Megha Suri graduated from Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi in 2008. She is a qualified Company Secretary and also holds a Diploma in French Language. She has an enviable academic, debating record and an excellent series of internships at top law firms. Soon after Graduation she started working as an Associate at Mahajan Law Offices. Later, she joined Vaish Associates as an Indirect Tax Associate and after three years of work, she was promoted to Senior Associate.
In this interview, she talks about:
- Expertise in Indirect Tax Associate
- Work at Vaish Associates
- Growing from an Associate to Senior Associate at Vaish
How would you like to introduce yourself to our readers who are mainly law students and lawyers?
I am an indirect tax consultant working with Vaish Associates Advocates for over 6 years now. I practise my work passionately not because Indirect Taxes is my passion, but because Law is. After having associated with the field of law, I realise that it was way easier to complete 5 year law course and absorb the pressure of exams happening each fortnight, than taking dip in the ocean of law with each passing day and getting more drenched, with each deciding case!!
What brought you into studying law? Was it fate or plan?
Ever since I was class IX, I was quite focused on becoming a lawyer. Though not getting impressed with any eminent lawyer or the procedures of law, I got inclined towards legal practise by following a popular American TV series ‘The Practise’. Funny as it may so sound, but this is exactly what drove me to pursue law.
Did you take part in moots when at Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi or indulge in academic legal writing? What are your thoughts on these activities?
I was an active Debater at school and the passion for debating continued in college as well. Consequently, I participated in many inter-college debate competitions. However, I didn’t take part in many moot court competitions. In fact, in totality I must have participated in just 3 or 4 moot court competitions in entire 5 year law course.
However, for becoming a good lawyer, I think it’s extremely important for each student to take off the court fear and present himself as a good orator. In my view, for grooming budding lawyers, participation by each student in minimum of one moot and one debate competition per semester, should be made mandatory.
Do you think being from a non-NLU has ever proved to be a hindrance for you? Many non-NLU students complain that they feel being discriminated against during career opportunities. What has been your experience?
Well, I was lucky enough not to have faced such discrimination at the law firms where I had interned. However, I remember few friends of mine sharing bitter experiences, who, fortunately or unfortunately, did happen to intern at other Tier I law firms and were cornered for not belonging to the ‘NLU Lobby’, as it was called. The discrimination was to such an extent that students from National Law Schools were paid stipend as against non-national law school students, who weren’t even paid conveyance charges.
Right after graduating, you worked for a very short period of three months at Mahajan Law Offices as an Associate and then joined Vaish Associates as an Indirect Tax Associate. How did your appointment take place?
Prior to joining Mahajan Law Offices, I had interned with Vaish Associates Advocates for a period of 6 months (with the Corporate Law Department), as required under our curriculum at GGSIPU. I was willing to join the Corporate Law Department of Vaish Associates Advocates right after completing my internship. Unfortunately, as there was no vacancy then, my candidature was not considered. Subsequently, I got an opportunity to work with Mahajan Law Offices, where I was handling litigation as well as issues pertaining to corporate laws. However, three months later, I got a call from Vaish Associates regarding an opportunity with their Indirect Tax Department. I had never studied Indirect Taxes ever before, not even in my law college. Nonetheless, I wanted to join Vaish and give it a try.
After three years of work as an Associate at Vaish Associates, you were promoted to Senior Associate. What qualities do you think helped you to achieve this status?
Initial phase of your career is the most decisive and crucial for framing your path ahead. First three to five years require lot of hard work, self-motivation and persistence to make good knowledge base and grow. Being driven by these factors and my passion to learn Indirect Taxes, which was absolutely new to me, helped me to achieve the expectation of my seniors, which helped me to get promoted to being a Senior Associate. This certainly proved to be cherry on the cake and motivated me to work even harder!!
You had also managed to pursue the company secretary course. Tell us why did you chose to do it and how did you manage it with work?
While I was interning at Vaish with the Corporate Law Department, I got an opportunity to work with many Company Secretaries and many lawyers who had dual degree (one of law and other of company secretary). The amount of knowledge these people possessed about Companies Act and various issues related to Companies Act was absolutely tremendous. It encouraged me to join the course of Company Secretary (‘CS’). After I started working with Indirect Tax Division, the zeal to learn about Companies Act did not really fade away. I was still quite enthusiastic to complete the course. Additionally, my love for studies always encouraged me to pursue and finish the course.
I was fortunate enough to have completed Law before as few subjects in the course of Company Secretary were covered by my curriculum of Law, making it simpler for me to appear in those papers. However, it was a challenge to study Cost Accounts and Financial Management, for which subjects, I used to taken tuitions before starting work in the morning. I had great support from my seniors and Partner, who gave me leaves during my exams. Moreover, by working for various clients, it gave me a practical edge to the theoretical studies that I did during the CS course. This made it easier for me to complete the course.
Tell us about the nature of work you’re entrusted with therein and what’s a typical day like? How do you say one can gain expertise in Indirect tax? What does it take to be a good Indirect tax lawyer?
I am majorly looking after various issues pertaining to Value Added Tax (VAT), Central Sales Tax (CST Act), Works Contract Tax (WCT) on pan India basis, along with issues under Service Tax, Customs and Central Excise. I am involved in rendering advisory services on various issues under Indirect Taxes, along with handling litigation services for various clients. We have matters under various forums like Commissioner, Tribunal, High Court and Supreme Court.
Gaining expertise in any field of law entails persistent reading and creating a strong knowledge base. Clarity of concepts and its understanding and applicability is another important way of gaining expertise in any subject. Apart from this, being abreast with latest case laws is extremely essential. A lawyer can become a good indirect tax lawyer once he is determined to become so and works towards the same by following aforementioned path.
Is the work significantly different from other transactional lawyers? How much of your work does involve litigation, if at all?
A transactional lawyer would be involved in everything right from understanding the intention of the parties, to getting requisite approvals, to drafting and freezing the Agreement. My work involves this all from a specific angle of indirect taxation. Resolves issues like whether the transaction would have any bearing under prevalent indirect laws in India, how can we mitigate the cost from indirect tax perspective etc. is where we get involved into.
We have lot of litigation matters, especially before Commissioner and Tribunal level. That is the route where all litigation arises for various companies. Visits to courts and presenting our case is a regular feature.
What changes has being a Senior Associate brought into your life, do you ever feel that there is excess of work load on you? How do you manage to strike a balance between your personal and professional life?
Becoming a senior associate is certainly an added responsibility. You become more accountable not just to your senior, but also to the client. Work load is there but it is manageable as I have colleagues at Associate level to help me.
I am in office for almost 9-10 hours. I make it a point to finish all work in office rather than taking it back home and working. However, there are certain times, when I have to either sit back late or take work home and finish. But fortunately that’s nota regular feature. It is important for everyone to strike work life balance.
You must have guided several interns. How would you say that an intern can generate a positive feedback in the limited time they have?
It is very important for law students to explore as much as they can during their law course. This not only helps them giving a broader perspective of available career options to choose from, but also provides an insight into various legal issues. It is upon each individual how they want to make best use of available resources. Interns should focus on the work assigned to them and try finishing them after doing in-depth research as required. That will automatically generate positive feedback about them.
What has been your strategy to deal with errors and mistakes? How would you suggest a young associate to deal with them?
To err is human. I had literally done blunders when I had just started working. I still do mistakes, but the frequency and gravity has certainly gone down. I guess that’s what experience is.
The best way to learn from mistakes is to make a note of them at a place which is easily accessible. If the note comes in front of you on daily basis, the chances of occurrence of mistakes would surely come down. It’s not possible to work sans committing errors. It is always good to realise mistakes and better to mend them.
People often complain about the highly skewed work-life balance at the top law firms. What is your workday like? How do you maintain your work-life balance?
As I said before, it is extremely important to maintain a healthy personal life along with a wealthy professional life. I start my day around 10 and work till 8. There are days when I have to do late sitting when I have a matter in Court the next day. There are exceptional circumstances when late sitting can’t be avoided. Since I handle VAT related issues on pan India basis, my work does involve travelling to lot of places.
But in regular days, leaving office in time is quite possible. The only way to maintain work life balance is to finish office work in office hours. Quite a number of law firms have the culture where Associates dilly-dally during major part of the day and start their actual work only around evening time. In such cases, there is no chance that people can strike the chord between their professional and personal life, which is truly quite detrimental to their future.
What would be your message to our readers who are budding lawyers and law students?
Law is not as simple as it looks. Law isn’t either as fancy as it looks. Law is such a discipline of study, which requires great amount of commitment and focus to prosper. My senior always says “Law is like a deep ocean. The deeper you take a dip, the more drenched you get with knowledge.” Maintaining strong knowledge base is the essence of roaring success in this discipline of study.
It entails great amount of hard work and zeal to become a successful lawyer. It is quite important to love whatever study you choose. Whatever be your core practise area, it should be the one which you love to do. Only then will success come to you as easily and naturally as if it was always meant to.