Third in the VoiceTAP series of calls on careers was Law. There’s more to go so do check out the VoiceTAP website for more advice on careers and colleges that you want to join. The experts on call for law were Vedantam Seshaiah Shasthri (Assistant Dean and Professor at National Law University, Jodhpur) and Avishek Prasad (Associate at Amarchand & Mangaldas & Suresh A Shroff & Co) – a nice combination of experts because you had both academia and industry professionals.
Law as a career – in a nutshell
If working for a company with incredibly longs names & ampersand symbols gives you a high, law is definitely the career to be in. ;) There are routes to get started with law in India. The first is an integrated BA, LLB degree of a duration of five years that undergraduates can join; second is a postgraduate degree which is of a duration of three years and can be done by someone who already has a bachelor’s degree in some field. There are no other options available because Bar Council of India (no, it’s not a group of autocratic bartenders – oh dear, am i going to get sued for this?) lays down strict rules on the hours / years of teaching that a candidate must have to be qualified as a lawyer.
At the undergraduate level, the top rung is occupied by the 14 autonomous National Law Schools – of which National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bangalore is the most reputed. As far as law is concerned these are considered to be as prestigious as IITs or IIMs. Admission to these was a harrowing process earlier because each one used to conduct its own separate entrance exam. However in 2008, the NLS decided to adopt a unified entrance exam called Common Law Admission Test (CLAT). Below these are university law colleges, government law colleges, and private law colleges. The ones I linked in the last sentence are the most popular alternatives in Delhi, but there are others. At the postgraduate level, you have a bit more flexibility as law colleges allow you to choose specializations to go in for such as corporate law or criminal law.
Once you are done with an undergraduate degree, you can join a general law firm, or opt to go for a job in a law firm dealing with specific areas such as intellectual property law, insurance law, et al. The latter option is suggested only if you are really sure of which line to take up; otherwise it is advisable to join a general corporate law firm and then branch out from there. Now all this was for corporate law. Criminal lawyers ususally as individuals at the trial court level so there are no criminal law firms as such. If you are interested in criminal law then you can join in on the team of lawyers which assists a major criminal lawyer and then proceed from there.
If you join a corporate law firm you join at the level of an ‘associate’ in the firm. As with any profession your rise in the firm is determined by how adept you are in law and how well you play in a team. Typical rise to the next level – that of ‘senior associate’ – takes around 4-8 years on an average. At this level you are given a bit more freedom in dealing with clients. Further up you have ‘principal associates’ and ‘salaried partners’. Salaried partners get pay almost at the level of partners in a law firm but don’t get their name added on to the firms name. The highest level, of course, is a partner in a law firm. This is the case in a large corporate law firm but trajectories can be different for other specializations in the legal industry. Also note that although job title might remain the same for many years, within that same job title there are multiple ‘levels’ – so your seniority and salary will increase according to performance. Criminal lawyers are dependant more on their own skills while ones with an entrepreneurial bend might contemplate starting their own law firm (given that capital is available) after working for a few years.
One of the major challenges that you will have in finding out information about careers in law is that no lawyer on law firm in India has a website. This is not due to any of them shying away from technology but because of Bar Council of India rules that prevent lawyers from advertising their services in any medium or in any form. (To get in touch with lawyers, the best you have are third-party lists.) To circumvent this issue what many in the legal profession do is to set up websites giving information on Indian law in general. (Most of these are terribly designed.) Let’s have a look at some of these resources. I haven’t included any ‘worldwide’ resources simply because that wouldn’t make sense – you’ll be dealing in Indian law after all.
- Career Launcher’s LST programme: If you’re looking for coaching classes for CLAT or other undergraduate law school admission tests, Career Launcher’s courses are by far the most popular – and some say, successful. Check out the extensive FAQ section on legal education in India even if you’re not interested to join coaching because it will give you basic information which you need. You do even correspondence courses from them if you feel you can’t take time out for classroom courses. There are some other coaching institutes too.
- Mint 2008 ranking of best law colleges in India: This survey carried out by HT Media’s Mint business newspaper ranks the best law colleges in India.
- Indian Kanoon: Indian Kanoon is a search engine for searching up details on Indian laws, past judgements, etc. This data is collated from indiacode.nic.in and judis.nic.in. Could be useful for the law bits of entrance papers and / or as a resource once you’re in college and looking for getting into law for postgraduate studies.
- Cyberlaw India: Classic example of lawyers / law firms trying to evade Bar Council restrictions on having a website. This is useful information for those who want to specialize in cyber law; owned by Pavan Duggal, considered to be India’s top cybercrime lawyer. (Too bad he doesn’t seem to be aware of private whois registration.) Another such site is this.
- Intellectual Property law in India: Intellectual property (IP) is a hot topic in legal circles and this niche offers an interesting choice of a career for those who seek something ‘different’. Get better acquainted with the field on this site.
- The Consumerist: I said I won’t be listing global sites here, but I had to mention The Consumerist – for general reading. This is a blog on consumer affairs – mostly US-centric but worth reading nevertheless.
A career in law is an exciting career option for those who have good analytical ability and the ability to work well in a team. Entrance tests are primarily designed to check a candidate’s prowess in logical reasoning, English, and basic law. Offers career prospects of working both as an independent lawyer or in a law firm, depending upon your preference. You can always decide to become a judge too after working as a lawyer!