Associates, In-House Counsels & Advocates

Mini Gautam, in-house counsel, on pursuing a career as in- house counsel

Mini Gautam graduated from ILS Law College, Pune University in 2010. Presently, she is a Senior Manager in the strategy and planning department of one of the leading infrastructure finance companies in India. She plays a key role in legal strategy and transactions crossing a certain level of criticality and threshold.In this interview she talks about:

In this interview she talks about:

  • Her journey so far
  • Challenges associated with being an in-house counsel
  • The recruitment process in her company
  • The role of a mentor in any job

You are working in the strategy and planning office of your company. How different is that from a regular legal function?

I am working in the strategy office of Srei Infrastructure Finance Limited, one of the leading infrastructure finance companies in India with operations of affiliated entities extending into the oil, power, construction equipment leasing and telecom sectors. The quality of work here is superlative.

We are expected to not just pick up and read laws but to structure and provide practical and workable solutions. The motto is to try and furnish the solution; not just identify the problem. That has helped me to look at everything from a commercial and systematic point of view.

I don’t want to delve into the philosophy or art of law anymore as a commercial lawyer. I want to know what is it that affects my organization and to what extent. That’s it. Once I have that base knowledge, everything becomes easier. 12650821_10153790751870446_811507915596196158_n

What are the essential requirements that a law student must fulfill in order to pursue a career in financial services? Do you think additional degrees like CA or CS help in this regard?

Yes, definitely. CA, CS, MBA are really helpful for working in corporate law. But honestly, I don’t have any of these degrees and some of the people who I have had a chance to work with and who have a good grasp of the law and a clear understanding of concepts; also do not.

So I will be compelled to say that degrees don’t add the kind of value that practical experience does. In my experience, I have found that the harder and harder you work, the more the number of hours you put in; well, as a lawyer, that’s pretty much all you need to be successful.

How would you describe the roles and responsibilities associated with being a senior member of your organization?

Thankfully, I have been given a good role in my organization. I would think corporate in-house wise; this is probably one of the best exposures a person can get. The scope of the work is diverse and spread across multiple sectors; so there is never a boring day or repetition of any kind. The learning curve is really good.

Why did you shift from a mid-sized law firm to a company?

Moving in-house from a mid – sized law firm was one of the best decisions of my life.

Working in-house has made me appreciate and soak in one thing, the beauty of business; the kind of challenges involved in running a company, whether they be on a day to day and operational perspective or whether they are from a structuring and transactional viewpoint.

While being in a law firm may help you understand the academic and doctrinaire aspects of law, in-house heaps a whole lot of responsibilities on you that are fundamental to the functioning and sustenance of a corporate house.

What are the challenges associated with being an in-house counsel? How do you handle them?

The biggest challenge of working in-house is balancing legal and business needs and aspirations. You have to learn to pick your battles wisely; some things you fight tooth and nail for, some things you let go and live to fight on another day.

As in-house counsel, you have to be thorough with the business requirements; every decision you make is crucial and may have spill – over effects over a long duration.

You don’t have that much scope to go wrong or make a mistake. Your business teams rely on your judgment entirely. Once you have taken a call, that’s that.

Would you hire a hard working student or a street smart one? How important are grades in your assessment?

We are always looking for hard-working students to come on board. The willingness to work hard and yes, to some extent, the ability to work smart is the key differentiator between students who get selected as opposed to those who don’t.

We don’t want to know how much you already know as a fresher; because trust me, you know nothing. We just want to know how willing you are to be remolded and recast; everyone starts at zero.

What do you see in candidates when you go for recruitment? What is the general process of taking new members in your company?

While conducting an interview, the one thing that matters the most is the sincerity of the candidate. It is the single most important and deciding factor and is much more relevant than grades or moot courts or paper publications or internships. The practice of the law in any setup is a hard and challenging job. It requires patience, commitment and a dedicated number of long hours.

The process we follow for recruitments is giving out assessment internships. We believe that gives both us a chance to review the candidate’s work and also the candidate an opportunity to understand the way we function and most importantly, our thought process.

Training of resources necessarily involves having colleagues who can understand the “why” of what you are talking. Once that happens, you don’t need to micromanage or recheck work. 10897030_10152933394005446_886127385185496502_n

What is the role of a mentor in any job?

A mentor is probably the single most important influence on a job. The majority of people quit their jobs because of the kind of boss they had.

A good mentor can change your entire perspective regarding your job. The idea is not to micromanage your resources but impose faith in them; so that they take on responsibilities themselves and feel like they are adding worth to the larger scheme of things.

One of the biggest mistakes I find is employers who keep repeating phrases like“one will leave ten will come,”“nobody is indispensable,” etc. especially in Indian law firms where the general assumption is that law students are being manufactured by the dozen. A good mentor will make you feel valued so that you put in that extra effort.

An excellent resource is not easy to find and tougher to retain. Do we really want automatons who will pop out drafts and agreements without application of mind and more importantly, without an iota of genuine interest in what they are doing or do we want genuinely interested, inspired and initiated individuals who are strategically important cogs in the wheel.

As a mentor at some point in time you will need to realize what is it you are looking for; a false sense of power at keeping track of what time your employees entered and when they left office even if they are playing candy crush under their desks? Or can you let your employee manage his own schedule, deliver good quality of work to you and if required is ready to put in 200% of what his or her capabilities are.

You can only be a good mentor to someone if you are free from insecurities yourself, and most importantly when your focus is on getting the job done rather than just purely wanting to harass another individual. Your mentee’s growth is also a part of your own.

What are the challenges associated with being a woman?

Generally, I don’t feel biased against in any manner being a woman working in a corporate set-up. It is only when I attend meetings and find that in probably 8 out of 10 I am the only woman in the room that I realize that something is wrong with not just our country but the world over.

Women generally start with great careers on the same footing as men. But as they move ahead, they fall behind. Marriage, children, the excuses are plenty. Yes, I understand women who are staying back at home to raise kids and look after their families are probably doing something much more worthwhile than what working women can achieve in their lifetimes. But I really hope that these are genuine cases of a voluntary choice made by a woman and not a manipulation or a societal unsaid and yet undeniable obligation.

How has the journey been so far? What are your long term goals?

The journey may have been hard and stressful at times but if given a chance I wouldn’t want to change a thing and would retrace my steps to exactly the same destinations.

While good experiences are comforting and encouraging in life, it is the bad ones that teach you in ways nothing else can.

Honestly speaking, I fail ten times a day. I make mistakes, take wrong decisions, don’t understand certain things, may not be able to articulate myself properly, stand up for things that may not be so important while ignoring the ones that really matter, the list is sadly endless.

If two years ago somebody had asked me what your weaknesses are; I would have given some smart aleck answer and said my only weakness is that I don’t have any. Today, I have matured and understood myself and the world enough to know that I am far, really far behind where I want to reach and that it’s not such a bad thing. I have understood that making mistakes means learning. I have realized that perfection is a notion, not a reality; and you should never aspire to perfection. You should only aspire to growth.

It’s hard to say what I am seeking or where I am trying to reach with certainty. As of today, I love my work and my job. It is fulfilling and satisfying. But yes, a job cannot be a long-term goal.

There has to be some ideology or philosophy you subscribe to; something that you are so passionate about that it wakes you up every day with a cheerful buzz in your heart. I am in pursuance of that passion; hope to reach there at some point.

What would be your advice to our readers?

My advice to readers especially law students is please don’t take life too seriously. Nothing is life and death issue; definitely not jobs and placements. A job is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Keep your priorities in life clearly demarcated.

Loved ones always come first, and in that list, you should put your own name on top. If anything makes you feel depressed or unhappy or dissatisfied; there is just no need to do it. There is no rush. Life is not a race. Don’t be in a hurry to get somewhere. Enjoy the journey; the journey is what life is.

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