“I am a jack of all trades but master of none”
Every lawyer in our fraternity has at some point or the other related to this phrase.
As law students, we used to idolise legal eagles who have established themselves in a particular field of law and have created history. We looked up to the likes of Nani Palkhiwala for taxation and H. M. Seervai for constitutional laws and wondered what it would be like if we could become the next authority on let say: Competition Law.
This hunger drives students towards working in a specific area of law with a specialised knowledge set.
Now cut to the present day, where students have joined the M&A departments of premier law firms (mostly because it is the most aspired sector for students and does pay the highest) and want to become the next Harvey Specter or Mike Ross. Fresh graduates are immediately piled up with the responsibility of the never-ending series of due diligence, advisories, acquisitions, mergers, de-mergers, transactions, and e-mails. In the midst of all this, imagine you get a query from a non-legal friend of yours needing some assistance on the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India and you have no answer to that.
Because you are an M&A lawyer, not a lawyer specialising in food laws. But how do you explain that to your friend because according to him, you are the only lawyer he knows.
You either try connecting him to a lawyer who works in that domain or you try finding a lawyer, seek answers and get back to your friend on the same.
These instances are far more relatable to lawyers who are working in extremely niche fields.
And it's interesting to know that this was not a problem twenty years ago because back then, the law firm culture had not exploded and lawyers were expected to work in every domain possible. We had more number of litigating lawyers than transactional lawyers who had to face three new kinds of law every single day.
However, the scenario has massively changed today.
Today, law firms are developing super niche departments and are investing in lawyers who become specialised asset for a particular domain. These firms have also become full-service to lure clients because now instead of one lawyer dealing with ten domains, firms can show that they have ten specialised departments providing specialised services in each domain.
Yes, that has worked out very well for companies who can now sign up with one law firm that will cater to all its needs but does it work out for lawyers individually as well? Especially the young task force?
This is where the situation gets tricky and in fact, is the ultimate dilemma that the fraternity faces.
To be a jack of all trades or a master of one!
Let us try to look at it logically. Less than 5% of the young task force is absolutely determined as to what stream of law they want to pursue. It is either a family decision or a deep affinity towards the subject that pretty much makes up their mind at an initial stage to either become a tax lawyer, or an M&A lawyer, or a real estate lawyer, etc. These are the professionals who are also hell-bent on either establishing a litigation niche or making it up to partnership in a premier tier 1 firm in that particular field of law.
What happens to the remaining 95%? Most of us are pretty much clueless at the time of our graduation as to what field of law we really do want to pursue. We are not randomly pulling out numbers here it is a thorough assessment after having surveyed over 2000 students in the last 5 years.
Call it the lack of exposure in college or not enough internships but young graduates severely lack the clarity to charter their career path. Worst case scenario- they enter into one of the specialised niche departments of a law firm and two or three years down the line, face a massive saturation of doing the same transaction and the same quality of work again and again. Some even realise that they don't even enjoy that particular department.
This is not just a problem with the young task force, but also with mid-level lawyers who are between a rock and a hard place situation. They have invested quite a lot of money and time in developing a niche but is it now feasible for them to go back to base zero to try out a new area of law? Not so much! This is the reason why most of them prefer to remain in their chosen areas wondering if they can ever diversify.
But why diversify in the first place?
We have had many professionals asking us why is specialization a bad thing? Now don’t get us wrong. We are not belittling the importance of gaining specialized knowledge in a particular field. It is in fact an asset to gain significant expertise in one or two areas of law.
That being said, what does it say about the long term value of a lawyer who is not well adept with various areas of a legal system? Let us be very honest today- with the world moving towards automation and artificial intelligence, law firms in the future are going to resort to significant resource cutting in an area where there is anyway no mass hiring.
The fraternity is going to get smaller and more polished. In such a scenario is it a prudent decision to have limited skill sets in just one area of law? For example: if you have been working in the M&A-FEMA segment of a law firm and there is massive cost-cutting in this segment making you vulnerable. What are your chances of making a switch to another department and starting from scratch considering you have kept yourself away from 15-20 different kinds of law? Even if you do move to another department you are looking at a 40% pay cut at the least as you have to start from A0 or at the most A1 level of a law firm.
This is why diversification in various areas of law makes you bankable for those areas and gives you a long term opportunity to get a specialisation in a later part of your life.
Another way of diversification for lawyers is to move into litigation but this diversification certainly comes at a heavy cost. The pay cut is even more excruciating because we all know how litigation pays in your initial years.
This is where the option of becoming an in-house counsel to a company starts looking lucrative to lawyers.
This is that sweet spot where you don't have to take a massive pay cut and at the same time have the privilege of working for well established MNCs.
But while lawyers explore this opportunity, we often come across some of the most popular myths prevalent today.
“In-house counsels have clerical jobs and mostly have a liaison work with the law firms”
“But an in-house counsel does not have to go to courts”
“In-house counsels do not need to draft contracts, prepare transactional documents and argue in courts”
“In-house counsels get to go home by 6 PM in the evening and do not have long hours like transactional lawyers”
Becoming an in-house counsel to a company has always been perceived as a soft option, an easy task, and is often considered as an early retirement by many of the professionals in the fraternity.
But let us stop you right there. The truth is far from it!
If becoming an in-house counsel was such an easy task and involved no “real work” then general counsels of companies would not be paid to the tune of INR 80-90 Lakhs per annum today. Yes- you have read it right. Check out this article by VCCircle and the figures published by them. An average salary of an in-house lawyer today in India is anywhere between INR 10-12 Lakhs per annum with a starting salary of not less than INR 7-8 Lakhs per annum and this is the minimum amount we are talking about.
And all this was in the year 2016. Add a 15% increment to that to judge the calculation of the figures applicable today.
If you notice carefully, law firms are still in the highest pay brackets but if you compare their attrition rate with that of companies, then companies are far more superior in the chart. What we mean to say is that companies are not only offering commensurate salaries but are certainly offering a better work environment which has kept the attrition rate is lower in comparison to law firms.
Why are in-house counsels paid so well?
When a JSW Steel Ltd-led consortium had almost settled the deal for Monnet Ispat & Energy- they were faced with a separate challenge. The IBC tribunal insisted on including small operational creditors as well, something that was not contemplated before. JSW Steel’s in-house legal team led by general counsel Rajiv Bakshi stepped in, helping the consortium make a quick decision and raise its bid by ₹ 25 crores which resulted in JSW bagging the Monnet Ispat deal.
Tata Sons Private Limited was looking to appoint someone who could lead the transactions, restructuring and joint ventures of the company and thereby appointed Shuva Mandal as the group general counsel in July 2017. The Tata group has since then, completed numerous transactions and has consistently held that Mandal’s involvement has turned out to be very crucial in saving time and money for the Tata group.
This is the kind of role those in-house counsels are expected to play today. They are no longer on the periphery doing secretarial work. They are walking hand in hand with the management and are often the deciding factor for them. The marketing and the sales team can come up with inventive strategies but it is the legal team that certifies the feasibility and possibility of those strategies.
In fact, the burden of responsibility has become multifold. Law firms have a standard protocol in terms of advising the companies. Yes, they are extremely sound with their specialised skill sets but in the end- their role is to limit themselves to the proposition given by the company and answer in a yes or no. However, companies need more than that- they want solutions. If not yes- then what?
This is often not catered to even by the most established partners in law firms. The reason is simple- law firms are outsourced legal advisors. They do not understand the pulse of a company the way the management does. Law firms will not have the bandwidth to understand that because they are catering to multiple clients.
But an in-house counsel will. The speciality of an in-house counsel is not only that he/she needs to understand the set up of the company, but he/she also needs to understand the industry in general. An in-house counsel gets the pulse of the organisation and strategies accordingly. Companies have started investing heavily in expanding their legal teams to reduce their reliance upon law firms for this very reason. This also serves a dual purpose of monitoring the expenses because law firms have become explosive with their billing rates.
Now, it's not possible for in-house legal teams to replace the work of law firms but in-house lawyers have the responsibility to monitor the value addition of the work being done by the law firms in terms of the money being invested. It is the job of an in-house counsel to hire the right kind of law firm for the required work and ensure that the advisory is solution-oriented in nature which fits the bill and requirements of the company. This is not a mere liaison job but a responsibility to determine the fate of the company.
A new development is also taking shape...
Lawyers are not only looking to diversify between domains of law but are also now looking to diversify their functional roles in general. B- Schools in India like ISB, IIM-A are now having a separate and preferable quota for professionals like lawyers seeking to do an MBA. Class diversity in premier B- schools reflects 20% of lawyers.
It is true- lawyers have now started to move out of this zone and explore different functional areas. The route makes much more sense when you have worked as an in-house counsel to a company where you not only have legal backing but you also understand how companies function in general.
But the route to becoming an in-house counsel is easier said than done...
You need to get this straight. Some companies like ICICI, JSW, Hindustan Coca Cola Beverages Pvt Ltd, etc do have a programme of taking in college graduates, training them, and then reinstating them as legal managers to the company. However, getting into such companies is extremely difficult. In a college placement programme, they will probably take 1 out of 30 or 40 applicants after a rigorous set of hiring. This approach is taken up by extremely few companies that can afford to invest in fresh blood.
The remaining lot will look for an experienced segment of professionals who are not limited to one area of law but have dipped their feet in multiple domains and have litigation experience added as well. But how is it possible for young graduates to gain skill sets which only come after 2-3 years of practice.
The scene is even more interesting for transactional and litigating lawyers. Transactional lawyers are usually under the impression that coming from premier tier 1 law firms will make them a natural pick for companies. Litigating lawyers feel that their litigation experience alone is enough to attract companies.
Not at all.
Companies want a mixed bag of everything!!!
A company on a daily basis essentially deals with everything- M&A, IPR, telecommunication and media laws, cyber laws, data privacy competition laws, real estate, contracts, FSSA, legal metrology Act, secretarial laws and litigation. Why would it look to invest in someone who has only worked in one arm of a particular department of a law firm or only has litigation experience?
Especially, when and if they are given the choice to hire another in-house counsel having experience of 2-3 years of handling the affairs of a company?
So what is the solution here?
This has been one of the most interesting challenges that we, as an educational company have faced.
What if you save the time and opportunity cost and invest in learning the skill sets that companies usually aspire for. Law students no longer need to wait to get into the workforce to explore the possibility of becoming an in-house counsel if they can get exposed to these areas of law at a very early age. What if we tell you that you can go on working as a transactional lawyer or a litigating lawyer and gain the skill sets that in-house counsels are required to gain in order to explore that career option later on. Moreover, current in-house counsels are always looking to upgrade their skills in order to move to a separate industry and be equipped to handle its legal affairs. Not only lawyers, but even chartered accountants, CS, managers, engineers, etc can get exposed to the legal compliances and complexities companies need to follow in totality. Lawyers contemplating moving to another functional domain can also benefit from this.
Keeping all this in mind, LawSikho has developed a diploma in business laws for in-house counsels which is an online 12-month long immersive and interactive programme.
This course was created to equip lawyers and entrepreneurs with essential business and legal skills.
A business goes through many stages of growth after incorporation, and various skill sets are required to handle evolving challenges that businesses face on the legal, regulatory, and business front. The course was originally developed by keeping in mind the business leaders and entrepreneurs, but later this idea has proved to be very popular with business lawyers as it inculcates a wide range of very useful legal skills and essential knowledge.
Another category of people who benefit a lot from the course is 2nd generation business leaders from family businesses who want to bring in new skills and ideas in an already established business.
This course delivers practical knowledge with respect to grasping knowledge in all areas of law. It also helps lawyers to understand business objectives better, which is especially important for lawyers working in in-house legal teams. It invites ideas and content from experts who are established in-house counsels in the legal fraternity.
Given the dual push of the startup economy and the growth of in-house legal teams, this course has become our most popular course.
This course provides extensive material with a resource library of over 100 lectures, thousands of pages of reading material (online access), hard copy material of important chapters sent to your address, focused skill-development exercises, and institutionalized mentorship. The course makes learning business law simple and develops professional skills that are highly sought after in the job market.
The panel includes litigators, law firm partners, investors, bankers, and other top professionals with decades of practical experience. You will learn practical skills related to legal strategy, business laws, decision-making, contract drafting, legal compliance and negotiation. The goal of the panel is to effectively transfer industry knowledge and practical legal insights otherwise unavailable in academia to the young lawyers and business leaders through this course. Periodic online interactions are organized with industry experts to discuss areas of their expertise with learners.
Going through the syllabus will itself convince you about the large range of skills and knowledge you will be acquiring. There is no other course available in India with respect to business laws for in-house counsels which are as comprehensive as this one.
You will be learning practical skills through simulation exercises around contract drafting, company searches, due diligence, etc.
Our alumni include IIT and IIM graduates, national law school graduates across the country and alumni of foreign universities such as Harvard, Stanford and NYU, top IAS officers working in ministries such as the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Defence of Government of India. Our alumni are already working at top law firms like Amarchand Mangaldas, AZB & Partners, Luthra & Luthra and MNCs like IBM, Infosys, British Petroleum, Larsen & Toubro, Accenture, Genpact, Reliance, Aditya Birla Group and a number of funded startups. Those who take the course can also receive periodic mentorship from our alumni in deserving cases.