For a lawyer looking for an alternative placement, there are more than enough work opportunities in today’s globalized world.
By Sucheta Dasgupta
Not interested in high-octane litigation? Not a problem. Arguably the most diverse profession on the planet, law now offers a plethora of career options to its graduates, well-suited to individual needs, talent, temperament and quest. One would do well to keep an open mind while examining them all. Here are some of them:
Teaching is a preferred profession, “even among well-known lawyers like Ram Jethmalani”, feels Shital Navandar who has been in this field for over 11 years. After graduating in law, one has to complete LLM and then crack the NET/SET exam or do a PhD to become a full-time lecturer in a college. The pay is according to UGC scales. Having a PhD gives you the chance to participate in research and consultancy projects funded by central and state governments, or author books.
Teaching, of course, is not as lucrative in terms of monetary remuneration as some other jobs. Yet it is satisfying because it allows one to research and contribute to the existing body of knowledge as well as have a good work-life balance. For thinkers and orators as well as those who like to interact with the young and for those who like being eternal students, updating themselves on all new developments, it is a good career fit. “Academics is a lively and challenging field. You have to be updated about everything around you and can’t use your decade-old notes to teach every year as law is not like stagnant water, it is changing all the time,” says Navandar.
Legal process outsourcing
It started in the early 90s. Over the last five years, it has emerged as a popular career choice among law graduates even as India—with its “common law” system followed in both the UK and the US and surfeit of English-educated lawyers—has become one of the top destinations for outsourced legal work. “It is like any other desk job, with regular hours. We soon see people who enjoy litigation leaving as they find this work a bit tedious. But one also needs good language skills and online research skills. Diligence is a plus point,” says Priyadarsini Deepak, who has been with LegalEase Solutions LLC, a Michigan-based firm. The clients are mostly overseas lawyers and law firms and, sometimes, multinationals. Growth inside the organization is fast; Deepak joined as a junior research associate and became research head (India operations) in nine years. Pay is moderate; while the work is detail-oriented and intense.
Leadership, tenacity and team spirit are the three standout qualities required by anyone who wants to succeed in this most lucrative and popular of legal jobs in the present time. A law firm job is a desk job, involving long hours. It is also a high-pressure job with a huge attrition rate, cut-throat competition and more than a healthy measure of office politics. Top law firms pay salaries in the range of `12-14 lakh a year minus incentives and perks. Salary increments may go up to 50 percent of pay. Growth inside the company is quick; one may become a partner in as few as seven years from joining. Working with big clients makes one mature quickly.
With the Modi government coming out with the Startup India initiative, this is an exciting time for legal entrepreneurs. Lawyers are uniquely equipped for the job, with their knowledge about starting a company, their superior researching abilities and their fine communication skills. All they require is a business idea. Meet young Tanuj Kalia, an NUJS Kolkata graduate, who heads Lawctopus, a campus news-cum-career web portal. An author and prize-winning blogger at just 26, Kalia’s philosophy is this: “Know yourself. With your start-up, you are creating the lifestyle for yourself. Some people like it slow and idyllic, some people like if fast. Don’t buy into what seems cooler or bigger. Make it large, but know what large means for you.”
In fact, legal entrepreneurship has been a growing field with many avenues. Ramanuj Mukherjee has co-founded the four-year-old iPleaders, an online legal education forum, ClikLawyer, a marketplace for contract enforcement, IP enforcement and money recovery services, and Superlawyer.in, a web-based legal media venture. He believes that someone with leadership and problem solving skills and the ability to envision a future that will inspire others, from employees and investors to customers is the man or woman for the job. “However, in most cases people develop these skills on the job, no one is born with these skills,” he adds
Research, advocacy and litigation are the three aspects of the job of a lawyer working with an NGO. Passing the bar exam is a prerequisite if you want to head one of these, though it may not be necessary at the time of joining. Human rights law is a minority field in India, but not so abroad, says Colin Gonsalves, co-founder of Human Rights Law Network which represents the poorer sections of society and works for environment, women, Dalits, tribals and disabled. Himself an IITian and a civil engineer, Colin got attracted to law through his interest in union issues and soon enrolled in law school, studying by night. “We are looking for people with a passion for law and for making India a better place to live in. We pay reasonably but those who are looking to make money will be disappointed. There is a great deal of satisfaction involved in the kind of work we do. In fact, we also train lawyers to develop their own client base by working with us. To those who are adventurous and who want to do something meaningful with their lives, there is no other option,” Colin says.
A think-tank focuses on research and advocacy related to public policy. It supports the work of the government by bringing perspective that addresses concerns of all relevant stakeholders through research projects and consultation sessions. There are no set criteria for joining a think-tank. Most think-tanks have separate specialized verticals within the organization. A lawyer is well positioned to be eligible for various verticals in a think-tank given the close link between law and policy in a variety of disciplines. More importantly, a law school curriculum equips you to be prepared for handling new avenues of research and advocacy, says Rachit Ranjan, who is currently working as a government relations lead with Uber but earlier worked for the think-tank, Oval.
Legal journalism and publishing
Hiring lawyers as court reporters is a relatively recent trend in the wake of the 2012 Supreme Court judgement on media guidelines, says Raghul Sudheesh, lawyer-turned-journalist-turned publisher who graduated from the National University of Advanced Legal Studies (NUALS), Kochi, and went on to open the investigative legal news portal Live Law. Incidentally, it was he who filed an intervention application in the media norms case before the constitution bench of the apex court. He has now opened Lex Lab, a law book publication company. Legal Profession and Appointment of Judges, authored by retired Madras High Court judge, Justice K Chandru, is its first book. An activist by nature, Sudheesh warns that legal journalism per se is not a very lucrative field, but promises that “if you have the will and the mindset, you can write stories and make changes.”
Intellectual Property law firms
IP protects the product of the mind, says international lawyer Bharat Dube who works out of Singapore, Noida and Switzerland. He heads Strategic IP Information Pvt. Ltd. SIPI monitors IP infringements, in particular, counterfeit and pirated products in the context of the internet on behalf of rights owners. The rights owners, or clients, are from a wide range of industries, including luxury, fashion, pharmaceuticals, spirits, oil and gas as well as automobiles.
Passing the bar is a prerequisite to working as an IP lawyer in a law firm, feels Dube, who also believes that a background in science proves helpful. “In my own case, I’m no longer a practicing attorney, but am now a legal entrepreneur. The people working in my company generally do not have a law degree. We provide information to rights owners, and are not practicing law,” he explains.
Sports law is a relatively new field. It includes transactional duties, litigation and dispute resolution as well as advisory and structuring work. Nandan Kamath works in Bangalore out of a firm called LawNK. He feels that the number of opportunities to work in this field in India is still limited but growing. “There is a real opportunity to be distinctive and to enjoy your work in this field. Be patient and focus on learning the ropes well. Everything else will take care of itself,” says Nandan.
A legal background is most sought after in a variety of UN job streams, such as human rights, political affairs, humanitarian affairs and investigations. UN has a variety of employment/dispute resolution tribunals, such as UN Disputes Tribunal and UN Appeals Tribunal. It has also created various standalone tribunals to try war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious breaches of international law, such as ICTY, ICTR and ICC. The work in all these tribunals and courts most often entails legal analysis, writing, drafting and litigation.
The recruitment process is different for different types of job contracts within the UN, informs Neha Bhat, who is a consultant with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and is currently based in Côte d’Ivoire (West Africa). She works with refugees from Liberia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo-Brazzaville and Togo. She explains that quite a few positions in the UN are advertised internally. Some positions are advertised only for those who are already members of pre-existing UN rosters in various fields, such as civil affairs, political affairs, human rights and legal officers. To be accepted on the roster, one must go through a written test and interview. One must renew their membership every two-three years. A masters’ degree, proficiency in a second international language such as Spanish or French, experience of working in hardship or isolated locations and a drivers’ license all make an individual stand out, Neha says.