While starting out, a fear that sometimes played on my mind was of how to deal with the sheer volume of regulations from different areas of law applicable to a single transaction. To see my seniors at that time handling such transactions so routinely would leave me awestruck, but also lead me to wonder whether I would ever be at the same level as my superiors.
Alka completed her Bachelor of Law from the University of Delhi in 1995, prior to which she did her Masters in Economics from the Delhi School of Economics and her Bachelor in Economics from Hindu College, University of Delhi. With 20 years of experience as a corporate lawyer, Alka specializes in mergers & acquisitions. She has worked on several complex cross border M&A transactions and is today, a partner at AZB & Partners, one of the most prominent law firms of India.
What sort of formal education is an absolute essential for your profession? Also, could you share with us the kind of internship or experience that would be helpful for a young person considering this line of work?
An LLB (Bachelor of Law) is obviously essential for anyone seeking to enter the legal profession. After two or three years in the profession, once an individual has decided on the areas of law that most interest him / her, a specialization (LLM) in that chosen area of law may help.
In order to experience different areas of the law, I feel that it would be a good idea for law students to explore different internships – at a smaller boutique firm, at a full service larger firm, internship with a litigation lawyer, internship with a company/bank in its legal department, as that would serve as a good base for determining the areas of law that most interests and best suits him / her.
It is also very important to try and do varied work while starting off in the legal profession so as to gain that much needed experience in different areas of law and be a well-rounded lawyer. Any experience that one can gain in legal research and drafting is very useful.
What do you do when you are stuck with a problem?
An approach that I have followed when dealing with a problem at work is to do diligent research followed by a careful analysis which will help arrive at a conclusion in order to deal with the problem.
It is also very important not to panic when faced with a problem as that affects your ability to arrive at a solution for it. Analysing the issue carefully and then thinking of a practical solution is critical.
When we’re in school, we’re told cheating is bad – ‘Don’t talk to each other, don’t discuss.’ And then as we come out of it, we begin to realize that there’s something called “collaborative thinking” and it’s not bad! What’s your opinion?
Collaborative thinking can be important in the legal sphere because the law is open to a plethora of interpretations. That being said, if faced with a question of law or a query from a client, it is crucial for the members of a team to first spend sufficient time analysing the issue themselves and doing their own research. By doing this, you ensure that when the team members re-group to discuss the issue and offer their research and opinions on the same, there would be constructive, healthy debate on the issue.
Sometimes, lawyers need to think beyond the letter of the law, and need to think about the intent or the spirit of the law. Collaborative thinking could help consider or assess issues from that standpoint as well.
How do you overcome roadblocks in your profession?
Analyzing it, arriving at its cause, thinking of different ways to overcome it, learning from other colleagues experience in a similar situation – are some of the ways to handle a roadblock in the profession. By getting bogged down by it, neither my client nor I will feel satisfied.
Describe a typical (business-as-usual) day and an atypical (screw-up-fairy-lives-here) day at work.
Given that there are usually several assignments that I am required to oversee at any given time, a typical day at work starts with taking stock of what needs to be achieved on that day -(i.e. assignments on which deadlines are fast approaching and that I would say are priority items for the day).
I think it is important to have a one page resume… Every item listed out in a resume should have a clear reason for being included.
Of course, being a lawyer means that a major portion of the day is spent in reviewing documents, discussions with the team on various aspects of law, meetings with clients, attending to client phone calls, giving advice on various issues, negotiating documents with other lawyers etc.
An atypical day may be a day when a new regulatory development severely impacts the deal which is about to be finalized or when a critical last minute issue surfaces which means the deal may not get closed within the timeline or deal falling through. Any of this means that the typical day goes haywire and needs particular and immediate attention and discussions with various parties involved!
What would your advice be to a young person at the start of his or her career and confused about pursuing passion versus being pragmatic?
I would say that while it is important to be pragmatic in most situations, it is better to pursue one’s passion when it comes to making a career choice. The pragmatic choice may secure a better income or a more comfortable life, but working on something you are not passionate about is certainly not a sustainable option.
It is difficult to excel when you make a career choice you are not passionate about.
What are the pitfalls of your profession and how do you mitigate them? Did you have any fears when you were just starting out about this line of work, and were any of them justified?
As a lawyer, it is very important to be current with the latest laws. With the number of regulatory developments that occur so often in different statutes and regulations, the most dangerous pitfall in the legal profession is of not being up to date with a change in law. This profession requires a high level of commitment and very long hours. While starting out, a fear that sometimes played on my mind was of how to deal with the sheer volume of regulations from different areas of law applicable to a single transaction. To see my seniors at the time handling such transactions so routinely would leave me awestruck, but also lead me to wonder whether I would ever be at the same level as my superiors.
However, as I worked on transactions, ably guided by seniors who were more than happy to help, I realized that by being diligent, by reading a lot and by working on several transactions in different sectors, I would also gradually feel more confident. While having sound knowledge of law is important, what really gives you the edge is the ability to think “out of the box” while remaining within the constraints of law. As one grows more senior, one realizes that clients are increasingly looking for more practical advice within the realm of law, rather than pure theoretical legal advice.
What is the kind of supplementary informal learning that will give you that edge on this job? Is there any specific reading that you engage in – trade magazines, books, any online resources (blogs, courses, Facebook or Linkedin communities etc.)
It is important to read the newspapers particularly the Economic Times and Business Standard to understand the issues facing the Indian economy. Since we deal with several international clients, it is also important to read some magazines like The Economist and Time.
In addition, it helps a lot to understand how different sectors work, the key issues specific to undertaking a business in a specific sector. Also, it is essential to read every new important regulatory development.
What is most rewarding about your job?
I think one of the most rewarding things about being a lawyer is working on a complex transaction which is highly regulated, spending long hard hours to achieve its closure in the manner contemplated by the client and then receiving an e-mail from the client appreciating all the hard work. It still means a lot to me.
What’s your advice for a resume that’s just about to enter circulation? What are the musts it should have that recruiters look for? And the absolute don’ts, if any?
I think it is important to have a one page resume. The resume should clearly and concisely set out the educational qualifications, work experience and touch upon your most notable extra-curriculars. In India, there is a trend to have voluminous resumes setting out a number of different awards and achievements which may all be deserved, but should suit the prospective job opening. Every item listed out in a resume should have a clear reason for being included. Anything which shows leadership qualities, and specific work done on a new or complex area of law should be mentioned.
How does one network in the beginning to get that initial presence felt, in this profession?
Interacting with your colleagues at the office and in other offices of your firm, as well as lawyers in other law firms can be useful.
It is also helpful to keep in touch with other friends in areas closely related with law such as bankers and accountants.