By Tanuj Kalia [6]

Mismatch: The Dream and the Numbers

Getting a job in a top law firm is the dream destination for most law graduates. The big law firms give you big pay cheques and a chance to work on big cases that may even get press and TV attention.

Working at a big law firm gives you a posh lifestyle and a chance to hob-nob with the leading businessmen and celebrities. It’s difficult for a twenty-something to not be lured by this razzle-dazzle.

However, these ‘big law firms’ promising monthly salaries of 12 lakh and above per year do not have more than 200 jobs on offer, every year.

Yes, there are smaller, well-run firms that provide good salaries and a similar lifestyle, but even with them onboard we don’t have more than 400 high-paying law firm jobs available for fresh law graduates.

These jobs are (unfortunately) likely to go to top graduates from the best NLUs, some overachievers from other good law schools and to students whose relatives have the desired contacts.

For the majority of the population, they get sold on a false dream.

Working in a Law Firm: Expectation versus Reality

Furthermore, most law students do not understand what work in a corporate law firm is all about.

While they expect themselves to be working on big deals and mergers and acquisitions right from the start, the reality is often different.

Initially, a job in a law firm might involve doing a lot of ‘filings’, working on ‘due diligence’ related tasks or working on template-based contracts. The work of a junior associate is not usually interesting.

Surprisingly, law students do not seem to figure this out from their internships, and there are two reasons for this.

Firstly, in as little a period as one month, interns do not get to delve deep into the workings of a corporate law firm.

zia mody, law firm as a career
Zia Mody, one of India’s top corporate lawyers. Image from here

Secondly, the peer pressure to join a top law firm is huge. Peer pressure can make you do funny things even when it doesn’t feel right.

Pros and Cons

Pros

For a young law graduate, working in a law firm can be great for multiple reasons. You make good money for all the hours you put. You work on complex legal issues. You work with big clients who expect the level of advice to be top notch.

You are pushed into doing your best, which is always a good thing. You get to know what professional behaviour and attitude mean.

For a ‘fresher’ out of college, knowing the value of punctuality, dressing well, and the etiquettes of professional communication early in his/her career is of great value. You work with good, competent people and, as they say, you are the sum of the five people you hang out with the most.

Your work in a law firm goes through multiple levels of review helping you learn on the go.

Finally, working in a full-service law firm gives you a 360 degree perspective of various areas of law. A single deal might involve many facets of intellectual property, tax, and corporate law, and with all that, your learning multiplies.

Cons

However, working in a law firm is not always hunky-dory. Many law firms in India are personality driven organisations and are not institutionally run. This means a more than normal dose of ego plays and politics.

The work timings in a law firm can be insane. A 10 am to 10 pm work timing is for a regular day.

There might be ‘joyous phases’ where you return at 8 pm and the horrendous ones where you come as late as 2 am only to be back at the office by 9 am. This might also mean that your health and your personal life will suffer.

While you might not have called your parents for weeks altogether, your boss’s call even at 12 in the midnight rarely goes unanswered.

A law firm job is a desk job through and through, which means you are sitting in front of a computer for long hours, and that takes a toll on your body. [7]

Young law associates are also turned off by the treatment meted out to seniors at law firms. Senior employees who cannot bring in clients or cannot manage teams are shown the door. It is then not surprising that the attrition rates in law firms are very high.

Want to Make it Big in a Law Firm?

If you plan to persist and make it big in a law firm job you need to keep a few things in mind:

1. Realise that a business moves in cycles of highs and lows. The work in a law firm increases or decreases accordingly. There might be months where you need to pull multiple all-nighters and there might be days where you are twiddling thumbs for most of the day.

2. and 3. A second critical point is to manage time, keeping the third important thing in mindyour team. Bonding with your team is important.

If your team knows that you are a lark who is more efficient during the day, only on urgent occasions would they press you to stay late at night. A good rapport with your colleagues will ensure that you are able to take care of personal exigencies.

3. Finally, one needs to remember that the first few years of your working life are the years when you can slog because you don’t have many commitments to fulfill.

It is the time you can stretch yourself to your limits to learn and grow. How far you are willing to go is a call you have to take.

Success Factors

The legal grapevine has some memorable career fundas Here is one: the must-have success factors for an associate are captured in the 3 As: Ability, Affability, and Availability (in reverse order of priority).

Someone who is available for work 24×7 is generally preferred over someone who ranks higher in ability but wants to take the weekends off.

At a higher level, when you are thinking of becoming a partner, the skill levels flatten out. What matters then is who you are as a person. Are you an interesting person who can connect with the client on a personal level? It is important then to strive to be a well-rounded person right from your college days.

All work and no play makes Jack not a partner.

If ability, affability, and availability make a good associate, a partner tends to be either a Finder, Minder, Grinder or Binder. [8]

A Finder is one who can get in the clients, a Minder is one who can manage the teams, a Grinder is great with the law and a Binder is good at binding all of this together.

Of course, most law firm partners will have a mix of these qualities, but the Indian legal industry is replete with examples of people who rose to the top because they do one of these really well.

Skills Required

1. Any law firm person will need very good English language skills, both spoken and written.

2. Good legal research and drafting skills.

3. As a young individual in a law firm, you will need to develop good old tenacity, the ability to stick it out in the initial years of your career.

4. If you see yourself as a partner in times to come, you’ll need to showcase leadership as a youngster. [9]

5. Ability to work in a team.

Salary and Career Progression

Top law firms pay annual salaries of Rupees 10-14 lakh (plus perks and performance-based components), mid-tier law firms pay to the tune of Rupees 5-10 lakh, while smaller law firms pay anywhere between 2.5-5 lakh rupees a year.

If you are competent, the growth in a law firm tends to be good and fast, both in terms of your roles and responsibilities and the amount of money you earn.

An associate can become a senior associate in 2-4 years and a partner in 8-15 years. Depending on how good you are, salary increments can be between 10 and 50 percent every year.

[6] Murali Neelkantan, Supratim Chakraborty, Arunava Mukherjee and Adit Pujari were interviewed for this chapter.

[7] Note: Those working in private companies, LPOs, etc. are also stuck to their desks, more often than not.

[8] Read more here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/keenanbeasley/2017/09/20/team-building-minders-finders-grinders/

[9] In a deal when associate takes upon a critical task for him/herself and does it to completion, it leaves a mark on the seniors.

This is a chapter from my book ‘Law as a Career’ (published by LexisNexis). You can buy the book on Amazon here.

 

litigation career india, law as a career tanuj kalia

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