Samrudhi Chothani of ILS Pune on earning a PPO at Bharucha & Partners, Mumbai, counsel practice for women, and choosing the right firm to start a litigation career

Samrudhi Chothani is a final year law student of the five-year course at ILS Law College, Pune. She takes a keen interest in the laws of contract and arbitration and loves to binge on episodes of Sherlock, Game of Thrones and Sarabhai v Sarabhai. At present, Samrudhi is an Associate-in-waiting at Bharucha & Partners, Mumbai; and come May 2017, she will become a first generation lawyer. 

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  1. What makes you want to pursue law? Is there a reason why you have chosen to start work at Bombay?

My family has had litigation pending in Courts for the last 55 years or so, which stands pending even as of today. Therefore, even though there have never been any lawyers in my family, I was fairly aware of the entire process and how cumbersome it is for an ordinary man to get what is rightfully his. In a way, I think that might have had a role to play in my having chosen to read law.

That said, I have always believed that it is absolutely imperative for every person to have a basic understanding and knowledge of the law. It is not sufficient for one to believe that their profession would never require them to know the law. I’ve had countless interactions with people who are unfettered by their ignorance of the law; not to mention their rights and duties. It is my belief that the beauty of law is that it manages to creep in and make itself relevant in every sphere of every individual’s life, notwithstanding their profession or social status.

To answer the second leg of this question, I want to say that the legacy the Bombay High Court and the Bombay Bar possess is exemplary and unparalleled. These institutions have produced legends who will be spoken of for centuries to come. They have inspired millions, and I am no exception.

Other cities and Courts never held the same charm for me, and never will. Considering I have been born and brought up in Bombay, it was only natural for me to choose this city. Moreover, I think it is a privilege and honour for anyone pursuing litigation to practice it at the Bombay High Court. 

  1. From your CV, it can be seen that you have achieved great success in internships as well as moot courts. What is your take regarding the importance of both in gaining employment?

Participating in moots in ILS serve two purposes:

  1. In depth research on propositions and subjects helps us get exposed to subjects which would not be covered in our curriculum (courtesy our system of external examination), not to mention the exposure to drafting and formatting; and
  2. Cultivates the qualities of team work, public speaking and presentation.

In that sense, when I represented ILS at the NLU-O Maritime Law Moot Court Competition in 2015 (where we emerged Runners-up), I was exposed to Maritime Law, a niche area of law, as well as principles of International Arbitration Law, both of which I do not think I would be exposed to in the course of regular lectures at college. It was from there on that I cultivated an interest in Arbitration Law, which has only further gotten strengthened with time.

At the 1st GNLU Moot on Securities and Investment Law Moot in 2015 (where we emerged Semi-finalists), I got the opportunity to learn about the basics of Securities Law, Foreign Exchange Regulations and the SEBI.

During my five years at ILS, I have had the opportunity and privilege of working with some stellar organizations and individuals, such as Kanga & Co., the Chambers of Adv. Chetan Kapadia, Mulla & Mulla & Craigie Blunt & Caroe and Bharucha & Partners, to name a few.

I believe that my successes in moots had no hand to play in my gaining a job. I speak for myself when I say that while moots do help students in college, it is ultimately one’s work and practical knowledge at the workplace which would determine prospects of gaining employment in a particular organization.

  1. How does one’s learning experience differ when one interns with a counsel as opposed to a firm?

I have had the opportunity of working with a counsel only once. But mind you, that would definitely go down as my best experience in law school. Working with a counsel is hard work; you must be on your feet at all times. Observing matters being argued all day is one of the biggest takeaways from counsel internships. Chambers are usually more personal (given that they are smaller in size); and one may get a chance to directly interact with the counsel. It is at this point that one must make the most of their opportunity and indulge in discussions with their Counsel and be abreast with the developments in the matter. This helps even an intern to be personally involved and thereby contribute to a matter significantly. Having said this, I believe that every law student must work with a cCounsel at least once while in law school. The hardcore basics of litigation are to be learned here.

In contrast, at a firm, an intern may not always get to attend proceedings before Court. Work might demand the preparation of lists of dates, notes, affidavits, etc. However, internships at firms tremendously contribute in learning how to draft, improving your research techniques and understanding how to do and handle paperwork. Meeting with Counsels and clients go a long way in guiding one how to conduct themselves and how to approach legal queries in the appropriate manner.

At this juncture, I would like to discuss the importance of handling paperwork in firms. During my internships, I have witnessed many co-interns frowning upon the task of doing paperwork, but for any person reading this, and especially one wanting to pursue Litigation, I seriously urge you to attach importance to this task, for it goes a long way in our field. Spending time with papers, be it for the purpose of arranging them or pagination, exposes one to drafts, documents and applications that one will never chance upon in college. Knowing your papers and knowing how to do your paperwork are VERY good skills to possess.

  1. What made you narrow down on Bharucha and Partners? Also, seeing that you wanted to pursue litigation; why did you not choose counsel practice?

Bharucha & Partners was founded only in 2008. However, in less than ten years, they have succeeded in making a mark in the industry with their stellar work across all their areas of practice, especially litigation.

I was particularly attracted to the litigation team of Bharucha & Partners owing to their size, their appearances in a variety of matters, and most importantly, the leadership of Mr. Vivek A. Vashi, a very well-known name in the circles for litigation.

 Joining the Bar immediately after college has its pros and cons; so does starting off as an Attorney. It can be very helpful to initially start in a firm for a period of 2-3 years and then branch out into practice.

Counsel practice has its own challenges. As much as I loved the experience of working with a Counsel, I did not find it to be a suitable option for me. At the risk of sounding sexist, I found that counsel practice is not conducive for women. I admire the women who are practicing today. But the hardships female counsels face while attempting to establish their practice and at the same time raise a family is too glaring to be ignored. Therefore, after much deliberation, I found myself and my priorities more suited to be utilized fully as an Attorney, which made taking up the offer at Bharucha & Partners the best, and most ideal option for me.

What is a ray of hope for me, is the fact that the culture in our industry is undergoing a change. A slow change, but a remarkable one, nonetheless. Firms are encouraging their Attorneys to go argue matters. Not every firm is opting to engage Counsels in all matters across various fora. Now, regard is being given to the stakes in the matter, and even the client’s ability to incur expenses at a dual level – one, to the Attorneys and two, to the counsel. This is a promising development for young lawyers, and especially female lawyers like me, who would otherwise have missed out on arguing the matters they work on from scratch, but are unable to argue due to certain limitations that counsel practice brings with it. 

  1. What is your take on starting off one’s career in a small firm versus the top tier firms?

I speak only for litigation when I say this; starting off in a small firm ALWAYS helps. The exposure one stands to gain is inexplicable. Since there are fewer levels of hierarchy in contradistinction with top tier firms, the substance and nature of work are not diluted. Even as a fresher, one can get substantial work and can assume more responsibility within the organization. Smaller firms also most often work on a variety of matters, which is a big plus for any fresher.

Additionally, joining as a fresher in a top tier firm would entail compliance with a rotation policy (a procedure followed in most top tier firms). For a person who is absolutely sure of wanting to pursue Litigation, undergoing a rotation for 18 odd months in 3 or so different teams, including Corporate Law, would be a futile exercise.

Therefore, I would strongly recommend starting off in a small or mid-sized law firm to anyone wanting to pursue Litigation in the long run. 

  1. Is there anything academic goal that you had set for yourself but failed to achieve during your 5 year course?

I do not think so. On my very first day at ILS, I had set out goals for myself to achieve. Today, at the end of my five years at ILS, I can but only feel humbled and grateful for achieving everything I had set my mind onto.

  1. Your take on further studies in the field of law. (for students aspiring to litigate in Bombay)

An LLM abroad is always an option. However, not everyone would prefer taking a year off or incurring the high costs associated with it. Mumbai University has LLM courses, which could always be considered by such aspirants. This would not entail a break in one’s career, and one could pursue the degree while still working simultaneously.

  1. Elaborate on how you got a PPO from B&P.

I interned at the Litigation offices of Bharucha & Partners, Mumbai in the summer of 2016 (at the end of my 8th semester) for a period of eight weeks under Mr. Vivek A. Vashi. I got an extension of two weeks at the end of my internship in July 2016, which made the duration of my internship a total of ten weeks.

During the course of these ten weeks, I got the opportunity to research extensively on various statutes. Additionally, I got significant amounts of drafting work and got to attend proceedings before the City Civil Court, the Bombay High Court and the State Commission (Consumer Disputes). I attended conferences with Counsels and prepared notes on current and conflicting positions of law. In hindsight, it was a highly fulfilling experience.

Towards the end of my internship in July, I was confirmed to come back again for a four-week stint in November 2016. Finally, when I concluded my internship in the last week of November 2016, I was offered to join the Litigation offices of Bharucha & Partners in the position of an Associate starting July 2017.

  1. What sort of questions were you asked in the interview with the Partner?

Having worked at B&P for nearly four months, I had, on various occasions interacted with Vivek Sir and worked with him on a few matters. So when I did sit for an interview, the questions put forth to me were fairly basic and not technical in nature.

  1. If you were to advise a 3rd year law student regarding the path to be taken towards getting a PPO, what would your advice be?

My answer, even though in relation to Litigation, would also apply to somebody inclined to pursue a non-Lit field of law.

 Firstly, I would suggest that every aspirant should choose the firm they wish to work with in the long haul, VERY, VERY carefully. Online reviews of the organization may help, but it cannot be one’s only source of information. Never hesitate to contact acquaintances or seniors from your college (preferably those who are working in that area of law) so as to get a fair and unbiased opinion of the organization. Also, consider the firm’s hiring policy and apply accordingly;

Secondly, do spend time on drafting your application. Be mindful of your interests, and the practice areas of the firm you are applying to. A well thought-out application could be determinative in you landing an internship slot in the first place;

Secondly, do spend time on drafting your application. Be mindful of your interests, and the practice areas of the firm you are applying to. A well thought-out application could be determinative in you landing an internship slot in the first place;

Thirdly, make the most of each day at your organization. At the risk of sounding repetitive, please attach importance to the small tasks that are given to an intern. Be it pagination, filing or drafting, do each task with equal amounts of sincerity and dignity. I can assure you that your sincerity will not go unnoticed; and

Fourthly, and I speak from my personal experience, it is highly advantageous to apply for internships for durations longer than four weeks, e.g. six weeks or eight weeks. It goes a long way in getting quality work and establishing a personal, yet professional equation with your associates. Two, sometimes even three such internships could significantly improve one’s chances of getting a PPO at the firm of their choice.

 Particularly for students who are not from National Law Schools, and who do not enjoy the privileges of Day Zero or functional Placement Cells in their colleges, applying for long internships is crucial. My advice to any person aspiring to get a PPO in the firm of their choice: apply towards the end of your fourth year (for students of the five-year course) or second year (students of the three year course). By this time, it would be assumed that one’s basics in law would be clear and therefore, a follow-up internship in the final year or final semester would be ideal.

Samrudhi was interviewed by Nikita Panse, a final year student from ILS Pune. This piece has been edited by Ritvik Kulkarni. 

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