Varun Kalsi graduated in law from Amity Law School in 2007. After which he went on to pursue an LL.M. in Corporate Laws from New York University. At present Varun works as a Manager at Dua Associates.
In this interview we talk about:
- His journey as a law student from Amity Law School
- Studying LL.M from New York University and how it influenced his career
- Working at Dua Associates.
- How to gain expertise in corporate law
What brought you into studying law as your profession?
I’d say both but more of planning. Like most lawyers though I am good with my numbers, Mathematics was not my favourite subject. Back in 2002, the options were, therefore, pretty much limited to hotel management, media or law. Personally, I chose law since it seemed to me to be a more empowering medium that turned you into a professional, and is one where people hold you in great esteem, either out of admiration or fear or both!
How did you fare in academics at Amity? Would you say a great CGPA is a necessity to kickstart a good career in the legal profession?
I’d say I was amongst the bright ones in my batch with nice and healthy grades throughout my 5 years at law school and would also, like to add that, in my opinion, my batch was probably the best our law school had seen, in so far as academics and extra-curricular activities were concerned. There was immense competition even amongst friends but all in good spirit, which, in fact, led us to achieve much more than we would have done otherwise.
Considering that a fresh law graduate will not have great work experience (other than legal internships/clerkship), a potential recruiter’s primary focus would be on the candidate’s academic performance (grades and other achievements) whilst at law school. However, even if one’s CGPA is not the best, he/she may be hired by a recruiter on the basis of the candidate’s overall personality, the recruiter’s immediate requirements and the way he/she conduct himself/herself in an interview.
What skills did you get to hone as the Executive Member, Amity Law School Moot Court Society?
Acquiring organisational skills, inter-alia, was a great advantage of being an integral part of the Moot Court Society and we were nicely tested every time our college hosted the annual Moot Court Competition. Also, the exposure to other teams in terms of their manner of preparation and the way they prepared for the competition was always something one could learn and imbibe.
What is your advice to budding mooters?
(Varun has participated in various moot court competitions like Stetson International Environmental Law Moot Court Competition, Surana & Surana Corporate Law Moot Court Competition and Amity National Arbitration Moot Court competition.)
The first time you think about it, it might be difficult and you may put it on the backburner but my suggestion would be to push yourself to participate in a Moot Court competition, just for the sake of the experience. If I was never “pushed/encouraged” by my friend/batchmate- Apar Gupta, I am certain I would not even done half of what I eventually achieved. The idea is to get in there and get a feel of things as you’d never know whether you like it or not until you try it. By the aforesaid, I don’t mean that it is mandatory but I’d highly recommend that you at least give it a try, once. Perhaps, it is instrumental in your decision as to the path you’d eventually choose in your legal career, i.e. being a litigator or a corporate lawyer.
What kind of internships did you do in your law school? Did you have institutional support for procurement of internships?
I actually did a variety of internships right from with a High Court lawyer, an Advocate-on-record, few law firms (Corporate and IPR) and so on. For me, internships were always an avenue that could help me make that difficult decision- what kind of practice would I relish as a lawyer?
There was minimal institutional support available for procurement of internships.
Do you think being from a non-NLU has ever proved to be a hindrance for you? What has been your experience?
I think it depends on the organisation as to what it values more- the individual student’s calibre or his/her institution itself. To be fair to the students there are indeed organisations that openly practice such “discrimination” but then that’s not the case with the others. Also, one has to bear in mind that the institution will always play a key role for any fresh law graduate as a recruiter may view his/her abilities from the fact that the student is a product of that particular institution. I am sure such issues are also faced by MBAs who are not from ISB or IIMs but then there are always other options.
Many lawyers say that the first year after graduation is the most difficult year for young lawyers. How did you learn the ropes and what were the biggest challenges you faced?
Well, isn’t that true for all professionals? I firmly believe that all professionals are valued in terms of their experience and expertise, which can only be learnt the hard way, i.e. one has to go through the whole process or loosely speaking, the grind. My first year was challenging too especially since my senior was an experienced and seasoned lawyer who would not accept anything less than perfect but was always available to answer my questions and discuss legal issues with me. I would ensure (and still do) that I do not repeat any of my mistakes and strive to improve my drafts/opinions basis the hands-on knowledge and on-the-job experience that I’ve acquired while at work.
Right after graduating, you went on to pursue LL.M from New York University School of Law. Why did you decide to go for higher studies?
After doing different kinds of internships I was inclined towards being a corporate lawyer and therefore, felt that it would be great if I could improve upon my knowledge of Corporation laws with an international perspective to it. I’d say that I was extremely fortunate to get through NYU as its faculty, especially for courses like Corporation law and M&A, is par excellence and added a new dimension to the way I perceived the corporate law practice.
Tell us something about your LL.M year at New York University School of Law. How did this influence your career?
Not only did this year add to my legal acumen it also brought me in touch with a bunch of talented individuals who had come there from all across the globe. Also, it helped me evolve as an individual and in the process I even learnt few new things about myself. The NYU stint brought more clarity to my thought process in so far as concerns the sub-practice areas within the corporate law practice and helped me forge certain lifetime relationships, which influenced my career greatly.
Do you think it makes sense to students to go overseas to study law when they want to work/practice in India?
It’s a personal choice. For instance, for me it was a better and sounder understanding of Corporation laws with an international twist and then the thought of working abroad for a few years. I was able to achieve only the former. Therefore, it totally depends on the individual’s goal. Studying overseas is no guarantee that you will get a chance to work there too, therefore, if the ultimate goal is to work abroad it may not be the best route. It is pertinent to note that there are individuals who had been practicing in India and now are with law firms abroad and vice-versa. Thus, there is no direct co-relation between studying abroad and practicing in India.
Tell us about the nature of work you are entrusted with and what’s a typical day like?
There is no typical day for a lawyer like me as my practice areas are wide in nature being general corporate/commercial advisory and Real Estate. There are days when you are swamped with work and do not know when night falls and then there are some when you have some breathing space. Having said that, I am always on something all the time whether it is execution of work for clients or business development activity as ultimately I have to justify my cost to my firm.
How do you say one can gain expertise in corporate law? What does it take to be a good corporate lawyer?
(Varun’s key practice areas are General Corporate laws including Defence and Foreign Exchange Regulations and he is also engaged in major Real Estate Transactions.)
My recommendation would be to firstly, get the basics right. The fundamentals of the Company’s Act (as amended) and the Contract Act should be clear as these, inter-alia, are the main statutes that govern corporate transactions and are followed by other laws and regulations depending upon the nature of a transaction. Also, it would be a good idea to follow deals such as acquisitions and mergers through news items and trying to understand the drivers and mechanics to these deals as much as possible.
How do you keep yourself abreast with latest industry news and trends?
Nowadays, there are several options available such as news items, legal websites and other resources that provide me with the latest legal developments and happenings in India and around the world. Another prominent resource is keeping in touch with your colleagues working with you and otherwise.
How do you maintain a work-life balance? Are there any specific time management tips you would like to share?
The best tip is always to finish your work as soon as possible and not sit on it till the penultimate moment. This way, one may have an opportunity to have some free time to indulge in other activities. Having said that, it totally depends on the volume of work and how you manage it that eventually determines your work-life balance.
When you lawyers are hired, what kind of skills and profile are looked for?
The legal fraternity hires on need basis, i.e. in proportion to their requirements and intended revenue and other projections. For freshers, while recruiting things that matter are the institution, candidate’s academic performance and the overall personality of a candidate in order to determine his/her suitability to the job and the possibility of his/her adaptability to the work environment and the team, which he/she shall join. For working lawyers, it’s their grip of their practice areas, legal acumen, business development skills, work ethics and his/her suitability to the job and the possibility of his/her adaptability to the work environment and the team, which he/she shall join.
You must have guided several interns. How would you say that an intern can generate a positive feedback in the limited time they have?
There is only one way- ‘do as much work as you possibly can’ as only this will give you the necessary exposure. There can be times when you are not called upon for a few days to do an assignment but that should not deter you from going to different lawyers within the firm and politely asking if they could do with some assistance. Also, the other key is to carefully listen and note down the instructions given for an assignment. This will ensure that your research work is on track and if the lawyer is pleased with your work, he/she will give you more work or you may even stand a chance of an offer from the organisation in some cases.
You recently got promoted from an Associate to Manager. Which skills would you say contributed towards this promotion?
The Manager designation is one step away from becoming a Partner and in that context, it is a crucial career milestone. It brings with itself lot more responsibility and commitment both in terms of work and business development activities, which need to be met.
It’s been a while since I have been with Dua Associates, right from being an Associate to a Senior Associate and now, a Manager. I think a nice mix of some hard work, sincerity, interpersonal relationships with colleagues and good fortune are the reasons. I firmly believe that if one is consistently putting in the efforts he/she will get the necessary recognition, which may be sooner for some and perhaps, a little later for the others but it will come.
What would be your parting message to our readers?
It is important to enjoy whatever you are doing so choose your path accordingly. If you enjoy your work, you will deliver and succeed in your endeavours. Do not fret about success as it will follow your hard work with a mix of some good fortune, of course!