Jeet Shroff graduated top of his class from GLC, Mumbai in 2010. Soon after graduating he joined AZB Partners as an Associate. In 2012 Jeet joined Harvard Law School where he pursued a general LL.M. and served as Senior Editor on the Harvard Business Law Review.
He has now joined Allen & Overy’s international arbitration practice at its Hong Kong office.
In this interview we speak to him about:
- Studying at Harvard
- Getting recruited at firms
- Judicial clerkships
How would you like to introduce yourself to our readers?
I graduated from Government Law College, Mumbai in 2010. At GLC I won the Y.V. Dalal Prize ’10 awarded for the best graduating student and the Best Student Prize for the years 2006-07, 2007-08 and 2008-09. I had also served as student-editor of the GLC Law Review for all five years, won several national moot court competitions and assisted with the editing of Wadhwa’s commentary on Insurance Law. I interned with judges at the Bombay High Court and at the Supreme Court, with a senior counsel at the Bombay High Court and worked as a Para-legal at AZB & Partners, Mumbai while at law school. After graduating from GLC I accepted an Associate position at AZB where I worked on matters involving M&A and post M&A disputes, general corporate advisory, securities litigation and international arbitration.
In 2012 I joined Harvard Law School where I pursued a general LL.M. and served as Senior Editor on the Harvard Business Law Review. I will now be joining Allen & Overy’s international arbitration practice at its Hong Kong office. I publish regularly in leading newspapers and journals in the country. My academic interests include the Legal Profession & Ethics, Corporate Governance, Corporate Social Responsibility, International Arbitration, Constitutional Law, Judicial Review and Constitutional Design Theory.
Why did you decide to study law?
I wanted to be a lawyer since my final year in school; but I wasn’t confident enough to pursue it because I had a terrible stammer and I was very bad at public speaking. When I got good grades in the 10th ICSE Board, I didnt have the confidence to back myself for a career in law. My parents wanted me to be a doctor and I went with their vision. I actually appeared for the Maharashtra medical entrance examination and thankfully, I did so badly that I would only have gotten a paid seat in a dental college in Aurangabad. My father wanted me to reappear for the exam. But by then I was sure I didn’t want to do medicine.So I decided to take up what I liked doing. I hadn’t appeared for any of the N-school entrance examinations and I could only apply to Mumbai law schools because they took you on the basis of the 12th HSC Board results where I had done fairly well. I lost my stammer in my second year at GLC after exposing myself repeatedly to public speaking in the moot court eliminations at GLC in my first year.
What were your areas of interest during your graduation?
I didn’t have any areas of expertise as such. GLC doesnt have any concentrations. I was deeply interested in Constitutional law and politics. I followed it up with moot court participation, law review membership, authoring articles, interning with judges at the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court and generally reading up on it over and above course-work. That apart, I was interested in traditional court litigation, securities litigation and corporate disputes. I pursued an internship with senior counsel Mr. Janak Dwarkadas at the Bombay High Court, which I would rate as amongst my best experiences so far. That internship really inspired me to consider a career as an arguing counsel. Finally I was lucky to get placed at AZB where I ‘grew up’ in a sense because I spent my last year as student and the first two years as a full-time practitioner there and I think those years really shape you and teach you the crucial skills you need to imbibe when you have just started.
What was your motivation behind doing an LL.M. abroad?
I didn’t think the LL.M. in India would be of much use to me. It’s not as rigorous. It’s a two year program which I think is too long even if you aim to become an academic. And it’s not rated highly in comparison with foreign LL.M. degrees which are now par for the course given the volume of Indian lawyers that spend a year studying aborad. My motivation behind the LL.M. was to experience academic life at a top institution, acquire a US / UK degree which may have its uses in the future, qualify to practice in another jurisdiction and if possible, land a job with an international firm. I was looking to spend a year experiencing a different life and I hoped that this would in turn broaden my horizons and allow me to experience a different culture. I felt it would help me grow, professionally and personally.
When did you decide that you wanted to do a Masters?
I decided in my third year at GLC. I hoped to land a scholarship and in fact I turned down an offer from NYU in 2010 because it didn’t come with funding. I took loans to finance the LL.M. eventually.
It is financially taxing and people question its efficacy given the cost. But if you plan to be a lawyer and if you are keen on studying further for whatever reason, the LL.M. is your degree of choice. That said, I can now think of other degrees that may be more useful for lawyers transitioning to a career in say policy-making, academia or management. But for lawyers with a thirst for further studies, I think there isn’t a substitute for the LL.M.
How did you choose the universities that you applied to?
I applied to the top LL.M. programs. That included Harvard, Columbia, Oxford, NYU, Stanford and Yale. These colleges pick themselves. They are acknowledged as top choices for the LL.M. and most are Ivy League as well. To this list I would add Chicago, U.Penn, Cambridge and LSE. I didn’t apply to a larger number of schools because I was working and simply didn’t have the time.
Did you decide on a course first or the University first?
I’d say I picked the University first because I wanted to pursue a general LL.M. with a focus on arbitration law, corporate law and constitutional law. Harvard, Oxford, NYU and Yale have excellent courses in each of these areas. Stanford and Columbia are better known for corporate law but since that was an interest area I sent out applications to these two as well. If I had had a specific focus such as say environmental law, I might have applied to Berkley as my first choice but I wanted the flexibility of a general LL.M. with the option of creating my own course structure and choosing how much I would take on in which semester.
What did you study at Harvard?
I pursued a general LL.M. with a focus on corporate transactional law, international arbitration law and constitutional law. I split my three semesters between these three areas. My course choices were a result of my interests. I wanted to learn US Corporate Law and litigation so I took up a course on Delaware litigation taught by Chancellor Strine of the Delaware Court. I wanted to try and work in the international arbitration space, hence a course on arbitration. And I have a deep interest in Constitutional law and politics which informed my decision to study the 14th Amendment and the Comparative Politics of Law by Duncan Kennedy.
Tell us about the faculty and facilities.
I’d rate my year at Harvard as the best one I’ve had so far. It was a vibrant, fulfilling, fun and demanding year that went a lot faster than any of us in the program might’ve wanted or anticipated. Its thrilling to take courses by professors who are that driven and that accomplished. The campus is beautiful and Cambridge town is very very student friendly. I’d do it all over again, despite the cost and the present exchange rate of the US Dollar.
The faculty at Harvard is sterling. Although you take a restricted number of courses (a maximum of 27 credits), you have a chance of much wider faculty interaction because of your LL.M. paper. There are Research Assistantships that you can take up and there is the option of doing courses in other Harvard schools as well. The facilities are top class. The Law Library is an iconic building, stacked with books on every topic from every country. You are encouraged to use every facility on offer and there is a genuine sense of pride in how the library is organized and run. The recently constructed Wasserstein Center is obscenely well equipped for any conceivable student / academic need. But I think it’s the attitude that set Harvard apart. It was fantastic to be part of a culture that was incredibly open and liberal, intellectually engaged, so passionate and driven and yet, unfailingly courteous and polite.
How was the Indian fraternity over there?
The Indian community at Harvard isn’t that cohesive. There are too many of us to really feel the need to be tight-knit. The LL.M. batch had twelve Indians, the second highest number from any single country after China which contributed sixteen LL.Ms.
How is the recruitment for overseas students?
US recruitment for LL.Ms was poor in 2013. Most people landed temporary foreign associate positions – not permanent US attorney positions. Indians did particularly badly with only one student securing a foreign associate position with a top US firm. Of the seven who were looking for law firm jobs, only three managed to secure them. Unless you have over four years of work experience or a personal connection with a law firm partner, I suspect two factors determine your placement chances: 1) How much India work there is at that point in time, which is determined by the volume of big-ticket India deals and which in turn seems to be affected by the state of our economy; 2) Whether vacancies have arisen in the limited number of associate seats allocated for India-lawyers in top US firms. Connections and contacts always help, and in fact could be decisive in a market which isn’t too India-educated or India-enthused. Positions in New York’s dispute-resolution practices are hard to come by for any non-US lawyer.
How was the academic schedule?
The US LL.M. is a very flexible program. You can decide how rigorous or otherwise your year will be. I had a very rigorous year indeed – I was doing the maximum number of course credits allowed, editing a journal, serving as Research Assistant, authoring a Long Paper, applying for jobs and travelling the West Coast, New England and New York. Fortunately, I never felt overwhelmed because I had a great support network of friends.
What about the accommodation?
I stayed at North Hall which is one of the costlier on-campus dorms because it’s a hotel turned into a campus accommodation. It proved to be a good choice. Cambridge winters can be brutal and we found ourselves in the midst of one of the worst snowstorm in recent years. By the time Snowstorm Nemo was done with us, we had snow almost reaching the first storey of our dorm building. North’s heaters kept us warm and safe. It helped that many LL.M.s chose to live in North, turning it into the de facto LL.M. hub.I formed some close, lifelong friendships with my fellow residents there.
Does the institute offer any scholarship?
No, Harvard doesn’t have LL.M. or India specific scholarships. Most Indian students struggle to find adequate funding or scholarships. Inlaks, Sekhsaria and Tata scholarships offer partial and complete financial aid but it’s an uphill task.
What does a paralegal’s role entail?
(Jeet has worked at AZB & Partners as a paralegal for a while.)
I’m not sure what role other para-legals played but as a para-legal I was given the opportunity of being involved in matters full-time and was basically treated as a semi-associate. The idea was to make use of the fact that I was at GLC and could attend office on a full time basis for the entire duration of the year save two breaks of six weeks. So I would end up doing research, drafting, client calls, counsel briefings as well as filing, making lists, indexing etc. I was very lucky that my internship with Mr. Dwarkadas led to my stint at AZB which in turn led to a placement at AZB once I graduated.
Is the practice of hiring paralegals widespread in the Indian legal industry?
I’m not sure what the trend is but I had certainly not heard of Paralegals until I joined AZB. I think it’s a great position and it’s especially useful for GLC students. Unlike N-schools, we are located ten minutes away from the Bombay High Court and from all the law firm offices, the college timings are 7 am to 10:30 am and its a two semester as opposed to a trimester system. All of this really helps GLC students work on a full-time basis even while we are still in our third/fourth year of law school and it’s the only way we can narrow gap with the N-schools which admittedly are far superior in terms of their teaching, batch quality and public perception. So as a GLC alumnus, I am a big supporter of this trend. It augurs very well for students from my college and I think firms might gain from it as well. If you have someone you have trained for one or two years before making her an associate, you already have someone who understands how a law firm works, has made all the connections with the seniors and partners and can integrate very easily.
How was your experience as a judicial clerk?
I clerked only with one judge at the Supreme Court actually. I clerked with two judges at the Bombay High Court. I think the most important thing I learnt through the clerkships was to understand how a judge’s mind works, what the pressures of the job are and what they are looking for. If you are a first generation lawyer, you tend to be a bit starry-eyed about the judicial office. I think the clerkships helped me place judges in perspective. If I do argue before a court, hopefully those stints might help me be a better counsel. I did them at the time because I was curious about how judges work.
How can a law student apply for a judicial clerkship?
The Supreme Court has a straight-forward application process where you send your CV through your college and the Registry places you with a judge who is willing to mentor a trainee. At the Bombay High Court too there is a similar process.