Astha Nigam graduated from ICFAI Law School in the year 2014. After practising at the Delhi High Court and Supreme Court, she joined Atlas Law Partners. She has recently been promoted to Senior Associate. In this interview, she talks about her law school life, practice at different courts and law firm life.
Tell our readers a little about yourself.
I am Astha Nigam, a lawyer having an experience of 5 + years in Litigation. I have been born and raised in Delhi and I did my schooling from Loreto Convent. I completed my B.B.A, L.L.B ( Hons.) in 2014 and since then I have been practising in various court, tribunals and forums.
I chose law because the desire to leave people in a better position than where they started is a strong motivation for me. The mental stimulation one experiences while working through complex legal theories, statutes, and case law to find a solution to a legal question is exciting.
How was your law school life?
I did my 5-year law from ICFAI University, Dehradun, which was not very well known in the year 2009. However, I got a lot of opportunities to participate in moot courts, present paper in seminars and engage in other co-curricular activities during my college time.
I have to give credit to the faculty at my college who taught law in a manner that kept my interest alive and continue to provide guidance even after I graduated. My 5 years at ICFAI were some the best I have experienced.
What were the activities and internships you pursued in college?
I was someone who was involved in almost every activity, such as moot courts, seminars, paper presentations, cultural events and other activities. I headed the cultural team of my college for two years and successfully organized events in college.
As per college norms, we were supposed to mandatorily intern for at least one month every year in June. As a student, I started my internships with NGO’s and Government Organisations, such as National Commission for Women, State Legal Services Authority etc.
I come from a family of judges and was encouraged to sit for judicial service examinations but I was always fascinated with arguing in courts, so I did a lot of internships under individual lawyers practising in High Court and the Supreme Court of India.
I also interned in firms to understand the corporate law practice, so I interned in S. Jalan and Company, Zeus Law Associates, Global Legal Associated etc. By the end of five years, I made up my mind and opted to practice in courts after graduation.
Walk us through your professional life after graduation.
As I already knew that I wanted to do Litigation so I opted for joining chamber practice. My first professional experience after my studies was with Mr. R.K. Kapoor, who has an extensive Supreme Court practice.
Mr. R.K Kapoor’s Chamber had a lot of filings so I got the opportunity of drafting 3-4 SLP’s a week, which was great learning ground. After, one year I wanted to get more to appear and argue in courts and nothing is better than joining a Government Counsel.
So, I joined the Chamber of Mr. Naushad Ahmed Khan, Additional Standing Counsel, NCT of Delhi. Working with Mr. Naushad Ahmed Khan gave me a lot of exposure in the High Court of Delhi because we had almost 25-30 cases listed every day and I got an opportunity of appearing before every bench in High Court.
Trust me it’s a great feeling when the Hon’ble Judges refer to you with your name when you appear before them. While working with individual lawyers gave me brilliant exposure to the court process and I learnt to draft and had the opportunity to appear before Judges myself, I took the decision to move to a law firm to earn more money.
I was informed by one of my seniors that a new law firm had been started by 2 ex- Cyril Amarchand lawyers by the name of Atlas Law Partners (ALP). I understood that ALP was looking for lawyers to build its litigation practice.
I decided to apply and take my chances with a start-up law firm as I wanted to be a part of their growth story! I was interviewed by the Senior Partner Mr. Harminder Chawla and once he made an offer for the position of a Litigation Associate, I decided to go for it!!
How has the experience been with Atlas Law?
My decision of joining ALP 3 years ago was by far one of the best decisions I have made professionally. As I stated before, when I joined ALP it had just started and all of us including the associates, senior associates and partners have worked really hard to be where we are.
I find working with Mr. Harry Chawla and Ms. Niti Paul (Senior Partner) has given me opportunities to learn and grow professionally. At ALP I generally deal with Dispute Resolutions, Commercial Litigation and White Collar Crimes.
I have gained experience in various forums and courts while working here. Partners here give you control over the matter you are handling and give you a chance to interact with the clients as well. In these 3 years, I have learned a lot about interpreting the law, client handling, supervising, taking control and becoming a better professional.
ALP is like my work family, we are a very close-knit team, While there are many lawyers at ALP from NLU’s, I have not once felt as though I was not being treated at par with them.
Is there a moment or a case which you think was the toughest to date and would you like to share it with our readers?
So, all the cases we handle here are very challenging and evolving. If I had to pick a case it would this case under the Prevention of Corruption Act, which I am currently handling. The legal issues involved are complex and challenging but I enjoy handling these cases a lot.
You have been promoted to Senior Associate recently, has the lifestyle/schedule changed drastically?
I think once you are promoted, your duties and schedule change automatically, colleagues and seniors expect more out of you and you also have the zeal of proving your merit. As a senior, you take complete responsibility for the work you do and client expectations also change.
I think with seniority comes the role of being a guide to juniors. And yes, it’s a great feeling when you get promoted and are appreciated for the work and contribution you have made in the organization.
What are the challenges of working with a law firm?
Per se, I don’t think there are a lot of challenges when you are working with a law firm like ALP. Also, which team you are working with has a lot to do with the challenges you face.
If I have to name some challenges then I think client pressure is a challenge because if the client is opting for a firm and not an individual lawyer then the client expectations are different. Litigation practice in a law firm is different from chamber practice, not necessarily a challenge!
How tough is it for Non-NLU grads to land a job at a well-known law firm?
I have a very strong opinion on this point, I think it is very difficult initially. If you are not from an NLU or you are a first-generation lawyer then getting a job in a well-known law firm is a challenge. For some reason, firms believe that students from NLU are better candidates are better than students from other colleges.
I don’t deny the fact they may have worked harder to get into an NLU but I also strongly believe that work-life and experience is completely different from what you actually learn in college. So, judging the book by its cover is not the right way.
I have met so many brilliant lawyers and students who are not from NLU but have proved their merit with their work. With my experience I can say that bagging a job or for that matter an internship also with reputed law firms was a difficult task, considering the fact that I was not from NLU and was a first-generation lawyer.
On the contrary, I also believe that the struggle is only at the initial level, like getting your first job. Once you gain experience and have merit, I think this barrier is broken, then what matters is your experience and knowledge on the subject. I think non-NLU students should focus on gaining experience and learning.
There is no turning back once you know the law and have the expertise to back it up with.
What do you seek in an applicant when she/he applies to your firm for internships and jobs?
When someone applies to ALP for internships or jobs, we look at the experience the person has gathered over the years in internships or prior jobs.
Also, our firm usually hires associates from the intern pool because that gives us a better chance to assess the ability of the person. We usually take interns who are in their 3rd year or above as that is better suited to the nature of work at our firm.
Editor’s note: Students who wish to apply for internships can send their applications to admin[at]atlaslawpartners[dot]com
What are your views on the unemployment and low salaries of fresher’s in law?
I think there are too many freshers passing out every year but there is not enough work. The manpower has increased but the work has not increased. I think there are a lot of freshers who hesitate in opting for Litigation practice because of the low salaries.
I would not generalise all the seniors in the bracket of low payers but there are a lot of lawyers who only hire freshers because they don’t want to pay much. The salaries are better for freshers joining the High Court and Supreme Court, it is much worse for freshers who want to join lower court practice.
If compared to salaries for freshers in Corporate they are decent, to begin with, but the barrier for Corporate lawyers is that the jobs are limited. I think there needs to be a parameter fixed for giving the bare minimum to freshers to begin their career.
There are a lot of debates on the point that a fixed sum will be given to freshers by various bar associations but I haven’t seen that happening. I also think that its time that the Advocate Act, 1961 be amended and a base starting salary be mandatory.
Parting message to our readers.
I would like to conclude by saying that all of us in our lives have different sorts of aspirations to become great and happy, but real happiness comes not from what you do but by how well you do whatever is assigned to you or falls in your share.
Some people find fault with this principle because it is morally neutral or incorrect but I find it has helped me adopt this attitude.
The sky is the limit with hard work.