Diversity and Thinking Outside the "Law Firm" Box

Many of us have lamented the fact that although the “national law schools” have churned out very gifted lawyers, we’ve lost many of them to law firms. It is but natural that many of them are attracted to financially rewarding jobs that law firms typically guarantee. However, given that these law schools were established to induce alternative forms of lawyering aimed at improving society, we have to admit that there has been a failure of sorts…and a massive one at that.

It pains me to see so many of our students devastated during the campus recruitment phase when they fail to land jobs with prestigious firms. And the one question I always ask is: are you sure this is what you want to do? Or are you merely following in the illustrious footsteps of your seniors? Surely, there are a million different ways of putting legal skills to use? Thinking “out of the box” and doing something different than being a mere cog in the wheel of corporate transactional lawyering is certainly more appealing?

More importantly, if you expand out the “base” of potential legal career opportunities, you don’t need to depend so heavily on firms that come to recruit? And surely, this will help future generations of law students that take inspiration from you… and relieve themselves of the herd mentality to think differently?

Why don’t you try something different, I ask in all earnestness?

I see a blank face…a blank stare…and often times, a smirk…

So what ails? Why don’t many of our students consider alternative legal careers and look beyond law firms? Or perhaps join firms, but move beyond the typical corporate transactional work to do more pro-bono stuff?

I hope to engage with these maladies another day. In the meantime, I’m delighted to report on a fabulous alternative lawyering initiative sparked up by a bunch of bright lawyers who recently graduated. Our own Prashant Reddy happens to be one of them.

Styling themselves as the Pre Legislative Briefing Service (PLBS), these young turks have begun engaging with the Indian law making process in a fairly intense way. They pick up drafts of recent bills that are before Parliament, study it extensively and come up with nuanced reports on the various legal/policy implications of the bill.

Most recently, they’ve done an in-depth study of the nuclear liability bill and raised points that stalwarts who’ve been shouting in the media have simply failed to appreciate. If you wish to read their analysis of this bill, please see this report posted on SSRN.

Engaging with legal policy at this level will no doubt improve the quality of our laws in the long run. And we will have to much to thank this bright bunch for.

I list out details of their service and the team below:

The Pre-Legislative Briefing Service (PLBS)

i) To provide rigorous, independent and non-partisan legal and policy analysis of Bills introduced in Parliament

ii) To suggest appropriate legal reform to enable bills to pass tests of constitutionality if challenged

iii) To suggest appropriate policy reform if the legislative policy is to be sound in principle and efficacious in practice


1. Arghya Sengupta, B.A.LL.B. (Hons.), National Law School of India University, Bangalore (2008), Rhodes Scholar (2008), B.C.L., University of Oxford (2009) Current Status: M.Phil. Candidate in Law, University of Oxford.

2. Prashant Reddy T., B.A.LL.B. (Hons.), National Law School of India University, Bangalore (2008) Current Status: Research Associate, Ministry of HRD Chair on Intellectual Property Rights, West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata.

3. Sanhita Ambast, B.A.LL.B. (Hons.), National Law School of India University, Bangalore (2009) Current Status: Candidate for the Masters in Law and Diplomacy and LL.M. joint degree, at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University and Harvard University.

4. Shivprasad Swaminathan, B.S.L; LL.B., Indian Law Society, Pune (2004), B.C.L., University of Oxford (2006), Clarendon Scholar (2008) Current Status: D.Phil. Candidate in Law, University of Oxford

Contact: [email protected]

For those of you who’ve engaged with law making in this country and are privy to the legal illiteracy widely prevalent amongst Parliamentarians, you’ll appreciate how valuable this offering really is.

More importantly, from the perspective of inspiring younger law students to think of alternative careers, the PBLS team couldn’t have done better. Rather than playing around with the nitty-gritty of the law in badly drafted statutes, these recent graduates have decided to influence the very formation of the law itself. Certainly a much higher and more valuable terrain to play on. Perhaps law schools need to take a cue from this and focus more on the art and science of law making, rather than merely interpreting statutes and cases.

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16 thoughts on “Diversity and Thinking Outside the "Law Firm" Box”

  1. I really share your passion but would request you to kindly appreciate that when we passed our law degrees with the ambitious aim of doing “public good” (like doctors/engineers etc), it was also coupled with the desire to earn our bread and butter (at times cheese too!!) Could you elaborate how is that possible without a law firm job? Is sustaining vide pro bono service practical unless you have riche rich parents or spouses to support you? Would appreciate if what you inspire young minds to do also ensures that they have a financial stability to look forward to. Excuse me for being blunt about this- but how many US students that you have taught survived by engaging in pro bono service on the completion of their JD/LLM degrees which enabled them to pay their gigantic loans?

  2. hi…
    if possible cld u plz elaborate on “expand out the “base” of potential legal career opportunities”…


  3. I completely agree Shamnad…

    What you want to do is a crucial question to be addressed… i gave some interns working with me very similar advice,… I too believe that there is no point running the rat race.. especially when you don’t want to be a rat!!!

    As for me I sincerely hope to tread a path (relatively) less taken.. where I hope to channelize my potential to the optimum!!!

  4. Jyoti Ganeshshankar.

    That’s the most encouraging article I have come across… It takes a lot of courage and will power to think out of the box… Legal profession is one such profession wherein herd mentality still prevails, the main reason for this mentality I think is the desire of the young lawyers to earn a hefty pay package infact some people join this profession with the main aim of earning a lot instead of with the aim of achieving something… However, as we all know and acknowledge to clear law exams and get the degree itself requires a fair amount of hardwork, thirst for knowledge, expertise and skill, so instead of focusing their much valuable energies into just earning a little more if they work on sharpening their skills and set out to explore better and newer arenas of law it will not only give them more satisfaction in terms of their achievements but will also contribute to a very large extent to our field as a whole!!!

    And for Prashant, Arghya, Sanhita and Shivprasad, way to go guys!!! Keep it up!!!

  5. I don’t think it is the fault of the youngsters to follow the herd. Young people in their teens and early twenties have a tendency to do what seems to be most fashionable and what seemingly would earn them respect by their peers. The problem lies with the parents who are unable to guide their children from a young age not put the cart before the horse and choose a career where they would be happiest. Also, I have always felt (I may be wrong but this is my observation and I am prepared to accept counter-arguments) that a five year law degree is basically for those people who have firmly set their sights on a litigation career or whose family profession is law. It is not like Engineering or Medicine which are extremely specialized disciplines and require intensive specialized training over a period of time to train professionals. A three year law degree after graduation or some work experience works just as well as a five year law course. So many IITians I have come across who did a three year LLB after working for a few years in the industry and are now successful activists or corporate and Intellectual Property Lawyers. As an Associate Member of the Institution of Engineers India,I have come across so many senior engineers who have done LLB either during or after retirement and dominate their practice areas especially service matters (an area which is almost an exclusive domain of Govt engineers-serving or retired). They bring their rich professional experience into the law profession and enrich it further. Also, they are more focused as they know exactly what they want to do when they go in for a law degree and therefore do much better in the field of law than their younger counterparts. I think we should think along these lines to improve the profession of law and legal education in India and maybe, many young minds will be saved the confusion of choosing their profession after a five year law degree.

  6. Thanks for all your comments.

    Some of you are very correct. There is also a deeper institutional malady. Litigation does not pay much and many rich senior lawyers still pay peanuts. Finance is a huge constraint. But even here, the amount of law students who engage with some kind of legal entrepreneurship (such as setting up of LPO’s or some other law related business) is really few and far between. Or the ones who might consider a legal career in Japan? Or ones who might pursue legal journalism and still get paid reasonably well. The numbers are indeed quite small. I will write a post outlining all of this in greater detail soon. But I hope to hear more from you.

  7. The reality is that 5 year law school course produces generalists and there is a limit to the number of generalists law firms would employ at 6-7 figure salaries.

    NLS students would do well to remember that abroad, the earliest possible time to apply for JD is right after a four year undergraduate course.

    So why does anybody even think that after a 5 law year course, a graduate from one of these so called NLUs can participate at an even footing with one has industry knowledge and experience?

    One possible strategy for students looking for their first jobs would be to spend time and energy in focusing on a particular field and making yourself stand out.

    Finally, understand that law is a profession that matures with age.

    An individual who became a lawyer at the age of 25 becomes ‘old’ at 50. But the profession is at a young age of 25.

    This is also one statistical reason why second generation lawyers fare better than first generation. lawyers.

    Good luck folks.


  8. Once again, thanks to all of you for your thoughtful responses to this post. i may have sounded a little patronizing and come out too strongly in the post. But there is a reason for this.

    Let me clarify that the post dealt with really two aspects. One was the “social” impact of lawyering that we chose. And this is uncertain terrain, since many of us are likely to impact society in different ways that we can’t really measure. I know of friends in law firms who could perhaps be said to do more social good than folks working as activists or in NGO’s.

    The second aspect and perhaps the more important aspect that i was trying to drive home was simply “thinking out of the box”. can we use legal skills in a creative way and come up with more job options open to law students? We can do this in ways that earn us real good money. eg. starting up a service that links law students with law firms. why hasn’t anybody come up with this yet? there are plenty of other ideas that some of you may come up with. This problem of risk aversion is also obvious to all of you who engage with innovation policy—-we dont have enough creativity and innnovation in India also because of a culture of risk aversion.

    I had a bad incident with some law firms ..while the students were given to believe that firms would hire in large numbers, the pickings this year were very few…some students were really upset and it pained me as well. which is the real genesis for this post. My response however was that rather than crying about incidents like this, in the long run, it is better to think creatively and expand options available to students…but perhaps i have may have expressed my sentiments in this regard too strongly.

  9. Shamnad,
    I share your sentiments about the need to encourage inculcate the thought process of “thinking out of the box”. But I think this phenomenon is not restricted to law schools. Stereotyping starts within one’s family, is reinforced in school and strengthens in college. Look at the stereotyping around MBAs for that matter!
    Often, the best of the institutes are those which design their courses around forcing students to think out of the box. In this context, I always remember the movie “21” where an MIT student uses his math skill to count cards at the blackjack table in LA casinos and saves the money for his higher education.
    I believe that thinking out of the box requires courage and strength. One should be ready to face criticism, mockery, ridicule, societal pressure and often financial constraints. I applaud the efforts of Arghya, Sanhita, Prashant and Shivprasad. I have had the pleasure of attending a couple of sessions on Indian Constitutional Law delivered by Shiv at our college. I also admire Prashant’s way-of-thinking that I have seen in his writings.
    I am sure their work will definitely make a difference. Eagerly anticipating their reports on various Bills.
    Best of luck guys!

  10. Nice post. Its nice to know that there are people who think differently and are not part of the rat-race.

    Now, if you were to ask me why most law grads(or rats(no offense please)) often end up joining law firms, the reason is simply that law graduates aren’t well “informed” about the various career choices that one could have other than joining a law firm. Speaking from my personal experience, law students, especially in their junior years, get fascinated with the fact that their super-seniors get huge pay packets with the prominent law firms. Its not often they get to hear of a law graduate joining a think tank or doing something different.

    However, another reason I would attribute to is the problems with the Indian system. I’m really interested in joining a think tank or a research center, but the quality and quantity of such places in India, I think is limited. Though there are some prominent institutions, their ‘attractiveness” needs to be improved-a reasonably attractive compensation package and campus visits by these institutions could probably go a long way in improving the popularity of these institutions as a career choice for law grads.

  11. the money matters.
    any middle class individual will tell you that it matters.
    they will say it unabashedly, unashamed and even with a sense of disgruntled consternation…asking you if you think “wealth creation” is sinful, in a particular way.

    i was scoffed at by EVERYONE when i decided to leave a good, stable, well paying job (45k) for something which paid me marginally less (30k) because i had been waiting for that job since i graduated from law school (2007). i even paid my previous organisation money to release me because i could not wait to serve the notice period! and when people heard that, the first thing they asked/ told me was “if you are that desperate for it, it must pay you well”

    it kind of depresses me: this fixated understanding of what a job is supposed to do for us. it is not supposed to make you happy or make you want to get up and go to office every morning. but it is supposed to pay you well and the rest is ALL peripheral.

    a part of the problem is that people are not aware of alternative options which they can choose from. for instance, hardly people know that now clerkships with judges pay about 26k to freshers..or that jobs with a package of 20k a month for beginners in an NGO/ think tank/ policy org. is decent. there are still some who pay a 10k. and at the time we graduated, we had a lot many of those who paid 10k. people still went for such places. for the love of the work.

    i think, to handle the malaise which affects the lawschool, we need to inculculate a sense love for what they do. how many students are there in lawschools because they love it? how many go through the rigmarole because they enjoy it and they want to learn it? year after year, no matter how creative the administration may get, its the rehash of the same projects. there is no invigorating discussions, fundamental subjects are derided. such is our attitude to the study of law.

    i think law schools should come up with a stricter selection policy. i know they need the money etc. but i am SURE there are other ways of getting it than relying on deep pockets and favoring NRI quota students or fithly rich students who come to enjoy their five years.


  12. One has to keep in mind the kind of fees which top law schools these days charge. Many students take loans in order to meet the expense and are often the only ones who have to support their family once they graduate.

    No doubt, it is great to go off the beaten track and no doubt it takes a lot of conviction. But joining a law firm is often a stop gap measure, to obtain financial stability. Many people have served years in law firms and then left to find a calling closer to their hearts.

  13. A new website called Lawctopus has this very interesting and useful section called ‘Legal Rebels’ which features interviews with lawyers who are doing different things.

    Puts into perspective what Shamnad is saying.

    Here is the link http://www.lawctopus.com/2010/10/raghavendra-patnaik-sports-law-career/ (career as a sports lawyer)

    and this http://www.lawctopus.com/2010/10/gautam-john-creative-commons/ (on lawyers joining NGOs or the not-for-profit sector)

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