Network
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In this article, Ramanuj Mukherje, CEO and Co-Founder at iPleaders discusses how to network with co-interns and lawyers when you are interning.

I once interned at a Bangalore law firm called Murali and Chandy when I was in 3rd year of law school. It was the summer of 2009. This firm had freshly broken away from AZB Bangalore. After a few months, it would go on to become JSA Bangalore.

It was the best law firm internship I ever did. I had interned at AZB Bangalore just before that. However, I could see the difference in the work culture here. M&C was a far more open, friendly and happy place. Associates would be laughing and joking and would occasionally take interest in you even though you are just an intern. We even went to play cricket on a few occasions with the lawyers and the partners and got an opportunity to bond with some of them. One of the associates used to drop me home on the way back as he lived close by.

Besides work, what a fantastic way it was for them to find out which interns are good enough for them to consider hiring. For us, what a fantastic way it was to get connected with the people who we may want to work with someday. This is where I experienced how important it is to network with lawyers when you go for an internship.

However, what I didn’t realise that time at all, and learned only over the next few years, was the importance of networking with other interns. We connected with other interns anyway, as young people sitting around a table tend to do, but we probably could not imagine the value it will bring to our lives later anyway. In the last 10 years since that internship, the people I met at that internship has referred me clients, helped me with esoteric branches of law a number of time, offered jobs and opportunities to our students, given interviews on Superlawyer sharing in great details amazing career insights they learned along the way, mentored students in iPleaders club, taken webinars sharing their valuable knowledge and even helping us to build entire courses like this at Lawsikho.com. When I started experimenting with ClikLawyer, they gave me leads, and were willing to take up cases at far less fees than they usually would, just so that I can try out the ideas I have. When I was just beginning as an entrepreneur, and was dead broke, they took me out for drinks and encouraged me and appreciated me.

It’s not that just entrepreneurs like me benefit from the friendships they develop at workplaces. Everyone who builds deep and meaningful relationships around them know the magic of networking. People who think that the art of networking means shallow conversations that end with exchange of cards, are really stupid. Networking is all about humanity, it is about knowing how to develop deep and meaningful relationships with the people you work with. If you did not help out the people in your network at least 3 times on an average day, you are probably not doing it right.

Yes, just help 3 people out, in any possible way, every day – and you are on your way to be a super-connector with a formidable network down the road. If you are not consistent, if you cannot do it over the years though, and give up after a few day, don’t blame me for lack of results. It takes time.

First you give a lot, and then you get back a lot. Eventually. How many people did you help out in the last 3 months? If the number is too low, you are in trouble as far as networking is concerned.

What is networking?

It starts with a kind conversation. A little appreciation. A genuine smile. It can be small gesture that makes one feel human and respected and cared for. That is the bare minimum threshold.

Honesty, integrity, not gossiping, listening to what someone has to say without interrupting, watching out for someone, bonding – these come next. Very valuable gifts.

Sharing of information and insights is also an amazing way to help people. Do you know very well about the PR industry? Do you know how to get the best out of a PR agent? Perfect. Can you tell your lawyer friends how to do this and show them the ropes of hiring a great PR agent? Maybe you can make some introductions?

Do you know a lot about how to find better leads when one is trying to hire lawyers? Help out others in your network who are struggling with hiring. Did you come across a fabulous blog post from which you learned a lot or a video which really inspired you? Share it with 10 people who will benefit from it.

Referred a client, even if you charged a referral fee? Great. You are collaborating with other lawyers. Many lawyers do not have the mindset to collaborate. They are missing out on being connected, being part of a network economics that rewards being connected and helpful.

Are you writing insightful articles and sharing on linkedin or iPleaders blog? That definitely counts as sharing knowledge with a big network, adding value to others and therefore great networking.

Invited some lawyer friends for dinner and drinks on Saturday evening? Definitely counts as networking. How about sharing an opportunity for internship or job, or maybe helping out an associate to get his kid into the school he wants? Well, as long as you are adding value to another person without a specific obligation for that person to do something in return, you are doing amazing at networking.

All of these count as help, as long as you add value to another person, you are networking right and strengthening the power of your network. Don’t think of it just as networking, but being human on an everyday basis and connecting with other human beings to leave a positive impact on them.

So how do you apply all these when it comes your internship?

I am assuming that you are in your internships for a month or two at best. You will perhaps meet and interact 10 to 30 individuals, including lawyers, staff and co-interns during this period. It is a great opportunity to create those many amazing relationships that you can count on years down the line.

And of course, it increases your chance of landing a job. People who do not learn and do not know how to network will always be at a huge advantage in environments like a law firm.

Why is networking inside a law firm important?

I was told an amazing story about this by Murali Neelakantan, one of the first India educated lawyers (NLSIU graduate) who went on to become a partner in London law firms. He also worked as a partner at Khaitan & Co. and acted as Global General Counsel of Cipla where legal departments from 80 countries reported to him. He was explaining to me why networking in critical in big law firms. Other lawyers often had circles of friends in the firm as they went to the same University or are neighbours or members of same clubs etc. Murali was an absolute new comer in this environment, and had lo alumni group, golf club buddies etc to fall back on. What did he have to do to become well known enough in the firm to be elected partner one day? Here is what he said in his SuperLawyer interview:

When I landed in London, I hardly knew anyone there. Almost every little thing was a challenge. For example, since I didn’t have a credit history in the UK, it was difficult to rent an apartment or get a bank account or credit card. Unlike most of my peers who had a network of family and friends within and outside the firm, I had to find my way around. If there was a situation where one needed help on a tax issue, my peers would have a friend who they know from university or as fellow trainees in the tax team, who they could call. I wouldn’t even know where the tax lawyers in the firm were!

Being a vegetarian teetotaller didn’t help with socialising in a country where the heart of the social scene was the pub. It was cricket that saved me. Simmons had a long tradition of supporting cricket, rugby, softball, netball and hockey and players of all abilities were warmly welcomed. There was always a very enjoyable dinner in the Long Room with an eminent cricketer as the speaker to kick off the cricket season. It was my opportunity to know people from all over the firm besides playing cricket which I loved, even though I was not very skilled. I also played for a team composed of lawyers in Barnes called the Nashers, after Malcolm Nash, whose claim to fame was that he was the bowler who was hit for 6 sixes in an over by Gary Sobers.”

I can definitely go on to quote more lawyers on why they think networking in critical, but I think you have now began to grasp the concept.

How can you build deep, meaningful relationships that last a long time during a month long internship?

That sounds quite crazy. Is that even possible? Well, you probably can’t build a lot of great relationships that last a lifetime in just one month of interaction. However, it is a great idea to treat every person you meet as if 10 years later they are going to head a big law firm or be elected the President of United States. It is a good strategy to be an interesting person, which most people pursue with a lot of gusto. Unfortunately, there is a much easier but rarely followed path – that is to take interest in other people.

Take interest in everything, especially success and welfare of others while you intern. Look after the associates, try to reduce their work burden, ask them if there are more ways in which you can help them. Nothing wrong in getting their coffee while they are really stuck with some work at their table and can’t visit the canteen. Even as a CEO I will not hesitate to do this for someone who works for me. Demonstrate genuine care and interest in other people, and everything will become very easy.

Empathy, empathy, empathy

Indian workplaces are often very stressful environments. People shout at others, scream when they are disappointed, use bad words, operate under high pressure and often forget to smile. As an intern for you this is a new world. Don’t get intimidated. Smile. Empathize. That’s the way to survive big law firms as an intern and build lasting relationships.

Be damn good at research and proofreading

Associates are always looking for more research. Become the go to guy. They also always need proofreading. Become so good at it that they do not want to work with anyone else. These are your windows of opportunity to be known as reliable, diligent interns who everyone is looking for. On top of this, if you have good knowledge about the area of work in which the law firm or those certain associates operate, then you are gold. However, you need practical knowledge and not just textbook knowledge that you do not know how to apply in real life. For example, an associate wants you to help with some research about NBFCs. Now you have no idea what is an NBFC, who regulates these NBFCs and where are all the rules, regulations and circulars regarding NBFCs to be found. How long will it take you to do the job if you have to start with googling what is an NBFC?

On the other hand, what if another intern has done this course, knows where exactly in RBI website he will find what he is looking for, and produces the answers in next 30 minutes? Will this particular intern going to corner most of the work and interesting assignments or not? What if that associate has to go for a due diligence on the next day? Who do you think she is going to ask to come along with her, you or the other intern who is super quick with research?

Those who do the initial tasks well continue to get lots and lots of work and get an opportunity to stand out. Those who do not do a good job, soon realises that associates are ignoring them, or saying things like I do not have any work to give you at the moment.

No point networking in a law firm if you can’t do the work. So walk in prepared.

Find a mentor

Law firms are quite political places. You need to find someone important enough in the system who is ready to guide you and vouch for you to others. Every law firm has some budding lawyers who want to have a circle of influence around them. They want to find mentees too. However, if you are not good at your work, people may not be willing to guide you and mentor you. Also, don’t be stubborn. Listen to people. Learn from them. Many youngsters feel entitled and a false sense of superiority. Don’t let your past experience fool you, a law firm is not how your college is. You will depend on others if you have to survive for long, and especially if you want to thrive. The faster you find people who will watch your back, the better it is.

Should I compete with other interns?

Absolutely, you should. You are in a competition whether you like it or not. Even the associates and partners are competing with each other, so there is little you can do about it. Let’s imagine for a moment that there are 20 summer interns in a big law firm in Delhi in the month of June. Only 1 or 2 of them are likely to be offered a PPO. Maybe 5-6 will be invited to come back and intern again. Want to be the guy who landed the job amongst those 20 kids who were lucky enough to have that internship? Then you would better stand out in the crowd with your amazing work and dedication.

If you are however the sort of person who will hide books in the library or slip in a pill in co-interns coffee, you are probably doomed. You need to stay positive and compete. Negative people are quickly singled out and steamrolled in law firms unless they somehow manage to become partners 😀

How can I prepare for my next internship?

Work on the following:

  1. Gain relevant practical knowledge. If you want to do a corporate law internship, I recommend this course.
  2. Learn how to do due diligence.
  3. Learn how to draft contracts. Your bosses will not expect you to know how to do it. However, if you know it, they will be surprised and delighted to give you more responsibility.
  4. Plan out every detail of how to do better at your internship by participating in this program.
  5. Keep yourself updated about the laws in your area of interest.

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