Working in a Law Firm

What it's about

A law firm is usually a partnership between lawyers who have come together to offer their expertise to clients under one name. These partners share the profits of the firm as well as the risks (liabilities), and engage other lawyers to work with them as associates. These associates can work at the firm for a period of time, and, provided they establish their competence at work, can even become partners at the firm and share in the profits and management of the firm. Law firms cater to the interests of companies and private individuals alike, though most of the large law firms deal exclusively with corporate houses, i.e. companies. Work at a law firm involves dealing with a wide variety of problems that may or may not be restricted to a particular area of the law (depending on the specialisation and culture of the firm).

Major law firms have separate litigation and corporate departments. The litigation department deals with the disputes which the firm's clients are involved in. Working in the litigation department of a law firm or in a firm that does mainly litigation entails interaction with leading lawyers and a feel of the world of court practice. The corporate departments of law firms advise companies on the corporate deals which they are involved in, such as acquisitions of companies, important inter-company agreements, investment in India by foreign clients, financing of massive projects undertaken by clients and so on.

Major law firms, both Indian and foreign, recruit from the top Indian law schools. Among the major recruiters from the domestic legal schools are top law firms such as Amarchand Mangaldas Suresh A. Shroff & Co, AZB Partners, J.Sagar & Associates, and Luthra & Luthra Law Offices. Foreign law firms that recruit from Indian law schools include the UK-based Linklaters Alliance, the Singapore-based Khattar & Wong, and others. Recruits join as junior associates and are promoted based on performance.

Pros and Cons

The top Indian law firms offer salaries that can go as high as 6 lacs a year (with the occasional offer reaching as much as 10 lacs). Foreign law firms (with foreign postings) offer salaries that can go as high as 16 lacs. Some of these numbers include bonuses, which can be quite generous in most instances. You may wonder why the salaries are lower as compared to those offered by corporates - what you must remember is that most law firms keep the recruit on a 'retainer', allowing for more flexible tax management. Furthermore, salaries in law firms rise faster than in companies. An associate with 2-3 years of experience at a law firm is likely to overtake his classmate at a company. At law firms you interact with senior officers of client companies and handle tremendous responsibility at a young age. The corporate culture with its jet-setting lifestyle is an attraction of its own. Competition, and consequently stress, at these law firms is tremendous since a large number of associates compete for very few partner positions. The larger the law firm, the tougher you can expect the competition to be. There is also the possibility of being pigeon-holed in a practice area i.e. being a specialist in one area and losing the flexibility of doing different things.

To get a complete picture of what goes on behind the scenes, in a top law firm, read A Day In The Life Of A First Year Associate