In this interview, Smriti Bhatt of USLLS gives her take on her placement at Bharucha & Partners and provides an insight into the overlap between law schools and the profession. She talks about what it takes to get placed in a top law firm, if the biases in the fraternity are real and how to capitalize on whatever opportunities one gets. She has been interviewed by EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador Sarthak Yadav who is currently pursuing law from USLLS, GGSIU.

1. Please introduce yourself for our readers?
I’m Smriti Bhatt, and I’ve just completed my last year at USLLS, GGSIPU. I’m an avid reader and I’ll read anything that comes my way, and I’m also interested in badminton and sports in general. I have a fairly good knack for research, and just muck about in general. I’m part of the Arbitration & Dispute Resolution team at Bharucha & Partners, which is itself an established practice and was definitely my goal at B&P.

2. Is there discrimination or segregation when it comes to students getting placed in Tier 1 law firms?
That’s a good question, and a question I myself have been trying to answer for the last five years, because I’ve done a good number of internships over the last five years and I think it exists in some form. There are associates, especially in Tier-1 firms that I choose to not name, that engage in this segregation. Once, a co-intern of mine at one of those firms was literally asked by her associate if she could“send anyone from at least NLU Jodhpur to me”, and I was appalled as I was not from any NLU, let alone Jodhpur. There’s definitely a lot of classism going on.

I think the root cause of it is the general idea that NLU’s provide you with more opportunities for things like mooting and guidance for moots, and there have been instances where I haven’t known things because they weren’t taught to me in the first place but they were at an NLU. Secondly, it also involves funding as our college itself refuses to fund, sometimes even partly, expenses incurred in a paper presentation or a moot and thus this is something that our college can definitely improve on. And thirdly, as I’ve mentioned the curriculum and academia is more versatile in these colleges. There needs to be more transparency and a better institutional mechanism that puts the students’ grievances first, the foundation needs to be strong.

3. How much weight do you think an ideal CV carries for a top law firm?
In my experience, I don’t exactly know how much of a role my CV played. Internships definitely matter a lot and you should have ample internship experience, along with things like good moots, good papers and things that show you have good leadership attributes. It’s a very clichéd answer you’ll get from anybody you ask, but for the most part I feel like I fairly covered all the factors.

That being said, more than all of this, what’s most important is that you should be thorough with the area which you’re going into. You should be thorough with the nuances and all of the nooks and crannies of the law concerned. So by that time I had prepared, I had everything about Arbitration at the tip of my tongue (sic fingers), I knew all of the cases inside and out and that is what I feel the advantage has been. I definitely know there were some people who had stronger CVs than mine, but maybe where they lagged was their inability to answer the questions of law that they were asked. So, no matter how great your CV is, you need to be thorough with the law of the area you want to venture in.

4. In cases where an ideal CV is required, give us your opinion on how that can be achieved by students from all over the country, irrespective of which Institution they come from?

Firstly, there is no denying that our institutions can push forth, but there’s always the option of relentlessly applying and badgering law firms by yourself. Secondly, there are a number of competitions like paper presentations that provide you with internships at say SAM or CAM or Khaitan etc. for winning, so of course you can take part in that. Other than that there’s always the very widely acclaimed and practiced idea of references and contacts that you can use.

That’s not to say that there aren’t setbacks, but that doesn’t mean you can’t pursue those goals; you just have to push a little harder.

5. So there’s always this idea of having to work twice as hard to bridge the aforementioned divide. Does that take its toll on your mental health?

Personally, I try to not let that affect me. One could feel a tad demotivated that they’ reputing in the same amount of work as someone from a top NLU but not getting the same level of accolades, but I see that as a little setback and nothing that will push you down the drain. I don’t think it’s wise to be that thin skinned in this fraternity anyway; top NLU or not, you’re bound to face some challenges in this field and you have to thicken your skin if you want to get to the top. It’s tough of course, you have to be more patient and put in more hours, but you have to persevere.

6. In real terms, what does that extra work and perseverance look like?

I think work speaks for itself. Initially if you’re being discriminated against because of your law school and are just being given work to keep your hand occupied and not necessarily proper legal research, you show your mettle by how you do the work given to you, even if it’s very low priority work that’s being given to you; if you do it well you’ll get good work in time. Additionally, associates have a lot of interns that come and go, and therefore it’s important to realize that the onus to learn is on you. It’s important to ask for the work you do, which is what I internalized in my later years of college, where I’d ask “Ma’am, can I get some drafting work?” if that’s what I wanted. It’s important to be outspoken about these things, because the worst that can happen is that they’ll refuse and you really have nothing to lose. Be active on your feet and take initiative and ask for work in areas that interest you.

Take initiative, but also give your opinions and views and try to engage in a dialogue with your associates. There’s really no way you would know more than your associate and whatever you do know more won’t be a lot. Interact with your co-interns, ask them what they do because it just might be that the work given to you by two different associates can turn out to be related, and thus can help you out. So just talk with your associates, have discussions with them, but really, just ask for more work if you want it. I’ve badgered my associates for more work; I think that’s really helped me in the clarity of my concepts.

7. What’s something you wish you knew at the start of your college career?

I just wished someone had told me that you should never be embarrassed to ask your associates for work (when you are interning), even if you have to do it twenty times. Even if you have to bear embarrassment, it’ll be for a couple of minutes at max and instead of producing very mediocre and below average work, it’s better to just pester them and get fulfilling work. Other than that as much as tier-1 internships do matter, it’s just a tag and there’s no harm or foul in interning with other firms or advocates. I’ve done out-house and in-house internships and in my experience, I’ve learnt way more in tier-2 firms. It’s a good tag to have a well-known name on your CV, but not having that is not something that should hold you down. While I did get those big names eventually, just knowing that would’ve helped me relax a bit more.

8. Any final parting words?
Moots and papers are important, but they aren’t what make or break your career. It’s your thoroughness and knowledge of the concepts of law that makes all the difference, and I cannot stress this enough. I really don’t have a lot of moots and papers on my CV, and some of my achievements aren’t even related to law. It’s about the experiences that add on, and not having a lot of prestigious moots or published work is not something that’s going to hold you back. Being well versed with the law and reading up on the laws that interest you, that’s what will make the difference.

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