A person who possesses a rich and diverse work experience is probably the best equipped to tender advice to fresh law graduates seeking counsel over choosing a career path. With an experience of having worked in LPOs, law firms, as an in-house counsel and a legal analyst, Ms. Jyoti Shekar, who currently works as a senior associate at Legasis Partners, squarely fits into the role of our career guru.

A graduate from ILS Law College, Pune, Ms. Shekar worked for Mindcrest India Pvt Ltd. as a Legal Analyst until she decided to take up a Masters degree in Commercial laws from Deakin University, Australia . She then joined OSC Export Services Pvt. Ltd. and  has also worked as an in-house counsel for  Sahara India.

In this interview, we take her advice on corporate lawyering, take her opinion on gender bias in the legal industry and the ‘NLU’ tag amongst others.

You possess a rich and diverse work experience ranging from LPOs, law firms, working as an in-house counsel and a legal analyst. Did such a variegated experience give you a strategic edge over others who stuck to the same bracket?

The varied experience was basically for my own knowledge and satisfaction. I personally believe that competition is only healthy till you are studying. After that, everyone chooses their path with different goals and priorities. Though my experiences unquestionably gave me a lot of knowledge in the areas of problem solving and strategic management, however specializing in one particular area definitely has its own advantages.

Tell us about the job you enjoyed the most and why?

That is a difficult question to answer. Each stage of my career has taken me to different roles and different challenges. I did enjoy being associated with an international law firm, where I got to travel and work in diverse cultures and transactions. I tremendously enjoyed working as an in-house corporate finance lawyer putting deals together. At the same time, I do enjoy what I do in Legasis now as a corporate lawyer.

Did you face any challenges/difficulties in your career owing to gender bias? Is there a glass ceiling for women in the legal industry in India?

Being a self-proclaimed feminist and a lawyer at that, I do tend to be on guard for any kind of bias, gender-based or not. I have been very lucky till date in my choice of employers and clients. I do come across cases of bias and prejudices against women, but my personal opinion is that legal industry, especially corporate law side, is quite open and liberal, as their work requires them to be. What matters is your ability and performance. But it is important for a woman to be assertive of her own rights and merits. Of course, every woman out there would agree with me that we do meet an occasional client/business associate who would like a tad bit more than just legal advice to notice your presence in the corporate world, but with laws being strict and mindsets changing, it is easier for women now to deal with those issues. As I said, I have had a very supportive set of employers in this regard. Especially Legasis is very firm on equal opportunity issue and supports us in all our projects and initiatives.

The job of a corporate lawyer is often perceived as being excessively demanding, overworked and stressful. Is the perception true? What advice would you tender to young law school graduates to be able to better adapt to the ‘corporate lifestyle’?

The job of a lawyer, be it any field, is very crucial as a lot of things and issues get impacted due to one small error and causes a ripple effect. In that sense, it is always a stressful job. I have worked in situations where I used to carry my laptop even for my birthday dinner! But I have learnt over time that it is all about how you manage your time and prioritize your tasks. Work-life balance is something that depends on two factors – how much your organization believes in it and how you manage your time. If your work is not getting over in 8 hours, during normal days, then your planner needs to work overtime to get you back on track.

Initial days are always tough, when you try to understand how to work, how to deal with seniors and situations. Just hang in there, and try to learn as much as you can.

What is your opinion on the contemporary law school students’ obsession with corporate lawyering?

I believe obsession to do something is always good if it is based on practical considerations and channelized well. Corporate lawyering is a good profession but so is practicing. Law students should try different things and analyse their own particular skill sets before deciding on a field. Mass following is never a good idea, especially for a lawyer who always needs to think differently in order to cater to the needs of the clients better. If you can’t choose your own path, chances are that you will struggle to guide your clients to choose theirs.

You hail from a ‘non NLU’ law school. Is there any inherent bias between students of National Law Schools and other law schools while recruitment at law firms? Was overcoming this ‘stigma’ a daunting task?

When I was a law student, NLU was not a big presence. Only NLSIU Bangalore was ‘the place to be’. So we were not really judged for being from a college which was not NLSIU. In fact, ILS Law College is no less known for its education and professors, at the time it was ranked second only to NLSIU. Additionally, I pursued LLM from Deakin University Australia, which is also a very well known and supportive institution.

What is your advice to young law students aspiring to join corporate law firms? What are some essential qualities and skills required to be successful in this field?

First and foremost, be sure that you are motivated by your own skill sets and not by peer pressure in choosing to join a corporate law firm. Believe me, recruiters can see the difference.

A good commercial sense is very important, which of course, develops over time. Apart from your intellectual and analytical abilities, recruiters like to see good communication skills and attention to detail because as a corporate lawyer, you will be dealing with big companies and their senior management. As a representative of the firm, we are expected to keep the image of the firm intact, if not enhance.