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This article is written by  Suman Chatterjee Team LawSikho.

Imagine what it would be like to be sitting somewhere in a cool glass office in posh areas like Worli, Lower Parel and Bandra-Kurla Complex in Mumbai, dealing with a review of documents which would decide the availability of funds for a few entrepreneurs or businesses. 

That’s where you would be as someone in the in-house legal role with a bank. Now you may be interested in the banking and finance laws and want to break into the in-house legal team of big banks and financial institutions. 

And of course, it is definitely a path worth pursuing.

But where most people would get stuck is, how should you go about it?

How do these banks recruit their staff?

What are the advantages of joining these organizations?

What skills are required to break into the banking industry as an in-house lawyer?

The road to getting in the in-house legal team in this industry might look hazy and rather complicated for many. That’s why I am writing to you today.

Recently, we did some research on how to enter the in-house legal team of a bank.

We found some interesting facts and I will be sharing them with you but let’s start with this question first.

Why join a bank?

After consulting a few people, I could figure out the following advantages of joining a big bank or a financial institution. Let me list them out for you.

Recession-proof industry for a lawyer

This might be on top of one’s mind at present. The COVID-19 crisis has got us locked at home for good. The world is on the verge of the worst recession since the Global Financial Crisis. Will your job stand the test of time?

The person I talked to thinks his job will. And he is right.

The banking and finance industry is one of the few sectors that will never be out of action as long as the economy exists. Whether it is conducting due diligence or preparing loan documents during a boom phase or dealing with recovery litigation during recession, the legal department of a bank is always likely to be busy with work. 

Financial knowledge

If you are interested in learning the ins and outs of how the finance industry operates, joining a bank might be the best choice. You will get to know how revolving credit works. Or what exactly a subordinated debt is. Or what the loan process for a non-listed, private limited company is. 

When you are working as an in-house lawyer in a bank, you not only learn all these things from a textbook but rather, you practise it every day. 

Elsewhere, as a lawyer, it wouldn’t be a common phenomena for you to be exposed to and deal in financial transactions or actually structure debts and financing transactions.

End-to-end exposure

The problem with many law firms is that at the entry-level, or the junior stage, you are not allotted much work or that you do not get to handle a case from start to finish. 

You are assigned the legal research work, perhaps. But you might not be attending all the client meetings though. Or perhaps, you might be missing the negotiation with general counsels. 

Getting end-to-end exposure in a big law firm might not be possible while at the entry-level. But when you are working in a bank, you are thrust into the work scene right from day one of joining. 

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In the corporate world, you need to take responsibility as soon as you step your foot in the door. While this might feel like too much at first, it leads to accelerated learning for a new legal professional. 

You will probably be involved right from the point where the bank is considering whether a particular loan or credit card related product meets the requirements of the regulations.

Structured organization

If you are in a small or a mid-tier firm, your work environment is likely to be largely unstructured, unlike what you find in the corporate world.

You have to be a social superstar and interact with a lot of people, from the court clerks to your department peon to the senior partner, on a regular basis to get your work done. You have to tackle a lot of tasks at the same time, and the key to succeeding in the litigation field is more about how efficient you are amidst the chaos. 

It might be just me but when I was in the litigation field, it felt like extended college to me. Lawyers ganging up, gossiping about their seniors, posing before their clients, and kissing the ass of partners for better bonuses … 

As an introvert, I found it rather hard to cope with it and I believe many of you who are reading this article right now are nodding your heads in silence.

The corporate world is different. It has a defined hierarchy, preset work responsibilities, fixed working hours (mostly) and most importantly, non-variable pay package. You might have to work your arse off just like in any other legal field. You might have to still negotiate with your boss for that elusive promotion. 

But at the end of the day, everything will follow a certain procedure and will be structured and disciplined. 

CV enhancement

Having a big bank’s name on your resume is definitely going to carry much value than working for a low tier law firm. Working for a brand name brings two benefits.

One, it shows you possess the relevant knowledge and skills to beat the competition to get selected in the organization and perform consistently for a minimum period.

Two, you probably earn a handsome pay package at your current job and if you would change to a new one, you would obviously be paid higher than your previous package. That’s why it is important to start at the higher end on the pay scale. 

Good remuneration package

Talking about good pay packages, we directly approached a few management trainees who recently made it into in-house legal teams of premier banks. After a little digging, we found out that the usual salary range for a management trainee is around 50-80k in a top-tier bank and 40-60k in a medium-tier bank. 

You might be thinking that “it’s still lower than the 1.5 lakh per month offered by CAM or JSA.” True but tell me how many positions open up at this tier-I law firms every year? Very few. Maybe in the hundreds. 

Would you rather not go for a corporate job that pays almost the same and also offers good career growth opportunities? Of course, you would. 

Next, we start talking about the most important issue. 

How does the hiring process happen?

Since we at LawSikho focus more on corporate law as a subject, our research is more focused on breaking into the corporate legal department in a bank, and not the retail legal department. 

Hiring happens in two ways, viz. lateral hiring and campus placement.

You probably know about day zero’s and campus placements. While the toppers secure placements by the end of the fourth year, the major part of the placement process happens in the fifth year of LLB. 

All the law firms are invited to conduct interviews on Day Zero, and that’s when you get the shot to get into the in-house legal team of the bank you want to work for.

Lateral hiring is when someone is hired “from the side”, that is, at the same work experience and salary levels as in his or her previous job. This is especially for working professionals. 

For some roles, you just cannot hire freshers right out of college. Lateral hiring is required in such instances.

ICICI bank also conducts hiring through the special ‘Beat the Curve’ competition, a unique initiative to handpick top talent from India’s top B-schools. Read on here.

Now that we know about the hiring process, what we are really concerned about is…

What skills do employers look for when hiring?

Our research says that at the entry-level, the requirements are not that strict and if one manages to show potential, he can bag the job easily. 

The main things that your prospective employer would look for in you are as follows:

Working knowledge of banks and financial institutions

If you want to work in a bank or a financial institution, in whatever capacity it might be, the first thing to keep in mind is that your employer would first want to see whether you have even a tad interest in banking and finance. 

Do you know what REPO and reverse REPO rates are?

What is the SRR in banking terminology?

Please do see that these are very common topics — might I say rather fundamental? — and if you are looking to join any bank or such, you need to have a basic idea of how the banking and financial system works.

Not rocket science but as should be expected from an educated law graduate.

Keeping updated with the industry happenings

This is a continuation of the previous point. 

If you want to show your interest in banking and finance, keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the industry. Keep a tab on who’s who in the industry and what they are talking about. Don’t be limited by geographical borders. 

Banking and finance, since it correlates with upward or downward motion of the economy, goes beyond borders. 

Italy is facing an impending recession? Take note.

The US federal government is thinking of lowering interest rates? Take note.

Russia is facing sanctions due to the Ukraine crisis? Take note.

In general, do remember that finance is not a profession, not a specialization but rather a lifestyle. The more you know, the more suitable you are to be hired. This also shows your prospective employer that you are really passionate about this industry. 

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Besides profits, what’s the first thing a business craves? That’s right – funds. A decent cash inflow is the lifeblood of any business. What is the first place you think of when you need funds? Right again – a bank. Businesses’ need for funds is never going to see a backtrack and thus banking is an area which will always be there, as a corollary.

This is also why a well-functioning banking and financial services (BFSI) sector becomes crucial for any country, irrespective of the economic cycle – depression, recession, recovery or boom. Unless there is a complete collapse of the economic system itself, work in the sector will continue to exist.

Watch this video below to know what innovative business models might arise and what the future of banking and finance industry might look like.

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Good knowledge of substantive law

Come on, you are a law graduate after all. 

No, you can’t just have a superficial understanding of the subject you spent five years with. You have to be able to tell the most important sections of a particular statute or explain the contradictory viewpoints on a point of law with sufficient research notes. 

You have to know the Code of Civil Procedure, the Criminal Procedure Code, the Transfer of Property Act, the NI Act, the Indian Constitution and so on. You have to keep yourself updated of the latest budget proposals or the amendments to the Income Tax Act. 

Yes, you would probably undergo elaborate training as well, but employers do look for someone who has the potential and the aptitude to gain maximum from such training. Be that someone. 

If you need our help in that, give us a call at 011 4084 5203 or reply to this email stating, “I need help with my career!” and we will get back to you urgently.

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P. S. LawSikho is running hour-long webinars every day. Want to learn how to improve your learning skills? Prepare an LLM application to a foreign university? Career opportunities in new, upcoming areas of law? Don’t miss these high-quality webinars with industry and academic experts. 

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