Associates, In-House Counsels & Advocates

The initial years shape your personality as a lawyer and it goes a long way in creating an impression on others- Akshay Pathak, Principal Associate at Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas

This interview has been published by Priyanka Karwa and The SuperLawyer Team

Sir, our audience would like to know about your journey before you joined Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas

I was born and brought up in Patna and did my schooling from Patna (Don Bosco Academy and St Michael’s High School). Just like any other middle class household, focus of my parents had always been on education. During school and even college I had just been an ‘above average student’. Whilst I was never the batch topper, from as long back as I can remember, I always wanted to actively participate in any event that came my way, which was related to public speaking. This was maybe the decisive factor in me opting for law. I completed BA LLB (Hons) from GGSIPU, Delhi in 2016. Before joining Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas, I have worked with Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas and briefly with Dentons Link Legal, Delhi office (Link legal was a campus placement). During my law school tenure, I had the opportunity to work as an intern under the able guidance of excellent general corporate teams of some of the best law firms in the country. I am currently working as a Principal Associate with Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas. My practice area primarily includes domestic and cross-border M&A transactions, and general corporate matters including restructurings.

How were your initial years as a junior associate?

There is a general perception that the initial years are tough if you are working with a law firm. Irrespective of whether you are working with a law firm or working with a senior in a chamber etc. you need to work really hard as a junior. This is inevitable and every fresher has to face this, and even I was no exception. The fear of the unknown, fear of making a mistake used to be perpetually there. As a fresher everything you are doing is new to you. There is a huge gap between theoretical knowledge and its practical application.  Hence, a junior has to spend more hours and there is no short cut to that. The initial years shape your personality as a lawyer and it goes a long way in creating an impression on others. This profession demands hard work (irrespective of the designation) and the sooner you accept this the better it is.

Hard work and sincerity will always be given preference over just intelligence. Infact I firmly believe that if the initial years are too comfortable (in terms of work quality, number of hours etc.) it will in some way or the other adversely impact your professional growth. I was fortunate to start my journey under the guidance of some of the finest corporate lawyers of the country. If you have good seniors, you feel motivated to push yourself and give your best. Hence, I believe that role of a senior is also crucial for the growth of a fresher. People mostly quit bad seniors and not the organization or the work. A lot has been written and said about having a ‘work life balance’. This is something very subjective. Someone may get free at 7 in the evening and may feel the lack of motivation to pursue any other hobby, while the other may get free at 10 in the night and may be able to pursue a rejuvenating hobby.

What is your take on the on-going discussions in relation to mental health issues being faced by young lawyers?

Each of us may have issues which we may not be able to or be willing to share with everyone (specially office peers). Waking up every morning, separating your personal and professional life and going out, giving your 100 percent is never easy, in such a situation. Mental health should be taken very seriously by each individual and by peers as well. Specially in a profession like ours where you need to always give your 100 percent, not just to thrive but even to survive. It is nearly impossible to work efficiently if there are things effecting your mental well being (reasons could be personal or professional). Allowing your peers and team members that space to open up, talk about such issues can go a long way in not only increasing overall work efficiency but also in building strong bond between the team members.

Sir, you have carved out a career in one of the best law firms in India. What were the things you did right (and wrong) in your journey so far?

I would break this answer into two halves- one being the time spent in law school and the other half being the time spent as an associate in law firms.

During law school, specially during the 4th and 5th year, I realized the importance of internships. If you are not from the top 5-6 national law schools, there is no other way to start working with good law firms. An internship gives you an excellent opportunity to show case your hard work and sincerity, and I believe every law student should take up internships very seriously and never intern merely for a certificate or just to fill up CV. I personally took my internships very seriously and tried to make the most out of them. Infact the team I have been working with from the past 6 and half years is the same team I interned with in my final year in law school.

Once you start working, the first thing which you should do is try to develop dependency, and learn to be accountable for your work. ‘Being available to help’ and ‘working hard’ are the two most important attributes. You may not be the smartest one in the room, but you can work harder than the majority. That is totally under your control. Every criticism should be accepted with a positive frame of mind. As a junior one is bound to make mistakes. The most important thing is how you outgrow your insecurities and learn from your mistakes. One should never try to settle for less, specially during the formative years as a lawyer and try to always push your limits. If you start giving too much importance to work life balance in the initial stage of your career, some way or the other your professional growth may get hampered. However, I see this as a choice- one may prioritize work life balance coupled with gradual and slow growth over sharp growth over a short span. Hence, it should always be a personal decision. 

The major part of your career revolves around corporate law. Which aspect of this thrills you the most?

Every aspect of my work thrills me to be honest. If you don’t love what you are doing, there is something wrong with either what you are doing, or your career choice. As a corporate lawyer you get to work on some of the biggest M&A deals happening in the country. You get to engage with, work with some of the sharpest minds across various sectors. You grow not just professionally but also personally. That I believe is the most satisfying aspect of the work I majorly do.  For students / professionals who want to work with law firms, the motivating factor should always be good quality of work, better learning curve, experienced seniors to work with. One should never get carried away by hearsay negative feedback about an organization or law firms in general. At the same time never get carried away by the ‘Harvey Specter’ effect where you get enticed by other lesser relevant factors (clothes, cars, money). In long run everything follows if you are motivated and willing to work hard. ‘Overnight success’ doesn’t exist. Each day counts.

You have effectively facilitated some major Mergers and Acquisitions. What are your key learnings while dealing with those cases?

In my limited experience what I have understood and learnt so far is that working hard, staying updated and on your toes, are not just the only areas where you need to be good at. In addition to the above, meeting client expectations and being able to meet deadlines (internal as well as external) is something which is very important. All the hard work, sincerity is of no use if you fail to meet expectations of your senior or the client. I believe majority of the success one attains in one’s professional journey comes from being able to ‘understand and deliver as per the expectations’. Efforts which are channelled always meet better results. Hence, before working on any deliverable, understanding expectations of your client / senior is of utmost importance. 

Internships in Tier-1 firms have been the hardest yet most desired by budding law graduates. Can you share a few suggestions which could help them to materialize the same?

Networking and visibility is the key. Law students, specially from tier 2 and tier 3 law colleges should make it a point to mark their presence both physically and virtually in legal space. This can be by way of being physically present for seminars and conferences and being active on Linkedin. Students should keep themselves updated and actively write articles/ papers/ blogs on legal issues and changes. One cannot expect approaching anyone directly without any prior interaction, and getting an internship at one go. Students should follow a two way approach for getting internships – (1) applying well in advance (6-7 months atleast) to atleast 30-40 law firms and following up regularly (sending just 1 email for internship is as good as not applying for an internship) ; (2) building a strong presence of Linkedin by way of writing articles/ blogs, getting in touch with seniors, alumni, sharing your work with them on a regular basis, and then approaching them for internship.

What do you think is the best for a law student to do with respect to internships? Short-term internships over several genres of law or long-term internships in a specific field of law?

Interning multiple times with the same organization, in the same practice area with the same team preferably is better than interning 10 times with 10 different firms across different practice areas. Interning in the same practice area multiple times helps you to hone your skills and build your knowledge base in that specific practice area.

Do non-NLU graduates stand a chance as freshers with Top notch law firms?

Yes, absolutely. As I said earlier, internships are the best way to showcase your hard work and sincerity. If you meet the basic threshold set by a team for a fresher, and are able to demonstrate the hunger to work hard, learn and grow, college will not matter. I am also not from any NLU for that matter.

Sir, you have a myriad of journal publications under your name. How important do you think publications are for a law graduate, both as a student and as a professional?

Research papers become a talking point in your interview. No law firm will hire you just because you have 5 good publications. However, it does demonstrate that you have good research skills and that you were able to analyse a legal point. In an interview if you are able to substantiate on that legal issue, it can go a long way in creating a positive impression in the mind of the recruiter.

What is the importance of moot court competitions in a CV?

Just like a paper publication, no moot court competition can get you a job. Even if you end up winning 5 moots, no law firm will hire you solely on that ground. Participation/ winning a moot court competition demonstrates that you have good research skills and again it would be a talking point in your interview. However, I would encourage all law students to actively participate in moot court competitions and write research papers. In law school you would get to learn application of law mostly by way of your participation in co-curricular activities. 

Lastly, what advice would you like to give to Non-NLU graduates who have big aims to get into prominent tier-1 law firms? 

With my limited experience in legal space, the only advice I can give to anyone is to have faith in hard work, and sincerity. Hard work and sincerity would always be preferred over intelligence. Have short term goals for each semester and decide how many papers you want to write, where do you want to intern, how many research papers you wish to publish and then act accordingly. Belief in hard work more than destiny should be the mantra.

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