London, Asharq Al-Awsat—After the Saudi Ministry of Justice granted four women licenses to practice law earlier this week; Saudi women have finally joined the legal profession in the country.
The four women prepare to enter the legal profession following years of education and training, and the Saudi Ministry of Justice’s decision has been welcomed strongly across the country and region.
Lawyer Bayan Zahran celebrated her license via twitter: “I received my license to pursue the legal profession…I ask God that I can be of use to my religion, my country and the Islamic ummah,” she said.
In exclusive comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, Zahran addressed her past career in the legal field and her future plans following the historic decision.
Zahran graduated from King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, where she studied law. Following her graduation she began defending women and children who had been subjected to domestic violence. She later began working with the Tarahum (Compassion) charity organization in defending prisoners.
“My role was to provide legal aid in cases of prisoner’s rights, ensuring compliance to legal procedures and their legal status,” she told Asharq Al-Awsat.
Zahran says she wants to change the dominant perception that the work of female lawyers is directly tied to women’s rights, adding that this constitutes just a fraction of her work. She added that her legal experience and expertise allows her to deal with cases in a variety of fields. Zahran has also worked extensively with the families of prisoners and female prisoners.
She told Asharq Al-Awsat that Saudi women will now work in a variety of legal fields, and will not be isolated to women’s rights and personal disputes.
“There are no additional conditions imposed on us as practicing lawyers. Whatever a male lawyer has to comply with, we will also have to comply with, from the issuance of a legal license, to establishing an office and handling cases,” Zahran said.
Female law graduates in Saudi Arabia have traditionally worked within legal advisory services or as legal consultants but were not allowed to practice law in the courtroom or granted attorney status. However the Justice Ministry’s new decision completely opens up the legal profession to female graduates.
Despite the restrictions on Saudi female lawyers, Zahran has appeared in court on a number of occasions, but again as a “legal consultant.”
She told Asharq Al-Awsat: “During my time in the Society for the Protection of the Family, I dealt with several cases as a legal consultant. I gained the authorization of the Society to be able to address all matters regarding these cases. I was also awarded a letter, issued by the head of the Court, to allow me to carry out my role as a legal advisor.”
As for her future plans, she said: “I have enough experience in all legal fields that will allow me to set up my own office. I will work with both male and female legal consultants to ensure the best service is provided for our society.”
After changing their title from “legal consultant” to “lawyer,” Saudi female lawyers will be able to work independently, under the guise of the Ministry of Justice.
For her part, Dr. Wahi Luqman, Professor of Law at the King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Since I first joined the law department at the university, I would tell my female students that licenses will definitely be issued, however long it takes.”
Professor Luqman highlighted the standards of the female law student graduates from King Abdulaziz University, as well as Dar Al-Hekma women’s college in Jeddah, whose law centre she had helped to establish.
She said that she did not think female lawyers would have to struggle to gain social acceptance, saying: “Society will be accepting, as the idea of having professional female lawyers has been on the table for five years. Many of the female graduates have already been working in legal firms and departments.”
However she affirmed that the new decision will allow one important change, namely allowing women to establish their own legal firms.
Luqman played down the role that online campaigning had in paving the way for the legal licensing of female lawyers, instead praising the efforts of the Saudi Ministry of Education.
“When the highest authority for education was on board in terms of establishing legal departments for girls, it is only natural to grant female graduates a chance to pursue the profession,” the King Abdulaziz University professor said.
As for the kinds of legal cases that female lawyers will deal with, Dr. Luqman told Asharq Al-Awsat: “There is no doubt that many women will feel a sense of relief and security when speaking to a female lawyer. I expect that they have strong knowledge of cases regarding the injustice that some women confront in their personal lives. For this reason, there is an element of enthusiasm for female lawyers in being able to offer something for women.”
However she also advised female Saudi lawyers to take things slowly and first gain sufficient legal experience and confidence to work independently before setting up their own law firms.
“I advise every female graduate not to rush into establishing her own law firm, particularly as they will be unknown in the field. However, after working with reputable firms, female Saudi lawyers can establish their names and reputations. Following this, it will be much easier to set up a legal practice,” she said.