Associates, In-House Counsels & Advocates

Debosmita Nandy, Associate Legal Manager, ITC, on being an author, her litigation experience, and plans for the future

debosmita-nandy4Debosmita Nandy graduated from WBNUJS, Kolkata, in 2009. During this time she interned with the likes of Luthra & Luthra Law Offices, Trilegal, and Amarchand Mangaldas. She is an in-house counsel with seven years of PQE in diverse commercial and civil disputes, alternate dispute resolution, negotiation and agreement drafting and corporate mergers and amalgamations. She specialises in Mergers and Amalgamations, International Commercial Arbitration, Legal drafting, Advising clients and appearing in court, Contract Negotiation.

She is currently Associate Legal Manager at ITC Limited.

In this interview we speak to her about:

  • Her experience with writing and publishing
  • Being a litigating lawyer
  • Her internship experience

 

Tell us a bit about your life before law school.

I was born and brought up in Kolkata. Throughout my school life, I was miss goody two-shoes and the only things which interested me apart from studies were reading and creative writing.

 

How did you gravitate towards the field of law?

I was very clear from the beginning that I would not go down the traditional career path. I was trying to decide between the armed forces (yes, I wanted to join the Air Force!) and research in the field of Genetics (Biology was a favourite subject then) till I read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and was blown over by Atticus Finch and his profession. I also came to know of national law schools at the same time, which helped me in finally deciding on taking up law as a career.

However, convincing my parents was a tough task! I took up Science with Biology in plus two to keep my options open but mainly to appease them. Towards the end of class XII, I chucked my parents’ dream of being a doctor and set myself on the path of preparing for law entrance tests (every law school had its own entrance tests then). I took a chance and wrote only the entrance test of NUJS, whose results were declared during my ISC examinations.

 

Tell us about your writing experience and how it has helped you as a lawyer.

Getting associated with Writer’s Block, the NUJS in-house magazine stemmed from my love of creative writing.However, being associated with NUJS Law Review helped me develop a very important skill – that of teamwork. I wrote two articles jointly with two juniors and was also responsible for mentoring them. Both of them brought fresh insights to the table and it was a good learning experience for me. Moreover, it helped fine-tune my legal research and writing skills.

Writing a well-researched and publication-worthy legal article hones one’s logical reasoning, analytical mind and research skills. While writing an article, one has to be very careful about grammar, formatting requirements of the publication house and spelling. These things, however minor they may appear, are very important for good drafting. You have no idea how many junior lawyers get a rap on their knuckles due to bad grammar or wrong spelling or because they did not put a comma in the right place!

 

Tell us about your internship experience.

In terms of law, one does not really learn much of it during internships. I worked on formatting and cross-referencing 30-page long agreements, read through voluminous documents in the name of due diligence, copy-pasted information in the standard template in the name of drafting reports, researched judgments on points of law on which none existed and read litigation files but failed to understand the difference between a plaint and a petition! Personally, I think that it is difficult to develop an understanding of how the law works in the real world in a span of just four to six weeks.

However, these internships gave me the chance me to visit different cities, taught me how to live on my own, introduced me to the ‘law firm culture’, gave me a taste of how long the working hours and how competitive the professional life would be and brought me in touch with all kinds of people! It was a very good life lesson, something I would not have learnt otherwise. I also picked up skills like good communication, multi-tasking, working on tight deadlines and effective networking, which are important for any profession.

 

What role did the placement committee play in securing internships?

I just went with the flow. I interned in all possible places – NGOs, trial court, High Court and Supreme Court lawyers and three top law firms. All my internships were arranged through the placement committee except the one at Luthra where I applied on my own.

 

Any advice for the young law students as to how they should choose and plan their internships?

When it comes to internships, I believe that one should try all before deciding on the one they want to pursue. Despite my misgivings about how much law one learns during internships, I believe that internships give a flavour of the place, which helps decide one’s career path. However, one might still end up in a completely different place of which s/he has no idea, like I did – first at a litigating law firm and then in a company!

 

What do you think an intern should do (or should not do) to get noticed at work?

Be sincere and diligent in the assignments that you get, show your eagerness to learn and go the extra mile. Maintain punctuality in reaching office, finish the tasks within the time permitted and if not, then take permission for extension of the deadline. If you have more than one assignment at a time, then ask the associates about the order in which they want them rather than you deciding which one you would finish first.

Ask work from as many associates or managers and their bosses as possible so that most people know you, admit mistakes and do not repeat them, but hold your ground if you think you are right. Do not fib about anything since you will be easily caught.

Avoid logging into social network sites from office computer, do not engage in idle chit-chat with fellow interns but be generally sociable. Avoid going on dates with any associate so that you are not accused of using improper means of getting a PRO! Above all, behave as if you are already a part of the organisation.

 

How relevant did you find your law school education with the kind of work you were required to do at law firms?

Legal education is definitely far removed from the way law is required to be applied in the profession. An apt example would be the procedural laws. The way CPC and CrPC are taught in law schools will be of  little help when one has to apply his/her knowledge at the workplace. I learnt CPC fully only when I began working in Khaitan & Co.

In my opinion, law is a subject which is learnt only on the job. One can begin working at a lawyer’s chamber or a law firm along with regular classes to get a head-start. However, I believe that the law school days will never come back, so why waste precious time stuck away in a cubicle? Everybody will learn the practical application of law once they start working, so make the most of the five years that you have!

 

debosmita-nandy3What kind of work did you do at Khaitan?

Khaitan & Co. was instrumental in introducing me to the various facets of the profession, especially teaching me the procedural aspects of law. I mainly worked on a wide range of litigations, including arbitration and got trained in the aspects of client handling, research, identifying relevant documents, research, drafting, briefing counsel, appearing in court, organising papers (trust me, litigation generates piles of papers!), knowing how the court machinery works and everything in between. Early on, I was given independent charge, which was scary, intensely pressurizing but highly beneficial and satisfying.

 

How different would you say is working as a disputes lawyer as opposed to working as a corporate lawyer in a big law firm?

Disputes lawyers spend the half of their days running around in court, getting the much-needed exercise, while corporate lawyers sit in their chairs for the whole day!

On a more serious note, it would be unfair on my part to comment on this since I only have internship experience in corporate law firms to go by.

 

What were the top three challenges you faced right at the beginning as you began practice as a litigating lawyer at Khaitan?

1. Lack of understanding of  how the court works – I trailed my court clerk, asked questions to whoever listened and witnessed all ground level work right from paying stamp duty on a plaint and having it notarized till going to the Registry for certified copy of an order.

2. No family legal background – I did not know the top lawyers, their clerks or their chamber addresses. It was difficult to get the lawyers to listen to me since they considered me a rookie. I managed to gain their attention only with sincere and hard work. I strongly believe that it does not matter who your father is as long as you can show them who you are and what you can do.

3. Being a woman – The profession, especially in the litigating field, is still quite patriarchal, although I believe times are changing. As long as you maintain a no-nonsense and a professional attitude towards your work and surroundings, you should not face any problem.

 

After Khaitan, you shifted to ITC Ltd. What prompted the switchover?

At the end of three years at Khaitan & Co, I was looking for a different challenge and so joined ITC Limited as an in-house counsel.

 

What is the role of an in-house counsel in a multi-business Indian conglomerate like ITC?

A typical work day for me begins at 9 AM with checking the mailbox and making a list of things to do for the day. Shortly thereafter, I get calls from other departments of the company, asking for my inputs on day-to-day operational issues. Between 1 and 2 PM, I enjoy the lunch arranged by the company and chat with my colleagues. Post lunch, I try and schedule all meetings so that I do not end up snoozing at my desk from the heavy lunch! Apart from internal cross-departmental meetings, I also attend various meetings with outside parties as a member of the company’s negotiating team. I offer my legal inputs on agreements, negotiate with the lawyer from the other side and help the company in closing the deal. Towards the end of the day, I meet my reporting bosses and discuss my areas of work for their inputs and advice.

On some days, I research on the legal points in a proposed dispute and draft suitable applications.If a case involving the company is going on in the court, then I go for briefing conferences with the counsel and attend the hearing in court. However, this is a very general version of my routine here, since no two days are same – each day brings new challenges and exciting opportunities to my desk.

Simply put, the role of an in-house counsel is to assist the company in all its legal issues.

 

Many people believe that working as an in-house counsel affords more work-life balance and is less demanding. What has been your experience?

Law, as a profession is very demanding no matter where you are. You will be required to work all night or over the weekend if need be. You may have to cancel holiday plans for a last minute urgent case (like I did). So I would request all to dispel any misconception they may have about an in-house counsel having it easier than their law firm counterparts.

However, the best part about working in a company is its HR practices e.g., leave policy. ITC, for example, encourages you to take a minimum of fifteen leaves a year, and also accommodates health and personal exigencies. This invariably contributes towards a better work-life balance.

 

How can one apply for an internship at ITC?

One can apply through his college placement committee. I am not in a position to comment on the second question, but I can say this much from personal experience that an academically sound resume opens all doors. If that is not the case, then one has to build an all-round CV to justify the lack of CGPA.

 

debosmita-nandy1You have co-authored a book on forest laws and policies in India, and another on environment and wildlife laws in India. Tell us how did the idea of writing a book germinate and what prompted you to choose these specific topics?

When I was in my fourth year, Dr. A. K. Poddar (our professor of Environment Laws) asked me if I was interested in contributing to a book that he was working on. I readily agreed and the result was publication of the book, Forest Laws and Policies in India by Regal Publications after almost 3 years!

While I was working on this book, I gathered a lot of material on related topics. My co-author and I then tied up with a senior from college – Arjya B. Majumdar to compile another book, Environment and Wildlife Laws in India, which was published last year by LexisNexis. The first book happened by chance and thereafter, led to the second book.

 

debosmita-nandy2Can you tell our readers about your short stories?

I have continued to pursue my most favourite hobby i.e., creative writing through my blog as I am very passionate about it. My first short story appeared as part of Chicken Soup for Indian Soul On Friendship, published by Westland in 2011. Recently, I participated in a nationwide short-story writing contest organised by Rupa Publications where my entry won the second prize from the best-selling author, Anuja Chauhan. They also published it as part of an anthology An Atlas of Love, and it has received some good reviews.

 

Given a chance to turn back the clock is there anything you would have done differently?

Looking back, I believe that I am where I am only because of all the choices I made and the opportunities I got in the past. I have no regrets and so would not change a single thing.

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