5 Q&A from my law student mentoring session #1

I recently realised that I have gained a considerable number of law student connections on my Linkedin profile due to this blog. It gave me the idea to start what I have always wanted to do – mentoring law students and young lawyers.

It’s no secret that every young professional needs a bit of guiding and hand-holding to reach their full potential, However, legal profession is notorious for being quite the unfriendly workplace. Unless you discover a great senior who is willing to help you, it’s “learn on your own” at every sphere – be it litigation, law firm job or in-house counsel. That’s mainly because lawyers are an extremely overworked bunch of people and do not have the time (and sometimes inclination) to teach a newbie. Moreover, the prevailing attitude is that since traditionally, law is a profession where you are expected to learn by observing your seniors, so there’s no need for any active hand-holding.

I have experienced firsthand, the benefits of mentorship. I understood that a good mentor is someone whom you can ask questions, even the silliest of them all, who will, on their own, come and tell you if you are doing something wrong and who will always have your best interest at heart, no matter what.

Law students, especially when they are about to graduate and enter the workforce are at a critical juncture with many doubts in their minds. So, I asked for applications from five such 4th and 5th year students, from any law school on my Linkedin page through a DM. I also asked them to send me a list of their probable questions. I chose my first group based on the diversity of the questions received. My idea is to have one-on-one video calls with them to address their queries. Lastly, my plan is to have a Whatsapp group with these set of students, and future ones, so that they can continue to have a patient listening ear from me and from each other. I also want to foster an attitude of being helpful to each other, and a culture of paying it forward by mentoring other youngsters when the time comes.

In this article, I write about the 5 main questions I received in my first law student mentoring session and my answers to them. Hope it helps you.

N is a final year law student from a non-NLU law university. Here are some of her questions that came up during our one hour of chat.

On having clarity on the field to choose

It’s pretty overwhelming to be in the final year of law school and wondering which path to choose from. I am sure many law students would have this doubt in mind, given that law opens doors of many career paths. Some might feel they have an interest in a particular subject and when they get a job in that particular area, the practical application might turn out to be not so exciting. There’s no way to find out till one is actually in the thick of it. It’s normal for law students to try and choose the correct path right at the beginning to avoid any mistake.

My take on this conundrum is simple. I feel, at the end of the day, every law student is aspiring for a job with decent pay at the end of their five years of study. Being from a non-NLU University without a placement cell, it’s all the more imperative for N to be smart about her choices. We discussed a variety of options eg. PSUs, academics, policy work, legal recruitment, legal publication companies, legal journalism, apart from the usual law firm and company jobs. When all options are in the radar, it will be easy for N to pivot quickly to another if one of her options is not working out.

It’s a fact that non-NLU students will have to work extra hard , at the fresher level, to get in the job market. After that, only their work would matter and playing field levels up.

On right time to do LLM – right after graduation or after work experience

While we were discussing on how to overcome the handicap of her non-NLU tag, I suggested her to do an LLM from a good NLU right after her graduation. Having said that, one must be cognizant of the fact that an LLM is supposed to be a stepping stone into academics. Many people do an LLM post some work experience for many reasons, one being, they want to change into another area of law and need a degree to break into the job market for that particular area.

My advice is – an LLM is essential for pursing an academic career; immensely helpful for a change over; and can be considered to add brand value to one’s CV in a case like N’s. You must understand that this decision is very personal and will depend on a lot of factors, including finances. So what I advised N in my first law student mentoring session might not apply to you.

On having command over a law subject

Three things –

a) Know the statute inside out.

b) Subscribe to SCC Online blog or Live Law to keep updated about the latest judgment in that subject.

c) Set up a Google alert for news in that area.

As long as you can demonstrate that you are conversant about the statute and are aware of the latest development, you are good to go for a job interview. No lawyer, not even the senior most one, can claim to have a command on any area. After all, law as a subject, is a life long process of learning.

On learning practical aspects of law

Practical aspects of law are picked up only through work experience. It’s an unfortunate fact that our law schools are not able to offer enough opportunities for students to learn practical aspects of law. One can take as many courses or attend as many webinars as he can, but only a job will provide the best and the fastest way to learn the practical nuances.

Does that mean you, as a law student, wouldn’t even attempt to learn it? Of course not.

Like I mentioned in my last article, a law student should try to maximise his internship opportunities as much as possible. Don’t be content with only research assignments. Get into the work that a law firm associate actually does.

The other subject where one can learn while in law school is drafting of contracts and other pleadings. There are a plethora of courses on this topic these days, covering a wide range of costs. Another way to learn drafting is by practicing a lot of it. In this law student mentoring session, I suggested to N to just pick up a topic, draft that agreement by herself and compare it with internet templates.

On what to focus on now, for hiring in 2021

Building the CV for all possible avenues should be the focus now. For N, that means doing virtual internships in law firms she wants to apply to, keeping an eye on Linkedin Jobs and Glassdoor Jobs to see what kind of in-house jobs are posted and the skills required for them, preparing for CLAT for a good score, for twin path of LLM in a good NLU and PSU jobs, spending some time on exploring the other non-conventional legal career choice to see what else to focus on.

It might seem overwhelming at first, but I feel this exercise will also help N to introspect and understand what she really wants. Many of us have been in a position where in our final year of law school, we thought law firms were the holy grail of recruitment, only to leave that job within 2/3 years of joining. I am all for doing mistakes in the choice – that will only open up further doors later – but I don’t encourage anyone to be super specific in their choice now. It makes adaptability difficult in the event you have to settle for something other than your first choice.

I will end with a personal anecdote. When I was appearing for my campus placement in January 2009, I had no inkling I would end up in the litigation team of a law firm. I had my eyes set on the glamorous corporate law firms and companies. But then, I went onto work in Khaitan & Co for 3 years, gained immense practical knowledge in court procedure, drafting, client servicing, time management and even arguing before the Bench, demonstrated the same in my interview and got an offer from ITC Limited, have been working here for the past 8 years during which the knowledge gained in those 3 years have always come handy whenever I have had to draft pleadings, brief senior counsel, strategise on high-stake litigation and manage internal Business people. So what started as an “accidental practice area” for me became the greatest boon in disguise for my career.

Hope this article will help you if you are also faced with similar doubts as N. All the best!

If you have any questions, feel free to comment or send me an email at [email protected],

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