This article is written by Ramanuj Mukherjee, CEO, iPleaders.
When I visit a law school, I usually get asked a particular question. Last weekend I visited National Law University, Orissa to judge a startup pitching competition, as a part of their Google Startup Weekend program. I was expecting more questions about entrepreneurship, but the question I inevitably got several times was this: ‘Sir, I am in 2nd year. If I have to get into a law firm like Trilegal, AZB or SAM what should I do?
Sure, it is a law school after all. The dream job is, of course, to work in biglaw. Where else do they pay college graduates 1.5 lakh per month! It’s the pinnacle of success, the law school dream come true.
I realised while I answered this question a lot of time orally, I am yet to write a specific article about what all things you should do in law school to maximize your chances of making it. I have written quite a bit about how different aspects of how to get into a law firm. For example, a beginners guide to law firm interview, how to tell if you are ready to work at a law firm, how to prepare for law firm interviews, even what not to do in a law firm interview, what are the areas to focus on in order to be an attractive hire for law firms, important skills to cultivate, why it is so important to find your passion in law school and pursue it, how I quit a law firm job to chase my dream and a lot of other stuff like that.
It is now high time I write one simple guide on what are the steps you can follow to drastically improve your chance of getting a job at a tier 1 law firm. This article is primarily based on my experience on guiding hundreds of students who have gotten into tier-one and tier-two law firms in last 7 years.
Who are the big law firms?
Before we dive into anything else, let me tell you which are these big law firms.
AZB & Partners
Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas
Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas
Khaitan & Co
Luthra & Luthra Law Offices
There used to be 6 of them, but then Amarchand Mangaldas split and increased the number to 7. These law firms offer great work opportunities, good training in initial years, fantastic brand name and a starting salary upwards of 1.5 lakhs per month as of 2018.
Remember that there are some other law firms that pay as much or even more. However, those firms hire far fewer than these behemoths.
Those firms are:
P&A Law Offices
Talwar Thakore and Associates
There are a few firms that come really close to the Big 7 in terms of fresher salaries, and are a little easier to get through. If you prepare for the Big 7, and prepare well, then even if you miss Big 7, your chance of landing into one of these will be very high. I hesitate to call them tier 2 because they are almost into tier 1 in terms of fresher salaries and learning opportunities. Here are they:
Desai & Diwanji
Nisith Desai Associates
Majmudar & Co.
Bharucha & Partners
Finsec Law Advisors
If I missed any law firm which pays as much or more, do let me know. I will be happy to update the list.
How is it different for top tier NLU students and others
There are some NLUs, the top 5-6 of them to be precise, which have a very huge advantage when it comes to getting a job at a big law firm. It does not mean that others do not, or cannot get a job at big law firms. However, for these NLUs it is just a little more easier.
I know it because I was at NLU. I didn’t intern in a law firm in my 4th year. In fact, I never had to do an internship after I finished my 3rd year. I was doing my own work instead, having started iPleaders as a legal risk management consultancy, and then BarHacker later on. I wonder if I did that in a tier 2 or tier 3 law school, whether I would still have 3-4 options to join big law firms. I got that opportunity because I studied at NUJS and I was towards the top of my class.
What is this advantage exactly? Basically, big law firms visit a few law school campuses every summer, for an event called Day 0 interviews, where they pick up the top talent from these particular law schools.
To my knowledge, these are the law schools with Day 0 campus placement events that actually get attended by Big 7 law firms:
- NLSIU Bangalore
- NUJS Kolkata
- NALSAR Hyderabad
- NLU Jodhpur
- NLIU Bhopal
- GNLU Gandhinagar
- NLU Delhi
Note that sometimes colleges like Jindal Global Law School, Symbiosis Pune, or Nirma University, GLC Mumbai, etc. have been known to manage to get a few top law firms to visit their campus and recruit. Statistically, the numbers are however, insignificant and such recruitment may not take place every year.
It is not that all students in the to NLUs have a great shot at landing a job at a Big 7 law firm through campus placement. Usually only top 10-15% of the class have a real shot. Rest get rejected at CV shortlisting stage. Top 10 rankers usually get multiple offers.
For the rest of the batch in even these top law schools, which is a large majority, as well as those from other law schools, the only way to make into these big law firms is through internships. If they can impress the firm during the internship, they may be given a chance to appear in an interview for PPO. If they are liked in that interview, they are picked up for a job.
For most law students, campus placement is not an option if you are looking at getting into a top law firm. Your real shot is through a PPO unless you are within the top 10-20% of your batch at a top NLU.
If you are a top ranker in one of these law schools, it is not like that you do not need to prepare. You still need to prepare, not only to land the job, but even to sustain in the job. The number of people from top law schools who join top law firms, and then quit on their own or are eventually fired are way too high. It is not something nobody likes to talk about, but if you make some discrete inquiries, you will understand how common this phenomenon is. Also, in every law school 5th year batch, there are some academically bright students who somehow missed the bus and didn’t make into a top law firm despite wanting to do so. Later on, of course, they claim to have never wanted to join a law firm in the first place.
So be careful, if you do not prepare,or don’t take timely action, you may not just walk into an interview and crack it just because of your academic records. You can skip a large part of the work where others will slog at internship after internship, knowing that these are their only chance of landing a job, you have this additional avenue of campus placement.
Nonetheless, everybody needs to prepare, and while a handful of law students have a bit of advantage, others have a clear shot too, provided they are ready to put in the required work.
What are your advantages and disadvantages
You need to quickly figure out what are your advantages and disadvantages. Once you know this, you can work on turning around your disadvantages, and playing according to your strengths. However, doing this assessment dispassionately and honestly is critical. If you lie to yourself about your disadvantages, or overestimate your advantages, or even underestimate your chances and give up prematurely – none of that is of any help. You need to keep in mind while doing this exercise that you can overcome every disadvantage. provided that you can recognize them, have the courage to acknowledge, and admit them. Then you can work on them so that you rise above the hoi polloi.
The pursuit of getting into the top law firms is not easy. It requires a long term strategy and steady execution of that strategy. Most people do not have the discipline to execute it. It is not about how much talent you have, but how much you develop yourself and how gritty you are in the face of setbacks.
Here are the usual advantages you need:
Perfect English – ability to speak, write and communicate
If you don’t have good knowledge of English, it is very bad news. You need excellent English to be even considered for a top law firm job.
Once Prof. NL Mitra, former VC of NLS Bangalore and founder VC of NLU Jodhpur, who also worked as a partner in Fox and Mandal, a corporate law firm, told me that law firms hire NLU students primarily for their language skills. Their ability to write skillfully, interpret law and judgments written in complex language easily and write complicated language at times which may be necessary in the profession at times.
I didn’t join NUJS with great English skills to be honest. I had studied in vernacular medium schools till I joined law school. I could not speak English at all, and my vocabulary at first was quite weak. It took me a lot of time to read and understand English. Before NUJS entrance test in 2005, I spent a lot of time improving my English. I spent hours and hours in deliberate practice, learning new words, sentence structures, reading English books all the time, watching English movies and repeating the dialogue to myself, even mugging up a dictionary – I worked very hard over my English. I still had to work a lot through my law school on my speaking and writing skills.
You may have to do it too. But by the time I was appearing for law firm interviews, or even going to law firms for internships in my 3rd year, I had started to think in English, dream in English, spoke exclusively in English (I decided to not speak in Hindi or Bengali at all in college, no matter how much people made fun of my strange accent and choice of words) and wrote good English, very fast.
It was, therefore, not a barrier at all. If you think English may be a problem for you, begin to work on it. If you do not have any problem with the language as such, still make an effort to weed out common mistakes from your English writing.
Way too many students get rejected at the level of CV selection and interview due to wrong English.
If you want a job in a law firm, you must be able to speak and write impeccable English, otherwise you try to make a career in litigation which is much less demanding in this front.
Proximity to law firms, courts, arbitration institutes etc.
When I visited NLU Orissa, I saw the High Court of Orissa in Cuttack on my way. I asked the student accompanying me if they regularly go to the court and apprentice under lawyers. The answer was in the negative.
I was shocked.
Proximity to a HC, law firms, tribunals, other institutes where you can learn any kind of legal work is the biggest advantage you can have as a law student. If you manage to regularly go to such a place for a few hours every day, you will absorb tremendous knowledge, develop a fabulous professional network and face value, and understanding of the legal system that is hard to come by. Such experience is invaluable. You will be selected over your peers who do not have such experience any day, and you will outperform others easily if you go to a law firm for internships in your senior years with that kind of experience and insights.
Students in NLU Orissa told me that their curriculum is too hectic to regularly go to the court. There must be some issue there, but I can say that I would have moved heaven and hell to avail that opportunity if I was in their place. It can make all the difference.
Even a student from a local college, without knowing anything else, takes advantage of ths proximity, they can get a job at a big law firm by the time they graduate. They can start by attending court over the years, gather knowledge and insights about dispute resolution system, begin to intern at small law firms in bigger cities eventually and then gradually progress to big law firms with the right recommendations.
Students of GLC Mumbai, CLC Delhi, Rizvi Law College Mumbai etc frequently make it into big law firms, thanks to the fact that they often end up interning round the year after their classes are over. This gives them a huge advantage in terms of getting jobs compared to even NLUs. They do not really need campus placement because their good students intern with law firms already and if they are impressive, they get PPOs.
For a law firm to notice you, and value you, you need to intern for a long time. You need to become a known face in the office. That does not happen easily with an one month long internship. The worst are of course two weeks internship. Even if you manage to get only one month internship, see if your partner will let you extend the internship. Then see if they will be happy to call you back for your next internship break. Keep working with the same people over a period of time, that increases your chances of landing a PPO there.
Note that you will get extensions of internship, or a call back to do another internship only if they find your work good and they want you around. Otherwise they will politely say we want to give an opportunity to others also, and reject your application for another repeat internship or even extension.
Colleges that are located in cities like Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, Kolkata or Mumbai, there students have the option to do rolling internships. They would better stick to a law firm for 6 months at least, even if they have to go to the firm at 5 pm in the evening after class and stay back till 10 or 11 pm.
Trust me, that hard work will take you much further than applying to hundred places, topping in your class, winning hundred moots and debates, or such common things people do.
3# Practical Knowledge and skills
So what can you do so that law firms like you so much that they want you to stick around although there are thousands of new applicants every month?
That has to be how amazing you are at the work that you do. And your long term commitment and loyalty towards the firm.
The 2nd one is probably easier to demonstrate when you get the opportunity. But how do you ensure the first?
To be honest, law schools do not prepare you for this part at all. However, this is the most critical thing once you land an internship.
To excel in a law firm internship, you need the following knowledge and skills:
- Research skill – associates will ask you to look for case laws, points of law, interpretations and so on, while they do the research themselves also. When they see you have found something relevant that they haven’t, they will be impressed and give you more work. If you do a shabby job, they make a mental note to never give you work again.
- Understanding of contract drafting – so that you can assist associates by providing important value additions and suggestions when they ask you to proofread the contracts they draft.
- Diligence and patience – when you are asked to proof read, if you do a great job at it, associates notice that and give you more work. No work is too small. When you do it very well, you will be entrusted with more work and next level work.
- If you are in the disputes team, your legal drafting skills can get you brownie points as you will be able to give very good first drafts to the lawyers and reduce their work.
- If you are in a transactions team, then your knowledge of due diligence can make a world of difference. Such knowledge and skills are not expected from you, but if you have it, and do a good job at it (due diligence is easy work intellectually, laborious in terms of volume), you will set yourself up for a definite PPO unless you do a blunder somewhere else.
Think of internship like a test driving. The firm gets to test drive you. Are they going to be impressed?
There are some law students who think they will go to an internship and learn. That is just stupid expectation. Nobody in a law firm has time to teach an intern unless they know that intern is going to stick around for 1 year maybe. Internship is not a place to learn, it is a stage on which you perform. So prepare before you go.
How do you prepare?
If you are going for an internship with the transactions team, do this M&A, Investment Law and Institutional Finance course.
If you are going to work with an in-house legal team, litigation team in a law firm or going to work in a law firm but not very sure about which team yet, then go for this business laws course.
If you are interested in practicing in the area of technology law, go for this cyber law course.
If your interest is in IP laws, or media and entertainment focused practice, opt for this Intellectual Property and media law course.
If you want to impress people with your knowledge about arbitration, this is the course on arbitration law.
If you feel that your company law knowledge has to be fortified, this short term company laws course is the solution.
If your area of choice is tax law, and you are going to work with the tax team (unusual but very wise choice), you better learn the practical stuff around corporate tax from this course.
PPO during internships v. campus placement
Getting a PPO is a more sure shot way to get a job in a big law firm. Aim for it even if you are in a top 3 law school.
Campus placement has some inherent disadvantages.
If you get a job from campus placement, you don’t know which team you will end up in, which partner you will work under, if you will fit into the culture of the firm, if you are going to like the people you will spend most of the hours of the day with. Campus placement is how you land up in the wrong job and regret.
You can avoid that totally by landing a job through internship converted into PPO. If you don’t get that, then by all means try to get a job through campus placement.
Let’s say you want to work in corporate tax. Or M&A specifically. Maybe competition law. You can intern in those teams and get a PPO from your team. Then you can ensure you will work with that team only.
If you are selected through campus placement, nobody can say which team you will be allocated to. And you have no say in that. Asking for a day may result in you not getting that job in the first place.
Getting a job is one thing, keeping the job and excelling in it is the real deal. PPOs have a huge advantage when it comes to that, because you know a team, have good rapport, there is mutual appreciation before you are hired. The likelihood of success is much higher here.
However, keep in mind that getting hired through PPO is going to be tougher and more work.
What is the right time to start working on getting a job?
The timing is very important.
Remember that as far as top law firms are concerned, it is very difficult to get a job towards the end of your final year. In fact, it is next to impossible because the seats are filled up much earlier. So if you wake up too late, your chances of getting a job in a top law firm in that year in miniscule.
You have to get a PPO towards the end of your fourth year, or right at the beginning of your fifth year if you are in a 5 year law course. If you are in a 3 year law course, then you have to land a PPO by the end of your 2nd year or beginning of 3rd year, not at the end of your 3rd year.
This is where most law students make a huge mistake. They delay the beginning of their preparation.
If you have to get the PPO at the end of your 4th year, when should you begin preparing? Of course, your best internships where you land a job at a top law firm has to be in your 4th year. In the 4th year, if you are in an average law school, you will get opportunity to intern 2 or 3 times. Ideally, these internships should be based on callback internships. This means that you have done really good internships in your 3rd year, and then you got called back in your 4th year based on stellar performance in 3rd year.
If you have to do well in 3rd year, you have to land good corporate law internships in top law firms. For that you need to have a good CV, ideally one with good internships in tier 2 or tier 3 firms, with experience of doing good corporate law work. Else you need someone who is impressed by your work and will recommend you to a good law firm.
Someone who doesn’t start preparing by 2nd year of law school on corporate law subjects may find it hard in 3rd year to land desirable internships. They will land those in their 4th year. And by then it may be too late.
If you look at the people who get through the top law firm jobs, you will find that most of them had done good corporate law internships in their 3rd year, which was the foundation on which they managed to get their PPO.
In reality, however, you are not taught commercial law subjects such as company law in your second year. Usually subjects like CrPC, CPC, IPC, Evidence Act gets covered in your 2nd year. Unfortunately, these subjects have next to no impact on what you are trying to do.
Mostly, big law firms, and even tier 2 law firms, do not want to take 2nd or 3rd year law students at all because they have no knowledge and no skills to help the associates.
You need to overcome that by learning the relevant skills and knowledge on your own initiative. Also, you need to demonstrate that knowledge by writing articles and blog posts on commercial law that you can showcase on your CV. This would help you to score early internships where your batchmates will not even be considered.
The right time to start working in my opinion is as soon as possible. If you can start by doing online law courses like these in first year, that will equip you to research, write, and even get recommended to good internships. That’s the starting point.
If you didn’t start in your first year, then the next best time is as soon as you can. 2nd year is not at all a bad time to start either. However, 3rd year onward, you are late and losing opportunities if you delay preparation. It is never too late to take the right course of action, just that you start behind in the race. You can always overcome that with a few years of hard work. Just remember that people who start early have a huge advantage.
What do you need to do before you start playing the game?
Make a list of things you need to do from now till you get a job. Out of that what will you do over the next one year? Write than down. Then decide what all, out of that, you will do in the next one month. Then decide what you will do today.
This is a very effective way to plan your activities.
Even the first step will be an eye opener.
Just write down all the things you will need to do from now on to get a job in a big law firm. What would you learn? What courses will you do? What should be on your CV? Where all will you intern? What sort of mentors will you seek out? Who should recommend you? How will you impress them and network with them so that they will want to help you? How many articles will you write? What will be your area of focus, that one law subject that you know really, really well? Give yourself 2-3 hours to make that entire list.
Before starting to take actions, make that list. You can add things to that list later. As you do things, check them off.
Also, I will strongly recommend that you must get into a program from LawSikho.com – ideally a 1 year long diploma program. Doing it is difficult, but doing it all on your own, without a coach, without any guidance and motivation is ten times more difficult. Once you are part of a systematic training program, you learn things faster, identify the problem areas quickly and address them with help of experts, and move forward. It gives you a huge advantage.
What are the soft skills you need to develop?
Getting a law firm job is not all about hard skills or legal skills. You need to sharpen your soft skills first. This will help you not only to get a job at a top law firm, but literally any job at all.
What are these skills?
Number one is research. Build a habit of researching people and organizations of interest. Find out things about them. Stalk them on social media. Find out what are they excited about. Find out if you have something in common with them. Find out if they are organizing an event where you can help or contribute. What are the values they swear by? What are the cases they are really proud of winning? Where do they blog? What advice do they give to young lawyers? Have they given any lectures that have youtube videos you can watch?
There is a lot you can find out about people and organizations
It’s not only legal research that is important for a lawyer. This kind of research is going to come handy even after you get the job and begin to work as a lawyer.
Networking and relationship building
Number two is networking and relationship building.
Build rapport with people. Impress the relevant people. This is the beginning of creating your professional network. You will need their help. Why will they help you if they do not like you? Do not pester them. Be agreeable and charming. Be helpful. Be original and interesting. They will notice you and like you. But before doing all that, figure out who are the people. I advice our students to identify 30 people who they would like to impress over the next one year. You need to select people carefully.
Let’s say you want a job in tax team of JSA or a similar big firm. If I was in your place, I will not only try to impress tax lawyers from JSA but all the other firms. I would also add some independent tax law practitioners and boutique tax law firm partners to my list. Maybe even some important young authors on tax laws.
Thereafter, throughout the year, I will share important updates with them that they will find useful and insightful. I will attend the events they attend, and if possible try to present a paper there. I may even volunteer to help the organizers of such an event, which would likely give me access and privileges.
Most people do not go to such lengths to build their professional network. However, building the professional network is a critical aspect of succeeding as a lawyer. If you find this hard, how are you going to find clients for your practice? When and if you make a partner in a law firm one day, you will be expected to bring in work for the firm. Are you going to be able to do that? That will be determined by your networking skills.
Hence, it is critical to learn to network while you are in law school. Not only will this help you to get the job of your dreams, but it will build a habit that will go a long way in making you a successful lawyer.
Number three: communicate effectively. You must learn how to communicate for results. Way too many law students communicate in a very lousy manner. If you are able to communicate well, it immediately sets you apart.
Initially, most probably you will communicate with people over email and social media. A little bit on the phone eventually. Later, you will begin to meet people. You will be working with others in a law firm environment, which happens to be quite a high pressure environment. You need to learn to communicate in all of these different environments.
One key communication skill, the mother of them all, is to develop your listening skill. Listen intently, with 100% focus, as if nothing else exists in the world. By giving anyone your 100% attention, you honour them and they will begin to like you. Apart from that, you will begin to understand what they actually want apart from what they are saying.
Non-verbal cues, and what people leave unsaid is often as important to understand as what is actually said.
Are you persuasive? If yes, then you know the importance of subtle persuasion as opposed to overt logical appeal. Being persuasive is a huge asset for a lawyer. Not only will it help you to get a job, it will also help you to get noticed as an up and coming lawyer.
The first step to persuading someone else is to be open to persuasion. You have to be open yourself, for the other person to open up so that persuasion can take place.
Does your communication has clarity? Are you able to communicate clearly, succinctly, with precision? Do people get what you say at one go or do they seem confused? Do they have to ask you more questions?
Learn to communicate clearly. But that will only happen when you yourself seek clarity. Make sure you are clear about everything, and do not allow obfuscation or vagueness in your own understanding of things. Lack of clarity is enemy of success. Kill it every day by getting 100% clarity wherever you notice any vagueness.
Can you collaborate with a team? If someone delegates work to you, how reliable are you? Can a lawyer or a client count on your words? How do you receive feedback? Do you learn from criticism or take it badly? Does negative comments crush your confidence or do they motivate you to perform better? Are you straight and empathetic towards your team members and boss? Do you have their back? Do you look after their interests? Are you loyal? All these things determine if you will succeed in a team, therefore, how well you will do in a law firm. If you do everything else perfectly but fail in this count, that is not going to be enough.
I was a bad team player when I graduated. I did get a job from campus placement, but I had a real tough time when I began to work because I didn’t know how to collaborate with people. I was extremely competitive, and had no sense of how to collaborate, which I had to learn once I became an entrepreneur, through one tough lesson after another.
Learn to collaborate while you are in law school, or you will be in trouble sooner or later.
Lawyers need to be sociable to succeed. You maybe be very successful in networking, because it is methodical hard work, but still lack sociability. The test is simple. Imagine an important foreign client is in town. Your boss had to take him out to a dinner. On the way, he falls sick. Can he trust you to take his place, that the important client will appreciate your presence, and enjoy the evening?
Yes, you need that kind of charm to work successfully in a big law firm, so start working on it.
Ability to learn and adapt quickly
This is one of the biggest and most essential skills for a junior lawyer. You rarely get a say as to what should be your practice area or which team you work for. In some firms you are even circulated around in different teams. As an intern, you have no choice over which lawyer or which team gives you work. You might get bankruptcy related work, or M&A and then banking and finance on the next day. Then in the 2nd week you may be totally caught up doing some work for the competition law partner.
You need to be flexible. You need to adapt. You need to be able to learn any area of law very quickly.
This is an underrated but very valuable skill. As an intern and as a junior lawyer, follow up skill can save your life and make your career. I know people who got an internship after 17 follow ups. Are you ready to do that? 99% will give up after 3rd or 4th follow up. Whether you regularly get work during an internship, whether you have a good and engaged professional network or a petty one, many things depend on your follow up skill.
What are the hard skills that will help you to get and retain a biglaw job?
This is the most basic of all legal skills that a competent young law student or a lawyer will be expected to have. You need to be able to look up all the relevant provisions of law, find judgments that back your legal position or even goes against it, source the correct templates, find important regulations and notifications.
Most of the work you will get as an intern will be related to legal research. Your performance with respect to such research is critical. It is not only about finding the right and complete information, what also matters is how fast you find and how accurate it is. If you are not used to doing legal research, you will find it hard to even make sense of things let alone finding all the relevant laws.
Source of information is also critical for lawyers. As lawyers, we cannot just take any article or news on its face value. We can use such sources for basic understanding or initial information, but ultimately we need to find the answers through authoritative, binding sources such as statutes and decisions by High Court and Supreme Courts.
Legal research requires you to be able to articulate a legal issue, understand the underlying questions, place it in a legal context and then look for the right sources. To find the correct answer quickly, you need to know where to look. This comes from practice.
Let’s say I ask you to tell me what are the laws in India that deal with banking fraud. Or this complex situation: a bank is trying a recover a defaulted loan by selling off some land that was provided as security while taking the loan. A buyer approaches them to buy the land at half the price, and such price will cover the dues to the bank. Can the bank sell it off to this buyer? Or do they necessarily have to follow some other process.
Try to find the answer and justify the same with authoritative sources. If you can do it, you know how to do legal research at a law firm.
Then, you should sharpen it by frequently doing such research and writing a lot of articles. If you cannot do such research, sign up for a diploma course on lawsikho.com.
It is not going to be very hard to get a PPO without excelling at legal research.
In the first couple of years, law firm associates spend most of their time by doing due diligence for various transactions. When you manage to bag a job, they will throw you into a due diligence or two as soon as such projects are available. However, when you are a law student, just interning at the law firm, you are not expected to contribute much to such a project.
However, overworked junior lawyers are always looking for help. They are going to be more than happy if you can help them out. It is going to earn you allies within a law firm. Also, people will be darn impressed.
Learn the due diligence process. Learn every step of it. It is going to make a world of difference to your prospects of landing a PPO. Do not be hasty, though. Have patience and wait for the right moment to show off these amazing skills.
Nobody in big law firms expect a first year lawyer to be able to draft contracts particularly well (it is quite different at smaller law firms though)! Interns, definitely not. Nobody is going to ask you to draft a contract while you are interning. Still, we recommend you learn to draft contracts while you are in law school. Why is that?
Because you will certainly be asked to proofread and format contracts already drafted by lawyers as an intern. If you do a great job at proof reading, plus while turning over the contract can suggest a clause or two of your own, or point out any problem that may arise while negotiating it, then you will impress the lawyer so much that they will keep an eye out for you. This is what I ask my students to aim for.
It is not something you will get to do anytime soon even if you get through a law firm. Junior associates wait for years before they are allowed to negotiate, that’s how the law firm hierarchy works. Contrary to that, you get to do all such work much earlier in a smaller law firm.
You should learn negotiation anyway, but don’t expect to get to do it in an internship at all. Still, knowing the process and how it is done means that you will be able to understand the work that is happening better, and be able to put in a suggestion or two somewhere than dazzle your seniors. In any case, you will be able to do your regular research much better in any case.
Critical Legal Thinking
This is the ace up your sleeves. This is what lawyers value the most about themselves and also in people they want to hire. If critical legal thinking shows through your research, memos you draft, suggestions you give – that’s it. You will be earmarked and scooped up by any law firm. It is rare commodity. Develop it.
For this, read legal blogs like this, and write and publish yourself too.
What should you learn to stand out head and shoulders above other aspirants?
Law is a profession of the experts. This is one profession where more knowledge you have, more valued you will be.
What sort of knowledge should you have?
I cannot, obviously, give an exhaustive list. No such list exists. I can however indicate the kind of knowledge you should attempt to acquire.
Let’s say your target is general corporate, M&A or Venture Capital or Private Equity teams, which are the largest teams that frequently take in a lot of interns.
Following knowledge will be of immense help:
- Why do M&A transactions take place? What are the usual commercial motives behind them?
- How are M&A transactions structured? What about the tax aspects?
- How to read a balance sheet
- Important clauses in a Shareholders’ Agreement, Asset Purchase Agreement, Share Purchase Agreement, Business Transfer Agreements, LLP Agreements, AoA, MoA, JV Agreements, Acquihire Agreements
- What are the various stages in an M&A transaction
- Concepts such as slump sale, leveraged acquisitions, convertible notes, VC and private equity investments, angel investments, hostile transactions, PIPE transactions etc.
- Regulations such as Takeover Code, Listing Obligations and Disclosure Requirements, FEMA regulations, FDI policy
- What role does lawyers, bankers and other professionals play in the whole process?
- Role of courts in mergers and demergers
- Employment issues, regulatory and tax issues, promoter earnouts, laying off workforce after M&A, ESOP transitions, competition law aspects
- Delisting, SPVs, Tax havens, credit facilities, term loan agreements
- How to create security documentation, charges, enforce security for default etc.
I could go on and on.
But basically, there is a lot to learn. The more you know, the more you will shine during your internship.
It is not possible to know a lot of different areas of law so well when you are in law school. But you can certainly have that kind of knowledge about at least one area.
Once you have managed to have such deep and wide practical knowledge about one large practice area of a law firm, you will benefit from learning one more smaller area of law at least – such as Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, companies act, competition law or arbitration.
The large area would take at least 1 year. Shorter areas could be done in 3 months.
Learn to draft important transactional contracts
Whatever you may learn, make sure that you learn to draft the most common and important contracts in that area. For M&A that is Shareholders’ Agreement and Share Purchase Agreement. For banking that will be a loan agreement. For IP practice area that would be copyright or trademark assignment agreement, or license agreement. Figure out what it is for you area of interest and learn it.
Learn to explore regulatory websites
Whatever you may do, you must be able to quickly pull out regulatory notifications, updates, policies. This is where a majority of law students get stuck. You better learn how to navigate RBI, SEBI and MCA websites.
How can courses help you in preparation?
Most distance, online or classroom courses will not help you with this quest.
You need a course prepared by industry insiders – people who have done this sort of work and knows really what goes on. It is also difficult to learn by simply reading. You need to do exercises. Look for courses that will provide you regular assignments, and then provide you feedback on how to improve.
Let’s say you are trying to get good with M&A and investment laws. Great. Chose a course where they will teach you how to do due diligence, bot only by providing study material, but also by letting you do hands on due diligence on a mock transaction.
What does such an exercise look like? Here is an exercise we give to our students:
Imagine Google is acquiring PayTM. Now prepare an information requisition list.
We have already taught you how to prepare an information requisition list, and even given a sample/ template to work on. You have no idea how much you can learn from such an exercise.
Preparing such a list is actually a part of a real transactions that all junior M&A lawyers have to do. Interns are asked to help with the same. What if you knew exactly how to do these things? That is what you need to work on.
How to land the important internships?
After you learn all these, what is next?
To show off your stellar skills, you have to get an internship first.
It is very hard to get an internship in a big law firm simply by sending applications to them.
If you just send across a mail with your CV attached and hope to land an internship, you have one in 5000 or even less chance. An HR manager from a top law firm told me that they get 70-80,000 applications for every month during summer vacations and 20-30,000 for the other months. They do not even bother to open more than 200 or 300.
They need 30 interns every month.
Many of the slots are filled through recommendations from partners, associates and valued clients. Some come through college placement cells.
So how do you get a break?
Of course, the easiest and the most sureshot way is to get recommended for an internship by a partner or a senior level associate.
Otherwise, your chance is next to nil.
How to get recommended?
How can you get recommended by a law firm partner, or a successful, sufficiently senior associate in the firm? The answer is not your father being friends with them, or your uncle being an IAS officer, although those things help.
The answer is that you have to impress them with your knowledge and skills. They should want to help you. How can you do that even before getting an internship?
Write amazing articles that they will read. Add them on LinkedIn. Find out ways to impress them. Invite them to events, and if needed create an event just to invite them. There are hundreds of ways to impress, but my favourite way is to write articles. It always worked, for myself and for every young law student I ever helped.
Also, see if there are any dynamic teachers in your law college with deep links in law firms. They may have former students who are doing well in big law firms. They may be willing to put in a good word for you if you are worth it.
Hence, first put in effort into being worthy, and demonstrate the same. As your teachers, batchmates, immediate circle and eventually the larger legal world become aware of what you are upto, doors will open.
For our students, who do well in the class, we always introduce them to good law firms. Most law firms are very happy to take on our students for internships because they know we are the only organization to teach the kind of stuff we teach.
How to ensure that your CV gets picked up at the first glance?
Even if you get recommended, you still need to make a great CV and apt application. Make sure that both are crisp, to the point, and very impressive. They need to be coherent, without any mistakes and tell a story that fits the requirements of the firm.
If there are mistakes in your CV or application, especially language errors, you will probably be ignored despite the recommendation. So be very careful.
CV and cover letters are marketing documents
Firstly, remember that both CV and covering letter are nothing but marketing documents.
Do you have any idea about how advertising industry chisels everything that the you are going to see, say, in a print advertisement? They even test which words or phrases are getting more attention.
They thoroughly think through and then test what kind of language is more likely to make the reader take intended action.
You should have the same approach to writing your CV. When you are writing your CV, you are a copywriter too.
No one has time to read your CV, but they may look at it
Please remember that no one is going to “read” your CV or cover letter. They are just going to look at it.
That’s your chance – you have to make an impression at the first glance.
If the first glance suggests that there is something interesting or promising about you, then the person will skim through the CV. This is why you must write in a manner that is suitable for skimming.
Bullet points are often better than long sentences. You need to plan the sections in the CV in a way that makes it very easy for the potential employer (more likely a person just sorting the CV) to find the relevant information.
This is why, the right sort of formatting is very important. Also, try to keep your CV within 2 pages. 1 Page is not bad either.
What are the main sections in your CV?
You will have two main sections in your CV – Experience and Education.
Which one comes first will be determined by which one is stronger.
For students usually education will come first. Please provide your percentage, rank in the class, whether you are in top 10% or top 20% – because that information is relevant unless you are applying for the job of a manual labourer.
If you don’t tell me anything about your academic performance, people will assume the worst – that you are probably a slacker in academics. Provide the percentage, class rank etc unless they are terrible and not worth mentioning at all.
Also, even if you are a student, you must obtain some work experience to write in the CV. It is ok if you have done unpaid community work, or even played an important organizing role in your college fest, or worked at the Legal Aid Clinic: all of that counts as valuable experience.
For Big Law firms, try to show some internship experience in corporate law. If you have already interned at another big law firm, it is easier for them to say yes. If you haven’t but worked at 2-3 tier 2 law firms, it is still worth giving you a shot.
If you have none of the two, you need to have something else in your CV which is highly redeeming. Example: a few published articles on various areas of corporate law with impressive titles.
Many students make the mistake of including articles that they have written on irrelevant subjects. That does not help. If I am applying to an IP law firm I need to include IP law articles that looks interesting. If I am applying to a big law firm and hoping to work in corporate team I will mention articles about commercial laws – maybe competition law, M&A, banking or insolvency.
What if you have published a book on a legal subject? While I was at NUJS, I had at least 4 senior who could claim that. Imagine what an impact that has when someone sees your CV. These people, of course, had something else on mind – getting scholarships for higher studies.
Do not write anything irrelevant
You must not write about irrelevant experience in your CV or cover letter.
If you are applying to a big law firm for an internship, do not write about all the street plays you have directed. Don’t even write about your internships with NGOs unless those are the only internships you have done so far.
Do not make yourself out to be an entrepreneur or journalist even if you have done a lot of important work on those areas when you are applying to an unrelated field.
Keep your CV and cover letter strictly limited to the role you want. Basically, write about other law firm internships, accomplishment in relevant papers in college, articles that show you are interested in corporate commercial laws. Never, even by mistake, include the other stuff you may have done and may be proud of.
International law firms, I have heard, prefer more well rounded, complete personalities – people with diverse interests. That’s not how it works with Indian law firms. Be very careful about this.
Is that a strong verb?
When you are writing your CV, strong action verbs are preferable to passive verbs. Don’t write “Received an award for creative writing” – it is way better to write “Published in literary magazines regularly and my contribution was recognized by ABC literary society by XYZ award” or even “initiated a reading group and managed it for the following two years”.
Here are 50 very good words to use:
Stop emailing the same template to every possible recruiter.
Find out what is most likely to get you a great response. Find out who is responsible for selecting interns. Find out what they like and dislike. Follow them on social media. Then customize your application based on all the detective work you have done.
People who opens internship mails know all the templates, and they hate them. What kind of people can’t even draft a email on their own? We know you have been mass mailing that same email to hundreds of places. That does not make us think very highly of you.
If you are applying to a corporate law firm, do not write about your accomplishments as a researcher for a public policy institute or your short-lived career as a stand up comedian. Write about one or two best achievements that will want me to open your CV and type a response saying “confirmed”.
Your CV will be used during your Interview
Never lose sight of the fact that the interviewers are highly likely to have your cover letter and CV in front of them, if you are ever called for an interview. Some of them will give you an opportunity to resubmit a fresh CV, and some will not.
They will ask you questions about what you write in the CV. See this as an opportunity to drive the conversations during the future interview towards the things that you want to talk about. Do not write about things you are not confident about or would not want to discuss with the interviewer.
How to outperform every other intern so that you get picked for PPO interview
It basically starts with the knowledge and skills you have acquired before you even showed up for the internship.
If your preparation is done right, you have already won the battle even before you set foot in the law firm.
For example, if you are joining the corporate team and you know all the stuff about M&A, banking law and investment law, FDI etc as described in the section above, then you are ready to conquer.
Amazing, isn’t it?
However, even if you are well prepared, you still need to execute well. And you better not be arrogant about all the knowledge you have, and your superiority over other interns etc. That will be downright unproductive and harmful.
You are just a young aspirant, looking for a break, hoping that the right opportunities come your way. Eager to work, eager to excel, eager to give 100%. That’d be the right attitude.
Do not allow any small voice at the back of your head tell you that you don’t really like it when you are interning at a big law firm.
Even if people shout at you, be polite. Accept your mistakes, be eager to learn. Be ready to put in ten times more work than anyone else.
Let nothing distract you. That’s the key.
Make sure every instruction is heard. Carry notebook and pen with you when someone calls you to give any work. Note down everything they say. Once you get the work, repeat what you understood to ensure you got the task right.
One major screw up that happens is when you get the task wrong. Make sure that does not happen.
Be quick, but not too quick. Take time to formulate your answers, your research, your efforts. Double check. Law firm is a conservative culture, where it is appreciated if you check ten times, but make no mistakes. Do exactly that. Do not hurry unless you are asked to hurry. If you are asked to hurry, still double check before turning in any work.
And please, please proofread everything you mail. Do not make any grammatical mistakes.
Often, the game is to not make any bad errors during your internship, and waiting for the opportunities to show off your amazing knowledge and skills. However, do not make egregious mistakes, or you may be written off right away. This is not what work environments should be, but that is how big law firms usually are as far a interns are concerned.
Getting work can be a challenge. Only those blue eyed boys tend to get the important work. Most interns are limited to petty work. However, when you are interning, make sure you underestimate no work, and do everything as if it is the only work you are ever going to get to show how diligent, good and awesome you are.
However, it may be a good idea to keep reminding the associates in a friendly way that you would love to get some work, and that you are free. Work around some tables and let people know that you are available and free. When you join for an internship, have the courtesy to go meet the partner in charge of your team, introduce yourself, shake hands, smile and make sure that the partner knows about your presence in the office.
One amazing trick is to email the busiest associates in the morning that you are available and free to do any work they may have. If all interns begin to do this though, it will stop working. But it is especially effective where associates and interns sit in segregated places.
You can also say hi to associates hanging out on the balcony for a smoke, or near the water cooler. You may land some work if you say hi to them, smile and generally look clueless but friendly.
After you get work, you better know how to do it.
Once some associates begin to give you work, make sure you stay longer than they do, do everything for them that you can, never leave office without asking them, and be highly dedicated to their work.
Ensure that these associates that you dedicate yourself to, are a little senior in the hierarchy – first year associates would not be able to get you the PPO. You need to catch the eye of the senior people.
It is not a bad idea to ask the associates after a first week or so: I want to get a PPO here. What would be the right thing to do? Can you advise me on what should I do for that?
You are recommended to ask that to the partner also, after a week or so. Tell him or her you really like the place and will like to continue to come back for future internships. What can you do to get a PPO here one day?
If you are well prepared with skills and knowledge, and built the right kind of CV already, and do all these things right in an internship, I do not see why you will not bag that interview for a PPO.
After that, it is all about how you perform in the interview.
How to crack PPO interviews
Interestingly, PPO interviews are easier to crack.
That is because you have already been working there for some time. You will definitely be asked about the work you did for the firm. The interviewer will check your conceptual understanding and level of contribution. So make sure you are prepared for that. Make sure you understand what transactions took place, what were the legal issues, what were the uncertainties involved, any tricky situations, sticking points, legal maneuvers, case laws, relevant sections – you better be able to answer any questions whatsoever related to the work you have done at that firm.
You may also be asked questions about your CV. Make sure that you are ready to answer any question that may be asked about the various kind of work you claimed to have done in other internships. For example, if you have written that you assisted in drafting a technology transfer agreement, be prepared to explain the facts around the agreement, what were the tricky issues, what were the important clauses, why you drafted a certain clause one way rather than in another way etc. They may even ask you hypothetical questions to test your conceptual understanding.
Here is the thing. PPO interviews are usually do not go too much into the technical side. The assumption is that you have done well enough in the internship, so your technical side is probably up to the mark. However, they are going to see if you are a good fit in the firm – the so called HR part of the interview.
Make sure that you demonstrate that you are flexible. You are ready to work in any city. You are open to relocate anywhere. Your only concern is to start your career at a good firm, under a good boss and you liked what you saw during the internship. Show loyalty. Be honest and transparent. It goes a long way.
Before giving an interview, ask young associates for their advice. Who is going to interview you? What sort of questions does he ask? Read about the person online. Do detective work on him. Stalk him on social media. Do all that.
Then ask at least 3 different people to do mock interviews with you. If you can get a lawyer to do it for you, great. Otherwise ask a co-intern or even your college friends. This is a very important step. Do not forget to do mock interviews beforehand.
If you wish, book a mock interview cum training session with me. I charge INR 4000 for an one hour session. You can book a session here.
How to crack telephonic interviews for PPO
Let’s say you did a great job with your internship. The firm is interested in hiring you. However, the partner who does interviews is not around. Or that the interview could not be arranged immediately. Or simply that the firm doesn’t have a vacancy and will consider you later.
In those situations, you will find yourself giving a telephonic interview later on. A Telephonic interview is not all that different from a normal face to face interview, so do not panic.
Prepare in the same way that you will prepare for a normal interview. However, make sure that you are in great network zone. Make sure that you have good battery backup. If possible, even ensure that you have a spare phone handy during interview.
Yes, you must be extra carefully and over prepared.
That is, anyway, the key to winning this race. Before you get a job in big law, and even afterwards when you work there.
We have a corporate law internship preparation course called Ace Your Internship where we guide you through these steps. Do check it out.