Do you really want to become a corporate lawyer? This article is being republished from A First Taste Law, and it was once very popular and you probably don’t want to miss this one.
Big money, glamor, publicity, bigger money, more fame, high-flying lifestyle, luxuries and so on. Do you think there is anything that is coming between you and your success? Like bad faculty, lack of inspiration, or just not knowing where to start? Are you afraid that your law school dream of becoming a high-flying corporate lawyer is turning into a nightmare because of stupid teachers, bad CGPA, may be, some unintended mistake? Or are you the average law school stud having numerous publications and stratospheric CGPA and internships lined up next summer but still unsure about how you can take your career to the next level, from being an amateur to a professional? Then read on. Ramanuj Mukherjee and I, Abhyudaya Agarwal will bring you a series of posts on how you could make your exploration of business affairs around you more interesting in a radically new and different way – by getting acquainted with some of the most path-breaking ones that have shaped our world today.
This post should be read by students looking for their first lessons in business and law, to form an idea as to how to combine business and law, and you are looking for books that can change your life.
Dreams of making it big
Most of us start out with glorious dreams of being able to become celebrity lawyers if we are able to make it to a top-rung National Law School / University. Often, we have preliminary notions of how we plan to realize our dreams. Some of us want to become corporate lawyers and work on big ticket transactions (read on lawyers’ salaries here).
Some of us are tempted into the realm of corporate law by the money it offers. Some of us really like the charm of courtroom argument and want to litigate in courts, even if it involves a long grind with little pay initially, but need to pay off that irksome student loan that was undertaken to pay our fees through law school (read about fee hikes in law schools here), so we just have to practice in companies or law firms because we NEED the money to pay off the loan.
Still others practice corporate law so that they can sponsor their higher education in a top Ivy League Law School or UK University of their choice and pursue a renowned academic career. At the end of this, the truth boils down to the fact that most of us end up being corporate lawyers, at least for some part of their legal career.
We work hard to be at the top of the class, often eagerly waiting to learn corporate law, sometimes, but only sometimes, reading about it way in advance, knowing that our flair for corporate law will, in some way be a determining factor in the realization of our dreams.
Stuck in the middle of nowhere
By the around middle of the 4th year, most of the excitement fizzles out – unfortunately, there are few good corporate law teachers in India. Of course we are grown up and can learn a subject on our own if we really want to, but somehow most of us don’t. Very often than not, it is either not knowing how to start, or just lack of enthusiasm. Maybe you try to read a corporate law textbook and fall asleep within minutes, because corporate law explained in textbooks is dry and fails to give us the bigger picture, or the context in which corporate law is practised. Some feel it lacks the excitement that, say, of thrilling cases or dramatic cross-examinations in criminal law, or the realpolitik and strategy games of international law, or the subtle manoeuvres or epoch changing amendments and decisions in constitutional law. At least to some of us, there seems to be no ‘pulse’ about the entire subject of corporate law.
Having done internships at various top-tier law firms and companies for practical experience, one realizes that corporate law is best learned by experience. The theory may not count for much. Such disillusionments often lead to skepticism about learning any law, especially corporate law beyond what you need for grades and exams. Attempts at self-learning may not seem appealing any longer when you feel nothing but practical experience is relevant or adequate. Naturally, it may seem the best idea to just focus on being at the top of the class, or lose out in the rat race and hope that something works out during the internships or later on. That’s it, and you have forgotten about learning the corporate law.
Shedding the myths
The above explanation is largely true – like anything else, whether it’s playing guitar or cricket, learning through practice is the best way of learning. Anyone will tell you that being a successful corporate lawyer is something that requires more than just immaculate knowledge of the corporate law. It requires, in addition to basic research and drafting skills (acquired by almost all of us through writing projects or mooting during law school), it requires great social skills, including the ability to interact with people, network (yes, Facebook and Twitter can be important here!) and convince.
Of course, a point-blank description of any soft-skill is vague and gets us nowhere. But if you can witness how THE SMARTEST LAWYERS have used their wit to fundamentally change the course of lawyering history, you could get a great headstart. If you read about certain selected EVENTS and PEOPLE in the world of business, you can learn how pathbreaking real-life situations were dealt with, without actually having been in one, so that you grow an idea of the business world and where law fits in, to develop an understanding of the role of a corporate lawyer in that context. This will not only give a direction to your ambitions but will also give you ideas as to the many possible paths that lead to your target.
By vicariously participating in the working of international law firms in the middle of blockbuster deals through books, you will, if nothing else, know what you could expect in a law firm, what is expected of you by the firm and the essential qualities of a successful corporate lawyer. These could very well be the missing ingredients in your law school recipe.
As a matter of fact, there are books like that. A lot has been written on corporate activities, political gambits, mind games and deft strategies. Just as Granville Austin (as students of constitutional law would know) can describe the politics behind the shaping and interpretation of our Constitution, the inherent politics in company affairs has been witnessed, studied, and chronicled – all you have to do is FIND it.
The quest I am talking of is an exciting one. The best part of it is that the whole exercise will tremendously increase your worth to anyone who is dealing with you as a corporate lawyer. If you have any idea about corporate law internships or recruitment interviews with either Indian or foreign firms, you will know what I am talking about. Above all, when you read these books, you can actually FEEL the excitement of being a great company lawyer, and that will often INSPIRE you to surge ahead with your pursuits.
What is even better is that you don’t have to know any corporate law to begin reading them. You can start now, irrespective of who you are, a law aspirant, aspiring investment banker, final year law student or someone planning to become a company secretary or accountant.
(Note that this is NOT A SPOILER, as I shall try to initiate and guide you through the books instead of revealing the plot for you, so that you have some background and context about the turning events and are able to put them in perspective. That may make you enjoy the book more as you reach the key parts, and, most importantly, imbibe the lessons from what you have read, in your future endeavours of becoming the corporate star of your era.)
The books I plan to introduce to you, in a series of posts, shall be:
- Cold Steel: Lakshmi Mittal and the Multi-Billion-Dollar Battle for a Global Empire (Authors: Tim Bouquet, Byron Ousey. Year: 2009) (buy the book from Amazon. This book describes how the biggest steel company in the world, run by Mr. Lakshmi Mittal, grew so big, and how it acquired its biggest competitor, to get even bigger. The man who runs it, Mr. Lakshmi Mittal, was an ordinary Marwari boy who started out from Kolkata (which, incidentally is also the city where I study).
- Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco (Authors: Bryan Burrough, John Hellyar. Year: 1990. Republished subsequently in 2003 and 2008) This book is set in the late 1980s and is considered to be the best business book of all time by a number of lawyers and investment bankers. It is about reputation, greed, egos, and most importantly, big money. In fact, it is astonishing to see how one deal can spawn so much drama and action, to the extent that the publisher of the book republished it in 2008, to mark the 20th anniversary of the deal. Frankly, it is about corporate excess. It is about the crowning of the world’s most reputed private equity firm, known by the name of Kohlberg, Kravis and Roberts.
- Liar’s Poker: Rising Through the Wreckage on Wall Street (Author: Michael Lewis. Year: 1990)
- Wall Street Meat: My Narrow Escape from the Stock Market Grinder (Author: Andy Kessler. Year: 2004) (together in one post)
These books are set about a decade apart from each other, are about the meteoric rise of the investment banking business in the United States. Liar’s Poker is on the evolution of an investment bank (the highest salaries offered to IIM graduates as reported in the media are generally offered by investment banks) – Salomon Brothers, where the starting salaries, even as far back as the 1980s hovered around 100,000 US dollars a year. It chronicles the development of a niche market, an abuse of which, one can safely say, has led us to the financial crisis (without attributing any blame to any of the organizations involved). It gives us a bird’s eye view of the firm’s archrival – Drexel Burnham Lambert, an organization we brush against in Barbarians at the Gate.
Wall Street Meat is, well, about investment activity in the early 1990s – it is about picking up stocks, analyzing which sectors are growing, and it also captures very well the internet boom era in a very gripping way. The authors of both books have worked in the organization they have described in their book and subsequently left to pursue other callings, which include setting up their own investment firms or funds, to writing.
- Skadden: Power, Money and the Rise of a Legal Empire (Author: Lincoln Caplan. Published: 1994)
This book is on the founding and unbridled expansion of one of the world’s largest law firms, how it created a new market for itself and maintained its lead, far ahead of the rest, how its internal management practices were – futuristic, to say the least. To catch a glimpse of its repute, I want to bring to your attention that the firm features in two of the four books above, each of which entirely focusses itself on one deal. This book is for every lawyer and investment banker who is curious about mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity, as it took off in the United States in 1980s after a paradigm shift in the techniques.
Where the paths meet
You might ask me why I have chosen these books. Is it pure chance or serendipity, or is there a hidden design behind the choice and order? Well, I must say that the books are a random selection of some pathbreaking events. However, there are some common strands of thought that are common to all of them. They are all about espionage, secrecy and security leaks. These are not necessarily terms featuring exclusively in vocabularies of secret service agents from Mossad, CIA or computer programmers, but are equally important in the planning of headline making and hitherto unprecedented deals in modern business life. Every actor in a team represents the movers and shakers of the world in their own field.
The books are all interconnected, to a great extent. The people and organizations we are introduced to in one book are often featured in others as well. Sometimes we see them on the opposite side of one deal, and at others we see them after a generation.
Often, the hotshots in one law firm will be seen to have left the organization where they built world-class niche practices to set up their own boutiques, leaving a void in their parent organizations. Well, there may not be substitutes for them, but there are still brave and courageous people in the world who have dared to venture out once again into the unknown, to regain the lost glory of their organizations, and make a name for themselves. It is all about entrepreneurship, connections, knowledge, of course, and, don’t forget the key elements of any move – speed and timing.
For lawyers, the books are about an army of lawyers tackling mind-boggling intricacies posed by legal and regulatory systems, juggling through laws of several countries and using the loopholes of each to their advantage. Every trivial piece of legal information, even if it is something that one only has a whiff about, has been put to good use. In these thrilling stories, secret service agents or crpytographers of your usual thriller have been replaced by lawyers, investment bankers, company CEOs and public relations heads – all the people you are likely to be dealing with, if you are in the corporate world.
Come back next week to read about Cold Steel, the first book to be covered in this series. To be sure that you don’t miss it, you can subscribe to this blog by submitting your email address in the box on the top right corner.