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Manoj Menon, Partner, Dua Associates, on skills which transform an associate to a partner

Manoj Menon is a graduate from NLSIU, batch of 1996. He was recruited into a Chicago based firm called Arthur Andersen LLP considered as one of the ‘Big Five’ in Accounting after his graduation. Thereafter in 2004 he became a partner at Dua Associates. After working there for sometime he founded Tatva Legal along with some of his colleagues. In 2013, he moved back to Dua Associates.

In this interview we speak to him about:

  • Working at an US based accounting firm
  • Becoming a partner of Dua Associates in a short time
  • What it takes to become a Partner from an Associate

Tell us something about your life before law school.

I grew up in Cochin and went to high school there. My father and my brother are doctors though I did have a couple of uncles who were practicing lawyers.


The image of a lawyer back in ’91 was neither inspiring nor attractive for most students. What motivated you to choose law as a career?

While I was growing up, we were made to believe that the only career options available were medicine or engineering. Law was something of a back-up option that you pursued if you did not make it to medical or engineering school! I was nudged into considering law as an option by my uncle who told me about National Law School. NLS was about three years old then and yet to have a graduating batch. It seemed like a good idea at that time and so I went with the flow.


How important do you think mooting is for law students?

While I wasn’t a mooter in NLS, in retrospect I think mooting can be very useful in helping you hone your research skills as well as to help you analyse issues in a manner you would be required to once you start practicing law. It also forces you to think on your feet and gives you a feel of what litigation could be all about.


If you see that a person you are considering to hire is good at mooting, debating and has a few publications, does it influence your decision to some extent?

It definitely does not hurt to have additional skill sets and these could be differentiators while evaluating two otherwise well matched candidates. However, I feel that work experience is the most important aspect of your resume and could be the difference between whether you are hired or not. Personally, it is very important that the person I am hiring fits in with the culture of the firm and sometime you have to go with your gut on that one!


Now that you are on the other side of the table, what do you think a fresher should do in order to get hired?

Andersen was one of the firms that recruited from campus. They had recruited from campus the previous year and so I had friends who had already spent time there and loved the place. Recruiters for Andersen looked beyond just grades and tried to gauge potential of the candidates through various rounds of interview and luckily for me, they saw something in me that they liked. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have worked in Andersen because of the amazing work culture and for the solid foundation that I believe it gave me.


What would you say helped you join the ranks of a partner?

A partner of a firm is someone who can add value to the firm and help grow the practice. Normally, it involves ability to execute work efficiently as well as to bring in new work. The firm gives you an opportunity to grow your own practice within the umbrella for the firm w ith minimal interference and this helped me grow as a lawyer and make the natural progression towards partnership.


What kind of effort should a young associate put in to work to get it appreciated?

What I look for in an associate is the willingness to learn and the desire to get better at what they are doing. If you have that, everything else falls into place. Taking responsibility is a huge part of the learning process and when you see that in an associate, you naturally end up pushing good work towards that person and relying on that person.


What does a partner at a Law Firm like Dua Associates do?

A partner typically starts and ends his day worrying about billing and recoveries! While there is no typical work day, the responsibility extends to sourcing work and ensuring that the work is executed effectively. Keeping your team happy or in the very least content, is the key to sleeping well at night!


When you hire lawyers under you, what kind of skills and profile do you look for?

Like I said, I look for someone who I feel can learn fast and who fits in with the ethos of the firm. More often than not, you get a feel of the person when you meet him/her and from there on you hope for the best! With working lawyers, work experience is a key factor. With fresh graduates, while internship experience matters, I basically look for a bright person who I feel can learn fast on the job.


How important is it for a law firm partner to be good at business development, or are great lawyering skills enough to become a partner?

Traditionally, a partner is expected to generate billings for the firm. However, firms adopt different models where certain partners could be rainmakers while others would concentrate more on servicing the work so generated. Partners could also concentrate on specific aspects such as business development or administration of the firm depending on the way a firm is structured. It is important to identify ones specific strengths and work in an organisation where such skill sets are considered relevant while evaluating eligibility for partnership.


Dua Associates have offered internship opportunities to a lot of law students. What would you look for in a cover letter and a CV?

We typically look for students doing their third year of law or more. While prior internship experience helps, an interest in a particular branch of law or some exposure to the same like attending seminars or publishing articles on the subject would be helpful.


How do you think interns can get noticed in a positive way in the limited time they have?

Unfortunately, interns are often plied with drudge work. However, if they take initiative and show an interest in taking on work, it surely helps.


Do you think higher studies can be a necessity for a successful legal professional?

While I don’t think that higher studies are an absolute necessity for a successful career, it makes for some great exposure which can add value to a professional. I believe it is a matter of personal choice but having said that, if you have the opportunity, I would definitely recommend that you grab it.


How does one strike a work-life ba

I believe how you manage your life is a matter of choice and once you figure out your priorities in life, you will find a way to maintain your work-life balance. An important aspect of the same would also be to work for an organisation which shares your values and which respects the fact that you are entitled to a personal life outside work.


Lastly, what would be your message to law students and young lawyers who aspire to become a partner at a top-notch law firm?

Be careful, what you wish for!


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