Associates, In-House Counsels & Advocates

Abhishek Tripathy, on joining Indian Revenue Service and quitting BigLaw

Abhishek Tripathy graduated from NUJS, Kolkata in 2011. Thereafter, he worked at AMSS, Mumbai for almost a year. Not much later, he realized that working in a corporate law firm was not merely what he wanted. Looking for a work area that allowed him to work at the intersection of law, policy and governance, Abhishek decided to sit for the famously tricky UPSC exams. Today, after a steady pace of determined preparation and hard work, he has qualified the UPSC and is all set to join the IRS.

In this interview, he tells SuperLawyer about:

  • His early experiences that led him to the desire of working for the people of the country
  • His realization that mooting and other law school activities helped even those who looked for a non-legal career
  • His experience at a premier law firm and then his decision to avoid the lures of this firm and prepare for the UPSC
  • The preparation that went into cracking the UPSC exam
  • His reason for choosing the IRS

 

How would you like to introduce yourself to our readers who are mostly law aspirants, law students and young lawyers?

I graduated from NUJS in 2011, and was working briefly at AMSS Mumbai. I decided to write the UPSC CSE in 2012, after leaving AMSS. I have secured a rank of 151 in the 2014 CSE, and will soon join the Indian Revenue Service.

 

How would you describe your childhood and educational background before college? Do you have lawyers or bureaucrats in your family?

I did my schooling from BJEM School and Class XII from BJB Junior College, both in Bhubaneswar. I had science in my higher secondary course. I was active in extra and co-curriculars all through. I was an avid debater and loved public speaking and elocution.

My family has a great diversity of professionals which includes lawyers and bureaucrats. There was thus never a dearth of role models while growing up. My mother is trained in Indian Classical music. She used to perform songs written by my maternal grandmother, in the All India Radio while she was in college! Music and literature therefore had a tremendous impact on me.

My father was a sports-person and a marathoner. My father and grandfather encouraged me to read the newspaper daily, without fail.

Due to my father’s frequent and long spells of postings in the Kalahandi-Bolangir-Koraput (KBK) region of Odisha, I travelled through these areas quite a bit. What I found tragic was the deprivation, but what was startlingly redeeming was the rich culture of the people. That phase had a deep impact on me. I decided to commit to the UPSC preparation due to an awareness of ground realities in such areas.

Looking back, that helped me learn many practical things.

 

How would you describe your experience as a student aspiring to study at an NLU? How would you describe your academic life at law school?

(Abhishek graduated from West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, in the year 2011)

Education at a leading NLU is as comprehensive as it gets. It exposes you to diverse life experiences. It prepares you for life. To every law school aspirant, my simple message is to just do everything in your capacity to make the cut.

To every law school student, I would simply tell you to absorb as much as your student life offers you. Your experiences will eventually define the lawyer that you will become.

I had a great learning experience in law school. A great pool of motivated and driven batchmates made the experience challenging and thoroughly enjoyable. We were lucky to be taught by some of the finest law professors, from India and abroad. Besides, it was a time when research output was beginning to be focussed on substantially in NUJS, under Prof. MP Singh’s visionary leadership.

 

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Did you like the combination of law and humanities right from the beginning, or was it an afterthought when you realized that you had to prepare for the UPSC exams?

I really liked the humanities subjects, especially Sociology and Political Science. Economics taught at law school helped me a lot during my UPSC preparation, as there is a clear focus on Macro-Eco. Sociology helped me build bridges and link topics. Most importantly, it taught me the art of questioning seemingly mundane aspects of life, which we take for granted.

For example, during one of my internships I was working on sanitation and public health, and in another I was working on disaster mitigation and management and had the opportunity to interact with women’s Self Help Groups (SHGs). This confluence of law, finance, policy and grassroots issues helped me a lot while in law school and as a lawyer. It helped me even more while preparing for the UPSC. I was not just reading concepts and problems, I actually began having a fair idea about how things work in real life.

Further, we had a good set of professors to learn from in NUJS and that in itself is a privilege.

 

How was your experience with internships? Did they help you in the long run?

I planned my internships in order to have a good variety of work experience on my resume.

I have worked with German and Spanish Red Cross Delegations to India, on some stimulating field and research based internships. I value this phase a lot. I have interned with a Singapore based law firm. The exposure to mediation and alternative dispute resolution mechanisms in Singapore was educative.

I have interned at most of the major law firms in India. Somehow, ironically, I never quite enjoyed these much.

 

You have academically done well both in NUJS as well as in your Junior College and in School. Any actionable tips to score well in law school for our readers?

I came into law school with the single point agenda of not just building a good CGPA but also of getting an education that taught me practical life skills.

I was always very active in all that each of my educational institutes had to offer. In law school as well, I was focussed on diversifying my resume and learning life skills. Since I was never targeting higher education right after law school, I was not obsessed about my CGPA. But I saw so many around me who went to great lengths to gain astronomic scores, irrespective of what they lost out on. I was never a part of this race!

In the semester I had my lowest GPA, I learnt how to swim, interned at some of the best Indian law firms, wrote and published papers and so on. Looking back, I am richer for the things I did, and the way I prioritised my life at that point, than for the GPAs I lost out on.

Therefore, I value life skills over college grades.

Having said that, I should clarify that for all practical reasons like an LLM or an ideal Day Zero job, a CGPA unfortunately is the sine qua non. But there are ways to find a balance.

I really wish law firms and other recruiters found a more comprehensive way to look at a person’s life experiences. Law is all about the real life dynamics. It should not be evaluated solely on the merits of how many sections one crams or how high your scores shoot up! These are fairly important, but eventually, parts of a whole. At present, these things are treated with undue importance, if I can put it that way.

 

You were an avid mooter in your law school and participated in national moots. How does mooting help if you choose a non-legal career?

Firstly, I have not really been an ‘avid’ mooter! Yes, I have mooted and enjoyed it. But I have never been obsessed about it really. I did it as something that I ought to have done as a young law student, so that later there were no regrets. NUJS has a thriving mooting culture which is difficult to avoid initially.

As such, mooting structures the thought process of fresh law students. It teaches valuable research skills, presentation of arguments and marshalling of facts. Most importantly, it equips us to look at both sides of a fact. All of these are precious skills, irrespective of which profession one eventually chooses. To illustrate my point, my debating and mooting skills helped me do well at my law firm interviews. My UPSC personality test was also much easier to deal with, given the continued exposure to speaking. And it certainly has helped me improve my inter-personal and communication skills as a professional.

 

Did you enjoy legal writing while at law school?

To be honest, I was more interested in legal writing and research than mooting. I was in the Magazine Committee with a team of absolutely talented seniors to learn from. I was associated with the NUJS Law Review for a fairly long time, beginning as a junior Associate Member and then subsequently rising to become an Editor. This phase taught me crucial skills like attention to detail, communication, financial and regular administration. In addition, I was taught the important of rigorously skimming through many papers, picking out the better ones and editing them thoroughly. The unique NUJS Law Review model has been path-breaking. I am glad I was a part of it, at a time when this institution was being built from scratch by Professor MP Singh and a team of brilliant seniors.

 

After law school you joined AMSS, Mumbai. How was the BigLaw experience?

(At AMSS, Abhishek worked for almost a year in the firm’s Private Equity/Mergers and Acquisitions Team)

It was my first job, a day zero placement at that. It shall always be very special. Mumbai shall always be close to my heart for various reasons. I had always wanted to work with a major Indian law firm. But with each of my internships I realised, that I was growing disenchanted with the entire idea of corporate law firms and the typical lifestyle changes that are inevitable.

The real life experience at AMSS made me realize that only corporate law, or even law for that matter, would not motivate me. It had to be more holistic, more challenging, and this transition had to happen on my terms.

 

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When and how did you decide to go for the civil services?

The intersection of law, policy and governance deeply interests me. The Civil Services promised that along with great diversity and a unique opportunity to work for the people directly. I was very happy being a lawyer, but I was not satisfied with just that. I wanted to marry policy and governance to it, which is why the shift to bureaucracy made sense. In many ways, the UPSC CSE presented the next level for me as a lawyer: that is, connecting the citizens and public with law and governance.

But I wanted to pursue this career for the right reasons. So I first decided to put in my papers. I did not leave AMSS because I wanted to do the UPSC CSE.

I left the lure of a very prestigious and glamorous job at the best Indian law firm, because it did not align with my vision and priorities in life. After two months of resigning, I finally struck out all other competing and compelling alternative career choices, and decided that I should give the UPSC exams a shot. It was based on a year-long and excruciating cost-benefit analysis, which had started while I was still in AMSS.

For me, it has always been about following my inner vision and motivation: with some courage, a lot of guts and an unfailing faith in my actions and thoughts. The thrill of risks, backed with thorough background research, gives me an adrenaline rush! I did not write myriad exams just for practice, as many of my friends did. My only singular priority was clearing the UPSC CSE. Nothing more, but nothing less!

 

To gain exposure for UPSC, what all did you do?

I pursued independent legal and policy research. I got back to blogging on different genres and themes. That helped me in my UPSC preparation tremendously. I was attached to an international NGO, which helped me appreciate the grassroots issues. I was blogging for a junior from law school, on her website www.lawschoolsterrace.com. I liked connecting with the young law school students community through this.

I did not want to be just another aspirant, doing what lakhs of people always do: only study! I wanted to pursue my interests and hobbies also. I wanted to grow as an individual. I wanted to reflect that in my attitude towards this exam.

 

Tell us what drove you to join the Indian Revenue Service? What were your service preferences?

My service preferences were: IAS-IRS–IPS-IFS.

This is not going to be my first job and as such, I have no star dust in my eyes regarding the civil services. I can only do a job that I am interested in really, and one that fits into my larger vision -personally and professionally.  The IRS fit the bill perfectly.

 

You have secured a very high rank in the UPSC Exam. Tell our readers how to prepare for these exams to achieve success and on preparations you underwent to crack the exam.

This was my second attempt. I failed to clear the prelims in my first attempt as I had no understanding of what the UPSC expects of the students. Lack of focus and complacency are largely to be blamed in hindsight.

I prepared for a year all by myself at Bhubaneswar. I moved to Delhi for around 3 months and joined Sriram’s IAS. Sriram Sir was the perfect mentor I could ask for. That short stint helped me consolidate my preparation. I came back home for my second attempt in 2014, and joined Career Launcher and another local institute, Aarohan, for prelims tests only. I did not attend the classes at these places. I only wanted to polish my preparation.

I made use of the internet and newspapers thoroughly. I wrote tests regularly and had a fixed, yet flexible timetable with daily, monthly and exam level targets. My uncle, Mr. Santosh Behera, helped me prepare systematically for the personality test round.

 

How do you plan to go ahead in time?

As long as I am committed to my job, and keep referencing back to my law school training, I can ensure I do my work as is expected of me. The biggest impact often comes from doing the simplest of acts with great faith, honesty and sincerity.

 

Please give our young readers and followers some tips to help them ace the mighty UPSC.

Focus, and you shall have it!

Many of us are obsessed with our Plans B, C, D so much that Plan A (clearing the UPSC) gets compromised. A friend of mine told me once that there is a reason Plan A takes time. Give it the time and energy it deserves. It will reward you, one way or the other.

If I were to borrow the thoughts and words of the Greek poet, Constantine Cavafy, this ‘Journey to Ithaca’, is totally worth its while! So enjoy the process, and wait for success to come at its own time!

Godspeed and best wishes to all the aspirants!

 

 

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