Rijoy Bhaumik is a graduate from National Law Institute University, Bhopal (Batch of 2012) with a B.A.LLB (Hons.) degree. He has an enviable mooting record and an excellent series of internships at top law firms. His diligence and mettle at work was recognized when he bagged a job offer from Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan (LKS) in his 5th year of law school during campus placements. Currently, he is working as Senior Associate there. We asked him to share his experiences and strategies he used over the years.
In this interview, Rijoy talks about:
- Co-curricular activities like mooting at NLIU
- Importance of Internships
- Preparing for job interviews and securing a job at LKS
- Work and promotion at LKS
Give us a brief introduction of yourself. Did you have lawyers in your family? What brought you into studying law?
It is a very difficult thing, talking about oneself, because you often end up at a loss for words. However, that being said, I must say that such an initiative will allow young law students to learn from the experiences of others and perhaps not make the same mistakes as their predecessors. I am a first generation lawyer from a middle-class family in Kolkata. There are a few advocates in my father’s generation in the family, but in our immediate family, there is none. Choosing this career was not easy, especially considering the thrust of emphasis of the Indian education system towards engineering and science. But from an early age I was interested in Democratic Politics and the constitution.
Moreover, I was always a talkative child and as my mother would put it, I would love to argue. In such a backdrop, as I grew up, the profession of putting forth a point of view on the basis of rights and liabilities always appealed to me. Even though I was a science student in my plus two years, I decided to try my luck at the various national law colleges that had been established then. In our time there was no CLAT, and we had to sit for each of the entrance exams individually. Luckily, I got through NLIU, Bhopal, HNLU, Raipur, NLU,Jodhpur in their second list and Symbiosis, Pune. Thereafter, my law journey started in Bhopal.
Tell us about your time at NLIU. You seem to have participated and excelled especially in mooting activities, can you walk us through the highlights of your life in college in that sphere?
From the very beginning, I looked at law school as an opportunity to participate and take part in various activities on offer. Naturally, moot court competitions were always regarded as the law school activity, and after winning our first internal moot in the first year, I had the confidence to try out for the University team and represent the University in national and international law tournaments. Thereafter, I would say I was extremely fortunate to have excelled in various moot court competitions, winning numerous personal accolades like speaker awards, etc.
However, it was the team awards that really appealed to me, wherein my various teammates and I won tournaments like 2nd Christ University National Moot Court Competition 2011, Surana & Surana National Trial Advocacy Moot Court Competition 2010 and the 13th Annual M.M. Singhvi Memorial Bar Council of India International Law Moot Court Competition 2010. Of these, being the finalist in the M.M. Singhvi moot holds a special place in my heart as it was probably one of the most prestigious moots in the country back then (it was discontinued after the 2010 edition), and we bested 66 teams from all over the country to reach the finals.
Further, it was an international law moot and we had the opportunity to argue before Hon’ble Justice Dalveer Bhandari, among other legal luminaries, and presently Justice Bhandari is a Judge of the International Court of Justice, which makes it all the more special and precious. Most of my time at NLIU was spent in jumping into various activities around the year to keep myself busy, and I am glad that it became the norm, as it was important to keep myself busy while in college as otherwise life would get monotonous.
As an undergraduate student at NLIU, you took part in other activities other than mooting and also were actively involved in committees. Tell us how these activities and participation in committees helped in shaping your legal career?
Apart from mooting I was actively involved in debating, client-counselling and alternative dispute resolution tournaments with varying degrees of success in all of them. I was part of the first debate team from NLIU to participate in both the All Asians Debating Championship and the Worlds Universities Debating Championship and won numerous speaker and team awards in national parliamentary debating championships. I was also fortunate to be adjudged Best Student Advocate in the National Client Counselling Tournament at Symbiosis Law School, Pune. But it was alternative dispute resolution that took up most of my time in my later years in law school.
I took part in the prestigious 5th ICC International Commercial Mediation Competition 2010, organised by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in Paris, France and in the subsequent year I was appointed coach of the NLIU team that represented the same competition in 2011. NLIU also had various committees which regulated mooting, debating, cultural, sports, alternative dispute resolution and many other activities. I was always very eager to be part of organising committees in various years in the institution. I personally feel that one of the facets of a University is the activity that is seen around the campus and everyone in the student community should do what they can to enrich law school life through these committees.
In the earlier years we learnt how to handle groundwork, and in later years of law school skills of man-management and financial management were required to handle various events, as most of the committees in NLIU were entirely student-run with semi-financial and logistical backing from the University. It was all a part of growing up in law school and exposed us to the tenets of an organisational structure which we have to adhere to for the rest of our lives. In my final year, I was appointed the Convener of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Cell and my team and I planned and successfully organised the NLIU-Khaitan & Co.-INADR Law School Mediation Tournament, 2012 in NLIU, Bhopal.
This was the first time such a tournament was taking place in India, and we were backed by Khaitan & Co., Mumbai, one of the oldest and most prestigious law firms in the country. Also for the first time, we had substantial backing from the International Academy of Dispute Resolution (INADR), Chicago and their various representatives all across the globe were present in training and judging the participants in the competition. As Convener of the ADRC, I was Convener of the Tournament, and it was the biggest learning experience in my law school career. Not only did the experience teach me various degrees of planning and organisation, it also exposed me to the pinnacle of mediation tournaments right here in India, and I was extremely fortunate to interact and make friends with international mediators from INADR.
As the first of its kind in India, the Tournament was a roaring success and all 32 team slots were filled, with many teams in the waiting list.It was particularly a big highlight in the twilight of my law school career, and the experiences of delegation of work and handling an organisation tree of many volunteers shall be held with me throughout my life.
You are a senior associate at Lakshmi Kumaran & Sridharan. How did your appointment at take place? Tell us about the nature of work you’re entrusted with therein and what’s a typical day like?
Lakshmi Kumaran & Sridharan happened through the internship process for me. In May, 2011 I interned at the Delhi office of the firm and was exposed to a work area that was wholly new to me – indirect tax litigation. Through this internship I experienced first-hand, the work ethos of the firm and really liked the kind of ground breaking indirect taxation work that the firm specialised in. Thereafter, in August there was a short interview and the firm confirmed my recruitment on the basis of my internship, with most of my fifth year left before me.
I joined the firm in their Bangalore office in June, 2012 and thereafter, in June, 2014 I was promoted as Senior Associate in the firm with greater responsibilities. The work involves a variety of areas, especially since I am posted in a new office in Kolkata, wherein we are expected to draft appeals, replies, writs, and also appear before various authorities. A typical day at work involves going to the courts or the Tribunal in the morning, and thereafter returning to draft.
Lakshmi Kumaran & Sridharan have its main focus in the taxation work area. How do you feel about tax laws not being an important part of syllabus in colleges?
My experience in L&S tells me that it is not possible to learn the law without working everyday around it. Any three-four month course in University cannot even touch the tip of the iceberg that is taxation laws, and many practitioners have spent their entire lives just practicing only a small part of tax laws. Therefore, an addition or non-addition to the syllabus in colleges shall not matter one bit, as working knowledge of the law can only be gained through experience. That being said, it is the choice of the colleges to include the subject in the curriculum, because then the students shall be exposed to taxation law and the rules of interpretation that guide tax law at an early stage.
You recently got transferred from Bangalore branch of your office to Kolkata. Does the transfer bring any changes in your work?
Bangalore office of L&S was already an established office of the firm when I joined with many attorneys already working there. I was assigned an advisory role in the office, wherein my job description was wholly involved in preparing legal opinions and preparing compliance reports, etc. However, when my partner informed me that I may be shifted back to my hometown in Kolkata, where the firm planned to open its ninth office in August, 2013, I was a little circumspect as to what it would offer. However, after shifting to the Kolkata office, we were all thrust into the deep end of the pool so to speak. We were expected to be adept at both litigation and advisory work, and also know various different areas of indirect taxation like service tax, CENVAT credit, central excise, VAT laws, customs, etc. We were a very small team leading a new office, and we all had heightened amounts of responsibility as would naturally be the case with all new offices and small teams. From advisory work, I suddenly found myself doing litigation work and appearing before courts and interfacing directly with the clients. This change was a huge jump in my legal career, as the levels of exposure heightened in Kolkata, within a minuscule span of time.
What does it take to get promoted from being an associate to a senior associate at a top law firm? Which skills would you say contributed towards your promotion?
Haha! This question is one which is best answered by my superiors! However, you get some idea as to what is required from the daily rigours of the job and when you do everything required of you consistently enough, they are bound to recognise it. For me personally, moving to a new office was a big challenge that even us junior associates had to stand up to. Due to the lack of manpower and back office support, and owing to the fact that the firm already had a strong foothold in the east, all of us were multi-tasking all the time. Therefore, due to the shift from a large office to a small new office, our responsibilities had grown manifold in a matter of a few days. I guess it brought out the best in me, wherein I was expected to appear in Courts and Tribunals, draft in the evening and even interact with clients on a regular basis, whereas back in Bangalore, we were expected to do only a fraction of such responsibilities. Due to the growth in responsibility and my reaction to the same, I guess the firm recognised the efforts and promoted me to senior associate this year. Therefore, holistically answering the first part of your question, I guess you need to step up and be counted. Mere mechanical work on what you are required to do may not be enough, you may need to try and do more than what is in your plate to convince the hierarchy that you’re ready for bigger challenges.
Did you ever indulge in academic legal writing? Do you feel extra-curricular activities should be left to the discretion of students or something that students should partake in mandatorily as well? What, in your opinion, are the advantages of taking part in such activities?
In the initial couple of years in law school, I used to be very interested in partaking in academic legal writing, and in that span of time I managed to contribute articles to 8 different journals on a variety of topics ranging from constitutional law to international law. However, as the years wore on I decided to focus mostly on other activities such as mooting, debating and such and did not particularly write anymore beyond the middle of the third year. However, since mooting particularly also involved drafting of moot memorandums, legal writing was always a huge part of the co-curricular work in which I was involved in.
I personally believe that law school allows you to take part in a whole host of activities, and such opportunities shall come only once in a lifetime, because thereafter you end up being busy in work and family life. Therefore, every law student should take advantage of the various activities law school life has to offer, apart from the usual academic discourse, because it offers a different experience, a new way to apply and look at the law. Mooting especially teaches you how to conduct legal research and apply them to factual situations correctly, in diverse ways. You’re also given the opportunity to argue your case before various legal luminaries, even before your fledgling law career begins.
Yes, it may not exactly replicate a courtroom scenario, but it comes close, and such experiences shall hold us in good stead in the long run. Similarly, debating teaches you how to construct logical coherent argumentation in the shortest spans of time. Every activity has some form of take-away on offer to the participant and I believe every law student should at least experience it once for sake of gaining experience, if not for anything else. In my opinion, it is the aggregate of experiences that make you the person you are today, and the more of them you have, the more diversified you are.
How much time did you devote in preparation for the Jessup round moot and how difficult was it to manage it along with studies and other responsibilities? How did you balance mooting with other important stuff like college assignments?
The Jessup moot was the single toughest assignment in my entire law school career. To this date, that moot remains an enigma of sorts, and yet it remained unconquered for me in January, 2011. It was simply a lot of work encapsulated in six months of preparation, and it was a huge handful for me in my fourth year. I have spent sleepless nights poring over articles and books on International Humanitarian Law, scratching my head trying to make sense of the sheer bulk of work required to achieve a semblance of respectability in the moot court competition. In my opinion, the Jessup is the toughest assignment in moot court competitions today simply because the best teams from each college participate in the World Cup of mooting and the competition is immense from the first rounds itself.
Nothing is easy, and every year the Compromis/Moot Problem scales new heights of international legal discourse. The Compromis is drafted in such a way that the presence and/or absence of every word matters, and I believe that is what makes Jessup the single most difficult task facing any law student. It is also rewarding in some respects; personally, the Jessup has taught me a lot on international law, legal analysis, and precision in argumentation. Though, balancing mooting activities and other college activities along with academic discourse was not something that I found difficult in my five years, but the Jessup months were particularly difficult due to the sheer enormity of the work at hand. To this date, preparing for the Jessup itself remains the toughest assignment that I’ve had.
You’ve had a wide variety of internships during your time as a college student. Do tell us about the places you’ve interned at and whether these were all planned or happened on the go?
To be honest, I have not interned as much as my peers have, most of them have interned around 10-11 times. I have interned only 6 times in my entire law school career, however, each and every one of them has been enriching in different ways. My first internship was with a counsel, and I was expected to assist my senior in appearance before the High Court of Kolkata. My second couple of internships were in soliciting firms, and we were expected to read the brief and accompany our seniors to conferences and watch the matters. We were expected to draft opinions and writs on occasion as well. But, the internships in Khaitan & Co., AZB & Partners and finally Lakshmi Kumaran & Sridharan were the ones where I was first exposed to the nature of corporate and tax compliance work. We were expected to conduct legal research on various topics and sometimes also draft an opinion based on our research. We also assisted the associates in conducting due diligence.
L&S was the first time I worked in tax law, and I was particularly impressed by the work ethos in the firm, which finally allowed me to make my choice. Most of my internships were planned well in advance to enable me to get the ones I wanted. These days it is particularly difficult to get a confirmed internship in a big law firm, and you need to apply much in advance to stand any chance of getting one. I did not want to burden my holidays in the initial years, as I was always engaged in various co-curricular activities in law school, however in the third and fourth years I planned well in advance before applying for any internship.
Many law students strongly believes that getting a job at one of the top 3 law firms is mostly about securing a high GPA. Would you agree?
I agree. However, securing a job at the top 3 law firms as a fresher is a mere first step. There are many ways to get there eventually through lateral transfers as an experienced professional. Personally, I was always a very average student in law school, and eventually I am at the place I want to be at the start of my legal career. Essentially, the Indian education system wants us to believe there is just one way to get where we want, which is very far away from the truth, because there are a multitude of ways to get where you want. Therefore, a high CGPA definitely helps initially, but it is not the be all and end all.
How should one apply for an internship at LKS? What do you mainly look for in interns?
L&S has a centralised internet portal at www.lakshmisri.com wherein interns can directly apply for their requisite period. L&S lays major emphasis on a strong educational background and eagerness to work in the specialisation areas of the firm, in selection of the interns. Discipline is also an important criterion in the selection of interns. L&S has an extremely streamlined process for intern selection, all centrally monitored by the Human Resource team at the Delhi office.
What would be your advice to the law students aspiring to secure a job at top law firms? What do they need to do, how should they prepare in the last 2 years of law school?
My advice to law students aspiring to secure a job in top law firms would be to gain as much working knowledge as possible, through internships, in sectors that they want to work in. A law firm will necessarily recruit you if, as a resource, they believe that you have the requisite interest in their work areas. Therefore, identification of work areas where the student wants to work in eventually has to be identified fairly early so that it reflects in their curriculum vitae through their work. No law firm expects you to know the law from day one, as that is an impossibility for a lawyer fresh out of college, but the propensity to work in a particular area and discipline in work ethics are certain criteria that are inherently required to succeed in top law firm jobs. Therefore, planning well in advance and building a CV around interest areas is essential in this day and age where competition for these jobs is immense.
The opinions are of the interviewee alone and in no way the firm Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan is represented.