Namrata Chatterjee is a graduate from National Law University, Jodhpur (2013 batch). She worked with Amarchand Mangaldas & Suresh Shroff & Co, Delhi (now Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas) for around two years and has just left the organization to pursue the FIFA Master Program; a masters in humanities, management and law of sports, on a full tuition fee waiver. We asked her to share her law school and work experiences, and reasons for leaving one of the best jobs in the country.
In this interview, she talks about:
- Law school experience at NLU Jodhpur and all about balancing Academics with co-curricular
- Cracking AMSS interview, work experience at AMSS and the first year of graduation
- Applying for the FIFA Masters programmer and qualifying for full tuition waiver
How would you introduce yourself? Could you please share a little bit of what motivated you to pursue law as a career?
Hi, I am Namrata Chatterjee, a graduate of the 2013 batch of National Law University, Jodhpur. I worked with Amarchand Mangaldas & Suresh Shroff & Co, Delhi (now Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas) for around two years and have just left the organisation to pursue the FIFA Master Program; a master in humanities, management and law of sports, on a full scholarship (full tuition fee waiver).
To be honest, Law was never my first choice career option. I had taken up the science stream and was preparing for the engineering entrance exams during my XIth and XIIth standard. Though a lack of passion in the subjects I was pursuing made me realize it would be a mistake to keep continuing down a path which wouldn’t give me work satisfaction. Hence, I then decided to pursue law. The fact that my father, who is in the Civil Services also has a law degree and my mother is also a lawyer, though she left practice a long while back had me interested in the legal profession. Though ultimately, the decision to take up law came after my elder sister, Amrita Chatterjee commenced her legal studies at NUJS, Kolkata. Therefore, while giving CLAT, my first choice was NUJS so that I could study in the same college as my sister, after studying in the same school, D.P.S R.K. Puram together.
However, as luck would have it, I did not get through NUJS and made it to NLU, Jodhpur instead. Initially I was unhappy about the same, but in hindsight I feel it was a great thing to have happened to me as studying in a different college than my sister gave me a lot of different exposure and surely made me much more independent in life.
How did you make the initial shift from a science background to law? Would you say it was difficult settling in?
I had taken up the science stream as that was the most encouraged field to be taken up after securing over 90% in my class Xth Board exams. Though once I did take up science, I began to realize that a career in engineering wasn’t my real calling. Though when I made the shift to law, there again I got the option of taking up B.A/B.BA/B.SC (LL.B) in NLU, Jodhpur. However, this time around I decided to go with the pure social sciences and opted for B.A LL.B (Hons). Though there was one thing about the science stream that helped me in my legal studies and that was the enhanced logical reasoning skills and the propensity to question. So, I would say, it was never difficult for me to settle into legal studies.
Tell us about your college life at NLUJ. What all activities did you partake in?
In a sentence, College life at NLU, Jodhpur has given me memories of a lifetime. Though, I took a little time to settle down in Jodhpur initially having lived in Delhi for most part of my life. However, soon I became used to the quaint environment of Jodhpur. NLU, Jodhpur not only stressed on academics, wherein we had continuous assessments throughout the semester along with presentations and compulsory court room exercises in the law subjects, it also gave ample opportunities for interested students to take up mooting, debates, MUN’s, cultural activities and sports among other things. In fact, if likeminded students got together, they had the independence to start a lot of interesting activities etc. I participated in MUN’s and paper presentations and that helped us to travel along with getting a good exposure.
Please tell us about the manner in which you approached academics while in college. Please share some highlights from your college days that shaped you as a lawyer.
I always took academics seriously. I maintained a good CGPA throughout the five years. Though I’ll be honest, I did not pay attention to everything that was taught in class always and rarely ever took notes. Rather, only subjects of my interest and especially the classes taught by some of the teachers who made the classes rather engaging caught my full attention. However, to prepare for the continuous tests and exams, I always studied in groups and studied from the notes taken by my friends and generally always fared well in the exams. I would not have specific highlights that shaped me as a lawyer, but it was more of a gradual process, being aware of your rights and trying to reason with the teachers and administration to convince them, debates and discussions with my friends and finding evidence to back my points amongst other things shaped me as a lawyer.
A lot of law students in their first and second year of law school plan to change the legal regime of India. Many of them promise themselves to work pro-bono on social issues, curb menaces and threats to the society. Have you ever felt that kind of thought crossing you?
Yes, I wouldn’t deny these thoughts having crossed my mind at several occasions. Not just during college but even when I worked at Amarchand. Sometimes a cab driver while dropping me to the High Court would seek my legal advice or my house maid would approach me with a legal dispute and at those moments, I kept feeling the need to give back to the society and help the under-privileged with whatever legal knowledge I have. However, to be able to do some pro-bono work, firstly I think it is important to gain more knowledge, work experience and the resources to truly be in a position to help others and yes, if possible someday if not full time, I would hope to assist in some way in taking up pro-bono matters in whatever field I am pursuing.
How did you fare in your academics at NLUJ? Would you say a great CGPA is a necessity to kickstart a good career in the legal profession?
I maintained a consistent CGPA in college and stood within the top ten percent of my batch. A good CGPA is not the only measure to secure a good career in the legal profession. Interest in what you pursue and working hard in internships and other extra-curricular activities help as well. However, as the recruitment scenario of the big law firms go, if you have a good CGPA, it helps you to get shortlisted for the interview comparatively easily. Though maintaining a good CGPA is hard work in itself. However, that gives you the leeway from the stress of securing a PPO through the internships. Further, moot courts, publications and such activities does help in building a good CV, but as I can say from my own example, these things are not necessary to secure a good job. I only participated in one moot late into my 4th year that too since it was a moot in IPR, a subject of my interest and I did not have any publications during law school. So, it is not necessary to participate in a lot of moots etc. However, if you are interested in them, taking them up would be an added benefit. However, a good CGPA and a good interview helped me to secure a job at Amarchand.
Which subjects did you enjoy during your qualifying degree? How did you go about developing expertise and knowledge in these areas?
I particularly enjoyed the Intellectual Property Rights and related law subjects the most in law school. I even took up IPR as my specialisation or honours subject. Though, even more than IPR, I was passionate about sports law. From my childhood, I have loved sports and this field of sports law gave me a chance to explore the interplay of sports and law. However, sports law as a subject was not taught in my college. Therefore, to pursue my interest in the field, I constantly kept reading websites like lawinsport and pursued internships in the field. I even mentored some of my juniors in sports law under the academic mentorship program initiated by some of the students in my college. In furtherance of this interest, I even took up sports law as my seminar paper in my final semester. Even in IPR, I was more interested in copyright and trademarks as opposed to patents and I constantly kept reading, writing and researching on the congruence of IPR and sports law. Even for the research paper/projects we had to develop in most of the subjects taught in college, I would try to write them on sports related topics.
How did you plan your internships? How relevant did you find your law school education with the kind of work you were required to do at law firms?
I actively planned to take up at least one internship in a year. I never over burdened myself with internships as I always wanted to keep some time off to spend with my family and friends at home. However, I pursued internships keeping my interests in mind. In my first year, I interned at NHRC, subsequently I pursued litigation internships with advocates and law firms like Luthra & Luthra and Parekh & Co. Though from my third year onwards, I started streamlining my internships even further to explore and gain experience in areas I was most interested in, being IPR and sports law. Therefore, I interned at Law Offices of Nandan Kamath, a boutique sports law firm in Bangalore and Copyright Integrity International. I even interned with Retd. Justice Mukul Mudgal and gained firsthand experience of interesting work in sports law.
Law school education is the foundation to develop how you interpret the laws and the approach towards legal thinking. Though from experience, I would say that we learn more on the job than we learn in law school.
Did you find that your law school education had prepared you sufficiently for the many tasks you were required to execute during your internships and later at your job?
As I just said, law school education helps you to develop a legal thinking and good researching skills. Further, the subjects that one takes interest in law school, those subjects and certain landmark cases therein stays with us always. However, we learn most subjects and topics on the job when we are faced with a practical situation regarding the same. In a way, the curriculum at NLU, Jodhpur and the continuous tests, mid-terms, vivas, projects, presentations, moots throughout the semester prepared us to work late into the night when required and meet deadlines in any manner and these things surely help us to be prepared with the work life and expectations at your job.
Soon after graduation, you joined AMSS as an Associate. How did your appointment take place? What worked for you in securing the job?
I got placed at AMSS at day zero of our placements that year. I had never interned at AMSS before so did not know what to really expect there. However, I was shortlisted for the interview based on my CV and my good CGPA I believe. I think my interview happened very comfortably and I was confident throughout the interview and that helped me secure the job. As also, as I have previously mentioned, a good CGPA, some varied and good internship experiences and participation in paper presentations and such activities helped my case.
How was the job interview? Do you remember any of the questions asked to you? Please give our readers some tips to nail a law firm interview.
The first round of my job interview was the group discussion round and we got to discuss and debate on the Indian Premier League, since I am very passionate about sports, the topic put me at complete ease. Post the GD, we had a personal interview round which was a mix of HR and technical questions. Though, I would really like to mention that staying calm and comfortable in an interview really helps. Even if you are unsure about a particular question, put it across to them that this is what you think and tell them that on this particular point you may not be completely sure. However, the subjects you are interested in and things mentioned in your CV about projects or internships, those things one should be aware of while preparing for the interview. Know your CV well and what you tell them you are interested in and at least show that you have taken some steps towards your interest. Further, for the HR questions don’t make up answers or take long to think and answer rather use your wit and give appropriate answers, it would surely help.
How was your first year after graduation? What do you think were the biggest hurdles and challenges in the early days of your career? How did you deal with them?
The first year, more so the first six months in your job are the most difficult. If one can mentally survive through the challenges that come up in the initial phase of your job, it becomes easier to handle pressure further. Since, in AMSS they had a policy of rotation for the fresh graduates who joined them; I was placed in a corporate team for the first phase post joining AMSS before being ultimately placed in the litigation/dispute resolution department. However, since I was always interested in pursuing litigation in AMSS and having never really interned in a corporate law team in any of my previous internships, I was not very comfortable in starting my career doing corporate law. Therefore, initially I took time to settle down, took more time to complete assignments, though some of the seniors understanding my position really guided me well. So, it is very important to get good seniors to guide you initially and one should not hesitate to ask questions and soon one figures out the expectations of their seniors and how to handle timelines without compromising quality.
What kind of work and responsibilities does an Associate at AMSS deal with?
In the first year of my time at AMSS, being in the corporate department, my work responsibilities included research, assisting in drafting responses and opinions and assisting in drafting due diligence reports, though once I shifted to the litigation department, my work responsibilities increased due to shorter deadlines before court hearings. Most of my work responsibilities included research, drafting the first draft of some of the pleadings and counsel briefing notes as well as providing assistance in counsel briefings and court hearings. Also, we are expected to know the files well and be adept at paper management in briefings and hearings to aptly assist our seniors. Due to large number of matters across various judicial forums, in a lot of matters I got the chance to go to courts by myself for filing as well as minor appearances.
Tell us about a case that you are particularly proud of. What steps do you take to prepare for a difficult case?
There have been one or two high profile cases I have been involved in and due to the high stakes of those matters, it has been very interesting to work in them. The biggest advantage I felt of working in Amarchand was the diversity of matters and especially the big matters that we got involved in. These matters involved various complex questions of law and gave us a chance to closely work with senior counsels and adopt their good practices as well.
Difficult cases require extensive research and thinking out of the box. One should always keep thinking of innovative arguments and put forth their views to their seniors.
What has been your strategy to deal with errors and mistakes?
It is only human to err. Even I have made some errors and mistakes in my time at the firm, but dealing with them and finding quick fixes is one more thing this job has taught me. In fact, I would say along with work experience, this job has taught me more of life experiences. In terms of mistakes, I can give an example, say, if at all I would forget to bring copies of an important case law to the court, I would go to the court library and secure copies of the same before the damage is done. Therefore, it is important to reach for conferences and court a little before time and know your bags and papers well, so that these kinds of errors can be fixed within time. However, if you have made mistakes which you cannot easily fix, always bring it to the notice of your seniors so that they can use their experience for crisis management rather than hiding it from your seniors.
How do you keep yourself abreast with latest industry news and trends?
It is indeed important to be abreast with latest news in our profession. Reading the newspaper daily helps in this regard. So many times while researching for a case, I can remember reading about similar cases in the newspaper and then that helps with finding relevant and recent cases. It is also important to keep reading articles and SCC Online etc for the latest cases especially the landmark ones that come up. It is also very important to check the current position of law regarding every proposition one has to argue for their case.
There is a considerable attrition rate at the top law firms, what do you think contributes to this? What has been your personal experience?
The attrition rate is considerably high at the top law firms because the work pressure is surely a lot. Also, it more so depends on the reason one enters the law firm. Some people come to gain some good work experience before proceeding for their masters, which is somewhat my own case as well. While some people cannot deal with the daily demands and stringent deadlines, some people after joining realize this is not their interest area and move towards what they are really interested in. However, this is true that if one wants a less hectic life and most of their weekends free and finds it difficult to maintain the quality of work in extremely short deadlines, then it is difficult to continue in a big law firm.
Personally also, after working here for around two years, I am now moving on to pursue my masters in a field which I have always been keenly interested in, i.e sports law. I applied to colleges and courses specifically providing for masters in IPR or sports law and applied and secured admission to University of Zurich, ISDE Madrid, George Washington University and the FIFA Master program and even secured a scholarship everywhere. So once I received the full scholarship (full tuition fee waiver) at the FIFA Master program, I knew it was time for me to pursue a field I am more interested in and the experience at Amarchand would definitely help me everywhere ahead. So, my reason for leaving the organisation was that though I was doing good litigation work, it did not involve a lot of sports related disputes and I wanted to always pursue my masters post getting a couple of years work experience.
Life for lawfirmites can be very hectic at times. What is your take on work-life balance? How do you unwind?
Yes, life at a law firm is hectic but during court vacations, things are less hectic and most people take their leaves at that time. I feel it is very important to have a work life balance; otherwise one tends to lose interest in their work and is busy dealing with deadlines and stress rather than enjoying what they do. So, as much as possible one should relax as well as go out with their family and friends on the weekends and try and avoid getting work back home, unless the situation really demands for it. Even in office, one should take small breaks to interact with their friends and walk around a bit to avoid sitting at their desk at a stretch for long hours.
How did you decide to leave a cushy law firm job for the FIFA Masters programme? Please tell us about the programme and how you got gravitated towards it.
I agree, it isn`t an easy decision to make when it comes to leaving a secured and well paying job for an uncertain path. However, I did what I feel will give me the right platform to pursue my field of interest.
I have been a sports buff since my childhood. My father always found a partner in me to watch matches with him and then engage in endless discussions about various players and game strategies! Therefore, once I took law, it was only natural that sports law caught my attention the most. Now, to try and succeed in a sports related field, it is important that I obtain the right exposure and specialised knowledge. In that regard, the FIFA master fit my requirements perfectly.
The FIFA master program is an international M.A teaching three different aspects which form the core of working in a sports related field, being humanities of sports, management of sports and law in sports.
The first module is the humanities module which takes place in DeMontfort University, Leicester and covers aspects relating to the history and development of sports and sports organizations. The second module is the management module and is held at SDA Bocconi school of Management, Milan and the last module of the 10 months program is the law module dealing with the legal aspects of sports, dispute resolution, ethical issues in sports etc, to be held at University of Neuchatel, Switzerland. The final degree is awarded by all the three partner universities in association with CIES and FIFA.
Along with the classroom teaching and guest lectures, the program also includes field visits to various sports clubs and organizations like FIFA, UEFA etc in order to learn about their fuctioning, marketing, governing regulations etc from the relevant experts.
I have decided to undertake this program as along with sports law, this also widens my arena to cover management of sports which are upcoming fields in India and post completion of this masters, hopefully I would be able to contribute to further developments in these fields.
How did you manage to get a full tuition fee waiver? Could you please detail the procedure in details?
The option to apply for the scholarship is present in the main application itself and the selection procedure for the course takes place in two stages. If one is shortlisted based on the application, they then have to give an interview to be finally selected. So, during my interview I was told that they generally do not give the full tuition fee waiver scholarship to one person rather look towards dividing it amongst a few students. However, post the interview which wasn`t really a technical one, when I was finally informed of my selection, I was also informed that I have been awarded the full tuition fee waiver. The scholarship is given on the basis of need as well as merit.
The question that whether one should specialise in a particular area of law or be more of a general lawyer often comes up before law students. What is your opinion on the same?
I am going to pursue the FIFA Master program which in itself is a very specialised and unique course. This is a program organised by CIES and FIFA and taught by three partner universities being De Montfort University, SDA Bocconi School of Management and University of Neuchatel across England, Italy and Switzerland respectively. This program teaches the most relevant inter-disciplinary fields related to sports-humanities, management and law of sports. This program would surely enhance my knowledge and interest of sports law and along with it would also open the ambit of sports management if I choose to pursue the same. I agree, leaving a secure job and going to do something so niche might be a bit of a risk. However, I believe one should at least try to pursue what they love rather than keep regrets in life. So, particularly I feel if one has figured that they are interested in a specific field over the others and performs their best while dealing with work in that area then they would always enjoy what they do and get appropriate outcomes too. Working on laws that one does not find interesting, like I never enjoyed corporate laws doesn’t help in one’s growth and development as a lawyer. So, it is important to start as a general lawyer but if you feel there are some areas you enjoy more than the others, I would suggest and encourage one to pursue them further.
What would be your parting message to law students?
Work hard, enjoy what you do and don’t be afraid to take risks and explore options.