In conversation with Akshay Pathak, Sr. Associate at CAM and his journey at tier 1 law firm

In this interview Mr. Akshay Pathak, a graduate of 2016 batch of Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University(Amity Law School, Delhi)discusses about his journey from a law student to a Senior Associate working with Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas. He gives an insight into what law firms may actually look for, when it comes to offering PPOs to interns. Further, he provides guidance on how should law students can secure law firm internships and excel in their career. He has been interviewed by EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador Shambhavi Anand who is currently pursuing law from GGSIPU. 

  1. Please introduce yourself to our readers

I am a working currently with Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas with the general corporate team. My practice area primarily includes domestic and cross-border M&A, general corporate matters, including restructurings. I graduated from Amity Law School, Delhi (Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University)in 2016, and thereafter worked with Link Legal India Law Services for around 3 months, and post that I joined Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas. I joined Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas in October 2018,and since then I have been working here.

2. We all have heard about the law firm culture & the long hours which the associates put in. What do you have to say about that?

As a law student even I had heard a lot about the long working hours in law firms. We had seniors who would often say that law firm associates (especially people at junior level) are overburdened with work and that they do not have a social life. Addressing the first point of being overburdened with work, I would like to say that it needs to be understood that legal profession these days is very dynamic. Role of a lawyer these days is not just of a legal advisor. A lawyer is not just a rob clad barrister who argues in court. He is not only a legal advisor to his client but also a business consultant, negotiator and a deal maker for his client, and from this perspective it has to be understood that there is cut throat competition in the market. Furthermore it needs to be kept in mind that whoever is graduating and joining as an associate of a law firm or as an in-house council or as an independent practitioner, will have to put in extra hours of work. The reason why juniors have to work hard is because (i) there is cut throat competition in the market, and (ii) a junior may take more time to complete an assignment as opposed to someone with who is more experienced.

When I started interning with law firms in my final year of law school it was indeed not easy. The fearing of not being able to impress my team used to be perpetually there. I interned for almost 5 months with a firm before getting an offer. Even after I joined as an associate, the initial 2 years were tough. However this situation is inevitable and every fresher/ intern has to face this, and even I was no exception. Therefore law students should never base their decision of working in any organization on the number of hours they will be required to put in. This profession demands hard work. I have seen my immediate senior (who has almost 12 years of experience) working 12-14 hours every day without any weekend break when we were overburdened with work. So if someone that senior is willing to work hard, I don’t find a reason why a fresh graduate or an intern should shy away from hard work.

Moving towards the point of not having a social life, I would say that this I believe is very subjective. For instance, someone who gets free at 7 in the evening may crib about not having a social life whereas someone who gets free at 10 in the night may still find time to pursue his hobby. However, one thing which I have understood in these 4 years is that this profession is not for those who don’t want to work hard.

3. What is the role of seniors and faculties in helping juniors and how do you think students should approach law firms for internships?

The role of faculty as well as seniors is very important. It is always good to encourage someone but at the same time people have to be honest with their opinion. For instance if one needs to provide a feedback to any junior or any student regarding his work or potential then one must ensure that it is a constructive feedback,but at the same time it has to be honest.

In order to explain this point further, I would mention a small anecdote involving jurist Mulla. While Mr. Mulla was graduating, he was in two minds, whether to take up law or to take up poetry as a career. So in order to get a clear picture, he wrote a letter along with his finest piece of poetry enclosed with the letter and addressed it to a renowned poet of that era Alfred Tennyson. In the letter, he mentioned about his confusion between poetry and law as a career and asked Mr. Tennyson for his opinion. To his surprise Mr. Tennyson replied to that letter, suggesting Mr Mulla to take up law as a career. In light of this anecdote it can be said that if his feedback would not have been honest we would have missed the excellent work of jurist Mulla. From this point of view, the role of seniors and faculty is very important.

With the increasing number of law schools, the number of students graduating every year is in lakhs.  Furthermore the number of internship opportunities are not enough to cater to the internship requirements of all the students, and hence it becomes difficult for students to approach law firms for internships. Students should try to avoid interning in tier 1 firms in their initial years, because if they want to see themselves working in a tier 1 law firm in 4-5 years ahead, then they cannot afford to spoil their first impression when they intern with that firm. Initially one should intern in smaller places and once he or she has acquired the basic skills,they should approach a bigger firm. While approaching a law firm, students should avoid sending template e-mails. Furthermore, instead of applying at one place and waiting for the firm to reply, one should apply at multiple organizations at the same for internship. Internship application should be sent well in advance (5-6 months). Also, students should not just send one email to a firm and forget it. Following up is very important. Also, students should stay in touch with seniors who they have worked with during internships. Every student should have an account on LinkedIn. I don’t see any harm in even approaching legal professionals for internships through LinkedIn.

4. How should law students prepare for job interviews and what type of questions should be expected?

If a candidate has been interning with the team and is able to impress the team then job interview becomes a formality because the candidate has already proved his calibre. However, if the candidate is applying through the placement cell of his college or applying directly, he would be judged solely based on his interview.

Every law firm has a specific threshold of skill set when it comes to deciding whether to recruit a fresh graduate. For example, if a candidate if appearing for an interview with a general corporate team of a law firm he/she needs to be thorough with the basic concepts of Contract Act, 1872 and Companies Act, 2013, including recent amendments (some basic idea about securities law would be even better!) . Preparation for an interview should not be done overnight.

 Also, when you are preparing your CV, don’t mention something just for the sake of making your CV look fancy. No law firm would hire you only because you have done X number of moots or written Y number of research papers, unless you are able to justify all that in your interview with your knowledge. Someone may not have done even 1 moot and may end up getting recruited as opposed to someone who did 4 moots and failed to answer basic technical questions during an interview. Moots, papers are there to enhance your skill set and knowledge and can be good talking appoints for your interview, but cannot get you recruited if you have participated/ written a paper just for the sake of mentioning it on your CV. Even I have done this mistake during initial years of law school and I have seen so many of my batch mates and seniors doing this.

5. What are the key qualities which make an intern impress others during an internship?

As per my experience these are the basic qualities which an intern should have:

  • Research skills being up to the mark if not excellent;
  • The intern should be confident enough to interact with the team and should be willing to ask for work;
  • The intern should be willing to work hard and should be able to convince the team that he or she is willing to spend extra hours if needed. The intern should not be in a hurry to go get free and go home!!

6. Is there a bias against non NLU students amongst law firms?

There is no specific bias against non NLU students as such. I have also graduated from a non NLU and I have never faced any bias as such. All of the top NLUs have dedicated placement cells, which many non NLUs don’t. Further, NLUs have a strong alumni base. Also, top law firms usually visit only the top NLUs for recruitment considering that there are thousands of law colleges in India. A combination of these factors do give top NLU students an edge over non NLU students in some form.

However, if you see the larger picture, merit and hard work never go unnoticed. I have seen so many non NLU students excelling and doing even better than students who graduated from top NLUs. Also, not getting recruited by a tier 1 law firm right after you graduate is also not the end of the world. I have seen so many non NLU students who joined smaller law firms after they graduated and then they ended up working with Tier 1 law firms within 2 years of graduating. At the same time I have seen students from top NLUs who started working with tier 1 firms right after they graduated but ended up quitting their jobs within 1 year!

7. How should we decide what law to choose for our career?

Students should be aware of whatever new is happening around them. For example, if ministry of corporate affairs has issued a new circular, one should at least open it and read it, and if it refers to any particular section of companies act, please read that section. The reason why I am suggesting this is because if you ask a 1st or 2nd year student to read whole of the companies act from the beginning and then to decide if he is interested in the subject or not, he would probably skip it and only a handful of law students would do that in reality. Reading a standalone section in light of any new circular or notification would give them an insight into the practical application of law. Furthermore a basic understanding of different laws based on reading of new amendments, circulars or notifications would enable a student decide his interests. In the initial two to three years one can do experiments when it comes to subjects, areas of interest and places where the student interns. However, by the end of third or fourth year one must be willing to take up a call as to what he or she exactly wants to do.

8. In your opinion what is the scope of corporate law.

With the corporate law landscape evolving rapidly, and the present government being so active in ensuring ease of doing business, corporate law will see tremendous growth when it comes to providing employment opportunities for law students. Almost all top law firms have more than 1 general corporate teams and such teams hire fresh graduates every year and new firms are coming up every year. Hence, this is a good time to build a career in corporate law.

9. Any piece of final advice for law students.

My final piece of advice would be that law students and fresh graduates should never shy away from hard work. In my opinion, if one does not work hard it would be a downward spiral for him or her and he or she would end up getting less work. When it comes to securing jobs and internships, please don’t hesitate in reaching out to your seniors.

My sincere advice to all law students is not to do an internship just for the sake of mentioning it on your CV. No law firm will give you a job just because you have done 4 internships with 4 different tier 1 law firms.

Lastly, please remember that some people may succeed because they are destined to, but majority of the people succeed because they are determined to.

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