Senior Talk is a series by Ruhi Thakkar where she speaks to different people in the legal field to understand their perspectives. This week she writes about people who aren’t practising law after graduation and how their journeys have turned out.
I entered law school with many preconceived notions. One was that the best career option after college is to practice law. Soon I realized that practising law is just one of the career options.
There are some lucky law students who are very sure of their career paths and are positive about practising law from the very beginning. But at this young age, there are many of us who have very little clarity about making the right career choice.
As I am developing an inclination towards legal content writing, my parents are worried that I won’t practice law.
And it is not their fault. Law students themselves are not aware of career options other than practising law. Even if they are, studying law for five years and then deciding not to practice law is a bold choice. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
To understand more about making career choices after law school apart from practising law, I talked to four people who had it in them to not let superficial standards of careers come in the way of following their dreams. While talking to them, I also realized that a law student can do a gazillion things after graduation, other than just practising law.
How It Started
“I can actually make that change that I was craving for”
Neha Sasikumar graduated from GNLU in 2018 and is currently working as a Manager Key Accounts at Recity Network Pvt. Ltd.
When students enter law school, the dream is to probably get into the big law firms. Neha too, was a part of this crowd. She did a bunch of internships and it wasn’t that she hated it or was bad at it. But she wasn’t sure that this is what she wanted. Going to the office, putting all those hours and looking at people who just do this day in and day out.
“It started with a question on one weekend during an internship- is this really what I want to do with the rest of my career? The answer was no. So then the question was how I want to go about it. Like what are my other options.” – Neha
In the last semester, she took some time off, chilled at home, spoke to her parents and made up her own mind. She did a lot of reading about the scope and goals of Re-City and realized that waste management was a growing industry that paid well and also contributed positively to the environment. Very few knew about it. Even lesser people cared. But she was amongst those who did.
“It was a great choice but it was a big risk that I took at a very early stage in my career”
Avani Pathak graduated from Amity Law School, Noida in the year 2017 and is now the Corporate head at Live Law.
She decided to study law because she liked the subject and wanted to explore it. She loved law school and was a good student too but was not sure if she wanted to practice law.
“So, I decided to make a choice for myself and not take a standard path and join another law firm. I made this decision in 2019 and of course it was a risk. I didn’t know how it would pan out. I had a gut feeling that this would be good for me and it did work out really well both for the organization and myself. So, it was a great choice but it was a big risk that I took at a very early stage in my career.” – Avani
“I started it off as a side hustle”
Aashna Jain graduated in 2018 from NLU, Jodhpur and is the founder of Career Solutions by Ashna Jain. She entered law school with the idea of becoming a human rights lawyer, but that changed during law school.
A culmination of peer pressure, internships, taking guidance, led her into taking up corporate laws as her specialization. And she took up a corporate job.
However, she was always helping people around with their resumes, interviews, etc. That’s how it started off, she talked to people, helped them find answers to questions about careers.
“Everything revolved around people just wanting to have an answer from me. And I always gave them an answer from my own personal experience.” – Aashna
During the lockdown, she decided to take a step ahead and see if she could actually help people. Thus, she founded “Career Solutions By Aashna Jain” initially as a side hustle, which slowly took off.
“I couldn’t see myself doing it long term”
Vikram Shah is a 2014 graduate from NLS, Banglore. He worked with HSF London for two years (with six months in Tokyo) after graduating and is now an Associate Editor at Fifty-Two, a digital-only narrative journalism publication.
He went to law school with a vague idea of corporate law. His idea about his career was very broad. Only after doing a bunch of internships in both litigation and corporate law, did he realize that practising law and studying law are two very different things.
“Maybe I didn’t even have an impression of what it’s really like until I actually did those internships.” – Vikram
Eventually he got an offer from HSF London and took it up. At HSF, he worked with driven, intelligent people, who seemed to be enjoying what they did. But sometime after his first year, Vikram figured it is something that he doesn’t want to do long term. He had to take a call so he decided to opt out after the two-year training contract period and came back to India.
The Transition Is Never Smooth
Career switches are not done overnight. A lot goes on inside someone’s mind when making this decision. And it is never easy.
Neha was in two boats about what she wanted to do and it took her three to four months to just acknowledge this.
“It took me that much time to just acknowledge that it’s okay Neha you don’t have to go to the law firm dude!”– Neha
Because when you work at a law firm, you know the end goal- becoming a partner. But here, no one knows how things will turn out.
“Everything was a question and being surrounded by people who are so sure about what they want to do and you not knowing that, especially in the last year of your college., I wouldn’t say that it was the easiest thing but yes, I spent time on each of these questions. I came to the conclusion that switching was justified to me because I realized that money or corporate life was not something I really craved for. “ – Neha
Aashna had a secured job at one of the leading firms in the country. She had an excellent boss and great colleagues. Even then, she quit that job as she genuinely felt that her calling was something else.
“I was leaving something for a very new thing and that also for something that I was starting up on my own. I personally feel that it made a lot of difference to me, it was a very difficult choice and it is a difficult choice to be very honest.”- Aashna
Vikram was working at one of the best international law firms in the world and leaving an opportunity like this did not come easy.
“In the last six months of my training contract-I was relatively sure I didn’t want to continue but, but there were moments when I was seconded in Japan that made me second guess myself. I was having the time of my life living in and learning about one of the most fascinating places in the world, and I felt this job could offer me more opportunities like this going forward.
Also, money is a huge factor. One of the things that really caused me to delay my decision for as long as I did was to convince myself about financial security. The financial comfort of a corporate law job was something else.” – Vikram
You Have To Take That Call
Despite the choice being a scary one, you have to take a call. Believe it or not, your purpose in life is not to be part of a job you dislike for the rest of your life.
“Say you don’t want to litigate, but because your family isn’t supporting your decision, you continue doing it. Then you’ll be a bad lawyer. There is already enough competition in the market. So it doesn’t make sense. You’ll be a bad lawyer who is not good at their job, who isn’t making money, and is not even happy.” – Avani
Vikram very aptly pointed out the importance of understanding your relationship with work. Some people are okay with having clear cut boundaries between work and life. You could be working in a law firm, be a litigator and be doing what you like. You don’t necessarily have to monetize doing what you love if you are okay with that work-life distinction.
But there are some people who derive their identity from their work. Because when you spend 14-15 hours at a job, you want it to be meaningful.
“If you don’t find joy in your legal job, you’ll quite naturally gravitate to something else because if your identity is coming from work, you’d want to do something that you care about. You’ll find yourself gravitating to something that you really have an aptitude for, something that doesn’t weigh on you in terms of the hours you spend on it.”- Vikram
How To Make That Choice
During the course of your career, people have a lot of expectations from you. But above all, you have expectations of yourself.
So the point is how can you justify your choice to you. You have to make up your mind, your reasons should be right and you should be okay with the consequences.
After you have made up your mind to venture out of law, you need to ensure that you are commercially viable in the market. It is important that your ideas are also sustainable. Education is a big investment, so if after graduating you are putting yourself in a position where your career choice isn’t financially viable, then people may not be very supportive.
“You can’t become a burden on somebody, and say listen I am going to become a burden on you and then I am going to follow my dreams. That’s not how dreams are followed.” – Aashna
And if you are shifting to a profession like journalism like Vikram did, it might be a little difficult in the beginning. You’ll have to take a massive pay cut and account for the lifestyle change. It, therefore, makes sense to think deeply about how much of a financial buffer you need before you make that move.
“I mean it sounds very cool to say follow your passion and just go for it and things fall into place automatically. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes you have to plan it out a little bit. You have to think a little more deeply about it. It can’t be an impulsive decision unless you have that kind of financial backing and that emotional space to make that choice. So think deeply about what you want to do and play to your strengths and give yourself some time.” – Vikram
Talking to people always helps! Talk to people in the industry to which you are switching and understand what they do on a daily basis and ask yourself if that is something you want.
“Passion is one thing, but just also see if you have an aptitude for something and test the waters. Don’t throw it all away at one shot.
Having said all this, don’t overthink it. Do your homework as you would and if you are committed to it and you care about the work, in most cases often you will find your way out.
You will find your little place.” – Vikram
The Joy Of Missing Out
Once you switch from the legal industry, you are no longer in the legal circle. You meet your friends who are working in law firms and might not have much to contribute in those conversations. And as affirmed by Vikram and Neha, there’s no hostility in that sense.
“It’s more so, definitely when you are in law school it feels a lot and to move away it’s almost like a crime., But once you are out of it people don’t really care, they are quite supportive.” – Neha
If you are at a non-legal workplace, people might question you in the beginning. But when you start getting the job done, it is not a big deal.
Having said that, some misconceptions do exist against those who are not practicing law.
“One prejudice that lawyers who are not practising face is that when you tell people that you don’t go to court, they don’t get it. How is it possible that you are a lawyer who has not been to court. Some people treat you in a way that you are not even a lawyer because you don’t go to court. That happens all the time but then it’s okay.” – Avani
Sometimes it can get tough like it did for Aashna. There will be people around you who will not take you seriously. People tend to trivialize you and assume that you are not capable enough of practicing law, or that you couldn’t survive in litigation.
“I have personally faced it also and I have seen people doing it with other non-practicing lawyers. They generally tend to belittle them. They feel that they are somebody who is not important any longer, because they’ve shifted into something else which is not as important as practicing law. ” – Aashna
And it often looks like your law degree was of no use but actually it is the complete opposite. Aashna is a legal career coach, her profession depends on how she became an efficient lawyer and post that she doesn’t want to be a lawyer anymore.
Vikram chose journalism after studying law. And he wouldn’t change his law degree for the world. Avani and Neha perform exceptionally well at their current jobs, because of the experiences at law school that equipped them with essential life and work skills.
“All of that law school experience has incrementally sort of added to the bouquet of my experiences. Law school is the place that blows open your mind to new things, that can be very transformational.” – Vikram
Think About The Fallback Option
Let’s say you made a career switch just to realize that you hate being away from law or your move doesn’t work.
You will always have a law degree to fall back on. There’s absolutely no shame in going back. You have the right to change your mind. But don’t have unrealistic expectations because you will not be at the same level as those who have already made their mark in the field.
“Why to limit ourselves, and why to think that this one decision is going to shape the rest of my career. It’s not. Nothing is permanent, the less load we take on our head, the easier it is to thread anywhere. If you keep yourselves open and keep it real.” -Neha
How Has The Choice Worked Out For Them
All these talented people went through a ride filled with both good and the bad and everything in between. They made some very bold choices that worked out for them in different ways.
“I think this choice was a great choice personally and I don’t plan to head back to the legal sector. Development sector is it for me and I am very happy with that choice.
On the weekends work is never a question. Weekends are chill now!” – Neha
It’s been a few months since Aashna started her career counselling consultancy and is yet to figure out if it has worked out for her.
But she says:
“The happiness that I derive when the students that I’ve mentored or anybody, when they get an opportunity that they were always looking for- that gives me immense satisfaction you know when somebody replies back to me saying that ‘Aashna I actually got that job, Aashna I actually got that Internship, Thank you so much.’ It actually makes my day. That gives me happiness.”
Aashna also acknowledged that when you start off on your own, it brings in a lot of anxiety and factors where you are not sure of your choices. But what keeps her going is when people achieve whatever they want to and she makes a contribution to that.
For Vikram, the choice of not practicing law has worked out quite well. The passion for journalism and a good story that he has witnessed in the driven people from the industry, is infectious. As per him, when you spend a lot of time with people who care about this stuff, you feel good in that environment. He is working with people who care about sentences. He is a part of the project that he believes in. He goes on to say
“One of the best things about journalism is just complete strangers liking your story, peeling the layers off and appreciating your work. For me that’s a big reward.
The work that you have done in some way kind of touches somebody and it’s a great feeling when a writer comes to us and says that I love working with you guys.”
While talking about her choice of not practicing law, Avani very honestly said that if she has to make a list of three most correct decisions she made, on the top will be not practicing law and genuinely making a career in something that she is actually good at.
“Not even a day in life I regret not practising law. I’d also like to tell students who are graduating in the pandemic, that be patient and confident. Given the times, be a little flexible with the job. If you are getting to do something right now that’s good because a lot of people aren’t.” – Avani
PS: If you go into a job loving it, being passionate about it you will get everything coming out of it.
Practising law or not. Whatever you decide, just make sure you do it for the right reasons!
Note: I would especially like to thank Neha Sasikumar, Aashna Jain, Vikram Shah and Avani Pathak for being so kind to me, for taking out the time and talking about their journeys!
You can read others piece from Senior Talk here.
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