By Ramanuj Mukherjee
How it used to be
For many years, studying law was not a very respectable option. Anyone could become a lawyer (it has not changed much that way, despite introduction of the AIBE), instances of cheating in law exams were rampant, and lawyers were seen as rent seekers on the judicial system who makes money by exploiting people rather than adding value. Not a very tempting career option, is it?
It was not. Intelligent, ambitious, capable students did not consider studying law, and only the hopeless (with notable exceptions of course) would join a law college and get a degree simply by spending the required time in college.
How NLUs have changed the situation
Then things changed a lot with National Law Universities being established. Quite a few private colleges also contributed to this changed the state of affairs and became important examples for every law college to follow. Now some passionate law students even leave IIT seats or medical colleges to study law in highly competitive, academic environments.
Workplaces for lawyers have also changed a lot. You can consider working in big law firms with shiny offices and salaries to match. You can work at business consultancy firms, in-house departments of big corporations or even chambers of stalwart lawyers to learn litigation. Students of some National Law Universities get jobs across the board very easily, and this is highly glorified. Most other students everywhere, however, struggle to get jobs that they consider good enough for them.
It was one thing when law was an unglamorous career for the not-so-bright – people expected to struggle for years before they secured a name for themselves, followed by financial security. Now, on the other hand, when law students can join jobs with 14 lakh+ packages right out of law school, expectations have changed. Law students work really hard over the years in order to take their place among the high end lawyers at the end of their college days.
They intern religiously, at as many places as possible, foregoing the chance to spend time with family over the holidays. They moot, debate, go for MUNs, try to improve their public speaking. They join every society they can, and grab every certificate as any mortal can – hoping all these will improve their career prospects, make them a little better than the others.
While there is a lot of competition in law schools and colleges, it is rarely channelled in the right direction. I remember my time in law school – NUJS in my case. Some of us always felt the need to go the extra mile, the need to put in more work to excel and have an unparalleled career ahead.
My experience at a law school
I wanted to be a great corporate lawyer. I knew just doing well in the exams and keeping up with classwork is never going to make me an exceptional lawyer. Interning at good law firms gave us a glimpse of another world – but no one really explained to us the bigger game being played around us – we just stuck to proof reading, doing some small research for the associates, finding case laws, filling up tables and excel sheets. There was no one to show us the way to how we could take our knowledge to the next level.
I asked seniors, teachers, law firm associates I knew. They told me to read pink newspapers (business newspapers like Business Standard, Economic Times etc). Some people told me to read blogs. I tried everything, and they helped a bit. However, none of them were enough to take my skills to the level where I wanted to.
Why can’t I systematically learn things that will set my foundations well so that I will be an outstanding law firm associate, with dazzling skills and knowledge, propelled towards success faster than everyone? What would make me an expert so that clients will want to hire me? What would make me a sought after lawyer?
People around me did not have the answers I was seeking, despite the privilege of going to one of the best law schools. Most were happy that getting a job after 5 years was almost a certainty as long as one did not screw up academically.
The answers finally came through
Some of the direction to my career came from Professor NL Mitra who came to NUJS for a short time to teach a credit course. Finally, a lot of law that we studied in class started making sense in terms of practical application. He explained what skills we need to develop and what we will have to do every day as commercial lawyers.
I loved his course very much and worked hard. I topped the course and received invaluable mentorship. Here was a rare person who worked as a Vice Chancellor of two NLUs and also worked as a law firm partner. He understood what law students need to learn. If any of you write to him with genuine questions even today, I am certain that you will receive his guidance.
Only once I had a grasp of what skills I need to develop, I really began to prepare for my career. If you don’t understand what you will face as a lawyer, you have no idea what needs to be done to bootstrap yourself up to a higher level of skill. You end up following the herd in terms to doing whatever seems to be appealing and waste enormous amount of resources and time without getting expected results.
Now contrast that with receiving proper guidance from those who worked in the industry for years, and knows what kind of people get hired (in fact they are the recruiters themselves). Imagine getting a task list that you need to fulfil to take your knowledge to the next level – which will make you sought after candidate for jobs rather than you breaking your head over getting a job.
One day, Avirup Bose, an NUJS alumnus who went on to study at Harvard and was working at a top US law firm at that time, came to take a few classes with my batch at NUJS. He taught us how reading business books and blogs can help us to create a better understanding of how a lawyer adds value to business transactions.
He gave us real-life scenarios and simulation exercises, with feedback on our solutions, which enabled us to track progress and appreciate how lawyers contribute to a client’s goals. This adds tremendous value to any legal career, especially if you want to work as a corporate lawyer.
My focus on learning law and business changed after these encounters. Getting job offers and improving my knowledge and skills have been a cakewalk after I got proper guidance. I received job offers from several law firms throughout my 5th year in law school, and each job interview was a delight.
Even after I left my first law firm job and started iPleaders, I have worked with clients as a consultant and have received many offers to work in various capacities in various organisations (though I took up on none of them in light of my current goals). This was not possible merely because I attended a certain law school and fetched good marks in academics.
I have demonstrated my ability to get work done, and bring on table certain skills that are relatively rare to find. This also gave me the confidence to start up a venture on my own without having to worry about the impact it will have on my career as a young law firm associate. When you build good skills, you don’t have to find jobs because jobs find you!
How can you become a top performer in your legal career?
How are you planning your career? Landing a job after graduation is just the first step, not the end game. Are you preparing to succeed in that career, or are you being short-sighted? Or worse, are you postponing your career building for the time after you graduate, instead of working on it while you are still in college?
Are you just trying to survive the academic rigour and exams of going to a law college and doing nothing more? Are you chasing the mirage of more certificates and more points to add on your CV? Yes, a lot of things must be done, but what you do, how much effort you put and when, should be decided according to a long term plan.
What should you aim for
When it comes to development of skills and knowledge, you must aspire to rise above the average level of a National Law School student, and supplement your academic knowledge of law with practical skills and understanding. I am not asking you to be hyper-competitive and secretive, but just build real skills that can be used to help clients.
Let’s take an example. For instance, learning a lot of contract law by reading case law and books like Mulla & Mulla is very nice. This will help you to grasp the basics and do well in academics.
However, can you draft a contract? Maybe a commercial rent agreement? Can you identify the commercial interests that have to be addressed through the contract? If the other side creates a first draft of the contract and sends to you, can you make changes to it to suit the interests of your client? And finally, can you negotiate the terms over which there are disagreement to win favourable terms for your client?
Well, these are the things that a client will pay a lawyer for. If you can do these few things well, that may be enough to land you a good job. Alternatively, you could find some clients and start building your own practice, if you so wished.
Most law students, however, remain stuck trying to read up the law from books, and never get to learn the strategic and practical aspects of law – for which there is a market. In fact, some even derive a (mistaken) sense of comfort after knowing the statutory provisions and case laws – they feel that they do not need to learn anything else pertaining to the subject, and that nothing more exists.
This is the top reason why some law students look for jobs and internships for a very long time and keep getting rejected. They have to settle for low paying clerical jobs where they get to learn these skills slowly. Until they learn a few of these things, they can command very little value in the job market.
I am quite sure I will get a job anyway – why learn practical skills?
If you are from a pedigreed law school and have good communication skills, you may land good jobs relatively easily, even without developing practical skills. However, like I said – landing the job is just the beginning. Imagine two people land a job at the same time – one of them has a good grasp of practical aspects of business law and the other has to start from scratch in this department. Who would you think do better 2 years down the line?
This is why it is of paramount importance to start improving your practical and strategic knowledge of law. How can you do that?
Here are a few suggestions:
Subscribe to RSS feeds of important regulatory websites and tribunals to stay updated: at least RBI, SEBI, MCA and Competition Commission.
Read a few classics on law and business like Cold Steel, Barbarians at the Gate and Predators Ball (especially if you want to become a deal lawyer).
We built a course with help of some of the most well-known legal experts in India (law firm partners, general counsels, celebrated litigators – see the video above for names and profiles), keeping exactly this need of law students on mind, which can help you to take your practical and strategic knowledge of business laws to an entirely different league: http://startup.nujs.edu
The course is developed and curated by an expert panel congregated by NUJS. The panel includes some of the most well-known names in legal industry – law firm partners, litigators, general counsels, former judges and bureaucrats. This is so helpful, that even associates already working in top law firms take up this course.
What can you expect to learn if you pick this up?
Whether you do this NUJS business law course or not, please try to learn the following skills anyway. If you can learn even half of these well, you will have a massive advantage over at least 95% of law students.
You can check this by asking your peers who are known to be doing well – how much they know about the following skills and if they will be confident if they had to perform these tasks. If they say they know, ask them how did they learn and if they can teach you as well.
- How to negotiate and draft commercial contracts
- How M&A, private equity and venture capital deals take place and what role lawyers play in these transactions
- How to work on due diligence and documentation for such transactions
- Law, strategy and practicalities related to FDI and External Commercial Borrowing
- Taxation and accounting basics that you need to know
- Business structuring – how startups and MNCs do it
- Non-profit structuring, with emphasize on structuring and management of trusts
- Labour law, export-import, environmental and tax related compliances
- How to get important business licenses
- Corporate governance laws and practices
- Creating ESOP and other attrition management techniques
- How big corporations monetize and enforce their intellectual property rights
- How to apply for government tenders
And many other practical skills that will not only help you to differentiate yourself in the crowded job market, but also help you to build your own consultancy practice if you want to do so. You can see all the practical business law skills you will learn over here.
The difference here is that you will have a readymade task list and resource database that you simply learn from, and even get guidance from law firm partners and celebrated litigators directly, from wherever you are, without having to go to a classroom.
On successful completion of the course, you will receive a diploma from National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata – which is very well recognized in the legal industry.
Moreover, you will benefit from our internship and job assistance program. Many law students have already received jobs and internships through this program.
The course fee for this course including two semesters is INR 25,000. There is no additional cost unless you fail the exams, in which case there is a nominal re-examination fee.
Alumni of the course
Alumni of the course include toppers from various National Law Universities including NLSIU Bangalore, NALSAR Hyderabad, NUJS Kolkata and even IIM Allahabad, IIM Bangalore, IIM Calcuta, IIT Khargpur, IIT Kanpur, IIT Bombay etc. Many of the law students who joined the first 3 batches are now working in Allen & Overy, Herbert Smith, AMSS, AZB, Khaitan, Luthra & Luthra, Trilegal, Infosys and many other top rated employers.
If you are interested
If you are interested in the course, or just want to find out more details, please see the video in this post, or go to http://startup.nujs.edu and sign up for more information.
Please note that our next batch is starting in November.
If you register for this course, please mention ‘Lawctopus College Managers’ as the source of your information.