Akanksha Bisen

This interview has been published by Maaz Akhtar Hashmi and The SuperLawyer Team.

Having completed your graduation from Gargi College in commerce, you shifted to Campus Law Centre, Delhi, to pursue the three-year law program. Was that transition planned or a leap of faith? Could you walk us through your journey in the field of Law?

It was a planned decision, and there were many factors – being the first-generation lawyer in my family is one of them.

It is great to have a black and a white coat in the family. My dad being the holder of the white coat – I opted for the black one.

On a serious note – I always had a knack for knowing and appreciating the legal nuances. That later just spilled over my vocational side. In my extended family, we have had lawyers and judges. My discussions with them during family get-togethers led me to legal studies. Much before I studied law, I read books on constitutional law, and it fascinated me. At a practical level, I believe that commerce and law are a potent combination.

To answer your second question –  My education in commerce and law taught me how businesses get impacted by laws in several ways throughout their journey. My curiosity increased on how new businesses are changing the world and how organisations are changing their working styles and processes to move forward in the competitive world. This ignited a spark in my mind to learn more about businesses, which led me to partner with a business consulting firm post my studies and a brief litigation stint where I provided business advisory services to start-ups, e-retailers and large retail companies, among others.

After spending three years at a consulting firm, I realised that my business advisory skillset could be best put to use in a law firm setup. That’s when I took up the role of setting up the BD function at a mid-tier law firm. I was responsible for identifying growth opportunities in national and international markets, managing marketing and client relationships.

After pursuing LLB from CLC Delhi, you did your masters from NLSIU, the premier institution for law in India. What prompted you to pursue your master’s in business laws?

MBL seemed like a great option to pursue after LLB as I kept thinking about the nexus between law and business. The curriculum is top-notch and gives you a 360-degree view of the finer nuances of the law as applicable in the business world.

I am a firm believer that education broadens your horizon. It clarifies your vision and objective in life. In my case, I believe it helped me make informed professional decisions.

Having practised for over a year in the CBI court, you shifted to independent consulting and legal advice post which you worked as in a practice development role at a law firm. How does such an unchartered role pan out in a law firm?

Everyone goes through a phase of transformation. I believe it was my interest area, and I exhausted some other options before I found my true calling in the business development function in the legal sector. I tried everything possible (I still do and plan to keep doing it) in an attempt at self-discovery – something we all do once in a while, if not constantly, throughout life’s journey.

I have always been fascinated by law, but I didn’t know the industry had so many opportunities. After working as a lawyer and getting some exposure as a consultant, I found myself ready to take up a BD role in a law firm.

That said, I think it’s important to highlight that it took a lot of discussions, convincing and brainstorming to develop such a profile. I didn’t have many people in the industry who were doing similar work that I intended to do.

To be the senior, I was looking for when I was a junior; I host a weekly virtual coffee for students and legal professionals who want to explore careers in a law firm’s BD and marketing function.

It is heartening to see that several individuals (including in-house counsels, law graduates and budding lawyers) want to explore the other side and do not want to stick to practising law just because they studied it.

You are now working in the Business Development and Digital Marketing domain. You are mainly responsible for managing business development and handling the digital and social initiatives of a leading law firm. In that light, could you explain the array of work you undertook in the last 3 years being in the firm?

I manage all aspects of the firm’s digital personality, from its website to social media. In addition to that, I have also made the firm’s efforts in the DI space visible in the last couple of years. Further, there is a whole lot of work that goes behind the scenes to make conferences and business meetings successful. You can say that I am a member of the behind-the-scenes crew.

You have also served as a Treasurer and now the VP for Toastmasters International, a premium group helping individuals worldwide to become confident communicators and able leaders. What attracted you to divulge into such positions of responsibilities?

Personal development is a constant DIY exercise. For example, during the pandemic, I worked on myself by taking workshops and training that helped me in improving other areas of life, like communication or leadership skills.

One such exercise led me to get associated with Toastmasters International and winning some awards later down the line.

Toastmasters is a non-profit organisation and thrives because of its volunteers. I believe in paying it forward; that is one of the reasons I stood up in the elections.

Additionally, I started a community for people to take up a 30-day challenge of video making. This was my way of paying it forward to the community supporting my journey to improve my video and presentation skills. Close to 50 people joined the challenge, and we were flooded with video across Instagram and YouTube. Like I say, having your community helps. It’s not only sustainable but also enriching – as you learn together.

How would you describe the relevance of LinkedIn as a platform in the legal industry today? Would you like to accord our viewers some tips to optimize their LinkedIn?

Let me ask you (or whosever is reading) this:

  • How have you been networking or keeping in touch with your clients during the pandemic?
  • What was the platform that you used from the comfort of your home?
  • Which is the ever-growing platform for professionals to network?
  • Where are your clients or potential clients already present?

If I had to use only one word, it would be LinkedIn.

To answer your second question, I am going to share my personal experience of using LinkedIn.

  • I started using LinkedIn intermittently when I was fresh out of college.
  • I haven’t received an Inmail that was unprofessional.
  • I started connecting with/following people who I thought would act as a guiding light.
  • I have connected with people from diverse backgrounds whose insights have helped me evolve as a professional.
  • I have got jobs through LinkedIn.
  • This is the only platform where I spend most of my time, and every day brings new learning for me.
  • I wish I could have started earlier – it would have gained more guidance from mentors, internship opportunities, practical tips from seniors, references for jobs and an edge over my peers to create my personal brand.
  • I believe this is the platform that would benefit you in different ways at different stages of your professional journey.

I hope this clarifies some apprehension, and may you make the best of this platform and, in a way, it is meant to be explored.

To your third question, and since your platform (SuperLawyer) attracts a diverse crowd, I will share one basic point that very few LinkedIn experts talk about. 

Try to understand your niche. The clearer you define it, the better your chances are to find them. You can go as deep as defining the sectors and industry. For instance, my broad and ambiguous TG would be law firms. However, if I try and define it, My TG is CMO/COO of commercial law firms looking for expanding their BD and marketing efforts.

To make your reader’s work easier, here is a template that will be helpful: Fill it for yourself.

  • My TG is ___________ looking for _______________, Or
  • I solve ________ problem for __________companies/people. You can also add sectors/practice area to have a better and clearer TG.

This is particularly helpful for lawyers as progressively; the ask is becoming specific and laser focussed.

As a professional, you have stated that you endeavor to help law firms grow their business by increasing client engagement outside traditional methods of communication. Could you highlight some valuable points related to client management at law firms to enhance businesses?

In recent years, legal marketers have had to find new ways of marketing. Traditionally word of mouth was common and still is in some circles. But, with increased use for digital marketing, this has become less effective as people are constantly on their phones or computers rather than listening closely to one person at a time. In addition, there’s more work involved beyond just traditional modes of marketing; you need to understand what those potential clients want before they even contact you!

In law firms, BD and marketing are closely and intricately integrated. The work essentially is to create awareness about the firm and its capabilities in the minds of decision-makers within the relevant target market – usually by deploying marketing tools such as websites, social media, newsletters, PR/media coverage, webinars/seminars and thought leadership.

Being someone who has spent years in business development at law firms, could you enunciate one day in your life as a BD professional and skills required for the position, which students can imbibe during their law school days?

I can’t give you a typical day because it’s different on different days. One day you are doing your routine work the next day, you get something entirely different. This is because business development as a field within the legal industry is growing and gaining traction. As law firms mature and increase in size, the scope of marketing and business development will grow further.

As Business Development Manager, my typical day involves interacting with the firm’s stakeholders and the BD team to discuss outreach strategies and new business opportunities. I also liaison between our team and other departments to ensure that the projects are on schedule.

Business development requires strong communication and time management abilities, in addition to the keen attention to detail and an ability to manage multiple projects at once with accuracy. It also helps if you enjoy working on your own because BD managers are often required to travel for conferences and speaking engagements. These are some skills that students can learn during their law school days!

You have repeatedly written about the reinforcement of women pursuing careers in the legal sector. Which initiatives in the legal field are required to promote a change and neutralize gender biases at workplaces?

During my discussion with various lawyers (men and women), I have realized that many women lawyers leave the profession after a certain age despite being brilliant at work, which is a loss to the profession. To avoid or reduce such situations, there should be more women-oriented policies in place, facilitating the retention of valuable lawyers/staff willing to resume work after a certain time gap. Policies like ‘Flexi-career’, work from home and in the case of young mothers, provision for day-care in the office premise becomes a relief. Also, it encourages them to combat difficulties and continue to remain in the profession.

The thought is to provide an environment to women conducive to fulfilling their professional dreams despite social and domestic pressure faced by them. Of course, women know they’re just as competent as men, but I believe, if such policies are well placed in the legal sector, more women lawyers would be open to the idea of starting a family, pursuing higher education, or experimenting with other career options. This will result in significant value addition to their respective firms and the profession.

Due to the ongoing pandemic shouldering responsibilities has become an arduous task. Could you please tell our readers how do you juggle motherhood with a demanding career? How should the present generation balance work and enjoy the luxuries of life?

Parenthood is a difficult task in itself, becoming a first timer even more so. And add to it, becoming a first-time parent in the times of corona, all of it was just unimaginable.

I became a mother just before the pandemic hit us. Quarantine or not, it’s multitasking for working moms, but this phase has made us the multitasking ninjas of doing the impossible.

In no way can I reduce stress on all the other working moms. However, here are some tips that helped me keep myself aligned on both fronts amidst the crisis.

  1. Look at the silver lining – I count my blessings, always.
  2. Re-asses your daily tasks – I can’t function without my planner.
  3. Brush up your skills – I am enrolled under one workshop/course at any given point in time.
  4. Meet people who are going through the same – build your community
  5. Eat that frog for breakfast – try to accomplish the most important/critical thing early in the morning.
  6. Be a little proud of yourself – Look back occasionally and pat your back to have come this far.
  7. Accept help – No one person can do everything alone. We all need collective care and community.
  8. Don’t expect too much of yourself – give yourself grace
  9. Make your health (physical and mental, both) a priority – You can’t pour from an empty cup.

I have started following this after I became a mother, but I think it applies to everyone.

What advice would you have for others who want to set off in a similar direction?

I am not great at giving advice, but I can share what worked for me. I tried everything and then figured out what I wanted to do. Being a lawyer and coming from a middle-class family with road maps laid out for me, I explored my options and settled for what worked for me.

After removing the limitations posed by our educational background, it is always crucial for us to explore all the possibilities.

I strongly feel that we are all artists once we figure out what our ‘art’ is. Artists are great because they do what they love and what they are meant to be doing.

So, my only suggestion would be – In a generation of professionals, be an artist.

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