Saumya Prakash graduated from Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi, in 2010. After a successful stint with UCOL, Advocates & Consultants as Associate, she went on to work for HT Media Limited in 2014, as Assistant Manager-Legal. Her role entails catering to their print business pan India on legal matters pertaining to contract management and advisory.
In this interview we speak to her about:
- The difference between working as in-house counsel and being in a firm
- Her role and responsibilities at HT Media Limited
- Her diverse experience
How would you like to introduce yourself to our readers?
Introducing yourself is one of the most difficult jobs in the world. It is one of those questions that put you into deep introspection. Answers may change depending upon your platform and your audience, as it rightly should. We are many things, they all define us. I am a positive, happy person. If there is something I want from life, that’s:
Inspiration- to do well, to do better, to do more, new, keep that spark alive
Challenges- to keep me agile, on the edge, to give you the taste of success- be it big or small
Failure- cause they teach us more than success does
Purpose- to know you contributed, you added value to something, for me that’s one of the most fulfilling feelings.
Professionally speaking, I am a lawyer. I have been working for the past six to seven years now and currently working with the Hindustan Times Group where I cater to their print business pan India on legal matters pertaining to contract management and advisory.
What motivated you to pursue law?
Choosing law as a career happened to me in the most sedimentary way. There wasn’t a particular defining moment, but rather many sub-conscience stances that led to my inclination towards law. Be it the impression of A Few Good Men on me, or my nagging habit to debate and elucidate and establish my opinions on almost everything, I suppose, added to my set of reasons. But all I remember is the conviction that I felt for only this field to take up as the next step towards my career and I kept moving in this direction. Through the years in college while I studied law books (albeit I was a terrible scorer) and my inclination towards writing were the live reasons that made me believe that I am made for law and I never second guessed this choice.
I remember my mother used to point out to me that while writing, my sentences used to be awfully long and complicated and she used to advise me to keep my sentences short and crisp and use the full stop once in a while. But I never understood how someone can put a break to a flowing thought. Later I realized habit was used to my advantage for reading bare acts and drafting.
How do you think your internships have shaped your career?
Studying law and pursuing it in the practical form are two very different things. While theory is important, you will never know its relevance until it’s applied in real life. Internships are the brief trailers that a law student can see (and if you have good mentors, then live) before they star in the movies. Law is such a vast sea of knowledge and practice. All a law student can wish is to get as much exposure or acquaintance to the possible shores before they choose where to sail from and where to dock. Internships will help you analyze and ascertain what are your interests, what your strengths are. You may even see in you a change in thought and direction as your gain varied experiences. The course of your life, job interest or career path may change even at a much later stage too, or you may have a stark clarity of what you want and go for it head strong, but you’re always better off having tested different waters. Internships at a younger age will help you network, get to know some great and some not so great people in life. It just prepares you for what to expect when you finally step out of that law school.
What was your experience working for a law firm?
I worked with a boutique firm called UCOL (United Chambers of Law) headed by Mr. Sachin Puri and Ms. Kaadambari Puri for the first four years of my career. Needless to say, everyone’s first job is quite special for them. I realized the significance of the knowledge I gained from there after I shifted to my second job at HT. The greatest benefit of boutique firms is the vastness of the work you get there. It’s like a multi-vitamin for a law graduate. The hands on experience you gather there is unparalleled. Boutique firms are close-knit communities with ten to fifteen lawyers who share the entire work load. So you will get to do drafting – from simple letters to pleadings and agreements, you will get to appear in lower courts (and learn from your mistakes, which is crucial), your research–litigation as well as corporate. For your first job go to a place where you are given the opportunities to take actions, make decisions and learn from your mistakes. I remember what Ms. Kaadambari Puri told me once – the first five odd years of your practice are the most crucial. That’s the only time when you can dig in your heels and work with 100% dedication and its benefits are invaluable. We had worked weeks for a stretch there, almost fifteen hours a day, challenging issues, on short deadlines and demanding clients and seniors. That’s the necessary grooming (grilling) that makes a lawyer!
Why did you shift from a mid-sized law firm to a company?
Law is immense, with varied sectors, many streams and various aspects. There is knowledge and learning everywhere. You should expose yourself gather from where ever possible and imbibe as much as you can. After working with a law firm for four and a half years I felt that there is a lot more out in the world that I can gain from and felt the urge to broaden my horizon. I realized that to grow more I needed new experiences. Sometimes, when you work at one place for a considerable amount of time, you create a comfort zone for yourself there, which is good but what’s better is grow, meet new challenges and invoke a whole new set of what when how why. The biggest challenge for a lawyer is to be experienced and versatile. I knew that to better myself I needed to venture into different fields and explore different fields of law and master them and hence landed my job at HT.
What are the challenges you face being an in-house counsel?
Any lawyer would agree that the difference or relationship between a lawyer and an in-house counsel is of two people sitting on either side of the table but working on the same problem. By way of definition, in-house counsels are non-practicing lawyers and while a lawyer has many clients, an in-house counsel has only one client- i.e. its company. Taking on the job at HT made this transition as smooth and beneficial as it can possibly get. The working of the legal department at HT Medial Limited is so self-dependent and active since most of our legal work is done in-house only as opposed to other companies which outsource most of their legal work to the advocates and law firms they have engaged, which is why the transition for me for so rewarding as it caters to me being a lawyer by profession and an in-house counsel by occupation. Challenge for me if any was to get accustomed to the corporate culture as opposed to the type of working environment I came from at a law firm. Coming from a small law firm which had only lawyers I joined an organization that has many businesses pan-India and every department at every location is your client. Change is good. It keeps alive your ability to adapt. Given enough time and space, you slowly learn to ride the tide.
How important are grades?
There is no straitjacketed formula to success. A hard working student will show diligence, sincerity and the willingness to perform. At the risk of sounding clichéd, ‘hard-work always pays’ has truth to it. As I have said previously- there is so much to know, it’s impossible that a person would have knowledge of everything. A hard-working student will prove to you that he may not know but sure has the ability to and if given the opportunity, most probably will succeed.
On the other hand, you can trust a street smart one to get the job done. What is an added advantage of a street smart person is that not only would they be effective, they would be efficient at it. May the best candidate win!
Good grades are important. Not in life, but in crucial junctures of your life. Scoring well doesn’t ascertain but surely helps you cruise through the path you chose. Good grades in 10th and 12th standard help, in fact permit you to choose the career of your choice, get into the college and course of your choice. For professional courses, competitive exams rankings are crucial. In your under-grad courses, your CGPA will allow you interviews with the top firms at the placement cells of your college. Good grades get you only so far and making it till here is a scholar achievement. To reach this point of your life as per your wishes, good grades are your guiding stars. But from hereinafter, you are a package of your knowledge, ability, and willingness.
What are the attributes indispensable to an in-house counsel?
When you are working for a company as an in-house counsel you need to always remember that you are the conduit between law and business. You are there to make sure that the business is run smoothly, from the inception of a proposal till the end and to defend their interests when disputes arise. Being singularly a lawyer would only be half the job requirement- the other half requires you to understand the business, the sentiment of the business and you need to function on how you can assist in running of the business as smoothly and profitably as possible from a legal stand-point. Being a strict black and white legal officer would create a sense of a strict monitor which may render you more of deterrence than a facilitator.
Legal departments of companies are support functions, and by definition it’s the job of the legal department to support the business. For your growth, the company’s growth is paramount and the comfort of the business runners in approaching you for redressing their concerns providing them that support to carry on their work is what would help you grown too. Working as an in-house counsel would require firstly a well rooted understanding of the business and its functionalities. With in-depth understanding of the business you can warn them of the pot-holes, the preventive measures, the compliances, the safeguards, and damage-control measures.
Is it true that work in-house is less tiring than a firm?
There are two sides to every coin. Law-firm jobs are demanding, of your time, energy, and effort, while you have a better work-life balance in a corporate job. But in-house counsel jobs are stressful because you are accountable. Your word and advice matter. You are the counsel in their house. They approach you for legal advice and you provide this advice, be it through opinions gathered from outsourced counsels or on the basis of your knowledge and expertise. The company acts on the basis of your legal counsel, hence you are the face of law for a company. Such intangible responsibility on the shoulders of an in-house counsel has the potential of a stress of another sort. On the basis of your advise, the company binds itself to the actions it takes, hence the accountability, answerability and pressure is more intense for an in-house counsel.
What would be your advice to our readers?
The only advice I can give is based on the learning I took from my professional life. There isn’t one particular mantra or motto to lead your life by but it will be varied and will present itself in different people, choices and challenges. Trust me there is learning in everything! In wins and losses, in yes and nos. My advise would be to be smart enough to recognize these learning.
Another thing I have learnt from my seniors and later found myself advising to my juniors was to read! Read not just a section, but the Act, not the clause, but the Agreement. If you didn’t understand, read again and again. It starts to make sense after all. Reading is a cornerstone of the legal profession. I can’t stress enough, but never laze out of reading and always read more that the bare minimum, you will realize it gives you an edge; sometimes above yourself, sometimes above others.
Compete. But compete with yourself. Better yourself, improve yourself. Inspiration is good, but jealously and comparison has high potential of discouraging you than motivating, and you may exhaust yourself, because there may be people who are better than you, at higher positions or higher salaries, just like some with less than you but their story is different, their journey is not yours. Don’t compare what has no similarities.
Hard work pays. However, deliverance is subjective. Patience is needed too. There is no fixed time frame to fruits of hard work, therefore be patient and keep persevering.
Law, when you practice is two sides to the same coin; plaintiff-defendant, winning-losing, truth and lies. All of that is your job and you should it with honor and integrity. But don’t ever mix your morals with profession. Morals can get diluted, make sure they are separated and intact (not kept aside in a corner).