From Law School to Law Firm: In conversation with Ms. Aashna Jain

Legally Flawless has started this drive to aware law students and young lawyers for them to achieve in the field of law through strategies from the achievers themselves.

This blog post is part of our “Gyan Series“. In this interview, we get to know everything about how to grab and ace internships, how to get recruited in a Law Firm, How to optimize one’s Cover Letter and Resume, etc. from Ms. Aashna Jain.

Ms. Aashna Jain is the founder of Career Solutions by Aashna Jain. Before beginning with her journey as a career coach, she has worked with top Law Firms like Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co. and Dua Associates.

This interview was taken by Jinal Prajapat, Student Partner at Legally Flawless.

What motivated you to start Career Solutions besides having a lucrative Law Firm Job?

When I was in law school in my fourth year, I got the job and then I was very free in my fifth year, and I started helping out my friends, acquaintances, etc, to get a job, internship, etc. I started helping them with their interview preparation.

That is how I started developing an interest in helping people on the same issue in which I have achieved something in the law school space. Post that I started working in a law firm, I wanted to shift into litigation, so I worked in the litigation department of Dua associates, etc.

Then the lockdown happened and during this period the courts had shut down. Even when they began working, only urgent cases were being taken up. So I had a lot of free time on my hand because I was in the litigation team. So that’s when I realized that why not do something on this front, and just give it a try. So I just started putting up blog posts, etc, on my blog. Slowly people acknowledged it, they liked it, and then I started doing it on a freelance basis.

Then in October 2020, I decided that I could give it a shot. And considering my history of just leaving Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co and then joining Dua Associates, I have an appetite for taking a lot of risks. I left Dua Associates, and I started with this career solution and the grace of God is going fine for me. I think I’m happier than I was while I was working in a law firm.

There is a lot of competition. People tend to get lost in the competition. What would be your advice for law students regarding internships? (How to search, apply and ace them)

Just to answer it in a nutshell, people get lost in a competition because they don’t realize that everybody is coming from a different background and with a different mindset, the conditions are different. Like say if I’m applying for an internship when I was in law school I had a lot of help from my college. Similarly, some of my friends from different colleges did not get help from their placement cells. Now, if those friends start competing with me, obviously they will feel demotivated and demoralized.

So, some people have a lot of connections in law firms, they can just easily grab an internship. While on the other hand, somebody might have put in a lot of hard work in networking and making a very good resume and then the conditions become different.

So I feel that, instead of competing with, your peers, it is crucial to understand that everybody is coming from a very different set of circumstances, and you can never know the circumstances. Instead of getting demotivated or basing your success rate on them, you might as well just concentrate on the core skills that are required like building a proper resume, having a very good and convincing cover letter, networking with the relevant people in the industry, keeping good connections with your previous internship bosses, and I think that’s more than enough for you to at least get started or say get an opportunity in Big law firms.

Getting an internship at a Tier-1 Law Firm is the main aim of most law students. What would be your suggestion for those who do not get a place at the Tier-1 Law Firms?

First of all, you need to decide that getting attached to an opportunity in a bigger law firm is not the sole aim of you being a lawyer or a law student. So that is one thing that you need to understand and if you aim to just get to know the skills, you can also intern with a medium-sized or modest or a  relatively unknown law firm as long as they’re teaching you the skill.

Once you acquire the skill, I think that will help you in getting a job at even a bigger law firm later in life. Your progress might not get a head start. But yes, It will take you somewhere.

Compare two situations wherein say in one, the person has interned at a very big law firm but has probably not learned anything and other who’s interned at a relatively unknown firm, but has acquired the skill. When both of them sit for a job interview, of course, the latter one is going to get more opportunities and get recognition. Hence, it’s fine even if you don’t get an internship. I understand. I’ve been there. It’s very disheartening, but there’s only so much that you can do. The focus ideally should be on the skill and not the collection of internships.

CV plays a great role in getting recruited. So, how can a law student make sure that his/her email application is read and not lost among thousands of others?

Recruiters go on to your resume only after they read your cover letter. That is where I think 50% of the people are losing the game because they’re either writing one-liner cover letters or unprofessional cover letters, sometimes the cover letter doesn’t have a call to action in the end.

So I think they should focus on all these things first of all, including writing a convincing cover letter that gets you an answer at the first step. Recruiter opens your resume if they find it good. If they don’t find any material or any sense in the cover letter they might not even open the file that’s attached as a resume.

Secondly, resume also depends on the place that you’re applying to, say if you’re applying to a full-service law firm you would want to curate your resume, according to a particular team, say for a general corporate team, Capital Markets team, banking team, etc. However, if you’re applying to a mid-sized or modest law firm, you might want to give your resume, very mixed bag, because they work in more than one area of law.

Lastly, if you’re applying to a boutique firm, you need to have a very one-sided resume as you have to focus on that one skill that the boutique firm deals with, let’s say probably IPR, arbitration, etc.

You need to understand from the recruiter’s perspective also like, I’ve seen a lot of people doing very good internships, but then applying to equally bizarre places. If you interned at the best tax law firm in the country and then you’re applying to an IP boutique firm with that sort of resume, obviously it doesn’t matter to that IP firm. Hence, think from the recruiter’s perspective and not what you think is important for the CV.

What is the importance of grades in getting recruited?

I would like to deny that grades don’t play important. I still have to say that this is still a reality that many law firms in India only look at grades and then they just pick the first five or three students for recruitment. So grades do matter for a lot of law firms.

But yes for a lot of law firms grades don’t matter. Your internships, co-curricular activities, extracurricular activities, all of those things matter much more than grades. However, I feel that having good grades makes your life easier. If you have good grades at least you don’t have to worry about the fact that I will be rejected, if it is just based on marks, even if I’ve done good internships and taken part in competitions, etc. So, I mean, as much as we are moving towards a system where it’s we don’t care about marks we are still at least in the system where marks matter.

What sort of co-curricular activities should one focus on to increase the chances of getting placed in a Law Firm?

I wouldn’t say that co-curricular activities would necessarily land you with say a job offer or an internship offer with a law firm. But yet, it gives one brownie points against peers who are sitting for this interview for a job or an internship.  For instance, for a law student, mooting is one thing that people pay too much importance and sometimes very little importance. I feel it should be very moderate why because the moot court is one activity that is not done by a student of any other professional studies.

It’s very specific to a lawyer and a law student. So I think for law students at least having one experience of Moot Court should ideally be there. Secondly, having certain publications is ideal. As lawyers’ main task is ideally to research, that is the core skill you need. Only then you can proceed in any transaction case or negotiation for that matter. So I think publication shows your direct inclination towards law and your research skills, and even drafting skills so it’s tackling three things in one. So I feel that publications should be given a priority.

And apart from that, of course, if you have the time and if you have the bandwidth, you can take part in ADR competitions, and debate competitions. So I think apart from this, if you are considering positions of responsibility also on a resume such as if you’re an editor of a blog, or if you’re a founder of a very good organization, that adds a lot of value that you can use it in your interview by showing that I have leadership qualities, I have teamwork qualities, etc. Of course, it gives you brownie points, but it will not help you get a job or it will not sway you from your job opportunities.

There are a lot of areas of specialization? How should a law student go about it?

There can’t be like a straight jacket formula, I feel it’s more or less hit and trial. There are many ways in which students stumble upon their idea of liking is when they take part in competitions, they get so inclined towards that area. I have friends who have taken part in an arbitration moot court and they just made their career out of arbitration law. Some of them took part in Stetson Moot and made their career in environmental law after that.

Secondly, of course, you can try on and on, and that’s where you will realize that whether you can actually, tolerate it or not for the rest of your life so that is another way.

The third method is, I feel that sometimes it’s very obvious that if you are not a science student, you can’t practice patent law. It’s just not allowed. You can’t even sit for the Patent’s exam if you don’t have BSE as your graduate degree. If you don’t have the basic knowledge of how circuits work, how anything under the science works, you can’t take up technology laws very properly. If you are a commerce student in your 12th standard, I think there will be an inclination for you to take up subjects like corporate laws, capital markets, banking laws, etc. Of course, there is no compulsion. I’ve seen exceptions on both sides. But yes you can try with the subjects that pertain to your studies at the school level.

What are the must-know skills for a law student?

I think research is one thing that irrespective of your level of work such as a fresher associate or as an intern, etc. you should ideally know how to operate databases like SCC online, Manupatra, Westlaw, etc. You should know how to use all of these.

Then, speaking and convincing people is again one very underrated skill. If you want to network with somebody, want to sit in a client meeting, want to convey something to your senior or junior at a law firm, or even otherwise generally, or if so you have to go and argue in the court, all of it boils down to the fact that how are your oratory skills. It could be any language that your organization uses. It depends on the organization that you’re in. I feel that putting your point across is something that you should know how to do. There should be clarity in thought and structure and how you’re saying things.

I think lastly drafting is again too much emphasized upon but what my seniors have told me from the profession that you can’t learn it in a day. If you try to sit down and learn how to draft it just can’t happen, you just develop it with time. So I think you can focus a lot on that because drafting is required in litigation as well as corporate matters. So that is, I think the third skill that you should have.

What are some points law students must keep in mind before they send their CV to a recruiter?

You should curate your application according to the recruiter, and have a very convincing cover letter. At least if nothing else, try and get it, proofread from somebody who’s not applying to the same position. If they can understand your point of view, the recruiter can also understand the point. Always have a call to action at the end such as if you can be interviewed for the same if you can get a call on the same etc because if you don’t have a CTA at the end of the cover letter, nobody is going to reply to your cover letter. After all, it’s without a question. So always have a question in the end.

Again, follow up whenever it’s necessary, be polite and respectful with the recruiters. I don’t honestly think that there is a straightforward answer to this. But, if you checkmark all the things that you have good marks, good publications, proper previous internships, even if not in very renowned locations I think you still have a chance, and side by side, keep networking.

To those students who have started with law school life, without visiting the campus, how do you suggest them to chill out?

Sadly, people have started with law school without visiting campus. It’s genuinely very sad doing an online internship without interaction with co-interns. First of all, I don’t feel there’s any positive point to it but even if we don’t make it very depressing, students can just, have some non-screen time first of all because they’re just sticking to the screen all day.

Secondly, try and visit your local courts at least to get a hang of how the law is functioning there, what are the procedures people are following, not even as an intern. In district courts, you can just go and observe. There is no requirement for any permission.

Even visit the High Court, by getting permission from any of the advocates and they take you along. I feel that to be in a court on-premises where actually laws function day in and day out is something that you need to know at least at the beginning of your law school career.

I understand that some wouldn’t even want to be in litigation, but to be in an environment wherein say the law is getting discussed day in and day out, on a large scale is something that you need to do.

Please try and have as much less screen time as possible and stop worrying already about your career. People who just joined law school and will graduate in 26 are messaging me on LinkedIn that you know how to get a job or to get an internship I think they should just relax and not think about all of this.

What would be your final advice for law students?

I think they can just avoid getting lost in a competition by just not worrying about it so much. I understand that there is a lot more pressure these days, everybody’s on to the task of getting an internship and a job. I think honestly if you have the skill, gradually you will get the opportunity. There is no point killing yourself over it. I mean there’s no point that you lose your mental health over it or you don’t have any fun time over it. So I don’t think that it is a very prudent choice to make in the long run because once you graduate out of college and you have a job, you realize it wasn’t exactly worth it. After all, I’ve been in the same thing and I’ve killed myself over it.

So I don’t think it was a very wise choice but yes everybody would learn from their experiences. Somebody would have to live the experience. So I think, the only point that I would say is that just relax. It’s not exactly so difficult also as it is made out to be.

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