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This article is written by Ramanuj Mukherjee, CEO, and Kashish Khattar, Team LawSikho.

We have created a lot of content, including free downloadable books and lots of webinars on how to get a job at a law firm by the time you graduate law school. 

You can get the downloadable book on how to get a job in a big law firm here and you can subscribe to our YouTube channel here to get access to those videos.

However, getting a law firm job is probably the easy part. 

It is much more difficult to survive in these jobs. 

Imagine that you got placed in one of the prominent law firms in India.

You are excited. Life is going to get better. 

You’re going to work hard on the weekdays and party harder on the weekends. 

Your life is just starting to get fun. You will finally live the life of an independent, productive adult. 

And then, it starts. 

People start to quit within 2-3 months. Many are asked to go, so they quietly resign and leave.

Most of the big firms hire 60 to 100 graduates a year. Most of them end up leaving in one to two years. There is no data made available by the law firms on fresher attrition. However, anecdotal information available makes it clear that attrition in the first one year is massive. An incredible number of freshers who join law firms leave within the first two years. 

Back in 2011, when I graduated, 32 of my batch mates joined 5 different tier 1 law firms. By the end of the year, I was the 20th person among the 32 to quit. Many of us had joined law school with a single goal to get into a top law firm as an associate. Each one of us had a joining salary above 1L a month apart from the annual bonus. 

In my case, I was clear that I will leave exactly after one year to pursue my startup and I had lined up everything accordingly. However, most of my other batchmates who quit abruptly after 3 months or 6 months or 9 months, what were their reasons? 

I had asked many of them personally. Most complained about the work culture. Some complained about horrible bosses. Some fell sick. I myself was hospitalized with a rare disease for fourteen days. Many of us were depressed from the crazy work schedule and being unable to meet expectations at work. 

Interestingly, we were all brilliant students with high grades, exemplary track record of co-curricular activities and stellar CVs. This is why the law firms picked us from a huge pool of talent available to them in the first place. We were used to being successful in school, college and in life generally. We were not particularly used to dealing with failure in something into which we put our hearts and souls.

What was the problem? Why were we not prepared for what we were going to face in our jobs? 

Did you think getting the foot in the door was tough? The real game is to survive and thrive. Your internships, your CLAT score, your marksheet or LLB degree, your NLU or foreign LLM tag, nothing prepared you for a job in a big law firm. 

You have very little idea about the work that you will have to do and you are probably hoping that somebody will train you or teach you on the job. You probably do not have the faintest idea about where to start if you want to prepare beforehand. 

However, preparing beforehand can make all the difference. 

Here are some of the benefits that we have observed: 

  • A lot of your salary is a variable component – annual bonus. If you are well prepared and perform well, there is a high chance that you will bag a lot of it. 
  • If you are not depending a lot on the senior associates to teach you the work, they will give you more work and entrust more responsibilities and prefer to work with you rather than others who need a lot of hand-holding. 
  • Your early days in a law firm are really important for the kind of reputation that you’ll build. If you make a lot of mistakes upfront and need a lot of guidance while others don’t. You will get pigeonholed as an unproductive resource, it is usually really hard to get out of that box, even after you learn the work. Most of the time, you have to shift to another law firm to escape that prejudice once it is formed.
  • Senior associates are already very busy, it is not their dream come true to teach freshers for an hour or two every day. Most of them absolutely despise it given the already huge work pressure they have. On the other hand, if you help them to finish work faster and they can leave for home early because you’re resourceful and reliable and do not rely on them for training, you will be considered a prized associate and rise through the ranks very fast.
  • The horrible work hours and pressure that you hear about is primarily because people are trying to learn work and deliver results at the same time. Junior associates make tons of mistakes regarding formatting, substance, language, context, law, references, and everything else that you can imagine. Fixing so many mistakes can be a draining experience for the senior associate as well as the junior who is making these mistakes. Many of the late nights can be caused by this phenomenon. 
  • You will thoroughly enjoy the experience of working at a law firm if you do not start on the backfoot, but rather well prepared for what is to come ahead. After all the work you will be given is quite predictable and it is possible to be prepared for it. 

Here are the biggest challenges you need to account for, think about and prepare ahead.

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Lack of skills and learning on the go

Joining the M&A or investment team of a law firm?

I hope you know about deal structuring and due diligence. Deal structuring will be done by very senior people, but you need to understand the structure of the deal to understand what is going on. Is it a 51% secondary share purchase or are new shares getting issued to the buyer? Is it a business or asset transfer deal? Is it a private placement of a company listed recently? How much you need to dig during the due diligence often depends on this.

Then comes the drafting and negotiation of term sheets or definitive agreements. If you are in a big law firm, you may not do these things anytime soon, except for assisting your senior. In smaller law firms, the sooner you can step up and take this mantle the better they will like you. 

And finally, there would be deal compliance. Many junior associates have lost their job or first annual bonus over forgetting to do the deal compliance in a timely manner. Many times, they did not even know what they were supposed to do and how.

What if you knew most of the work that happens in every stage of these deals? What if you could somehow learn 80% of the work you will be expected to do over the next 1 or 2 years before you step in for the day 1 of your job?

Well maybe you will not join the M&A team, but corporate disputes, or IP or competition or technology law, or something else. There is always a lot you can learn before you set foot in your first workplace, and you should if you want to exceed expectations. 

Also, luck favours the well prepared. 

The learning curve is huge for anybody who starts working at a law firm. 

There is a huge difference between what is being taught at law school and how the real world works. And to think that you have learned what to do because you did well in your internships and were praised for great research will be foolhardy.

And this is the gap where LawSikho operated. We teach you how to do the work you will be expected to do at a law firm. We shorten your learning curve, take away most of the pain (your boss shouting at you or being disappointed at you) from the process and prepare you for success. More about that at the end.

Survival in the big city 

A lot of students who bag these big jobs shift from small towns to bigger cities – Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Noida, Gurgaon. Living alone while doing a job that keeps you in the office for 12-16 hours a day is no joke. You will often be working weekends too. How are you going to manage your life?

Hope you have a plan for that. 

Shifting to a new city is exciting and scary at the same time. You will be cut off from your support system, which itself can be quite challenging. You will probably not have a lot of time to talk to your people over calls. 

You may have very little time to take care of yourself, and still, self-care is very critical so that you do not burn out and can keep playing the game for long enough to do well.

If you do not figure out a support system so that you can fully focus on your career at the law firm, while the backend is taken care of by someone else, maybe a family member or a trusted and well-paid household help, you could be in trouble. 

You will also need friends for emotional and social support. People who can hear you out sympathetically, offer advice, give you company when you finally have some free time, are going to be very important for your mental health and stability. 

And finding all these support systems in a new city, or even if you do not shift cities, can be quite challenging.

Professionalism

You do not lie to your boss.

You give bad news fast. You do not waste time worrying about how to deliver it right. When the house is on fire, your image is less important than putting out the fire.

You cannot take unfinished work to your boss for feedback, because he will judge you by that unfinished work.

Write down notes and record instructions so that you miss nothing. Always take permission before recording a conversation. 

CYA. I will not explain that for now, but it is a critical skill if you work at a law firm.

Your job is to make your boss look great in front of others, like it or not. You are not going to succeed if you look good and your boss doesn’t. 

You learn to be a professional through a series of hard learnt lessons like those above.

But it does not have to be that way. We can prepare you for your work-life if we can teach you how to behave in a law firm, the written and unwritten rules. 

Law firms are typically conservative in their approach. Poor work ethics, poor integrity or accountability, poor time management, lack of social skills are all huge red flags in a junior associate. And law firms easily let go of the people who do not get along with their culture.

This is one of the main reasons why there is a high attrition rate at a law firm job. 

A big part when it comes to doing well in the first two years at a firm is your willingness to work hard, diligence, ability to manage relationships with peers and your boss, navigating office politics, sincerity and reliability apart from your ability to deliver work. 

These are qualities that are not optional, but absolutely necessary to succeed in a law firm. 

Social skills

How does an A0 adapt to work in a team which has highly influential clients? The work pressure is massive, the cost of doing one mistake can be crippling and people in your team won’t be the nicest to you all the time. 

Still, it helps a great deal if you are likeable. 

Also, to succeed in a law firm in the long term, you need not only your boss, but other partners to like you, too. You even need to become the favourite of the clients.

And it is not entirely because of your legal skills that people will like you. Quite the contrary, most probably.

Social skill is not some mumbo jumbo, it is quite basic to be honest. It starts from a decision.

  • How do I want people to feel?
  • Do I want them to feel loved or cared for?
  • Do I want them to feel entertained or encouraged?
  • How can I make them feel that I am their biggest cheerleader and supporter?
  • Do I want them to feel excited about having me in their corner?

Once you decide these things, you can figure out how to make it happen.Sure, you will have to learn when to open your mouth and when to keep it shut. When to stand up to your boss or an evil coworker and when to suck it up.Most importantly, charisma is a skill that you can develop. Charisma is not magic dust. It is a serene passion that inspires people around you. It is the energy that makes more boring things exciting and worthy of devotion. 

What makes a debate about dry provisions of law or the latest judgments exciting? It is genuine, serene passion. It is charisma.

Having a charismatic personality with the ability to understand how others feel and the ability to make them comfortable can be a huge asset in a law firm job. 

This is very handy in client work too. You will be able to work with people far more easily if you develop these qualities. 

Please do not think of success as a lawyer as some kind of lone wolf hunt. Those who hunt in packs usually do far better.

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Trustworthiness

Can you be trusted?

Will you take your clients secrets to the grave or funeral pyre and not blabber about them?

The clientele at big firms has extremely high standards. Imagine the top management of major public companies may be confiding their darkest secrets and biggest problems with you. There are top bureaucrats and powerful ministers who will come with extremely sensitive mandates. 

Needless to say, they need and expect the utmost confidentiality in their matters. 

Will your firm be able to trust you enough to put you on mandates like these?

Time and health management

Corporate lawyers usually work long hours on the job, including the weekends. 

You’re often working 80 hours a week. People work so much that they fall sick and have to be hospitalised. 

Young associates are expected to be at the office or available on-call when at home almost round the clock. Law firms may not say so, but this is usually the truth.

It is expected from a law firm partner to always be available for his clients. So it is quite common in some teams to get calls from your boss at 12 am at night asking you to do some work. Many regularly go home at 2-3 in the morning regularly and show up back at the office at 10.30 am again. 

And this is supposed to be a normal week at a law firm. All of this work may be lucrative, but it can be back-breaking. However, it may also be fulfilling for a lot of people. Many lawyers love their work and thrive in such environments. 

But the other side of the challenge is to actually be productive every day despite a schedule like this. How can you make sure you do high-quality work every single day, deliver excellence and do not fall sick or lose your ability to focus!

A lot of people spend a lot of unproductive time at the office. Just because they are sitting at their desk does not mean that they are doing a great job.

And those people soon find themselves sidelined, or removed altogether. 

Developing the ability to deliver work consistently is critical, and that means learning to manage time, productivity and health. 

How do you organise your tasks? Which one do you do first? What gets left out at the end of the day? What part do you attack early in the morning and what do you leave for midnight sessions when the brain is already fried? How do you plan your day?

How do you remember important dates and compliances? How do you ensure things do not slip through the crack? 

There is a lot to manage. 

For someone who is just starting out, upskilling from time to time so that your professional growth is not stunted is also a concern. 

Law firm professionals often fall ill due to this mounting pressure and stress. The work-life imbalance is said to be one of the biggest reasons why people quit their law firm jobs. Read more about these experiences on the iPleaders blog here

If you do not manage your health while working at a law firm proactively, you are going to be sick, and you will be out soon. Only those who learn to manage their health very well, tend to succeed in the long term.

Which LawSikho courses can help me to prepare for a job in a law firm?

We can help you not only with skills, but mentorship, network and continuous guidance as you navigate this complicated and long process. We can prepare you for this world.

You should check out the courses at LawSikho which can help you shorten this learning curve: 

  1. If you are interested in corporate governance, you should check out the diploma in Companies Act, Corporate Governance and SEBI Regulations;
  2. If you want to get that in-house counsel job, go check out the diploma in Business Laws for In-House Counsels;
  3. If Industrial and Labour Laws interest you, go take a look at that diploma course;
  4. The Intellectual Property, Media and Entertainment Laws will be booming in the coming times, if you’re inclined towards that career, check out that diploma course;
  5. If you’re sure that your niche lies in M&A, Institutional Finance and Investment Laws (PE & VC transactions), go check out that course;
  6. The Cyber Law, Fintech Regulations and Technology Contracts is in dire need of good young talent if that is what ticks for you, go check out that course; and
  7. Every young lawyer should check out our diploma course in Advanced Contract Drafting, Negotiation and Dispute Resolution

Check out our other executive courses which can be helpful: 

  1. We have a certificate course in Advance Corporate Taxation
  2. You can also check out this course for Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code
  3. If Trademark, Licensing; Prosecution and Litigation interest you, we have a course for that;
  4. LawSikho also teaches Competition Law, Practice and Enforcement in a course;
  5. Technology Contracts will be essential to every business in the future, you can check out that certificate course; and
  6. Knowledge about Banking & Finance Practice: Contracts, Disputes & Recovery is essential for every BigLaw layer, you can check that out too.

Do you know about our workshop?

LawSikho has been organising a ‘How To Get An Internship And A Job In A Law Firm’ workshop for the last two months. We keep getting requests to do more of these. On popular demand, we are organising this workshop on the 13th and 14th of August this month. 

This workshop is for everyone who is interested in working at a law firm in the future, especially law students and young law graduates. This workshop is managed and hosted by two of our co-founders at LawSikho and our placement head. This workshop is a value add for every attendee and we keep getting positive feedback for it. 

Do not miss it if you intend to work at a law firm in the near future. 

Have you heard about our webinars? 

LawSikho offers amazing webinars that you can attend and learn from, with no charges, every day. Now we are even giving certificates to those who attend the full webinar. Check out some of our past webinars here: https://www.youtube.com/c/LawSikho/

While you can see past recordings of webinars on our YouTube channel, to participate in one personally is quite a different experience, as you can ask questions and interact with such amazing speakers and even other attendees. 

How can you attend these webinars in person? Sign up over here.

Check out our new introductory courses

We have launched introductory small one-month-long courses on legal writing, media law and practice, corporate law practice exclusively for law students. We also have this course on decoding accounts and financial statements which can be very relevant for any young lawyer.

But the most popular course on this series is the one on introduction to contract drafting. 


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