This article is written by Ramanuj Mukherjee, CEO, iPleaders.
What is the biggest mistake that law students make?
Once upon a time, there was a bright, ambitious and hard working law student. She wanted to be an extraordinary lawyer. Her parents invested heavily in her career, sending her to an expensive law school. She believed by the time she graduates she will land a job that will be worth all the hard work, the exams, the bank loans and mortgage, 5 years of living away from the family and sleepless nights spent writing projects or reading case law and statutes.
She first encountered a hitch when she began to apply for internships. Internships are very important, she had heard. But as she wrote email after email to tons of places, she got no replies. The placement and recruitment committee sometimes got her an internship or two, but they turned out to be lame.
How was she going to land a job?
She tried and got some internships through personal contacts – mostly her dad’s friends and acquaintances put in good words to land her some decent internships in good law firms. She turned up bright eyed and excited, only to wait at a desk for a long time before any lawyer gave her work.
The first task was some research work. She spent a lot of time reading up, trying to prepare a note about the questions – but she had never done anything like that before. She got a call over the office intercom in the evening, and the associate demanded the work.
After she mailed what she had done, she was called down to the associates desk in the next 5 minutes. She was shouted at for turning in useless research. I have to do all of it myself, and your research is of no help to me, she was informed by the associate.
Dejected, she packed up and went back to her PG where she was staying. She could bet the other interns were laughing at her behind her back as she walked out of the office. The next few days at the internship weren’t as bad though. Other associates were patient. They gave her mostly proofreading and basic research. They even praised her when she found the right case law or a good article that explained the point.
Things were just falling into place, and she was beginning to feel useful when the internship ended as this was a month long internship. She returned to her campus, relieved to live away from the pressure she experienced in a law firm.
What did she really learn from this internship? Proofreading legal documents? How to pull out RBI notifications? How to find case law? Is that enough for a budding lawyer in terms of practical learning?
Why wasn’t she able to make sense of the work that is going on in a law firm? Why was she not able to understand the transactions that were being carried out? Why was she not entrusted to do more serious work beyond proofreading and basic research?
If you have been to a law school, you know that this cycle is going to repeat for this law student, until she graduates. There may be a good end if she gets a good job. But only very few gets those jobs.
She is going to probably, if we go by statistics, like most law graduates, take a very low paid job in a lawyers chamber, which may pay anywhere between INR 10-20,000. Or maybe she will have to give up on her dream of being an extraordinary lawyer someday, and instead opt for a LPO job that at least pays INR 45000 or upward.
She paid attention in class. She got good marks in exams. She did all the extra curricular activities she was supposed to do – even she overcame her worst fears to do a few moot courts. She joined various committees in the college. Even wrote a few papers and presented them at conferences or published in law journals. What else was she supposed to do?
What did she do wrong, that her law school dream that was supposed to end with a high paying job didn’t turn true, she had to run around from pillar to post trying to bag a job that will at least cover the living wages in expensive cities and then struggle to keep that job as she discovered that in her 5 years she was not taught the very essential skills of lawyering?
Let us take a quick look at why this happens again and again to well meaning, hard working, ambitious law students. Mostly hopefully find employment, but many of them fall short of achieving their full potential or getting their dream job. And they struggle a lot.
The biggest factor to blame here is the legal education system. It is antiquated. Old and uninspiring, it completely fails to teach law students, even in 5 years, the most basic skills of lawyering.
Yes there are still people who learn it, but that is thanks to someone in their family willing to show them the ropes, or a kind mentor at some internship. The best bet, is to intern long term at a good firm or under a good litigator to learn legal work. You are certainly not going to learn it in your law school!
But why is that?
Primarily, the law teachers are to be blamed. Also the syllabus. Teachers do not know what you need to learn, and they are not even mandated to teach the same by the University. Actually, on both counts, the final blame lies with Bar Council of India.
A couple of decades back, for some unknown reason, the Bar Council of India made is illegal for full time law teachers to practice in the court, or to practice as a lawyer anywhere. This means that law teachers are disconnected from the realities of the legal practice. They are doomed to teach you only the sections of any given statute, along with a commentary of it, and perhaps some case laws around those sections.
Does that help? Does any client ever pay a lawyer for his knowledge of statutes, or for being able to look up the right case law?
Today, with advent of google, this kind of knowledge has become staple, as anybody can access it. It gives a lawyer no advantage, and no ability to earn. All the law you studied, gave exams on, and spent perhaps hours and hours learning – there is nothing to be proud about it or even to be worried if you forgot all that.
It used to matter once upon a time when google didn’t exist, clients had no legal blogs to read and figure out stuff, and lawyers relied on their memory to cite case laws in the court. A person with no legal training can today tell you all the sections that apply for their case, and even produce a template needed for the job perhaps. Lawyers today add an entirely different kind of value – that of expertise.
What expertise is that? Why aren’t you taught about it in the law school?
Well to start with, the law teachers having never practiced do not have that kind of expertise. If you ask, most of them will freely admit that. They are far removed from the realities of the real world. Many of them are forced to offer fancy subjects like bankruptcy law, world trade law, insurance law, M&A law and what not having not much idea about it themselves.
Ask your competition law teacher if she has ever seen a petition with her own eyes that is filed at COMPAT (an appellate tribunal for competition law) and she her crumble. Ask her if she has ever attended a proceeding before any tribunal for that matter, and I bet that the answer will be no.
Ask her what rules of procedures apply to proceedings before such court and she will have no clue. She would not even know how the registry works for that matter, or how long and what it takes to issue a notice.
How is the teacher then supposed to teach you the most important skills you are going to need to succeed and survive?
I could take any other example. You had a teacher teach you companies act, without having any idea whatsoever as to how companies actually design their corporate governance, or what are the important compliances and how professionals manage and keep track of those compliances. They probably don’t even know how to write a resolution for a board meeting, or don’t know if they have to file it with MCA and how! So what do you learn? You learn more sections and case laws. Good luck with that.
Once I went to a law school to give a talk. The students told me they learn M&A there in class. I asked them what is the first step of a M&A. Where does it all start? They didn’t know. I asked them to tell me about 5 important clauses in a Shareholders’ Agreement, or if they had any idea what the due diligence report plays in drafting an SHA, and I was met with stone cold silence.
It’s not only those who are going to work in law firms or companies that suffer, the people who are interested in litigation are not much better off. Every litigator spends months trying to figure out the process of a registry of every court and tribunal, stuff that could be easily taught very systematically in a classroom.
Mostly, law students have no clue about how to draft petitions or various applications. They spend years trying to learn these basic skills from senior lawyers, who are extremely busy and have very little time to spare for juniors. It is therefore mostly trial, error, stumble and learn.
Many law graduates with great track record join a law firm and get disheartened as they not only have to work, but also learn the work at the same time. It adds on to the hours you tend to spend at the office. If law students were well trained before they joined law firms or chambers, they wouldn’t spend the atrocious hours they are required to spend otherwise.
The crazy thing is that this absolute waste of time, energy and opportunities is completely normalized in the legal profession. Older lawyers who have made it in the profession, have done so despite all these troubles. Hence they expect you to go through the same quagmire.
However, most of them forget that the times have changed. Prices have increased. They probably didn’t have to spend 3-5 lakhs per year at a law school, but today this is becoming the norm! Those older lawyers also probably didn’t have to deal with huge parental and societal expectation that a law student should earn over a lakh after graduation, which is somehow the standard law graduates are today held to.
Why would becoming a lawyer have to be so tough after spending so much time, money and effort in a law school?
Well, that’s how it is, and it is not going to change anytime soon.
The biggest mistake a law student can make is not realise that this is what is going on while they are going through law school. When they make that mistake, they tend to hit a wall when they graduate, and find themselves unemployable. At that point, options are few except taking a diminished salary and learning the ropes on the job. The next big mistake will be to be aware of this problem and still do nothing to learn the practical aspects of law, whichever particular field may interest you.
This is why, at LawSikho.com, we focus on teaching law students and young lawyers the most important skills they need to serve clients. We teach these skills hands on, through realistic exercises and live online classes. Below are the skills you need to learn.
Here are 10 ultra-important skills that law schools do not teach you, but you must acquire in order to find early success in your legal career:
- The ability to find, understand and analyse any law whatsoever
- The ability to put an argument or a point across in writing or through a speech
- The ability to draft and negotiate contracts
- The ability to come up with a legal strategy or legal position given a specific situation, and the ability to advice clients regarding the same
- The ability to plan and manage a legal process efficiently from the beginning till a remedy is obtained or deal is closed. Also known as project management skill – every case or matter is a project after all.
- The ability to understand and support the commercial/pecuniary objectives of clients, as well as comprehensive understanding of business models, organizational models and business logic behind any transaction
- The ability to process a large amount of information to quickly arrive at what is important in any given situation
- The ability to invent a solution through creativity, but supported by legal analysis
- The ability to understand and implement procedural aspects of law with a very high level of attention to details (eg. deftly handling the registry of a court, or ensuring quick enforcement of a decree in a clogged legal system)
- The ability to represent the interests of an unrelated person dispassionately, coherently, only based on legal logic before an authority or another party
Law firm specific skills
(Some of these skills may appear as though they are similar or overlapping, but they may not be.)
- Understanding of the documentation, review and execution process
- Ability to communicate precisely, clearly and frequently with different stakeholders of the client through a mix of emails, conference and phone calls, including sharing legal or policy updates and their possible impact on the specific transaction or the client’s business generally
- Ability to interact with regulators and their staff to identify practical roadblocks and interpretations of regulatory provisions for a transaction
- Ability to interact effectively with non client parties (they don’t pay you) such as the investee company (in case you are engaged by the acquirer)
- Ability to collaborate within a hierarchical team
- Ability to break the work down in appropriate units and delegate to juniors and interns to mentor them and to enhance output
- Ability to understand the client’s eventual outcomes and incorporate that in the documentation process and strategy without specific instruction each time
- Ability to identify concerns and “what-ifs” from time to time as a multi-legged transaction evolves over time and take initiative to present workable solutions for the client
- Ability to give high quality, super-specialised advice
- Ability to conduct due diligence exercises efficiently
- Presentation of the client’s factual data, goals, legal and regulatory provisions together in clear ways to give clear opinion to the client of what is possible, what is not and how to achieve the results the client wants
- Knowledge and skills related to specific practice areas (Investment transactions, M&A, finance and banking deals, general corporate, projects, Technology Media & Telecom, dispute resolution etc)
In-house legal team specific skills
- Ability to support various business functions in a company (eg. sales, marketing, R&D, Board of Directors, promoters) through legal advice, contracts and other legal work
- Ability to build, manage and lead a team of lawyers and support stuff
- Ability to instruct and manage external lawyers
- Ability to track and manage specific outcomes of legal contracts and ensuring that the company gets what it bargained for
- Ability to visualize standardized legal documentation and policies to reduce risk and protect the company’s interests
- Ability to prepare and maintain different kinds of dashboards to report compliance and other strategic inputs for the management
- Ability to identify the right local lawyers in different courts in multiple states and districts to engage for different kind of matters
- Ability to have working relationship with different kinds of senior counsels to engage in appellate matters, writs and special leave petitions
- Ability to engage law firms at a suitable price point for the company which provide required services
Litigation specific skills
- Filing skills and dealing with the court registry
- How to strategize the prayer and the most suitable interim remedies to protect the client’s interest and secure early relief
- Drafting pleadings, applications and petitions
- Counselling clients about legal strategy
- Briefing senior counsels and collaboration with other litigators who are looking at other parts of the case
- Ability to create and manage an effective team that supports your practice – juniors and court clerks for your work at different forums
- Creation of case strategy – which facts and interpretations should be used in which forum and which facts should be ignored to present your case in the best light
- General investigation skills – to find out facts and gather evidence to build a strong case
- Project management skills – every case is a project that requires professional management
- Ability to ensure through effective communication that a client experiences value and satisfaction through your work (most litigators do great work but have no time to communicate the value to a client and the client often experiences unavailability of the litigator and a high level of uncertainty in the matter)
How do we solve this problem
At LawSikho.com, our goal is to address this gap and train a lawyer to become an effective lawyer, someone who a law firm will love to hire, a chamber of lawyers will be glad to offer a good retainership fee, or become someone who can attract and manage his or her own clients.
We do it through these tools:
- Practical study material: Instead of teaching case law and sections of statutes, we teach how to get things done. That’s the focus – how to get things done that your clients want you to do for them? We even provide you with relevant checklists, templates and formats, and guidelines. Our students pull out the phone, and open the app to access these resources when they have the work, and our material makes their life simpler at workfront! For example, you have to do a due diligence on a pharma company. You find a sample due diligence information requisition list from us. It is accompanied by a checklist, reducing the time you are going to spend researching. You have also been guided on how to go through different stages of due diligence. Now your job is that much easier!
- Exercises: if you want to learn swimming, it is not good enough to read a book on swimming. You must get into the water and try swimming till you learn how to do it. We have the same approach to learning. We will give you an exercise, of course an imaginary but realistic one. Let’s imagine PayTM is getting acquired by Google. You are appointed by Google to do a due diligence. Now prepare the information requisition request! You have read the chapter on how to prepare one, so now go ahead and make it! Use the templates of course, to make it easier for you. You can never imagine the problems you will face till you start making it. However, it’s better to make those mistakes in a course rather than in a real job, right?
- Feedback and training: How do lawyers traditionally learn? A senior lawyer gives them work. They do what they can. Then the senior lawyer gives them feedback, based on which they improve the next piece of work. This goes on and on, till they can do a great job on their own. We emulate this process in our courses. We give you a safe environment to make mistakes, and then we give you feedback so you can improve.
- CV building and networking: We also give you CV building and networking exercises. This helps us to ensure that you get the job or internship you want. Here is an example: write an article and get it published! We will guide you on what to write, how to get it published, and what to do to get the maximum mileage from that article. There are other exercises like informational interviews too.
Here are the courses where we follow this methodology:
Check them out, schedule a call with one of our counsellors, check out the sample material, sample exercises – all of that is free! We can even arrange for you to attend one class for free and find out if you like it. Let us know!