This interview has been published by Prabhjot Singh, Priyanka Karwa and The SuperLawyer Team
What inspired you to choose law as a career? How has been the decision so far?
I have always been fascinated by the impact that words – verbal or written – can have and when I was in school I was always drawn to the law as a profession, particularly because of the command over language that it requires. Of course as with most children that age, I had romantic notions about becoming a criminal lawyer and being in the thick of high profile cases. However, as I prepared to join law school, I wanted to focus more on gaining a strong knowledge base of all laws before I decided on what to specialise in. I am glad I made the decision to become a lawyer and the constant learning continues to inspire me to become a better lawyer.
What were the challenges that you faced in the beginning of your career?
The primary challenge was to secure a job. I was in the first batch of my law school and at that point we didn’t have established recruitment processes and most firms did not know us. We all had to work doubly hard towards getting our own internships and interviews and making a mark before we were considered for recruitment.
Then came adapting to a work environment which was very new, highly competitive and incredibly fast paced. While law school helps build the foundation in terms of basic knowledge that is required to start off, a lot of what you need (even at the start of your career) is learned on the job.
It was a challenge to switch out of a heavily theoretical and academic approach to a more practical style which required you to think on your feet and come up with creative solutions, while being very thorough with the law and its application. It was a also a challenge to adapt to quick timelines, long hours and a much faster pace of life. That said, the environment at work although challenging equipped me to adapt quickly and feel confident about my ability to move from my life as a student to a working professional.
What do you consider to be the most challenging and important aspects in this field of IT law?
The most challenging aspect of the field of technology law is that it is changing and evolving at a very fast pace. From being a field that was subject to very minimal regulation, technology is now at the front and centre of most regulation – either in the form of new laws and regulations, or as a result of amendments and changes being made to existing laws to adapt to the digital revolution. While I believe that it is crucial to regulate the use of technology, it is important for the law to not be overly prescriptive and compliance heavy as that would be counterintuitive to very nature of technology and its ability to evolve.
As an IT lawyer, it is important to marry the principles that the laws are based on with the functions that various technologies bring with it in such a manner that innovation is not hampered, and the harms that technology brings with it are addressed.
This often requires us to go back to first principles, be very aware of how technology is being regulated across jurisdictions and actively following the policy initiatives with respect to technology as they most often set the context to new tech regulation.
Often times, you will find yourself walking into a grey area with no interpretational guidance where you need to take calls based on several factors including your deep understanding of technology, the intent of regulations and regulatory perception.
Jyotsna, do you remember any exigent experiences while advising clients on all these regulatory aspects, data privacy, etc. ? What suggestion would you give to our young law professionals to tackle the same?
The field of technology law is very broad and encompasses several areas such as cyber security, data privacy, e-commerce, digital payments, content regulation etc. Very often these areas intersect and it is critical for us as technology lawyers to be able to address the full spectrum of issues that a client is facing without operating in silos. A good example of this is in dealing with cyber security incidents which have become very common. The nature of cyber-attacks that organisations face are highly sophisticated and evolving each day and as a result our assistance as lawyers in advising clients on regulatory and commercial aspects becomes critical.
Cyber-attacks often come with several considerations including regulatory reporting obligations, an assessment of privacy issues (if personal data is involved), criminal law aspects while examining unauthorised access, ransomwares etc., as well as building strategy around communication to the data subjects, to the public and depending on the sector, sectoral regulators. Most often these attacks are multi-jurisdictional and require understanding and working closely with lawyers in the relevant jurisdiction to develop a common strategy.
In order to deal with matters like this, and generally on matters related to data, technology and privacy, I would recommend that young law professionals train themselves to be nimble, highly aware of regulatory trends, enforcement and practices across jurisdictions to be able to advice clients in a holistic manner. It is also important to guide the client on an approach that is future proof and based on best practices and this often puts the client in a much better position than others who choose to only do the bare minimum when it comes to compliance.
Jyotsna, people have started feeling that corporate is a safe option instead of choosing a longer struggling period in law, do you think the same?
I do sense that in-house as a choice of profession has gained some more traction recently, however I don’t think this is necessarily because it is considered a ‘safe option’ as opposed to a law firm. I think in-house roles have also become an important choice as the demands of the role are similar to a lawyer in a law firm, with companies ramping up and investing in legal departments.
In fact, the challenge of dealing with legal issues by being a part of the company as opposed to serving as external counsel, is one of the main factors that I think drives people to choose in-house. That said, I think there is generally a push to rethink how one wants to practice the law and there do seem to be several parallel tracks that have come about for professionals to choose from, instead of joining a law firm or sticking to mainstream law.
How do you balance your work and personal life ?
My approach to balancing work and personal life has always been to not view one as restricting or impinging on the other. I am conscious of the decisions I make when it comes to work and personal life and at all times I try and ensure that I am honouring each commitment. That said, if I am unable to manage a perfect balance, I make sure I am not hard on myself. It is not doubt easy for work to overwhelm and capture all your mind space but with time and small changes to my routine I have been able to feel like I am in control of both aspects of my life.
For example, the time I set out for my exercise, or to spend with my child is sacrosanct and I try and schedule it in a way that does not allow work to creep in and reduce the time I set out for this. If it means I start my day an hour later, then that does not faze me and most things can in fact wait. I try and stick to a routine that is simple and flexible so that I am able to respond to the demands at work and home calmly. I also make sure that I take small breaks from work whenever I can so that I don’t feel like it is always catching up to me.
A lawyer sometimes is expected to do work apart from legal functions as well, what are your views on the same?
Absolutely, and this is an increasing expectation even from clients. The demand now is not just to provide sound legal advice, but also to be able to identify and balance commercial considerations in arriving at solutions. This may need you to step in to the shoes of the various stakeholders you are dealing with – for e.g. if there is a new technology product that is being launched, you need to be able to understand the objectives and outcomes from a technology, business and legal perspective.
Further, as a lawyer, it is also important to be aware of and participate in public consultations and policy making as this often shapes the regulation that comes out. Separately, as a lawyer in a law firm, you also have several administrative functions attend to including billing, matter management, knowledge management and building and business development. All of these functions are equally important as being a lawyer and equip you to be a better and more efficient lawyer.
Jyotsna, was there any roadmap that helped you thus far in your journey, or any mentor that supported you from the very beginning, please share how was it for you?
I didn’t enter this profession with a specific roadmap. In fact, when I joined Trilegal I wasn’t sure of what I wanted to specialise in. When I joined, we had a rotation system and my first seat was TMT. I have since then only been part of the TMT practice and I couldn’t be happier with how things turned out. While I am not very rigid with how things pan out and often like to play things by ear, I did set various targets for myself in my journey as a lawyer and what I wanted to achieve. Most importantly, I ensure that I am always growing as a lawyer, and learning new things every day. I always kept (and continue to have) an open mind and as a result I have greatly benefited from the perspectives of my juniors, my peers and seniors.
The partner’s practice who I started off with has always been a mentor for me and has had a huge role to play in my journey as a lawyer at Trilegal. I have learned immensely from him and the focus has always been to develop a high quality practice that focuses on learning, freedom of thought and self-challenge. It is also important to not lose sight of the importance in building out a safe, respectful and encouraging work space and that has been integral to my journey as a lawyer in this firm.
While being in a law firm is no doubt challenging and competitive and I have had my share of tough times, overall my experience has been nothing but rewarding and enjoyable and that’s what keeps me so invested in this.
According to you, what networking strategies should be adopted by the first generation lawyers specifically in corporate?
Jyotsna: Networking in an orchestrated set up is a challenge for most people and at times is not very effective. I think that networking should be woven in to your practice as a lawyer where you ensure that you are meeting and investing in professional relationships in several inorganic ways. For starters, don’t wait for a specific time in your career to start networking.
It is never too early and the earlier you start the more natural it becomes for you. Take the time out to think of people that you want to meet and engage with, find avenues to meet that person – it could be a conference, it could be a roundtable discussion or perhaps a knowledge session that you conduct, or are a part of. Keep in mind what to be of interest to that individual and if there are relevant developments, find a way to get your thoughts over to them. Don’t be shy of expressing your opinion or taking a stance as that helps the other person understand your approach and views as a lawyer.
Most importantly, do not network with an expectation to see immediate results. Building professional relationships comes with its own gestation period and it is important to recognise that. You will find that slowly you will make a mark and people will remember you for your expertise and reach out. And for this you do not have to be the loudest voice in the room.
Lastly, any 3 best pieces of advice for our young lawyers?
– JYOTSNA JAYARAM
I would just say keep an open mind, stay on top of all regulatory developments and constantly learn. No amount of knowledge is too much. And find a way to truly enjoy what you do.
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