now. Law is a very intellectually satisfying profession, which is another reason that drew me to it, from solving problems related to intellectual properties, to problems related to mergers and inquisitions; all have their own set of intellectual requirement. Another reason that drew me to the profession was the fact that lawyers play an active role in every society, in a sense that lawyers are able to make an impact on policy makers, because lawyers are closer to the people than any of the authorities in the country, to the point that a lot of NGOs are founded by lawyers. It’s not only at the local level, but global as well, as environmental issues and cases are all pushed by lawyers, a factor that drew me to the profession even more, simplifying it, lawyers are the first link between the people and the authorities.
 

Q: You currently specialize in commercial law, besides this area, what other areas have you ventured into?
A: I also worked in an area called Family owned businesses and companies, where chairmen and owners of the company, want the lawyer to closely work with them in their business needs. it’s called “family office lawyers,” or “private client lawyers” in our profession, which is also one of the areas I specialize in, basically working with merchant families and their legal needs regarding their business, in a close relation manner as it grows. Another area is arbitrations and alternative dispute resolutions or ADR, some might say that ADR is a part of every legal area, but there are lawyers that specialize in ADRs, top law firms even have dedicated departments called “department of arbitrations and ADR,” and lawyers in this department have entered special programs, becoming specialized arbitrators, mediators and judicators. I have personally worked in a number of arbitration cases for family businesses here in Kuwait, where disputes have arisen between family members who own the business, being the mediator and the voice of reason, I helped resolved the issue at hand.
 

Q: If you were to change your specialty, what will you choose?
A: Since I live in the Middle Eastern region, I would say “oil and gas,” because there are lawyers that specializes in this field.
 

Q: But isn’t “oil and gas” considered “commercial” as well?
A: No, it’s a different practice area, because within “oil and gas” there are commercial and non-commercial aspects as well.
 

Q: What about other areas, like criminal law, did you ever venture down that road?
A: I was never attracted to criminal law, because it is littered with ethical dilemmas that a lawyer might face. I can never see myself protecting a criminal while knowing he is in fact a criminal, I simply cannot defend someone who has committed a crime.
 

Q: What are the most prominent ethical dilemmas that lawyers face?
A: It’s unfortunate because we never discussed this subject in law school. However, based on my experience and further education, there is something called identifying a “conflict of interest” situation. To simplify it, I have Mr.X who is a client, and Ms.Y who is also my client, but im acting on Mr.X’s behalf against Ms.Y. This is a very common dilemma that a lawyers face throughout the practice, but we have to make a decision, but according to the Kuwait Lawyers association’s rules and regulations, if Mr.X and Ms.Y are both my clients and I’m representing either of them on a case against neither of them, even if there is a dispute between them, as long as I’m not involved, its fine, otherwise you must face the dilemma and make a decision, keeping in mind that you are a person that creates peace and not further disputes.

Second dilemma would be malpractices or misconducts, which is something that lawyers are generally very cautious about, it’s a term given to lawyers that are negligent in serving the clients interest, or failed to protect their rights professionally. Because when a client approaches us, whether they be an individual or a company, we immediately have this duty of care towards that client, otherwise a lawyer can be charged for negligence. For example, and this is based on my experience, while representing a client in a case, a judgment is rendered against the client at the court of first instance, and the period for appeal is 30 days, but this period has past and the lawyer did not file for an appeal, this is considered a malpractice or misconduct. And in this case, the client can easily file a case against the lawyer, and he should also file a grievance case at the Kuwait Lawyers Association.

Another dilemma which is a very sensitive subject for lawyers is regarding legal fees. Lawyers should be fair, and always have a balanced view, they should never overcharge, and they should have an ethical approach. It’s well known that lawyers have an hourly rate that they work on, so from the moment the lawyer starts reviewing the case until the end, however long it took, a lawyer should never charge more than the time it took, he should not add an extra hour on the timesheet. I have witnessed numerous lawyers, including lawyers in the West, where they add extra hours to their timesheets in order to meet their quotas of billable hours, which is a very unethical act. This stems out from the fact that these lawyers are under pressure from management, to meet the quotas of billable hours; nevertheless, it does not justify the act.
 

Q: Have you ever faced a dilemma throughout your years in the field? How did you approach it?
A: Yes I have, a dispute has risen between family members who collectively own a business, and I happen to be their lawyer. One of the disputing sides approached me to represent them against the other side. During the meeting with the side that wanted me to represent them, I made it clear to them that I absolutely reject burning the bridge between families, and that if I was to take the case, it will only be for building and strengthening that bridge. I also informed them that the day they ask me to act unethically, is the day I will terminate the contract between us, which caught them by surprise. But sadly, they continued to go down that road.
 

Q: What are the different law codes that countries follow? And which one does Kuwait follow?
A: Firstly you have the Anglo-Saxons or the common law system, this is generally followed by countries that were former British colonies including the US, Australia and Canada. This system is generally based on judicial precedence, where similar cases with similar facts and issues are not treated differently, unlike the civil law system, which is based on the French Napoleon civil code, followed in continental Europe like Germany, Spain and Italy. Kuwait adapted its system from Egypt, which Egypt adapted in turn from the French, making Kuwait’s law system “civil.” In this system, when faced with a legal challenge, we review the “code” and find a solution, unlike the common law system where there is no written code; they look at court judgments, and search for similar cases in the past and judge based on how the court had rendered its judgment.
 

Q: What is your personal opinion of the Kuwaiti set of laws?
A: This might come as a surprise to a lot of people, including my colleagues, but this is a fact, Kuwait has the best legal system in the Gulf region, and probably the Middle East. The reason for this is because Kuwait has taken the best from every system, in addition to a strong enforcement mechanism that a lot of other countries are still struggling to achieve, I have a lot of clients in Egypt or the UAE where the court verdict is in our favor but they struggle to enforce it, due to the numerous bureaucratic requirements in those countries. I’m not saying that the Kuwaiti judicial system has reached perfection but it is something to be very proud of, because speaking comparatively, Kuwait’s set of laws are very good. We do have laws that were adopted a long time ago, making them outdated now, like the tax law, which was adopted in 1955, and was updated in 2008/2009, companies law was in the 1960s, and adopted a new one in 2012/2013, and the same goes with the labor law. Therefore, both the executive and legislative authorities must look into these laws and keep them updated, for they have a daily impact on individuals. 
 

Q: Some people describe lawyers as deceitful and dirty, where do you stand on this?
A: Every profession has the good, the bad, and the ugly. But predominantly, I think that the good is more common, and there are only few “uglies,” and these people need to be held accountable for their deeds. I generally believe that the majority of people in any profession are good people, but it’s the few bad apples that ruin it for the rest.
 

Q: Every profession has its own set of Pros and Cons, what are they for lawyers?
A: Let us start with the cons, the legal profession is very demanding, it demands long hours, the first couple of years is like hell. Secondly, it is very difficult to please the public, even when you have worked hard to gain a good reputation, there is still going to be people that will hate you for whatever reason they have. Also, as we said earlier, there are numerous dilemmas that lawyers face, but sometimes the dilemma is that the line between ethical and non-ethical is not clear, it’s not plain white, it’s not plain black, sometimes it’s just gray, making it harder to differentiate. In these cases lawyers sometimes lose sleep, thinking about whether they acted ethically or not, it’s a great mental stress. When we come to pros, the profession is very interesting; there are no two situations that are similar, it is not repetitive, there is always change. It is also a flexible field in terms of working hours, if you want to work from 9 to 5 you can join a law firm, if you want to be more flexible you can be a freelance lawyer. The job is also very satisfying, both intellectually and emotionally, there is nothing like that feeling of fulfilling what your client needed, or the feeling of justice being delivered. Last but not least, the legal profession is a field that is already well established, it’s already considered a respectable and noble line of work.
 

Q: A lot of people usually point out that Kuwait has no Environmental lawyers, why do you think that is?
A: Well, Kuwait is a young country, and all these laws around the world that serve and help protect the environment were only passed within the last 20 years. That being said, I think Kuwait started moving in the right direction in terms of environment preservation, for the government is now pushing for current tenders and major projects to have an environmental requirement in addition to the original financial and technical requirements. Even the US and China are pointing at each other regarding who should focus more on the environmental aspect considering they are in the top countries when it comes to production. So again, I think Kuwait is in the right path, but there is always room to do better.
 

Q: What does the field of law require from its practitioner?
A: Law requires credibility, ethics, morals and above all it requires honesty. A lawyer is the guardian of the rule of law, promoting and enforcing it, which means that every single human being are equal in the face of the law. Lawyers should prioritize the discovery of truth in everything, rather than achieving the results that pleases the client. These are principles that have led me to publish numerous articles throughout my years as a lawyer. One of the major challenges that we face in this developing world is ignorance, unfortunately a lot of people still believe that a woman’s place is in the house, they do not know that when women are educated, like men, they can make a difference. The same goes for children, a lot of them are still being pulled out of school in order to work and support their families. In conclusion, I believe that education means knowledge, and knowledge means power, and ultimately, power means the ability to make a difference. Back in 2004, I published an article with the name “The Promotion of Women and Children Rights and Education,” talking about this.
 

Q: If you have one message to aspiring lawyers in Kuwait, what would it be?
A: I would have to firstly ask for the reason they are entering law, if the reason is money, I would tell them to turn around and find another profession. If the reason is legit and honest, I have one advice and message “Do what you love, and love what you do!”

biography

Job Title: Senior Legal Advisor & Chief of International
Regional Focus & Expertise: GCC Gulf markets (Middle East)
* Received Juris Doctorate law degree with honors from the United Kingdom.
In addition, two degrees from Canada, in International Relations with Honors and in International Business and Trade. Completed my high school in a Kuwait government school.
* Canadian Citizen born in Kuwait of Punjabi background, the family settled in the Kuwait from 1940s and in the Gulf region in early 1900. Fluent in English, Kuwaiti Arabic, Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu and beginners French.
* Currently Working with Al-Osaimi Law Firm (ALF)
* Objective: Merging the business and legal worlds.

By Ahmed Al-Naqeeb
Arab Times Staff
 
 

 


By: Dr Mohammed Noor

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