“From Law Student to a Leading Corporate Lawyer: Shantanu Jindel’s Journey and Insights”

shantanu jindel

Mr Shantanu Jindel, a distinguished Partner at IndusLaw, is a highly accomplished legal professional with more than a decade of experience across diverse practice areas including general corporate, corporate restructuring, mergers and acquisitions (M&A), and private equity investments. He is a graduate of the National University of Juridical Sciences in Kolkata. His exceptional knowledge and skill set have made him a sought-after practitioner in the industry.

Tanya Sharma, an EBC/SCC OnLine Student Ambassador currently pursuing law at Amity Law School, Noida, had the privilege of interviewing Mr Shantanu Jindel. This interview delves into his inspiring journey, his insights into the legal profession, and his expertise in various areas of law.

1. Please describe what led you to choose a career in law and discuss your journey from being a law student to entering the legal profession?

During my last two years at the high school, I was preparing for engineering entrance exams (as was typical for students studying in Tier II cities, and I come from Jaipur). It was during this time that I realised that the idea of one problem having many solutions was very exciting for me. I also enjoyed interacting with different people and understanding their thought processes. I was very keen that what I do in the long term should not only be financially rewarding but should also be intellectually stimulating. While I was struggling with all these thoughts, I discovered that few of my friends were preparing for law entrance exams. I had neither heard of any law school nor had I interacted with anyone who had graduated from any university offering a 5-year integrated course. However, without worrying about the outcome, I decided to take law entrance exams — because it seemed to offer me an opportunity be a part of something more exciting than an engineering course. As luck would have it, I managed to get through to NUJS And did not think twice before accepting the offer.

While law schools have a rigorous curriculum, there remains a significant gap between legal education and the practice of law. Internships do provide a high-level insight into what the legal profession may entail, but due to the nature of the profession — a brief internship is also at best a trailer. M&A and private equity are only terms thrown around without law schools actually giving any visibility on what these mean (or at least this was the case a decade ago). So, when I graduated from the law school, I was still struggling to identify what areas of law would be interesting enough to devote substantial part of my career too. While in the process of looking for a job (especially the one with a good mentor) in top tier law firms, I decided to join PXV Law Partners (which eventually merged with Khaitan and Co.). While working at PXV, I received valuable mentorship and exposure at an early age. What seemed gruelling and unreasonably demanding at that stage turned out to be the foundation of my career. What I also learned was that ultimately careers in law are built on discipline, perseverance, patience and work ethic rather than flashes of brilliance.

2. What motivated you to pursue M&A and private equity practice, and how did you develop a special interest in the healthcare and life sciences sectors?

For the first couple of years after graduation, working with a startup law firm gave me the opportunity to dabble in a lot of different practice areas, including litigation. Eventually, I realised that each practice area needs specialisation and being a jack of all trades will not achieve anything in this age and era. When it came to making a choice, I found myself choosing corporate law as it gave me a greater sense of control on the outcome as compared to litigation. Within the stream of corporate law, working on M&A and private equity transactions allowed me to interact with entrepreneurs and investors across sectors who have successfully created (and often from a scratch) and nurtured businesses, and taken risks which have yielded significant rewards. All these factors along with occasional travel for work made this option interesting for me.

As far as the healthcare sector is concerned, my introduction to it as a lawyer was a mere chance. While as a science student biology and chemistry were not my favourite subjects, but as a lawyer one looks at these issues with a different lens. With the emergence of med-tech, telemedicine and artificial intelligence, the interface between healthcare, law and technology has increased manifold and one needs to understand all these aspects to navigate the regulatory landscape. Further, the constituents of healthcare and pharma sector are very diverse — ranging from ayurveda to allopathy and hospitals to specialised clinics. The healthcare sector presents significant opportunities and challenges — it is heavily regulated and growing at an exponential pace, where good legal advice can make or break a deal. Further, given how India is poised to take significant strides forward in the healthcare sector, it is an exciting time to be focusing on this as the law and the industry keep on catching up with each other.

3. Reflecting on your early years as a lawyer, what obstacles did you encounter and how did the skills honed during your time in law school aid you in surmounting them?

I believe that even though law schools do not churn out law graduates who can be directly integrated into the practice of law, they help you build skills which are integral to the practice of law. While the curriculum at the law schools is also rigorous, the main difference between studying law and practising law is that while as a student underperformance does not impact others and can be rectified over time, sub-par performance at a law firm (even over a short period of time) will impact others (such as team members and clients) and will not go unnoticed.

Having said that, during the time at the law school, a typical law student is likely to develop qualities like perseverance/hard work, analytical thinking, time management, articulation and command over language, and the ability to grow with the right guidance and healthy competition. All these traits come in very useful when you join a law firm as a young attorney. Your seniors are themselves likely to be graduates of these law schools and would know very well what to expect from someone who has graduated but has not practised law. In the early years your performance as an associate is directly a function of what habits or traits you developed as a law student and what you studied or scored does not add much. In fact, one of the reasons why students with top ranks are preferred by some of the law firms is because it is assumed they would be sincere and hardworking and not because they will know more law than their peers.

4. How have you kept yourself updated on the latest legal developments to better assist your clients?

I think a blend of inquisitiveness and discipline helps me in keeping abreast with the latest legal developments. I am generally keen to know what the latest developments in the fields of law are. I take breaks during my day in office to read the news feed for the recent updates. Where my inquisitiveness does not push me hard enough, my sense of discipline kicks-in, as with frequent changes in legal regime it is difficult to stay relevant without staying up to date. Also, I discovered that writing on legal topics is a very effective way of understanding issues in greater detail. Once you choose to write on a legal development you are bound to deep dive into the change in law as well as its potential implications.

5. Could you share some insights into what a young corporate lawyer must keep in mind while working on high stake transactions?

As a young attorney working on a high stake and fast paced transaction can be overwhelming. It is important to not get bogged down and retain composure and focus. One way to achieve this is to ensure that you understand your role and deliverables well even if this means reaching out to your senior with questions which you believe are not very intelligent. For a senior attorney, repeating the instructions is always easier that redoing the entire task. When I entered the transactional practice, I discovered that the easiest way to make sure I was on the same page as my senior (with respect to a deliverable) was to summarise what I had understood to be the task before I began to spend any time working on it. This would make sure that any gaps in understanding would be identified upfront and corrected, and occasionally made the instructing attorney also realise that instructions were not clear.

Another important aspect to keep in mind is that one should always remain honest with one’s own self. This will help in acknowledging the mistakes instead of covering them up because mistakes can only be corrected once they are acknowledged. As a mentor, it is easier to guide someone who lacks ability but has the willingness as compared to someone who has the ability but lacks the willingness.

6. How has your experience of working at some of the top law firms (such as JSA and IndusLaw) shaped your approach to advising clients on legal matters?

Right mentorship and exposure in the initial part of the career helped me understand how the requirements of the clients need to be understood and catered to. During the process I also learned when to be assertive and hold the ground and when to acknowledge that my approach was not best suited for what the client needed.

Frequently, at law firms you learn from your peer group as much as you learn from your seniors and mentors. I was fortunate to have a peer group (at all my workplaces) which was very hard working, focused, driven and helpful. This allowed me to witness alternative approaches to handling any given situation and broadened my understanding of how a situation could be dealt with.

Lastly, each one of us needs to play to our strengths and work on our weaknesses. Similarly, each attorney needs to discover his or her own style of working, handling clients and situations, dealing with juniors, peers, and senior colleagues. A top law firm should be able to provide the atmosphere where an attorney can discover all this while contributing to the firm’s practice.

7. As a legal professional with significant experience in diverse practice areas, how do you view the role and significance of legal research engines such as SCC OnLine in facilitating legal research and staying abreast of legal developments, particularly in the context of cross-border transactions and investments?

I believe that knowledge is the foundation of the legal profession and practising law without having an in-depth knowledge of the subject-matter is not only unfair to the client but also unethical. Also, frequently, merely knowing the letter of law may not be sufficient and one would need to know the various views on that issue which are prevalent in the industry. In the current day and age, online search engines (such as SCC OnLine) do a wonderful job of making available such legal resources at one place. I have been using SCC OnLine since I was an intern and I do remember that we always got instructions to pull out an SCC citation (instead of the other options available). SCC is not only a great source for judicial precedents but also articles by legal luminaries which are very enriching.

Specifically for cross-border transactions and investments, while advising a client one would need to have in-depth knowledge of corporate laws, exchange control laws and sector specific laws (depending upon the sector in which the transaction is happening). So, having access to online legal databases is equally critical. For example, foreign clients frequently like to know the real risks associated with an action/inaction and pay weightage to the views of the courts (in similar facts and circumstances) while deciding the future course of action. In such a scenario, it is natural for the counsels to use online legal search engines to research.

8. What advice would you give to law students who are interested in pursuing a career in your areas of expertise?

There is a saying — when the why is clear, the how is easy. I have had the opportunity to interact with a lot of college students these days and what I have noticed that a large majority of them want to make a career in corporate law without understanding what it entails. This is due to many factors — some perceive it as well paying and prestigious; others have taken a liking to it basis what they have seen on various media platforms. My first advice to law students would be to experiment with their choices till they truly believe that they have discovered what kind of legal practice would they want to devote their careers to. Legal profession is a demanding one and the sooner one finds what he or she likes (even after multiple experiments and failures) the higher the chances of having a successful and a sustainable career.

There is another saying — if you want to glow like the sun, you must burn like the sun. This could not have been truer for law (as a profession) than anything else. A career in law grows slowly but once you put in hard work and create a solid foundation it is typically built to last. Any expectation of overnight success is going to be disappointing.

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