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. Working at law firms 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 around the world recruit from the top Indian law schools. Among the major recruiters from the domestic legal schools are top law firms such as Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co., Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas, AZB Partners, J.Sagar & Associates, and Luthra & Luthra Law Offices. Foreign law firms that recruit from Indian law schools include the UK-based Linklaters LLP, 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 lakhs a year (with the occasional offer reaching as much as 10 lakhs). Foreign law firms (with foreign postings) offer salaries that can go as high as 16 lakhs. 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.

A Day In The Life Of A First Year Associate

Joining a law firm can involve exacting work; provide the opportunity for growth, experience and above all - a great salary. Long-term prospects culminate in the position of Equity Partner, but also provide the opportunity to break away and start shop on one’s own. We will now look at the typical day in the life of a junior associate in the average law firm, which you will experience in the first 6 months to 1 year of your employment.

The day starts at around 9:30, and no later than 10:00. Work begins with the checking of emails, sending off any pending mails, organising work for the day and preparing a meeting cum work schedule for the partner you are working with. At around 10:30 the partner calls you in, and the next half hour is spent briefing him on any unfinished business, upcoming meetings and the day’s schedule. These include pre-meeting reviews where the deliverables are identified and documents revised.

At 11:00 the client meetings begin, to which you will accompany the partner wearing your best suit. During the meeting you are not expected to make your presence felt unless specifically called upon by the partner, and hence you can sip coffee and devour biscuits and pray that the partner doesn’t make too many commitments on your behalf. After the clients leave, there is a follow up session with the partner where the entire meeting is reviewed, so don’t dream away all your time. After the meetings, which could take up to two hours depending on the number of meetings and the type of client, you head back to the office to prepare a report of the meeting, and speak to other clients to fix further meetings.

Lunch is at 13:30. The entire office gathers together and makes this single hour truly enjoyable. Many firms have an in house cook, but employees are free to bring their own food or order, whichever suits them best. The entire atmosphere is informal, and after the lunch hour there is a short smoking break for the smokers up on the terrace or outside the building. The best thing about this period is that the office hierarchy, which is so rigid during other parts of the day, does not exist then. But at times, this fun time can be taken away when you have to meet a client on a luncheon meeting.

At 15:00 most of the post lunch meetings begin. Many of these are conducted through video conferencing or a conference call, to enable easy communication with clients in the UK, bankers in Hong Kong and their lawyers based in some other part of the world. New transactions are discussed and strategies for collaboration are devised. At 17:00 you meet with another partner to brief him on some other pending issue, or provide a research opinion on a foreign investment transaction. All the relevant research material must be handy and after the meeting you return to the office to incorporate all the material into the office files.

At 19:30 you conduct another conference call with a new client in the US and listen to their brief about their transaction, as this is a first time interaction. They want to set up a financial services company in India, and hence you commit to sending them a detailed written report on this in a few days, which contains cutting edge legal advice on how to set up shop in India.

Come 21:00 and it is dinnertime. To pacify the stomach rumblings you order food with a vengeance, especially since it is going to be a long night ahead. Since most of the office is still in, time will be spent in cheerful banter, which serves to relax the body and mind a good deal.

An hour later you get back to work. Drafting of a Joint Venture Agreement that will hit the media headlines within the next week must be done with great attention and care. Following time would be spent in finishing all the other work that the partner has engaged on your behalf apart from planning for the next day. By 00:00 you are done, and after mailing the work to the client or partner for review you head back home in the office taxi.

As you can see, the work in Law Firms is long, hard and demanding, but the reward at the end of it are considerable. You get to do a lot of high profile work, meet with the biggest names in the corporate world, be part of cutting edge legal processes and finally gain a lot of respect from the people around you. The starting pay ranges from 40k – 70k per month, and can rise sharply according to the firm. The position is one of great responsibility and excellence is amply rewarded.