Having graduated five years ago from law school, I thought I knew all that is necessary. I was wrong. That is the thing about learning in any profession, especially in law, you never stop learning! The moment you stop learning, you stop growing.
Not to scare you, although law school teaches a lot (I studied about 70 subjects in the five years), what it teaches is not enough. It does not prepare you for the real world where your work pays your bill. Will you be willing to pay anyone for their services, if they were not good at it? Of course not.
Everyone wants their money’s worth or even more. That is why law students must intern with different organisations be it companies, law firms, NGOs, or startups. They need a taste of the real world and work!
It should not be optional to intern, rather mandatory or at least they must have courses on internships, how to build your CV, training for interviews, actual skills required in the day-to-day life of a lawyer like drafting agreements, negotiation, etc. These are the skill sets that you need at the end of the five years!
Law school education is essential, don’t get me wrong. We need to be educated about different laws, their interpretations, impact, consequences and the likes. We all must know the law, irrespective of our professions, for it affects us all at some point. The time in law school is the stepping stone to your career in law. It has a huge impact on how you shape up as a lawyer.
Law is an important profession as it has real life consequences. We need as many trained lawyers as we can possibly get. We need lawyers who are equipped to deal with the ever changing situations and laws. These professionals are being entrusted by people to solve their disputes; they should have a sense of reliability.
Would you like to be treated for a broken bone by a resident doctor with experience, or by a recent graduate with limited exposure? The answer is obvious. You would prefer an experienced professional.
However, when does the training stop? A year? Or five years? Maybe ten years?
Let me tell you, after five years in the profession, although I have acquired substantial skill sets, I need to know more and gain more experience every single day! With five years of work experience comes stability of sorts: steady income, work and adaptable workplace environment. However, the problem with stability is that excess stability breeds stagnation in learning. I have seen this around me, and at a point, in me as well.
I know of a very polite, hardworking and dedicated person I once worked with. He had been working for about 20 years in this profession but never looked down on an intern. He was always ready to help. That makes him a nice person, right?
The thing that I noticed was that whenever it came to taking onus of a job, some decision making or even basic drafting of notices, agreements, he passed it on to his junior rather nervously. His polite, down to earth behaviour and ethics had inspired all of us, but this attitude did not. I thought to myself that I will never stop learning, just to avoid this behaviour that bred out of lack of learning.
Soon, in my third year of working, on a regular day, I realised that I had not been studying up on the technologies, policies around them and did not know much about the legal world! I was good at the job I was getting paid for, and it was going seamlessly. But, I had not learnt anything new or of value in over a year – I was in a learning rut!
I told myself that I have too much on my plate – my job, my family business, my personal life – I could not have done more. Was I right? Or was I justifying the situation to myself? I was mismanaging my life. I had the same hours as everyone else, I simply had to sit and plan to make optimal utilisation of my time.
Once I ran out of my half-hearted excuses, I realised that I have been going on the bare minimum speed in my career. No wonder, it was not taking off as I had hoped – I had gotten too comfortable with my job! I needed to shake things up a bit and eventually I did.
I picked up a couple of courses in technology contracts and public policy, that I was interested in, and started writing for a friend’s website. I put in the hours, slowly at first. I won’t lie, it was a lot more work than I was used to at that point. In law school I could do a lot more.
Now, I was handling a small business, doing my 10am to 7pm regular job, writing for the website and then studying (or trying to). It was exhausting, but the good kind. It gave me a sense of purpose.
With the sense of purpose, came reflection on what I have learnt so far over the five years and also things that I should have learnt, but did not.
So here are a few things for the working professionals which they must know before in their twenties or maybe beyond:
Know Your Business:
You must know the business to a certain depth. I was part of the in-house legal team in a music company and I had to coordinate deals and disputes for the sales and marketing team. They brought in the business for us and we helped finalise the deal.
The problem with just focusing on legal and not the other aspects left gaps in my deals. I had to know our product, the specifics of the deals to understand how to protect or favour the company in a deal.
For instance, once I had to license a particular product and the sales team gave me the specifics of it. But, I did not understand the deal. I had a sample format for a licensing deal. I did not understand the nature of transaction, the give and take.
How would I suitably accommodate the same in the contract? So, I sat with a sales member to understand the whole transaction. He gave me other related information which helped me draft a more sound contract in place than I would have come up with otherwise.
I used to get irritated with the constant calls from sales team asking -”Is it done yet?”. However, once I stepped into marketing and came across the sales aspect of a business, I realised where they were coming from!
Being from legal team, I was used to a certain pace of work. My job was to find out what all could possibly go wrong and be absolutely thorough in review. What I realised was that sales and marketing have a faster turnaround time, hence their pace was much different.
It is only with knowledge of the business and other verticals that one can deliver to the best of their abilities. You have to know your product, their workings, to come up with better plans and policies as a lawyer.
Drafting and Negotiation:
Drafting skills are a lawyer’s bread and butter. You can be lax about it and probably get away with it too. But in the long run, your drafting skills will help you get through very many doors.
Don’t take my word for it, check any legal job listing on any website or job portal: Naukri, TimesJob, LinkedIn, etc. All profiles desire candidates with drafting experience! If you don’t believe me, check this job description here.
I have not specified what to draft, and it is for a reason. You need know how to draft letters, notices, applications, plaint, petitions, contracts and related documents, and everything in between. With drafting comes negotiating the terms and conditions. Lawyers on either side of the deal must negotiate their best possible deal for their clients.
They need to know what to give up and what to ask. Negotiation is a subtle art which comes from training, but improves only with practice. The negotiation has to be crisp and thorough, because once the contracts are signed, the terms have to be honoured.
There are specific courses available for contract drafting and negotiations, even for specific areas like mergers and acquisition, technology contracts, media and entertainment contracts. Although, these courses may teach the aspirants or working professionals specialised knowledge of the field of law, there is no shortcut to success. You have to put in the time. You have to be willing to learn and change the status quo.You need to want to improve yourself and be better.
An in-house counsel has to know how to draft a licensing agreement, a non-disclosure agreement, memorandum of understanding, everyday contracts and more. They also have to draft, review and approve plaints, petitions, applications for ongoing disputes.
Similarly, a litigation lawyer must be able to review the terms and conditions of an agreements and the possible options thereof, before filing a case. They need to know and understand where their clients are coming from. For instance, in a case of wrongful termination, the lawyer has to review the employment contract and its terms, to find his client the best outcome.
All lawyers must know that just because there are distinctions in their legal profile does not mean there should be difference of knowledge. That is what separates the best from the average.
Learning and Writing:
When was the last time you read about a legal development and wrote your views about it? When did you last write anything at all? Even if you have reached the second phase of self-improvement and studied and practice drafting, you’re only half-way through!
We already have used Manupatra, SCC Online, LexisNexis, etc. in law schools and forgotten about them ever since. The first step of being in the know is knowing.
Almost everyone has a smartphone or a computer, at home or at work. Learn on the go and with legal applications and websites like Livelaw, Lawctopus for news and advice on law. There are search engines for laws and case laws like Indian Kanoon, Law Khoj, Legitquest, etc. To keep up with the upcoming technology you can refer to MIT Technology Review, Technowize, Mashable, Ars Technica, etc.
The point is to keep learning and evolving. But learning is incomplete unless it helps you to have your own thoughts and views on the current issues and ongoings. So you must be able to write your own thoughts and views on any legal topic or your industry and share with others.
Let them have a little more knowledge about the complications and nuances of your industry. Start with a blog on a topic you are interested in. Keep it going and eventually you will be able to have expertly written publications in your name!
There is one mantra to self-improvement: just keep learning!