Being a first-generation law student, there were a lot of things that I did not know when I started law school. Some of them being specific to Mumbai, while some you just pick up as you go. Government Law College (GLC) is very unique, eccentric, to some extent, and that’s exactly its essence and peculiarity. All my peers and I read the same syllabus and give the same exam but our actual career trajectory or avenues we pursue, can only be seen outside the classroom, in the streets of Fort (sometimes, other places too obviously). Maybe not knowing some of these things was a part of my own oblivion but most of my other batchmates (specifically first-generation law students) have also shared the same sentiment. It would be appropriate to note that this article might not be entirely helpful in terms of academic experiences, I have mostly focused on internships and practical aspects of law school.
Here is a list of a few things I did not know:
1. Briefing counsels
I am not sure if I was not aware of this practice since I am not from Mumbai or if it was just my lack of awareness. I used to think that all Advocates draft the cases they were appearing in Court for. It was a bit of a shock for me when I came to know that some counsels do not draft matters at all. They just get briefed about a particular matter by law firms or other Advocates and appear in Court on behalf of them. This is basically because a lot of associates or even senior partners of firms would not have the face value like a senior counsel does. Thus, briefing counsels about a particular matter is a standard practice for a lot of firms. As a corollary, in solicitor firms (more on this later), the advocates rarely argue before the Court, especially in important matters. This might seem like a regular piece of information for a lot of people from Mumbai, but this kind of a practice is rarely seen in smaller towns.
Knowing this can help you decide what you want to do, what you actually want to pursue. For e.g. if you’ve joined this field for your love of litigation, to be able to appear before the Court and you’re not too fond of drafting, then in my opinion, it will be a bit more challenging to maneuver working at some of the firms. It goes without saying that it’ll be better to figure this out for yourself by interning with a counsel who gets briefed a lot.
I knew what solicitors were, but at the same time, not exactly. Solicitors have a special status in Mumbai due to their depth of knowledge and understanding. Earlier, there was a clear distinction wherein solicitors used to draft pleading and barristers used to argue, under English legal system. But today, these lines are more or less blurred. But solicitors are better known for their drafting skills and deal with a larger clientele. To be recognized as a Solicitor, one has to give a rigorous exam, and passing the same qualifies them as an Advocate on Record in the Supreme Court as well. For the same, a candidate has to complete three years of clerkship with a senior solicitor and then pass the solicitor’s examination conducted by Bombay Incorporated Law Society. Some large law firms do not allow non-solicitors to become partners(For eg, Mulla and Mulla & Craigie Blunt and Caroe).
3. Subscribe to the placement committee
In all honestly, I had always undermined GLC’s placements but I was mistaken, at least with regards to internships and clerkships. I just subscribed to the placement committee, a month ago, well in my fourth year. Doing this earlier would have saved me from writing hundreds of emails. While, you can obviously apply externally, it is advisable to subscribe to the placement committee so that you can at least keep a track of any good opportunities that you might be interested in. This is not to say that getting an internship through the placement committee is better or easier than applying on your own (since even I have applied only once through the same) but it might help you feel less lost while looking for an internship.
4. Judicial Internships
I first got to know that judges hire interns when I was doing a moot with a senior and she had proof read a judgement given in the moot proposition. Most Bombay High Court Judges only hire students after they have completed their third year. You can go to the chambers of a specific judge (You can check the assignments and see what matters you’ll be interested to work on) and give them your CV and a cover letter to apply. Fair warning, some chambers will not entertain you at all, and it might seem like a lost cause, but I think it’s worth trying. You can also apply through the Registrar General, whose office is on the fourth floor of the Annex building of the Bombay High Court. The Registrar General forwards the CV to the Registrar Personnel and they call you if there is any vacancy.
Further, a lot of Supreme Court judges (including the Chief Justice) hire law interns and you’re usually supposed to fill a Google form to apply, whenever a vacancy arises.
Personally, I wanted to do a judicial internship for the longest time, but it took a quite some time to materialize. You really, really, need to follow up with the Associates. I applied on a specific day and once they accepted my CV, I went to their chambers every day for the next 4 days, was called for an interview on the 5th day and joined on the 6th day. They might sometimes make you feel as if you’re asking for something illegal, going from one chamber to another with multiple copies of your CV in your hand, but hey, it worked.
“If you do not acquire the fine art of suppressing your ego when you are young, it will surely overtake you when you are older, after which it will become an incurable disease. What is worse is that you will also become a bit of a bore.”
5. Toxic Work Environments
The only con of applying through some avenues is that you cannot leave an internship that easily even if the environment is toxic. I was once interning at a corporate firm with three other seniors of our college. One week in and after witnessing some tears, some loud voices, and some scathing remarks, they wanted to quit (and rightly so) but had to think of the repercussions and co-ordinate regarding the same.
Toxic work environments are very real. Having consequences of your actions, or being held accountable is different and unnecessarily pushing people around is completely different and a lot of people in power or in good positions just tend to do the latter in the name of the former. Additionally, you will also need to put in some thought regarding how important work-life balance is for you. Litigation is infamous for people having to work more than 12 hours on a daily basis. I was once stood up by a friend interning at a tier 1 firm, because she could not leave before 1 am that day.
6. How to apply for internships?
It is definitely easier to get internships if you know people, a lot of firms only accept resumes through a reference. But not everything is that gloomy. There are various ways you can apply for an internship.
i. If you’re interested in interning with a particular firm, a lot of them have their mail specified on their website (You can check the “Contact us” or “Careers” section.) Some firms also have forms to be filled on the website itself.
ii. One of the most underrated ways of applying for an internship is calling a counsel’s office or a firm and asking them how you can apply. This has worked for me more often than not.
iii. If you have the courage, you can also go up to a counsel in court and let them know you’re interested in working with them and ask them directly as to how you can get that opportunity.
iv. Other than these, we obviously have the placement committee and websites like LinkedIn, etc.
One thing you can note is most people will always be helpful, so if you come across on LinkedIn that someone is interning at a place where you would be interested to work, I would say you should take your chances and ask them once how they applied.
A partner at a solicitor firm once told me that she selected my CV randomly from a bunch of mails (I am quite positive she did not even read the entire thing and was just intrigued by my name). Regular tea time activity for her opened multiple doors for me. Point being, always take your chance.
As Michael Scott rightly said “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
7. Intern at the trial Court before High Court
Specifically, with regards to litigation, one thing I was advised and that has helped me immensely is interning at the trial court before the High Court or other tribunals. Interning at the trial Court will allow you to witness various facets of trial (for eg. Chief and cross questioning) that are seldom seen in the High Court, proceedings where, are arguably confined to a few applications. Interning directly at the High Court is like watching a sequel and imagining what the prequel must have looked like.
Further, there is a vast difference between a one- or two-month internship and a long-term internship wherein you can see a matter move and proceed on multiple dates. Hence, it should be endeavored to witness at least one trial from its beginning to disposal (if you are passionate about working in litigation).
My personal experience:
When I started law school, I felt like a complete stranger to this world. I felt like I could not rest for a second, since I knew no one, I wanted to work that much harder. In retrospect, I would definitively tell myself that I can breathe, that it’s not a race, that I do not need to compare myself with anyone else but myself.
I sometimes tend to lose sight of my interests and have done things just because everyone else was doing them and I did not want to fall behind. But four years into this, I remind myself that my goals are never going to align with anybody else’s, and hence my choices will not, too.
During the first three years, we, more or less do any internship that come our way. If it’s litigation, then unpaid, for sure and some remuneration, if it’s corporate. My friends tell me that there is no point in trying to do everything, you can stick to your interests. But my thoughts differ here exactly. 5 years is a long time and with GLC, we can intern all 5 years. I feel it’s worth to take this time and figure out what we like, what would make us want to go work, if it’s money, stability, a purpose, responsibilities, or a cause. When I enrolled in GLC, I thought I would want to work in a corporate firm, earn well and I’d be content. Now, my thoughts and interests could not be more contradictory.
I cannot highlight the importance of the professional relationships you forge along the way. I have had lengthy discussions with these people about what I should be doing ahead. Especially in this field, where connections and networking play such a huge part, it is really important to have a couple of people who have gone through similar experiences, can guide you and always want the best for you.
Extra-curricular activities can also help you meet new people and get exposure to a different aspect of law school and different sects of opportunities. The most important thing being, you learn. Especially during the first two years, the syllabus does not have any law subjects, it would be beneficial to participate in moots (or debates), since that will be your only (academic) association with actual laws and statutes for those two years. These competitions really enhance your research skills and help boost confidence as well.
I do not mean to say that I have had the smoothest of experiences. I have been fired from an internship, which I did not even know was possible (even though they called me back later, since it was a misunderstanding). I once made a mistake while paginating and the entire staff had to hear an earful because of me, so I cried my way home from work, perpetually traumatized from the thought of pagination. But I have no regrets. I have made friends through mooting and internships, who have approved this Article before I sent it, have been offered to be adopted by an Associate, encouraged to speak up in conferences and meetings, personally deal with clients and handle cases, took a trip to Hong Kong for a moot (but in reality, for Disneyland), dissected and debated patriarchy, feminism and transphobia in the bar room (multiple times), drawn links between our behavioral pattern and childhood experiences over lunch, left work having spilled an entire cup of coffee on my white shirt and much more.
Curiosity has been my biggest aid, so far. Who knew that there are people who specialize only in admiralty and maritime law, that people go abroad for international moot court competitions, that I would be having bhajiya with a judge of the Bombay High Court on a Tuesday.
Even the smartest and the best regarded people in the field are just that, people, human. All you need is diligence and inquisitiveness and you will be okay. That’s all I would tell my 17 year old self.
“I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear.”
Written by Dhun
i. Hardly a 10-minute walk from the campus
ii. Fali S. Nariman, Before Memory Fades: An Autobiography
iii. Quoting Wayne Gretzky, The Office, Episode 23, Season 5.
iv. Rosa Parks (February 4, 1913 – October 24, 2005