Tania Singla

1. To begin with, kindly tell us a bit about yourself and your journey in the profession.

As an international arbitration lawyer, I regularly work with companies and States to help them manage legal risks in their cross-border operations, especially commercial and construction disputes. I am qualified to practise as an advocate in India and as a Solicitor in England and Wales.

I started my professional career as an associate in the international arbitration team of White & Case LLP in Paris. Prior to joining White & Case, I interned with arbitration teams of leading international firms in Frankfurt, Geneva and Paris. When I did these internships, the intention was to attain some work experience in Europe before I headed back to India to start my litigation career. To my surprise, White & Case offered me an associate position, which was an incredible opportunity, and I joined their arbitration team in Paris. Earlier this year, I decided to take a short break after nearly 3.5 years with White & Case and I am currently in India to work on a personal project.

In addition to my legal work, I regularly teach courses on commercial and investment arbitration. I also conduct skills-based workshops on legal writing and research. My latest venture is my LinkedIn series called “What Your Partner Wants You to Know”, where I post actionable tips and insights for junior lawyers to help them succeed in their law firms. If you are a junior lawyer, I highly recommend following the series (completely without bias, of course).

2. When did you decide to pursue law and what were your motivations? Did you always know what you wanted to do or did you take things as they came?

I joined NLU Delhi in 2011 but I had no plans of becoming a lawyer. My career goal at the time was to write the UPSC Exam and become a civil servant just like my father. My vision was clear, so I joined the Arts stream in high school despite scoring 97.3% in my 10th board exams in ICSE. I wanted to study subjects that would be an asset in my future role as administrator, and I believed that law would be a natural fit. And that is how I landed in law school.

3. You earned your BA LLB degree from National Law University, Delhi. How did you spend these 5 years?

When I started studying at NLU Delhi, my intention was to become a civil servant, so I did not feel the pressure to build my CV in any way. I approached all the opportunities in law school with curiosity and an open mind. I tried my hand at as many activities as I could — this includes mooting, debating, theatre, sports, publishing research papers, attending conferences, organising on college events and working on community projects — and this process helped me identify the ones that I was passionate about. I participated actively in moot court competitions, published several research papers (including an Oxford book chapter with one of my professors) and was a member of the NLU Delhi team working in collaboration with Tihar Jail to review bail applications of undertrial detainees.

Trying out different activities at university gave me the opportunity to meet some wonderful seniors and juniors who went on to become dear friends. I was incredibly fortunate that my student batch was incredibly supportive, hard-working, and ambitious, and they inspired me to work harder. But we also had our share of fun on campus during all kinds of formal and informal events including Holi and Secret Santa!

As I continued with my courses and internships in law school, I slowly began to fall in love with the practice of law. My professors went beyond the legislation text — they pushed me to think critically and question my worldview in the classroom, and I carry that with me even today.

Soon, my career goals began to change, and I decided that I wanted to practice law instead of becoming a civil servant. Once I took that decision, I focused on intellectual property law initially as my specialisation. However, when I did an internship with an IP boutique firm, I found that I did not enjoy the practice after all. I also did a couple of internships with corporate law firms but that was not the path for me. I stumbled onto arbitration in my fourth year entirely by chance and enjoyed it so much that I decided to apply for an arbitration LLM instead of sitting for placements. Looking back now, the decision was really risky at the time, but I am glad that it paid off.

4. After your BA LLB, you pursued the summer school at the Paris Arbitration Academy on a scholarship. Kindly tell us more about how the summer school experience shaped your legal career.

I attended the Paris Arbitration Academy in July 2016, a month after I completed my studies at NLU Delhi. I recall how excited and nervous I was when I was standing at the Paris Airport with my bags wondering where I could get a taxi at 10 p.m. I did not know it at the time, but the Paris Arbitration Academy marked the beginning of my arbitration career in Europe.

The courses of the academy were excellent, but they were significantly more advanced than what I had studied in law school. There was a steep learning curve; and I witnessed first-hand how the practice of arbitration differs across various jurisdictions. I was exposed to so many facets of international arbitration — for example, I did not even know that the Court of Arbitration for Sport existed before I attended the academy. The academy’s program for the summer school also included social events where I had the opportunity to meet arbitration practitioners and arbitrators based in Paris, Geneva, and London. This is how my professional network in Europe began to develop, and some of these practitioners became colleagues and mentors in my professional career.

But the most rewarding aspect of the program were my fellow students who came from diverse backgrounds, both culturally and professionally. It was considerably easier to build meaningful relationships with them as we were closer in age and shared the goal of building a career in international arbitration.

If you are interested in international arbitration, I recommend the Paris Arbitration Academy program highly. The program also awards generous scholarships to some participants, and you must submit a separate application to apply for a scholarship. I was fortunate to receive one and it was sufficient to cover my expenses in Paris for those three weeks.

5. You have also pursued two subsequent LLMs. One in European & International Law in Germany and the other in International Dispute Settlement at the MIDS in Geneva. Did these postgraduate degrees help you professionally, or were they limited to an academic quest? In your opinion, what are the right motivations for a law student to pursue postgraduate studies?

Both of my LLMs played a very important role in my professional career. I received a full scholarship from the DAAD for my first LLM in Germany, which focused on European and international law. I benefited greatly from the courses on European law as they helped me understand the political and legal structure of the European Union. This was an asset during my internships especially when the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) rendered the landmark Achmea decision impacting arbitration clauses in intra-EU treaties. In fact, when a partner asked me to prepare a draft article on the implications of the judgment, my draft was so holistic that the partner invited me to be a co-author for the piece.

The MIDS LLM was an important stepping stone in my arbitration career because it helped me understand the nuances of arbitration from a practitioner’s standpoint. The courses were conducted by world-famous arbitrators and professors, renowned for their calibre and experience. Through our classroom discussions, I realised that one can be an effective counsel in an arbitration hearing only when he/she can communicate their case effectively to the Arbitral Tribunal. Lessons from my classroom at the MIDS have shaped how I approach my briefs and submissions even today and I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to do this LLM at an early stage in my career.

I do not think there are any right or wrong motivations for pursuing postgraduate studies. If you are a law student who is trying to decide whether you should study further, please take a moment to think about your career goals that you would like to pursue after your postgraduate program is over. A postgraduate program makes sense where it will be a valuable asset in your personal and/or professional growth. If you do not know the answer, you could always reach out to current and past students of the program on LinkedIn and set up a call to ask them about their experience.

6. In the past few years, the number of law students and young lawyers in India who are considering moving to Europe for job opportunities has increased by leaps and bounds. Can you shed some light on the job market in Europe to give them some perspective?

You are absolutely right — Europe has certainly become an attractive job market for law students and young lawyers in India. I speak to such young lawyers on a regular basis and in most cases, they are hoping for a permanent role with an international law firm or international organisation based in Europe. If that is your goal too, here are two things that you should know.

First, it is extremely rare for a firm or organisation in Europe to offer a permanent role at the junior level unless you have interned with them. If you are considering Europe for postgraduate studies, you should budget for at least a year after your program for your internships and plan your finances accordingly. However, these internships are not assessment internships and whether you receive an offer after your internship depends on the business needs of the organisation. It can be more difficult for Indians as we do not usually speak European languages and do not have a bar admission in Europe. So please factor that in.

Second, it is a common misconception that the same rules apply throughout Europe. But countries within Europe have different requirements for work visas, taxation rules and labour practices in their individual job markets. Therefore, it is important to be strategic about where you apply, when you apply and which role you apply for. It is a great idea to speak to other professionals in the organisation/market that you want to work in so that you can make an informed choice. I have done this on multiple occasions, and I have been very fortunate to receive some excellent insights.

7. You are quite active on LinkedIn where you share your valuable experiences and tips for the benefit of lawyers across the spectrum. In your view, how important is LinkedIn, and building a personal brand in general, for a legal professional?

In my view, building a personal brand has become imperative for lawyers because every legal professional must be an entrepreneur today — even if you are working in a law firm or a corporate organisation. Your personal brand is unique to you and it can help you curate an online “identity” that goes beyond your current work title or role. Based on my personal experience, I truly believe that LinkedIn can be a valuable tool in the process because it allows you build your personal brand and gain visibility before an international community of professionals, and it can also lead to all kinds of other opportunities.

For example, I am passionate about mentoring junior lawyers and that is why I started the “What Your Partner Wants You to Know” series on LinkedIn. I also post regularly on other issues that I have faced as an expat lawyer as well as stories for my personal and professional life. I have received notes from lawyers and professionals in different parts of the world about how my posts have resonated with them. In fact, I was recently invited on the Student Lawyer Podcast to speak about my series and share ideas on how junior lawyers can thrive in their organisations. The series is something that others on LinkedIn now associate with me in addition to arbitration and White & Case — is not that amazing?

If you are a young lawyer, start building your personal brand today. The process takes time, but it will be rewarding in the long run, I promise.

8. Finally, do you have any words of advice for young law students? Is there anything you would like to share with our readers?

To be honest, I think young law students already receive way too much advice from all quarters. But here are my two cents (just because this counts as solicited advice):

(1) Take the time to build relationships with a couple of excellent junior lawyers who are two-three years ahead of you in the legal profession. I see most law students chasing senior lawyers and law firm partners who have little time on their hands to give you proper attention. Junior lawyers tend to be more approachable as they have been where you are, and they can be a real asset in your career journey as mentors.

(2) Learn how to write good e-mails. As lawyers, we tend to focus mostly on improving our legal writing and that is also what we teach in our law schools. However, when you start working as professional, you quickly realise that 90% of your professional communication is done through e-mails. You will be surprised how many people judge the quality of your legal services based on your e-mails so please learn how to write good e-mails.

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