Sayantan Bhattacharyya

Sayantan Bhattacharyya is currently an MBA candidate (PGP 2025) at IIM Ahmedabad. He has completed his BBA LLB (Hons.) from Symbiosis Law School, Pune. He formerly worked as an Associate at Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co., in the firm’s capital markets team, at its Delhi office.

1. Now before we try to understand the journey leading to doing an MBA, the first question would be what made you choose law?

I have found business fascinating for the longest time. At school, I would find the notion of being in decision-making roles appealing, even though I understood nothing about the training that went into it. I had spoken to a lot of my friends back then, about options for undergraduate study, to get into decision-making roles (especially in glamorised transactional roles, given what I saw in the media) and law seemed like a good choice. The preparation also seemed quite relaxed, compared to other undergraduate entrance examinations, so I decided to write the legal entrance examinations. I got an AIR 594 in the CLAT— which got me shortlisted for Hidayatullah National Law University (HNLU)in the first list. However, I had a rank of AIR 1 from my branch, so I got a scholarship that took care of 50% of my tuition. As a result, I ended up deciding on Symbiosis Law School, Pune, opting for the BBA LLB (Hons.) programme, to remain aligned with my interest in studying Business Management as well.

I had an amazing time there. I enthusiastically took part in various extracurricular activities at the institution. I engaged in a lot of parliamentary debating, being fortunate enough to qualify for the open rounds at the World Universities Debating Championship, 2020, in Thailand, and the Asian British Parliamentary Championship later that year. I was also fortunate enough to qualify for the international rounds at the International Criminal Court Moot in 2020, but unfortunately, COVID-19 struck, so the oral rounds at The Hague got cancelled. That apart, I loved research while at Symbiosis Law School (SLS), and got a chance to publish with reputable publications like Arbitration International (Oxford University Press), the Oxford Human Rights Hub Blog, and Opinio Juris.

I had good academics, I was ranked 7th out of nearly 135 students in my cohort. I knew, I wanted to study further, and fortunately, with my batch rank, I knew I could apply for a good LLM degree too. However, I eventually shifted my focus to MBA because I believed that it would give me considerably more practical skills. Having said that, I did not want to read for an MBA right out of law school and decided that it would be better to have some work experience. I had an internship lined up with Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co., towards the end of my final year. I joined the firm’s capital markets team in Delhi as an intern, and I was immensely blessed to get a pre-placement offer (PPO) from them at the end of my term.

Working at SAM was wonderful. The people in the equity capital markets team at the firm are some of the nicest and most incredible individuals that I have come across. The team also routinely handles some of the biggest deals in the country. I wrote the CFA Level 1 in August 2022, scoring a 90th percentile, and that helped me realise my interest in finance. Following that, I took the CAT Exam in November and got quite lucky with how it turned out. I got calls from Ahmedabad, and a range of other IIMs — but in all fairness, if I was going to leave my team at SAM, then I knew that it had to be for IIM-A only. Now, I will be honest, I felt kind of bittersweet when my offer letter came in, because I had grown quite attached to the people in my team. However, IIM-A had been a dream forever for me. I ended up posting my acceptance, and in a few weeks, I was seated inside the institution’s lecture halls.

2. It is often said that “A” in IIM-A stands for academics, what do you think is the academic rigour at IIM Ahmedabad?

It is very intense. You have three classes almost every day of the week. You should hope for Saturday and Sunday to be free, which was the case for our seniors, but for us, they introduced Saturday classes from Term 2. Separately, you have case preparation and readings almost every day over here, which you need to keep up with, because if you skip it for even a day, you are unlikely to be able to properly catch up later. People realise this very early on, in Term 1 itself. You are also working on building your CV till the 15th of August, which is a very rigorous process. I have some constraints on how much I can speak about that process, so I will leave it at the fact that it is very demanding.

They will look into proof for everything that you put into your CV, very deeply. After that, you are preparing for your interviews, because you have your summer internship interviews in November. The first six months or so at IIM-A tests the determination and grit that you have within yourself. You end up sleeping less on the regular. But it is an experience you will be proud of in hindsight.

Reflecting on that time, I think it teaches you that you will have to let go of some things to achieve your priorities — “trade-offs” in MBA language. So, if you have ten tasks, you will probably only be able to do seven, and it will teach you how to prioritise things to get there. With frequent surprise quizzes, which are not a thing in Bangalore or Calcutta, I believe it adds to the pressure. Even within IIM ABC, I think the institutions have unique characteristics. IIM-A focuses on academics, rigorous topic coverage, the case method, and intra-institutional networking. So, while the colleges are broadly equal in terms of placements, if someone is trying to choose between these three as a lawyer, they can take a call in accordance with how those characteristics align with what they want out of an MBA degree. Anyhow, coming back, as you mentioned, it is very academically rigorous, tests your time management skills, and the first six months are deadly.

3. In the legal industry, I am sure you have had a lot of great interactions with a wide variety of people, and especially because lawyers tend to interact with C-suite at a very early stage, how do you think your network has changed because of attending IIM-A?

It has changed in some very interesting ways. I think there is a certain degree of benefit to being from a law firm prior to joining an MBA programme because you will be liaising with professionals very near to the C-suite at some very big companies. How it changes after coming to business school, I would say, is that you will have alumni interactions during your internship process when you are interviewed. You will get to speak with associates, vice-presidents, and directors at bulge bracket investment banks and management consultants at the most prestigious corporate institutions like McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Bain.

While interviewing you, they will give you genuine chances of expressing your ideas. I believe that this develops depth in your network at the topmost level in Indian industries — and that, I would say, is a far greater exposure to networking than what you can achieve even after many years of working in a law firm. This is particularly potent, because the benefit at IIM-A is that you are building connections in the principal side of business transactions which generates business for all the other professional service institutions, including law firms, management consultancies, investment banks, and so forth. That is undoubtedly a fantastic network to have.

Lastly, IIM Ahmedabad is very focused on integrating you into the “A” culture. So, your network with professors, your batchmates, and alumni from clubs that you are a part of, is built by the virtue of and as a direct outcome of the institution’s pedigree. You have these dinners, during your placement processes, where you interact with successful alumni in various roles. Naturally, these are fantastic networking opportunities for someone in the early stages of their career, and they are provided to you regularly. My network has become phenomenally better after coming here as a result, and I think that this will be a symmetric benefit that anybody who comes from law will garner, irrespective of being in a top law firm.

4. How close would you say your life is to the portrayal of student life in the movie Two-States?

I think many core elements of the plot would not apply to me. But, it is an absolutely lovely place. Yeah, I mean, you make a lot of friends, from immensely diverse undergraduate disciplines, and the programme ensures that people are always awake and talking to each other because there is always just too much work to deal with. You bond very well with people in your study groups with your batchmates. Then you will have these quirky, “traditional” IIMA things like you have this event called “T-nite” at IIMA, which is a talent competition between sections during your first year. You will also have these sports competitions, called “Sangharsh” and “Aakrosh”. Overall, these events make sure that you get tightly knit together as a batch.

Then during your summer placement process, you will get allocated mentors, typically from the institution itself. They will also share their perspective on how things were during their time at IIMA. I was fortunate to interview with a lot of firms, including, for instance, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, J.P. Morgan, McKinsey, BCG, and Bain. So, I was able to speak with a lot of alums from these places. It was great hearing about how things were when these people were on campus, you know. Surprisingly, a lot of the “big” events at IIM-A have remained similar and enjoyable despite many years having passed. So, insofar as it comes to living your college life to the fullest, I would say, you would find a whole host of experiences that you may want within this space.

5. How does being a lawyer help you with academics? Do you think we would have an advantage in that?

I think that unless you are coming from a college where the core subjects are somewhat like what they teach at IIM-A, nobody has an advantage here in terms of coursework per se. Also, the curriculum is very well-developed and frequently updated. It is also something where everyone will have some subjects at which they are good. So overall, I would say you will have some areas where you will have an innate sense for concepts and others where you will have to work hard.

There are various courses where lawyers will have an obvious edge. For instance, there is this course called “Legal Aspects of Business”, which focuses on commercial laws, in the first term itself. It is a one credit course, making it the second most important course in Term 1 from a grade’s perspective.

Separately, IIM Ahmedabad is also known to be difficult because there is an orientation here towards incredible precision when it comes to answers, which may or may not be there in various colleges. Finally, there definitely are benefits for lawyers in courses that are reading focused, like marketing— you will have to read a lot for marketing, articles, and extensive cases accompany almost every class. You may also be good at Finance, Economics, HR, etc. depending on your interests prior to business-school. Maths, I would say, is hard for lawyers at the beginning. After say three or five years, you are suddenly faced with advanced probability and statistics problems, which may be somewhat startling. But I would say, the pedagogy is so beautiful, that you will end up learning it. It may be hard to get an A in Maths, but if you work towards it, I am sure it is doable.

I have done the CFA Level 1 so I found Accounts and Finance relatively easy, but others may not. You may have to learn those skills afresh. But overall, I would say there is no real disadvantage. I think areas where we are strong, are areas where say engineers are weak. They put a lot of effort into these areas and do reasonably well. I would say as a lawyer, if you put in effort, you will do well too. I have a good grade point average (GPA) currently, and many of my lawyer friends have really good GPAs too. So, it is very much achievable.

6. In terms of placements or listing placement, is there a disadvantage or an advantage for a lawyer in that aspect?

I do not think that is a disadvantage at all. For instance, I had a very, very successful run. I had interview shortlists from a wide range of institutions, including McKinsey, BCG, Bain, and Kearney in consulting, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, J.P. Morgan, Citi, HSBC and Avendus in banking, and so forth. I think the fact that I had worked in capital markets at SAM also held some good value there, but I know a lot of my friends who are lawyers without professional experience, get consulting shortlists, and marketing shortlists, and some even managed a couple of finance shortlists here and there. For the summer internship process, there is no disadvantage at all for lawyers, I would say. As long as you can structure your CV well, you will have a great shot almost everywhere.

7. What is the plan ahead?

I will be interning with Bank of America in their global investment banking team for my summers. Having started out in capital markets at SAM, and liking it it, I would want to stay in finance long term. I love transactions — some people find diligence and negotiations boring, but they excite me. Diligence, in any case, is just one element of a transaction, just sort of fighting with people negotiating on a regular basis gives you a lot of masala for life, which is something that I find exciting. I would say I want to stay in the transactional space and keep working in this domain going forward.

8. What specific skills or life lessons do you think you learnt that you would remember for the rest of your life or find life-altering in some fashion?

In terms of technical skills without a doubt, I have learned a lot. For instance, I have become comfortable with MS Excel, a large range of frameworks for thought, and quite a lot of maths. There is this course called Managerial Computing, which you encounter in your first term itself. It is a fantastic course because it acquaints you terrifically well with Excel. Even as somebody who is uninitiated in the software, learns how to handle complex problems on it.

In maths, they have taught us a lot of probability and statistics at quite a high level— including how to run regressions in varied contexts, and some degree of programming to conduct the same. Other skills that I have picked up in this respect, include using linear programming, dealing with stochastic processes, creating simulations for deep uncertainty, and so on.

Outside of this, IIMA’s case method contextualises skills across functions, like Finance, Marketing, HR, etc. In Marketing, you learn contextualised product strategies; in corporate finance, you will learn the nitty-gritty of capital structures, valuation, and asset classes; in organisational behaviour, you will learn organisational design and systems thinking; in strategy, you learn intelligent frameworks for managing trade-offs— the list just keeps going on. I think the case method itself is beautiful because you are gaining experience with every case that you read. If somebody is diligent and adheres to preparing well for their cases, they can get a ton of invaluable insights.

9. Do you have any suggestions for lawyers/law students preparing for IIM interviews?

Yes, they should look at legal current affairs, for instance, including things like one’s opinion on Article 377, labour law reforms, etc. For contract law, which is something that most lawyers will be quite well versed with, keep in mind the five main ways contracts may fail, fraud, misrepresentation, undue influence, coercion, and mistake. Know about basic company law, covering types of corporate entities, what kinds of goods securities are, how an entity issues shares, directors’ duties, etc.

Try reading three to five articles from The Economic Times, The Economist, etc. on a regular basis. Be comfortable with Static GK, covering History, Geography, Politics, and so forth. If you do not know something in the interview, just acknowledge that, say that it is not something that you find a lot of interest in — but never lie. Lastly, pick a subject from law school which you can highlight as your favourite subject. You may also pick something that an average B-school professor would know— so, a subject like constitutional law, for instance.

10. Do you ever rely on your legal research skills at IIM-A? Does it help you?

It helps me every day. As a lawyer, you will be able to read cases faster than many of your peers. Reading, say judgments and academic papers during law school directly translates into being better at reading cases and retaining information. The same thing goes for writing since you will have to write a lot of articles for your coursework. Finally, you will know how to structure your thinking, answers, and articles quite well — as a result of experience in mooting, debating, and academic publishing.

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