Career Talk with ILS Alumnus and AZB Associate Vasudha Asher: Not Knowing is Death

In Zia (Mody)’s words, “Not knowing is death”! With new policies, notifications, circulars etc. doing the rounds every day, it is very important to keep abreast with such happenings. In order to be alive to potential issues while handling transactions, reading and being informed of the current regulatory environment is a must. 

Assistant Editor. Neeati Narayan worked at AZB, Pune during March, 2014 where she worked under Vasudha Asher among other associates.

After a brilliant experience at the internship, it was imperative for her to interview Vasudha and get her to depict her excellent mentor-ship in here.

Scroll down to read more about her achievements through law school, knick-knacks for succeeding professionally and having a great time at AZB & Partners.

Vasudha Asher, Career Talk, AZB Pune, Career AdviceHello Vasudha! Tell us something about yourself?
 
VA: That’s kind of tough! To be very brief, I am your regular 25 year old, always struggling to strike a balance between the work life and personal life.

I love my work and can be at it for days without being tired, however when occasionally the scales tip a little too much to the other side, I go into a (brief) hibernation which comprises of complete mental inactivity! 😉

To give you some background about myself, I was born and brought up in an army household. I joined ILS, Pune in the year 2006 and the 5 years spent there can best be described as a happy roller-coaster ride.

Post graduation, I have been with AZB and trust me, I am having the time of my life here.
 
Describe your childhood in brief? Your sources of inspiration i.e. your driving forces?
 
VA: As I indicated earlier, I am an army kid and have had the most exciting and content childhood one could ever ask for, replete with constant transfers, new schools and new friends every few years.

My father was a pilot in the army and thanks to that, I have predominantly spent my childhood living in the super cool (pun intended) places in J&K, Punjab, Assam etc. Today, wherever I go in the country, I almost always have some school friend or the other to catch up with and it’s an absolutely wonderful feeling.

As regards my sources of inspiration, with respect to work, it would undoubtedly have to be my senior Percis and but obviously, Zia. Both of them have been sources of immense motivation and you are just always striving to not disappoint them in any manner.

That said, I don’t know what I would have done had it not been for the unadulterated support I have received from my parents. I don’t acknowledge it often but frankly, I deeply appreciate how accommodating and understanding they have always been with my (erratic) work schedule.
 
Why did you choose law?
 
VA: The answer is not as glamorous as you would like it to be ;). Entering law was an accident but in retrospect, a hugely fortunate one at that! I was a science student back in school and without much application of mind, had zeroed in on the medical field.

However, after a few unsatisfactory pre-medical entrance exam results, I was faced with the toughest choice a 17 year old could ever imagine – it was either taking a drop and take coaching, or choosing a different field.

I realized I was too young to be putting all my eggs in one basket and risking one whole year for that (considering I wasn’t even so keen on it).

I remember sitting with the India Today in front of me, which had declared ILS as the no. 1 law school of the nation in the year 2006, and thinking to myself “If I get through this, I will do law”. I applied, got through and the rest, as they say, is history.

In fact not many know this, but I got an admission call from a medical college a couple of months into my 1st semester at ILS, but I turned it down, simply because I had had enough of oscillating like a pendulum.

My reasons may not be very well founded and my naiveté still surprises me till date, but the end results are such that I am not complaining!

P.S. I think I would have made a horrible doctor, considering I cannot even stand the sight of an injection!
 
How was the law school journey like?
 
VA: The 5 years at law school have been some of the most defining years of my life till date, and the experience is absolutely irreplaceable.

The predominant theme of my law school journey has been ‘learning to love and appreciate the law’. I began as a rank outsider, perpetually being confused and dazed for the first few months because everything was just so alien to me!

I used to just gawk open-mouthedly when my roommates used to talk about the various law entrance exams, their scores etc. This is until I gradually realized that there’s a little bit of science behind the way each law works as well. That’s when I started appreciating the nuances of law.

The other experiences that defined the law school journey include tasting freedom for the very first time. Even though the freedom came with its own set of onerous liabilities, it was sweet nonetheless. I was managing my own accounts, doing my own chores, living independently etc., and being a pseudo – adult was just exhilarating.

Last but definitely not the least, I made some of the best friends in college who continue to remain my closest confidants till date, and they just made the whole journey so much more fun and enjoyable than what it would have been otherwise.

I remember we used to occasionally dress in similar attire and roam about college, thinking we epitomized coolness. Those were the days. J
 
Things you liked to do in the law school?
 
VA: I was not a very proactive student back then. As I indicated above, I and my friends were more into being the ‘cool kids’! While I was regular with college and attended almost all lectures, I loved hanging out in the ILS canteen, and have done my fair share of mischief.

Its only towards the last few years of college that I got a lot more serious about my academics and internships (and I think a large part of that seriousness can be attributed to my parents shifting to Pune in my 4th year :P).

I participated in a couple of moots and really enjoyed them. I wish I had done more of those.
 
Your biggest achievements in law school? If you could reverse some aspects of your college life – what would they be?
 
VA: I think one of them would definitely be coming 4th in the University in the final year. I always scored a first class, with the occasional distinction here and there, but this was something else.

However, above all, I would consider gaining internships in some of the best law firms and my work being appreciated by my seniors as my biggest achievement. One such internship translated into a paralegal position and then eventually, a job, but more on that later! J

As regards aspects I would like to change, like I indicated above, I wish I had participated in more moot court competitions and been a little more proactive as a student.
 
Subjects you liked the most? Any particular Professor who inspired you?
 
VA: Subjects I liked the most included company law (due to my internship experiences) and law of evidence. I was very intrigued by the various theories and principles backing the law of evidence!

To be honest, there was no particular ILS professor who inspired me but I would like to make a special mention here about my legal history professor in my 1st year (Ms. Ragini Ramamohan).

She has, indirectly and unknowingly, been instrumental in me being a lawyer today. I am sure she doesn’t remember this, but a night before my legal history exam, I was a complete nervous wreck, almost on the verge of quitting law and going back home.

I decided to make one last desperate call to Ms. Ramamohan in the middle of the night (I don’t know how and why this idea struck me) – I guess I was just trying to explain to her why I wouldn’t be able to appear the next day!

She was just so patient and wonderful and she somehow convinced me to take the exam. It’s such a funny incident and still has me in splits every time I think about it.
 
Some important things which law school didn’t teach you but ‘working’ did? 
 
VA: Being a professional is a completely different ball game from being a student, and I can write reams on it. First and foremost, ‘working’ teaches you to be accountable for every single word you speak / write.

I wouldn’t call it ‘onerous’ or ‘burdensome’, it just teaches you to streamline your thought process and be more precise and accurate.

Within my first few days at work, I was slapped into understanding that I just couldn’t talk through my hat and that my opinions had to be substantiated with the relevant provisions of law. I was taught to question every single word I read.

Given the recent few experiences I have had with a couple of students who have interned at our office, I would like to tell all aspiring lawyers that if you do not understand the jurisprudence behind every legal provision you read and if you do not question ‘how / why’, you are seriously compromising on your legal education.

Another thing that being a professional teaches you, which law school doesn’t touch upon, is client care. Working on different transactions makes you alive to the various pain points and sensitivities that the client may have and how, as a deal maker, you have to work around such pain points to ensure that the deal goes through, without compromising the client’s interests.

I guess the key to being a responsible and effective lawyer is to appreciate that we are here to facilitate deals and that should always be our primary objective. While the advice has to be legally sound, it also has to be commercially astute.
 
How is it working at AZB, Pune? What is your area of expertise? Did you actively choose this specialisation or was it incidental to the job-profile?
 
VA: AZB Pune has been a very pleasant and productive experience till date. I have had the fortune of having very knowledgeable and equally indulgent seniors and have gained hugely from that. Who would complain working along side some of the best legal brains in the fraternity?

I mainly work on M&A transactions and general corporate advisory but that said, I do a little bit of everything that I can lay my hands on. In AZB, lawyers are seldom compartmentalized into specific teams in the early years of their career, since that would impede their holistic development.

I think my doing more of M&A, in comparison to other work, is due to various reasons including but not limited to my past internships and diplomas. Also, a large part of that can be attributed to the fact that M&A is Percis’ expertise and I am almost always working on all matters with her.
 
One aspect all lawyers-to-be need to dwell on is whether generalisation should be opted or specialisation should be given precedence w.r.t. career options?
 
VA: I think I have gained hugely from the generalization. While maintaining the concentration and focus on my core area, I have dabbled in a little bit of litigation and real estate work, and that’s been a huge learning experience.

I believe all lawyers-to-be should try their hand at everything before making a definite choice, because there is really nothing to lose.
 
Could you elucidate on Corporate Litigation and M&A? How does one hone their knowledge in the transactional matters?
 
VA: These two are poles apart in terms of the approach you adopt.

Our work, as transactional lawyers, is to ensure that the drafts we prepare are so clear and watertight, that there is no room for any interpretational issues and / or potential disputes.

I have always been told by my senior that an agreement needs to seamlessly work like a well oiled machine, with all clauses tying in together. The endeavor is always to sign the agreement, which clearly embodies the commercial understanding between the parties, and keep it away in the safe for posterity, without ever needing to have a re-look at it.

However, no matter how well drafted an agreement is, one really cannot predict a breach (that is not to say that corporate litigation is only limited to contractual breaches!).

Corporate litigation has to be handled with kid gloves, since the strategy to be adopted / advice to be given shall not only take care of the limited issue at hand, but also the impact it will have on the business of the client as a whole.

Generally, litigation is all about putting your point across convincingly, and more dramatic the contentions, the better it is. This is quite contrary to the transactional approach, which needs to be crisp, to-the-point and mechanical.

As regards honing one’s knowledge in transactional matters, it’s largely about experience. Each transaction, which may prima facie appear to be similar, has some little tweak here or a twist there, which makes it unique.

As I mentioned earlier, our advice and drafting is primarily governed by the client’s pain points and concerns, which differs from case to case. Brainstorming and strategizing to come up with effective solutions to combat these varied concerns naturally hones your knowledge and sharpens your skills.
 
What according to you should be the focus of the law students at law school? How should they shape up their potential career graph?
 
VA: I feel that while focusing on the curriculum and lectures is imperative, law students should strive to do as many internships as they can manage. From a personal experience, I can say that my internships have served me well. No point being a book worm and not having any practical knowledge.

The life of a lawyer-to-be should comprise of a little bit of everything – focus on academics, moots, debates, college fests, internships etc. Like I said earlier, specialization this early on is not recommended. In order to take an informed decision, one should try their hand at everything that comes their way.
 
What survival instincts should lawyers-to-be develop?
 
VA: There is no set advice per se. Each person has their own way of dealing with the stuff life throws at you, and not all workplaces function in the same way. However, what does hold you in good stead is being honest and perseverant.

To survive, the other trait that one needs to acquire is ability to handle pressure. More often than not, we are saddled with unrealistic deadlines – there are instances where everything sitting on our plate was a deliverable as of yesterday!

Crumbling under pressure is simply not an option – everything needs to get done, and everything needs to get done well.

While working as a professional, we need to appreciate that client’s interest is paramount and cannot, under any circumstances, be compromised or jeopardized. Demarcation between your personal and professional life is a must – they can never be allowed to overlap!
 
What is the real world like? Please throw some light on your schedule.
 
VA: The real world is a little intimidating at first. All of a sudden, you are being held liable for every single word you say and every single thing you do. No, I don’t mean to make it sound daunting. If anything, it teaches us to be accountable and responsible.

My schedule is like that of any average corporate lawyer. There are days when I am inundated with work, and then there are days when I am back home at 7.30 p.m.!

What I have learnt over the past few years is to keep my plans very flexible – you never really know what might pop up in your inbox at 7.29 p.m., just when you are ready to pack your bags and leave!
 
What would be your 3 biggest pieces of advice to law students entering the profession? 
 
VA: The three biggest pieces of advice, in no particular order of priority, would be as follows:

Honesty and commitment: If you love what you do, half the battle is won. Being honest and committed towards your work can ensure that the other half is won as well.

Team work and responsibility: If you are working in a firm, chances are you will almost always be working in a team. As a team member, you not only have to ensure that everyone is working productively towards that one common goal, but to also assume the entire responsibility of the team’s work.

The ‘he said / she said’ syndrome is not really appreciated, and one always needs to work envisaging the worst case scenario where you will have to be accountable for the end product, as opposed to the limited aspect allocated to you.

Read: In Zia’s words, “Not knowing is death”! With new policies, notifications, circulars etc. doing the rounds every day, it is very important to keep abreast with such happenings. In order to be alive to potential issues while handling transactions, reading and being informed of the current regulatory environment is a must.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    VA giving career advice..oops..

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