This article is written by Aditya Shrivastava and Ramanuj Mukherjee from iPleaders.
Legal education in India has changed almost upside down post the writ petition filed in the wake of 2006, for conducting a ‘Common Law Entrance Exam’, now known as CLAT. Not that National Law Universities did not exist prior to it, but with the introduction of CLAT and the opening of 18 new National Law Universities across the Country, the entire focus has moved from the conventional law schools to these new age law universities, which are set up by state governments but are somehow called national. While many alumni of NLUs have done exceedingly well in the profession, most of our countries lawyers are being trained in traditional law colleges and non-NLU environments. What about them? Are they lesser mortals? Are they not as good as the NLU graduates? Or is it just that NLUs are getting an unfair share of attention while talented graduates from non-NLUs struggle to get a job that is a match for their abilities?
There are different opinions that different people have on this. However, the opinion that counts the most is probably that of recruiters, and top recruiters are voting with job offers which are only favourable to the few older NLUs. It is quite easy for top of the batch students from top 6 NLUs to bag a good job with dreamy starting packages and incentives.
Arguably, let’s assume there is an equally good, or even better student, who is about to graduate from a non-NLU. What is the nature of the disadvantage he is going to face? What does he exactly have to do to get over that disadvantage and bag one of the top jobs?
Over the years, I have seen several of our students, who belonged to a non-NLU and cracked in to one of the few top law firms while most others from lower NLUs found it an exasperating and frustrating task to get even a reply to their mails. Even in the year in which I joined Trilegal, while most new joinees were from NLS Bangalore, NUJS Kolkata, NLU Jodhpur, NALSAR Hyderabad etc, however, there were a handful who joined from places like Christ Law School Bangalore, GLC Bombay, Amity Law School Noida, Symbiosis Pune etc.
Sadly, the struggle has been different. While those of us from NLUs got picked up from our campus after 30-40 minutes of interview, they had a tough time firstly to get an internship. Then, diligently interning at many different law firms, winning the confidence of key associates, getting a call back for a second internship, being tested at several levels and finally getting an offer, after a prolonged interview. It was always much more difficult and a longer process for our non-NLU colleagues to get that job. What worsens the situation is some big law firms even offer a lower salary to graduates of non-NLU campuses compared to top 6 NLUs.
Even in 2011 cracking a top law firm from any given Law School, was not a very unachievable phenomenon. Today in fact it has only become easier. However, it takes massive willpower, creating likeability in the eyes of your senior, working at ungodly hours, noticeability and credible work to crack through the walls of the system that almost always favours NLU graduates from a few institutions (although many of them will not admit to this).
Note that if you are a non-NLU student determined to make it to a big law firm and succeed as a corporate lawyer, it is definitely within reach provided you are ready to rise up to the challenge. Here is a student who was born blind for instance, who went to Nagpur University to study law, and got through to Trilegal. Here is another who went to Bangalore Institute of Legal Studies and then got through to Trilegal. If you spend some time reading SuperLawyer.in, you will find many such examples.
If you watched Suits, you may know about the only Harvard rule at Pearson Hardman, the imaginary law firm where Harvey Specter is a senior partner. The firm never hires anybody other than Harvard Graduates! So if you are a great lawyer but didn’t go to Harvard, they don’t care, they will not take you. One day, Harvey Specter is given the task to hire new graduates for the firm, and he breaks the rule clandestinely by hiring a fraud who is not even a lawyer but knows enough law! Just like in real world, competence usually tend to trump qualifications and brand names. I am guessing you are going to graduate as a lawyer, and you definitely will find your way if you are ready to do what it takes.
There is certainly a way if there is a will. The first step of the way is to understand how to the system works and what is the exact nature of the problem you are going to face if you are seeking a job at a top law firm as an associate after graduating from a non-NLU law college.
Lack of CV Building Culture
Have you ever wondered the reason as to why most of the partners at leading corporate law firms prefer hiring NLU graduates, when they themselves are from conventional law schools in most cases? A typical NLU student strives very hard to land good internships, makes efforts towards moot courts, parliamentary debates, MUNs, negotiation competitions, mediation tournaments, drafting exercises and every other kind of event which could benefit his CV. Most non-NLU students cannot even imagine the single minded focus and rat race seen in NLUs for certificates which could do any value addition to their CV.
People join and run different committees, and at times even create more of them just to become convenor or co-convenor. They organize events, go for conferences abroad and blog extensively. They write research papers, articles, take up online courses like these, and at times even attend summer schools abroad and assist professors which can make their CV stand out.
It is very hard to actually stand out though, as the same pattern is followed by everyone. Nobody lets an opportunity slip by without trying to get an advantage out of it. This is the prevalent culture in most NLUs, which is not very different from most business schools either.
Non-NLU students simply never see this environment. They do whatever they can, simply on their own initiative. While most of their friends are breaking a sweat over passing relatively simpler exams (compared to what a lawyer is professionally required to do), it is hard to expect that non-NLU students will go out of their way to make a CV like the NLU graduates do.
In fact, many colleges do not understand the need to do this, and discourage students from missing classes for pursuing extracurricular activities. NLUs give extra holidays to participate in various events and go for internships, sometimes even providing funds for international travel, while is traditional colleges all these are unthinkable and unheard of. However, that is a huge disadvantage when it comes to recruitment preparedness of the students.
Lack of Exposure to prove your worth
Your university might be located in a city which might not have enough exposure. The definition of exposure can be anything from getting an internship at a marquee law firm, availability of a High Court in your city, your university being invited to National tournaments, guest lectures from distinguished luminaries, prevalence of debating and moot culture to having enough opportunities for getting a recommendation for an internship at a good law firm/corporate department.
The exposure also gets restricted due to university culture which is a huge roadblock. You see, where the mindset of an NLU student is to fight all odds, and make a place for him/herself, even if it means fighting against university’s rigid conventional ideologies (as demonstrated by many uprisings in NLUs against administration), a non-NLU student bows humbly down to them. We have seen numerous cases of entire NLU standing up for each other for a lewd remark made by a professor to a girl student, or coming up with Queer Cells in an NLU, whereas, non-NLU students just survive through these. What they fail to realize is, such exposure makes the NLU students stronger to take on external challenges. All of these above not only restricts the exposure but also impacts the opportunities for demonstrating the capabilities of non-NLU students. Just think of the students who have to drop out of a moot because exams got declared suddenly by University. In an NLU, one may get an opportunity to write the papers later whereas if you are in a college affiliated to Mumbai, Pune or IP University, you have no choice but to write the exams without a fuss even if months of preparation goes to complete waste.
Experienced Competition vs. You
Despite coming from a National Law University, having one of the best CV in my university, having interned at best law firms (including assessment internships), having diverse initiative-led experiences, having a knack for communication and grades which were amongst the top 5 of my college, when it came to getting the first job, I had to struggle massively to prove my worth.
At times, I was called for more than 3 interviews, and rejected later in case they found someone with experience, and at times they directly sent a rejection as all that the recruiter wanted was someone with experience. The perception is that someone who has no experience will take a lot of time and resources to get trained. Also, freshers need a lot of time to adjust to the work environment for the first time and are known for having unrealistic expectations from their job.
Although this challenge is for every fresher in general, still the magnitude for it is way higher for a student from non-NLU background as they are not just competing against NLU and premier university students but also with those deserving professionals who have the required experience for the job but did not get the apt opportunity.
These days it is in vogue for corporate houses to sign an MoU with universities and only recruit students from there. Cognizant for example, has “Campus Recruiting” MoUs with approximately 30 universities in the country. An ex-HR from Cognizant told me in private, on a fresher level, he could only take students from the university that they have signed up with. In case they hired someone on need basis outside MoU, the remuneration for it is much less. However, for even an entry-level position they still preferred individuals with experience and such people are fairly easy to find in the legal profession.
Even for law firms, most of them go back only to the universities from which they have recruited before. Day 0 is only successful in universities which have a good alumni base, or which manage to build deep relationships with some companies. Thus, while an NLU student is taken care of by placement cells, a non-NLU student often ends up facing competition from all ends, finally compromising on the profile or the remuneration just to get started in a job.
Futile Career and Placement Society
Let’s be honest, the students of National Law Universities and certain private universities shell out a bomb for making the so-called placement societies get the best of brand names to their universities. As a non-NLU student, you need to understand that it is not the University which organizes placement drives, it is the students which do so.
While DSNLU collects 1000 rupees for brochure creation and placement drive, placement cells in other universities like NLS, NALSAR and NUJS collects 5000 rupees per student for the same. This fund is in turn used for brochure creation, a sustained campaign over several months of contacting, visiting and wooing recruiters, inviting and hosting recruiting partners or officers, and taking care of hospitality for relevant people. This is solely a student-led initiative, which generally goes missing when it comes to a non-NLU.
Most of the times alumni help the students to get their companies or firms to the colleges and they further try to retain them through various engagement programs, like regularly inviting them for various lectures, competitions, and even setting up various committees like arbitration or IPR cell with them. Such effort is usually absent or dysfunctional in a non-NLU.
For the institutes with functional placement cells, there exists huge amount of favoritism or internal politics which does not let you shine out. Even if there are firms which somehow land at your university, they are not worth the hype or are there just for the sake of promotions. There are also cases, where a firm pays a visit to a university just to hire a pre decided intern or pre-recommended student. What’s more ironical is such recruitment drives are accompanied by good for nothing GD rounds and showbiz by recruiters who end up paying nothing more than peanuts.
Obsolete modules and course outline
While all other issues are relative, this is one of the major reasons why the companies refuse to hire a student from a non-NLU campus. There is a lack of quality check, control, and continuous reform in the course structure of most conventional law colleges. Most of the universities and law colleges in the country take little or no efforts to update their syllabus or curriculum according to evolving markets or practice areas.
On looking at certain modules from various non-NLUs, the art subjects extend over 6 semesters or more, and important subjects like Company Law and Tax laws, which are needed by any firm are reduced to or wound up in a single semester towards the fag end of their time in college. This is catastrophic, as most of the firms would be reluctant to take in an intern with such limited knowledge, or the performance of a student from such background would be lower than that of the one who has already read about corporate laws by the 4th semester itself. If you learn about corporate laws very late in your college life, it seriously affects the internship opportunities and performance in corporate law firms even if you somehow get selected. As a corollary, those who learn these subjects early get a huge advantage.
Further, the assessment mechanism of an NLU is relatively stricter and focuses on overall development of a student. While a student from an NLU has to undergo a 50 marks worth internal assessment, which includes, research thesis submission, defending the research, presentations, vivas, class assessments, moot courts, weekly tests, etc., a non-NLU student generally just has to write an exam, where more often than not, he is already aware of the 15 questions, which have been recurring in the tests, since the inception of the university.
While the most of the companies look for freshers to come in with updated knowledge and skills, it is appalling to see how the universities don’t even attempt to train their students in the same.
If you are a fresher from a Non-NLU and you could relate to any or all of the issues addressed hitherto, I can tell you that all is not lost and you can still make it work.
Question is, are you doing enough to make yourself stand out?
Here are some ideas for you.
Imagine, you are a recruiter. You have 2 candidates scheduled for the final interview. You want to select a first year associate for your M&A team. On one hand you have a presentable NLU graduate, with a good CV, respectable grades, moots, articles and the regular stuff. On the other hand, there is a non-NLU graduate, with normal grades, but tons of articles published around M&A, a series of boutique investment law internships, and amazing knowledge of how the M&A process works, how important clauses in a shareholders agreement are drafted and negotiated, and the fellow clearly keeps up with all the regulatory updates relevant to FDI and investments in general. This level of practical proficiency is unusual for any law graduate, NLU or non-NLU. Remember that topping your class in contract law doesn’t mean that you can draft contracts in reality. Recruiters like you are acutely aware of that. Who would you select?
I would be very impressed that a non-NLU graduate has managed to acquire skills of this level, which shows he has the ability to overcome adversities, tremendous discipline and commitment to professional growth, and a well placed focus on what really matters.
Assess yourself. Try to read interviews of success stories of various students from non-NLUs who made the cut and compare it with what you have done during your law course. Especially focus on the last week and last month. Did you do anything important to get ahead of your competition? Do you even have a gameplan to get where you want to get?
Question yourself, if you were a recruiter, why would you recruit your own self when you had someone with a glorious CV from a top NLU, for the very same post. Are you ready to compete with them? Are you doing more than them already?
If you have just started with your law school, now is the time to do everything possible. Debates, moots, research papers, internships and specialized courses. In case you are already late or in your final year, select a specialization area for yourself, and take up one or two relevant courses to gain practical expertise in it. DOn’t do course to just decorate your CV. That is a terrible waste of time and money. The guy will better skills will eventually win, now or later. Invest in real skills, not just the CV.
While I was about to start working for a major MNC, they specifically asked for me to take up a course on Derivatives and ISDA, as they want freshers being recruited to have a minimum threshold level of knowledge.
You have to impress your recruiters. What are you doing to be impressive?
Seek exposure, plan it beforehand.
Experience and exposure can be sought anywhere. A student from Pune University, struggling to figure out accommodation, hostel food, and transport, was compelled to collect contributions from his classmates for creating professional resumes and brochure for his college and visited various law firms of the country. He visited the law firms just to get them to have a look at the brochure. In the process, he observed the work culture, processes and the need for exposure which they were not really getting in the university. He sought an internship at one of the firms and got recruited by his sheer hard work. The exposure he gave to himself then, made him what he is today. This is a real-life story of Adv. M.S. Bharath, Senior Partner at Anand and Anand.
Seek an opportunity and make the best use of it. Starting out small is not an issue, and getting started is critical. It doesn’t matter if the place you are interning at has not made it to the top 100 list, what matters is you gain an experience and improve your skills day by day. What matters is that you work hard enough for your senior that it becomes stupid for him to not recruit you. You need to make yourself so good that people will create a new post to just hire you when there is no vacancy. If they can’t, they will want to recommend you to their friends. It is only through your work and performance that you can make your senior vouch for you.
However, while you start, do not let go of your dream. Chalk down a list of companies or law firms you want to work for. Find out the areas in which they operate, or you could select the target organizations on the basis of your favorite legal genre. While you are working, start reading and gaining expertise from wherever you can. Read up important blogs and subscribe to newsletters. Get your hands on courses like this where you can learn important practical lessons of business law from top lawyers and law firm partners.
Deal with professionals, professionally.
First of all, get your expectations set right. Understand that the promises made by university counselors at the time of admissions are never fulfilled and the Corporate HR will only notice your profile if it is recommended by a top management personnel or a friend. Have a clarity that professionals and students from various universities are in constant struggle to get your dream job along with you.
Keep yourself constantly updated and apply for every opportunity available. Have your Linkedin, Naukri, Monster, Shine.com, and all such profiles up and running. Make sure to call them and get an update on your application. Understand the fact that there are several individuals like you who are applying for the same post and your application might go unnoticed. An application without a call is no application at all and follow up from time to time. Also, don’t worry about experienced professionals competing with you provided you have put in all the work that you needed to. A dextrous, smart, hard-working fresher is better than a lazy professional with lots of experience.
Jugaad and Mentorship
While many might resist from recommending “Jugaad,” however, it is one of the most respectable and reliable ways to get yourself to your destination. Do you know that top investors never talk to entrepreneurs unless they come armed with good recommendations from successful entrepreneurs? Why should it be any different with lawyers? It is up to you to create valuable connections in the industry and to build lasting relationships. If you can’t get a strong recommendation for a job how will you land clients for your law firm later on? If you are a corporate counsel how will you set a meeting with a top Supreme Court lawyer if you can’t get a recommendation from the right person? Your recommendation is your biggest testimony. Work hard enough and prove your credibility to compel your senior to recommend you. All it takes is a partner of the firm to forward your CV to the HR, and rest is on your performance at the interview.
Mentorship can also be your great asset on the road to getting your dream job. Find out a mentor who can guide you and help you in your development as a professional. This mentor is someone who would not only train you but also guide you through different stages of your career. Mentorship is so crucial that at iPleaders we introduced mentorship programs for the students of our top courses. To remain a part of this mentorship group, one has to constantly work on themselves through various assignments. This mentorship program is the number 1 reason for the tremendous success of the recruitment program for our online courses. Here you can read the success stories about the many students who got through to various jobs with the help of our internship program.
Make your placement work, yourself.
First, find out objectively how the placement of your last graduating batch has taken place. If your university doesn’t offer you placement, then you might want a different approach. It’s simple, the university won’t give you enough funds, your batch would be busy in internal tiffs and you might not know the right people to get a good recommendation. In that case, you need to get cracking on it immediately.
Figure out places which can help you towards networking. Be it during your internships, mentorships, or through any courses you take, connect with people who are in a position to help you and then figure out what you can do to impress them, get noticed by them, or just simply help them out. Opt for online courses or summer schools that offer student mentor support and internship assistance. See if the online course you are opting for has a strong alumni and mentor base or not, which is a great indicator of how good they will be at providing you recruitment support.
Catch up on practical knowledge that lawyers actually need, not just what law colleges teach.
How can you get practical knowledge? Your college professors probably can’t do much about it unless they have worked as corporate lawyers themselves recently. When you are at an internship, treat it as a stage to perform, not as a room for rehearsal. Lawyers you work with do not have the time to teach you basics of practice. You are the one who needs to add value to the lawyers who give you an internship, and the person who gives you an internship owes you nothing. If you think you are going to an internship to learn practical aspects of law as opposed to performing in a way that impresses your superiors, then you have lost the plot.
So what can you do? The answer to it is simple. There are online courses where top lawyers in India teach cutting edge business law lessons like this diploma course. This course is regularly updated, covers every aspect that will benefit your job campaign and is made with an aim to get you started on the path of becoming an extraordinary business lawyer. Before selecting a course though, go through the syllabus and history of the course. Unless people like you have benefited from it previously, the course is probably not worth it. Do your homework!
We recommend that you check out some of the courses by LawSikho here.
The bitter truth is that without a lot of work you are not going to crack into corporate law. However, the good news is that it is very much within your power to achieve. A little bit of hard work, the right kind of practical knowledge and the building the right connections can lead you to your dream workplace. Just find out the correct source for gaining that practical knowledge and learn the ropes before you are ready for the real world.