Life as a lawyer can vary with the field of expertise you choose. But is there any comparison between working as a litigator independently and with a law-firm? You might find yourself wondering how the two differ from one another and which one would suite you best.
Guiding your way:
Partner – L&L Partners (Previously: Luthra & Luthra Law Offices)
Former Additional Advocate General (Jammu & Kashmir)
Litigation is one of the most pursued career paths in the legal profession. While there are different areas of expertise in this path, there are also two ways to go about it. One can either choose to practice independently or with the litigation team of a law firm. One might find oneself wondering what key difference do these two ways hold? Moreover, what are the kind of challenges you will face on either of these paths? Let's figure out.
1. Difference between a law firm and practicing independently: As a Litigator
I have always found this to be a case of Apples and Oranges. There cannot be and should not be a comparison between the two. Both come with a fair share of challenges but are quite different from one another. A law firm set-up will definitely give you a sense of comfort with experienced hands to walk you through the maze, while starting-out on your own may not allow you that luxury.
As the journey begins, looking to find a space for oneself in an already established set-up is the challenge you face at a Law Firm while it is the act of establishing oneself that is a challenge in itself when you are independent. Mind you, none of those is easy. It can often be intimidating and daunting for a new-comer to find space for himself in the usually ‘well-oiled’ structure of a tier 1 Law Firm. There may be occasions where new-comers start to doubt their exact role in the way things work, however, that is the time you do not give-up and keep at it. The competition is cut-throat and you may find others looking to make the most of the same opportunity that is presented to you. This could often be what makes or breaks you, depending on the kind of individual you are.
I have seen people struggle with such a scenario and have also seen people thrive in such situations where ‘healthy competition’ drives them into giving their best. An independent lawyer may not have to deal with this kind of competition, although he would have his own set of seemingly daunting challenges – fetching work is one. Howsoever good you may be, fetching work in your early days may not be as easy for an independent Counsel who will usually not have a huge brand name backing him. Moreover, our profession does not allow soliciting work and that makes things tougher.
2. The kind of work: both independently and with a law firm
As an independent Counsel you choose matters and as someone who is a part of a Law Firm, it is the matters that choose you. An independent Counsel may have the luxury of choosing from what comes to him, that option may not usually be available when you are a part of a Law Firm.
However, there is no denying that a Law Firm structure will expose you to varied fields and facets of the law much quicker. The quality as well as adherence to deadlines is a non-negotiable part of a tier 1 working style, it not only instills the requisite discipline in you, but also makes you watch-out for the tiniest of details. You are more likely to find yourself dealing with issues relating to varied jurisdictions and issues involving laws of other countries when working in a Law Firm set-up. I am not fond of the expression, but what are known in common parlance as ‘High-stake matters’ are much more likely to come to you when working in a law firm set-up. These ‘High-stake’ matters will often make you put-in the hard yards and will get you an early opportunity to rub shoulders with the finest Senior Advocates in the profession.
On the flip-side, such matters may not afford you with an opportunity to argue before the Courts.
3. Making it as a partner in a top tier law firm
I find it to be an essential feature to do well in whatever you do – the affordability to be yourself, not to lose your original thought process, not to have a thought process thrust upon you and to be free with your thoughts.
I do not think there is a straight-jacket formula to achieve anything in life and becoming a Partner in a Law Firm is no exception to it. However, the ability and preparedness to put-in the hard yards, to read and read for long hours, attention to detail, keeping oneself abreast with not just the latest legal developments but also about what is going-on in the world are absolutely essential. To have good interpretational skills is a must as far as I am concerned.
I would reiterate that there is no clear-cut formula to succeed though. I have this habit of drawing analogies and here is one that would fit here – Rahul Dravid and Mahendra Singh Dhoni are exceptional batsmen, yet their batting styles are miles apart. Dravid was what you call the perfect ‘text book’ player and barely played a shot out of the book while Dhoni hardly ever seems to play a stroke that you shall find in the batting text book. However, both are among the greats of the game. The only constant would be hard-work and discipline.
What can you do as a law student to succeed?
1. Soak-in as much as you can
My advice to the students would be to soak-in as much as they can. This could be achieved by observing Court hearings, keeping-up with the latest legal developments, discussing/debating the laws and Judgments and developing analytical and interpretation skills.
The more you soak-in, the better the output will be. You will be surprised as to how quickly after you have read it, will you find yourself applying a legal precedent. These are the basics that one must follow and it is a continuous process - goes on and on. There is no substitute to hard-work and sharpening the aforementioned tools should certainly stand you in good stead.
2. Joining a law firm after graduation
Intern with the Law Firms as much as possible to get an idea about the style of working and also to get a feel of how you would fit-in is a must. It is very important to have a firsthand experience of the working style to be able to take a well-thought-out decision. The basics that would help you achieve the goal remain the same as I have pointed-out previously.
I definitely do not think that the Law School name matters and when I say so, I speak on behalf of my firm. We have never resorted to distinguishing between people from different Law Schools. It takes hard-work, dedication and sharpening of skills to succeed in any field and that is what matters.
Never restrict yourself to one field of law. It is too early for you to be thinking on those lines. You may definitely have a leaning or liking towards one particular field, but to restrict oneself to that may not be the brightest idea.
Secondly, make sure you enjoy the journey without worrying too much about the destination. The more you enjoy the journey, the better your prospects of reaching the desired destination. Be open to learning, but do not lose your own ability to think, analyze and interpret.