I recently quit my job as an in-house counsel in a prominent media and entertainment company to try and pursue another passion – writing.
I have been writing ever since I can remember. My earliest memory from childhood was of making up poems about stars and other celestial objects. So, at the back of my mind, I always knew that I had to pursue writing seriously at some point in my career. And here I am giving it a shot.
It is an excellent change of pace for a compulsive planner like me. I had planned and mapped my entire life in my teens. It was going to be five years of law school, a series of great internships with the best criminal lawyers, and then a career on to becoming a successful litigator. Every moment in my life was mapped towards this dream.
I had done mostly litigation based internships throughout law school to become a litigating lawyer. I had interned with lawyers in Calcutta High Court and the Supreme Court. My passion towards litigation was so intense that I was interning with a civil lawyer during the day and a criminal lawyer in the evening! It was hard and involved a lot of commutes, but I felt it was worth it. I was living my dream!
Then, I graduated.
After graduation, I relied on all my old contacts to find a job that pays! The problem for freshers in litigation is that they lack experience (obviously), and therefore it is difficult finding a job that pays at all in the beginning. Finding an excellent senior as a litigation lawyer, someone who is willing to mentor and pay, is like finding a needle in a haystack. The good ones will not take you without good references and the ones who hire you will not pay!
So how do you make a living and follow your passion?
Firstly, I moved back home from Delhi after a series of infructuous interviews. It was a rookie mistake. I should have stayed and tried my luck for a few more months maybe. However, as any self-righteous individual, I did not want to take more money from my father. This, in hindsight, was another bad idea.
I joined a senior civil lawyer in the City Civil Court for about four months and no pay. The idea of following my passion for only learning lasted so long. I could not make it without a salary as I had a student loan dangling over my head. So I quit the job. Thereafter, I joined a litigation law firm to learn the job and secretly hoped to get in touch with the senior lawyers and impress them with my work! It seemed like a rational plan at the time. I would say it worked, but only for a while.
Some of the litigation firms in Kolkata pay well depending on your work. As luck had for me, mine did not. Soon, I was networking with the right people, and everything seemed more or less in order. As I realised that I wanted to litigate in the long run, I needed to aim for more. I needed to have other paying clients on the side because the firm would only revise my salary at year end. Through my referrals and contacts, I was getting paying clients, but they did not want to go to court. They needed someone to draft rental agreements or employment contract or a sale of property deed and the likes.
This was when I realised that the first rule for a young lawyer is that you never say no to paying clients. So what do you do? You learn how to do the job at hand.
Contract drafting is not like a walk in the park. It takes diligence, knowledge and practice. Even with my writing skills and theoretical knowledge, I could only draft basic contracts. However, if you’ve ever dealt with a client, you’d know that different clients have different (and sometimes very particular) requirements. That meant I had to look up regulations and various laws from time to time. I had to do the extra work for the extra money to cover my expenses and student loan.
This was a silver lining for me as a young litigation lawyer who knows how to draft contracts. There were things that I learnt and did which helped me prepare for the next step in my career. I could not see it at the time. Here is a list I made so that you do not miss out on this option:
1. Convenient Way To Earn and Learn
I had relatives and referrals coming to me for drafting contracts. Initially, I was hesitant. Due to litigation, I never really had the opportunity to draft any contracts during my internships. I knew almost nothing about developing an air-tight contract or even a passable one. Today we have online courses available on contract drafting, negotiation and dispute resolution which are quite helpful not only for law students but also for working professionals who are under a time crunch.
But at the time, all I had at hand was DeSouza’s Forms and Precedents Of Conveyancing. Just like everyone else, I had to go online and search for templates of leave and license agreements, partnership agreements, the sale of property agreements, wills, etc. Anyone who came with any work of drafting, I took.
Initially, I was afraid while drafting these agreements. I was far from an expert, but the clients had real-life grievances and interests to protect. It gave me both a sense of responsibility and validation to be able to draft these contracts. These clients trusted me enough to get their work done and were paying me for it!
Procuring the templates is the easy way out if you’d like just to earn money on the side. If you don’t know anything about online template agreements let me warn you firsthand: they need a lot of modifications! It ensures that you fail in giving your 100% unless and until you’re astute and you make sure that your client’s interests are well-protected.
I had to learn labour laws such as Minimum Wages Act, Employees’ Provident Fund and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, etc. to be able to understand and structure an employment agreement. I did not know which laws were applicable, so I had to go through most of them until I figured it out. It was time-consuming.
What seemed like time wasted on studying about various laws while drafting came in handy when I had to comment on a labour dispute matter. My senior was impressed with my knowledge of labour laws and thereby started allotting me more matters. It was an enriching learning experience for me. I was learning and as well as earning on the side.
2. Increase in Clientele
One of my first clients wanted me to make him a sale agreement for a property. He was a businessman from the commercial area of Burra Bazar in Kolkata. I did not know much about him; I just took it as another drafting job. I drafted the agreement as well I could, and he made the payment. Six months later, he came to me with a dispute which arose with the sale. The party was refusing to pay the final instalment. He asked me for legal advice. I sent out a demand notice on his behalf citing the actionable clauses and told him, if needed I will talk to the buyer.
This dispute took much longer to resolve than I had ascertained. But, the client was so grateful that he referred some of his friends to me in similar dealings. He was happy with the fact that I did not give up on the client after the agreement was done. For me, it wasn’t such a big deal since I was perpetually in the chamber. Either swamped with firm work and doing contract drafting on the side, I used to be in office for longer hours than my colleagues. However, the fact that I remembered the client and helped him out with the dispute was a lesson in people management.
Your client will remember – both when you cater to them or snub them. You may be burdened with work, but the time you take out for your client is never wasted. It comes around differently and fruitfully in most cases.
3. Stepping Stone in Your Career
You can’t not only draft petitions and applications but also draft contracts as well. Which would mean that you understand the business and the needs of it. This isn’t quality or skill that everyone possesses, and if you do, you’d be sought after.
The reason I took up contract drafting while working as a Junior Advocate was to increase the amount of money I was earning to pay the bills and an education loan. I could have focused all my energies on litigation which was my goal. But I was not in the right financial position to make that decision. All that I had learnt improved my work and thereby my reputation at my day job.
Sure, it was hard work. I used to work every night on my laptop for the next day’s matters. Taking a few hours out to make extra money and learn more was like a bonus. In fact, I’d like to think that I was optimally utilising my time by drafting contracts on the side. In a matter of months, not only did it help in building my contract drafting clientele, but it also gave me more clients for litigation too. Eventually, I was getting clients for my firm! If that does not impress the bosses, I don’t know what may!
My interest in drafting contracts soon grew to surpass my interest in litigation. The financial aspect may have factored into my decision as well. I needed to make more money than I was currently making. It led me to take skill development more seriously, and I went on to intern with a company to learn corporate strategies and contract drafting. I was asked about contract drafting in my interview and thanks to my thriving side business, and I was able to show some hands-on experience. Maybe that’s why I was asked to strategise from day one on issues that were way beyond my pay grade.
The point is, no knowledge is wasted in the long run. This very corporate internship led me to my next job: working in the in-house legal department of an entertainment company. I had four wonderful, enriching years working for that company.
None of us can be too sure about where we might end up. We can make plans and work towards them, but things may change. We can take advantage of the opportunities as we go along and hopefully develop more skills along the way. Because our skill-sets and knowledge are what remains with us. We should keep them sharp by learning the most. If you’re interested in learning contract drafting from industry insiders, there are now year-long diploma courses on advance contract drafting that will help you get the best practical insights from lawyers who’ve been doing this for years! In fact, these courses will not focus on teaching you only through reading materials, but through webcasts (both live and pre-recorded) with industry panellists, drafting exercises that will not only be guided but also reviewed.
The choice is yours. Would you like to learn it the hard way, as I did? Or would you avail the opportunities that technology has now made possible?