My Unconventional Journey Becoming a Corporate Lawyer

The Finance Story

Ever Wondered What Do Corporate Lawyers Exactly Do.

In today's article, we have Aashita Monani a Corporate Lawyer who shares her journey with us.

Aashita chose an unconventional path of doing her graduation in B.Com instead of going the direct Law route and it paid off.

Aashita Monani B.com, LLB from Mumbai (India) and is currently working as Legal Counsel at Edelweiss in the Structured Finance team.

My Journey Becoming a Corporate Lawyer

I was quite a nerd back in the day and thus had thought through on my career path. As bizarre as it sounds, I always dreamt of being a Lawyer.

I scored really well in class 10 and got into a reputed college in India Narsee Monjee College of Commerce and Economics (NM).

Anyone who graduates from NM College is expected to be a finance expert, be in the form of a Chartered Accountant (CA), CFA or otherwise. I sure wasn’t the one to join the bandwagon.

Law as a profession fascinated me and I somehow felt I would do a good job at it. That said, corporate law sure happened by chance as the initial thought was to be a litigant.

Unlike most people, I DID NOT take up the 5-year Law course which is considered to be the norm. I always wanted to pursue Law only after completing my graduation in B.Com and thus opted for the 3 year Law course post my graduation.

While pursuing my graduation, I did not want to spend 3 years of my life just doing only B.Com so during those 3 years I thought of taking up Chartered Accountancy from ICAI.

Along with B.Com, I completed my CPT (1st level CA exam) and after clearing CPT started with my articleship (in the old CA course one could start with their articleship immediately after clearing CPT) at a boutique CA Firm in Mumbai.

By the time I completed my CA articleship, I was a commerce graduate who had done three years of articles and could understand - Taxation, Finance, Accounting etc just like any other Chartered Accountant.

Pursuing Law

Now it was time for me to pursue my passion - Law and thus for me the transition was very smooth.

I am sure most people fear to leave a course due to the baggage and social stigma that surrounds such a decision. Inherently I carve my own path and don’t let myself get bogged by social stigma.

Also in my case,

Eyeballs were surely raised when people got to know that I would pursue Law upon completion of my graduation and not complete CA but for me and my family, this was a well thought out decision wherein pursuing CA while studying commerce was simply to gain knowledge, knowing upfront that my career path was different.

So this was a natural transition so it did not matter either to me nor my peers.

A piece of advice:

  • Should one choose to opt-out of a course, be it CA, Law or otherwise, do it if you feel that decision is right for you. So long as you do what you are passionate about, you will be happy.
  • Do not let the societal pressure get the better of you.

Studying to be a Lawyer

Having completed my graduation from NM College, I worked in the good Chambers of Mr. Jethmalani while pursuing my Law studies.

I was always passionate about criminal law so took this up during my 3 year Law studies.

Soon enough, I realized that I did not have the patience and perseverance that one needs to be a good litigant in our country due to the poor state of affairs in the legal litigant system.

Having left litigation, I moved on to corporate law.

A friend of mine was working in a boutique firm called SJ Law and enquired if I would like to try my hand at project finance. Being clueless about the subject, I read about it and thought of giving it a shot.

The rest, as they say, is history. I enjoyed it and was fortunate to have worked with some of the biggest names such as Adani, GMR, and Hinduja early on in my career.

Having gained some good exposure, I moved on to Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas which is considered to be one of the biggest law firms in the country to further hone my skills.

Being with Amarchand had its own share of pros and cons. Being a brand to reckon with, I learned a lot under the guidance of my seniors, worked with some of the biggest business houses in the country as clients such as Jindal and Essar.

However, the crazy hours, insane deadlines and lack of work-life balance affected my health and mental wellness which is when I moved in-house.

Today, I am a legal counsel at Edelweiss in the structured finance team. Not much has changed in terms of work and clients. Long hours continue to be the same with some relaxation.

How To Apply To Law Firms

  • Law Firms entry- Well one should choose to work with a top-tier firm, one can begin by interning at a good place.
  • These firms keep a watch for good talent and if one’s work is appreciated during one’s internship, the chances of an offer being made are very high.
  • That said, campus placements also play a big role in helping freshens land their dream job.

Did you take coaching classes for Law

  • The concept of coaching classes does not exist for Law students.
  • My take on Law is that it is open to one’s interpretation and thus can’t really be taught.
  • Each individual needs to study the subject and make sense of it as per one’s analyses.
  • This saves students a lot of time attending coaching class etc and helps greatly in self-learning.

Life as a ‘Corporate Lawyer’

Pressure. 

Often, I come across people looking up to me saying - Wow. Your job is so cool. My immediate response to that is - How do u know and the answer is obvious - We saw Suits.

There is no shying away from the fact that reality is far from what one sees in a soap-like ‘Suits’.

Corporate Law is not what Hollywood makes it seem, the reality lies a long way from this.

On TV we corporate lawyers are depicted (and literally) attending fancy meetings, dining with clients, and travelling across countries to deliver their advice to rooms full of a willing audience.

The majority of a lawyer’s work is conducted alone:

  • Researching legal issues and constructing arguments and advice that are delivered by email as often as they are in person.
  • All this, demands long hours, an extreme amount of hard work, diligence and giving up on one’s social life. 
  • This field involves a lot of research, reading etc which is mostly done alone. As you become more senior, you can actually get isolated.
  • To make a success in this career you need to be comfortable working alone, able to take a brief and fulfill it to a high standard without regular oversight.

I don’t mean to scare the youngsters but the truth is that this profession is very demanding. It sure pays well and one gets used to leading a certain lifestyle not with their parent’s moolah but that of one’s own but one has to sacrifice a lot to get there.

Today I have some great names on my CV in terms of my experience having spent 5 years in the profession, I have a car and a home with my own hard-earned moolah at this age (she is only 29 years!). That speaks volumes about the opportunities that this profession provides if you are at the right place at the right time and willing to work hard towards realizing your dream.

Opportunities for Lawyers

A lot of people are well aware of CA and the job opportunities available once one qualifies as a CA but when it comes to Law the amount of ignorance on the subject appalls me. Since time immemorial law has been synonymous with 'Courtrooms' - But there’s some much more to it. Law is a multi-faceted stream.

To begin with, we have litigants (the ones who litigate at the court) and non-litigants.

For litigators - There is a winner and a loser. However, as a corporate lawyer (in most cases) there should be a win-win situation for everyone.

Another major difference between corporate practice and litigation is the pace. In big firms, litigation moves slowly - an associate can be on the same matter for years. Corporate deals have closing dates, so turnover is high. You work very hard, but then the closing comes, the deal ends, and you move on to something else. That keeps it interesting most of the times.

As a non-litigant, one can provide legal advice in various streams such as:

  • Banking and Finance
  • Securities
  • Corporate, Private Equity and M&A
  • Capital markets, competition law
  • E-Commerce, Media, and Technology.
  • And the list can go on and on and on

Options are plenty but it all narrows down to making choices. Anyone who looks to pursue this profession must try their hands at litigation as well as corporate and then make a choice.

Options would vary from the chambers of reputed counsels to law firms to corporate houses to banks and financial institutions depending on the stream of law that one chooses to pursue.

Campus placements are very common in law. That said, there is a ratio mismatch as we speak. There is a problem of plenty in more ways than one.

Today there are several job opportunities but there is an equal number of lawyers in the space. Problem is with the quality. There is a dearth of good lawyers to fill up those spaces. This is one profession where opportunities are many but those are coupled with never-ending work, erratic work hours, an excessive amount of reading, crazy deadlines and the list goes on.

Academic failures in law are not very common. For lawyers, the real struggle starts when one begins to practice.

My journey so far has been a bucket full of highs and lows. Having started from a boutique firm called SJ law to move on to one of the biggest law firms in the country called Amarchand to have moved on to my current workspace Edelweiss to find some solace for myself.

Key Takeaways from my Journey

  • At the onset, I would emphasize the fact that mistakes are important for one to learn and excel. That said, there is no shortcut to success. So follow the right path and you are sure to succeed.
  • There sure is immense pressure probably a lot more than one comes across in most other professions. Again the only way out is to focus on tact. Learning to deal with pressure is what comes with experience. There is no specific guide to deal with it. I practice Yoga for mental wellness.
  • Law as a profession is surely lucrative and has a lot of weight. That said, it sure is the survival of the fittest. Hard work, dedication, focus and tact coupled with the willingness to spend around 80 hours a week is what it takes to be in the creme de la creme of this profession.
  • Go for it but be informed of your choice. And go for it because you are passionate about it.
  • Also, It is very important for Law Freshers to have the right attitude. Often the quality of work suffers due to a ‘chalta hain’ attitude. One needs to stay away from that should one desire to succeed.

In Conclusion...

  • At this juncture, I would like to throw in a piece of advice for both lawyers as well as aspirants - For lawyers looking to move in-house, please note that it’s a myth that in-house hours are better. They are equally crazy if not more if compared to law firms.
  • For aspirants - While this is one of the highest-paid professions and carries a lot of weight, be prepared to work really long hours. The industry is ruthless, it’s all about billable hours, insanely long hours and what you bring to the table 24/7. So the only thing that will help you sustain here is Passion­.
  • My mantra in life is simple - ‘Let people talk, follow your dreams. In the end, it is you who has to live your life. No one else can lead it for you’. So pursue what is good for you.
  • In my view, a person with a knack for reading and analyzing coupled with a good convincing power may pursue this profession. If you like negotiating, deals and working with banks and businesses large and small, this is the area for you.
  • In the end, nothing is right or wrong. As I said earlier, this subject is open to one’s interpretation. It all boils down to making others believe what you believe in.

Now It's Your Turn

Would you do something like this?

Are you a Lawyer?

You can reach Aashita Monani at aashitamonani@gmail.com/thecastory@gmail.com

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