Interview

Interview: Ms. Pragya Sharma, Associate at IndusLaw, Mumbai on Career as a TMT Lawyer & Securing PPO’s

Pragya Sharma is an associate at IndusLaw, Mumbai working within the TMT space. Before IndusLaw, she was working with Spice Route Legal, Bangalore’s Commercial IP team. She graduated Institute of Law, Nirma University, Ahmedabad, with 3 Pre-Placement Offers in her final semester, and over 20 paper presentations and publications. She coaches law school students for mediation and client counseling competitions has judged national ADR and moot court competitions, and is available for mentoring young budding lawyers entering corporate law firms.

How did you decide to pursue law as a career? Did your family members/friends suggest you go for law? Or was it your own decision? 

First of all, thank you for having me here, it is an honor to be talking about my (short) journey. Even though I don’t feel qualified to do this at all, I hope anyone who reads this, takes something from this!

To answer your question, very honestly, the entire credit for me pursuing law as a career today, without a doubt, goes to my mother. After my 10th standard, I wanted to take up humanities since I wanted to major in political science or psychology in college. My father wanted me to take a year off and travel (really!). This led to a lot of discussion and debate at my house. Finally, we came to a consensus, wherein my parents let me take up the Humanities stream on the condition that I would do a professional course in college, and not simple graduation. Even though I was an above-average student and had scored decently in my 12th, my parents were of the opinion that getting into a BA program would not guarantee a job and did not want me to struggle with direction, after graduation. However, this meant I had to decide on a profession too. 

Studying in Bhopal during my 11th and 12th, NLIU Bhopal was all the rage. I studied at an all-girls convent, where students coached for IIT JEE, NEET, or for CLAT; there really was no fourth option. After talking to a few seniors from NLIU, having a few rounds of career counseling with experts, and aligning my favorite subjects to the competitive exams in the country, I decided to give CLAT. I still remember I made a list with my mother, of the 15 law colleges I should get into within the next year since a drop was never an option for me. 

I started coaching for CLAT. I went from doing it as a chore to falling in love with the subjects. A major shout out to LegalEdge, the newly established CLAT prep coaching institute at the time. The faculty taught subjects such as General Knowledge (static and current), Legal, and Analytical with such passion and enthusiasm, that it was hard not to feel the same. Fast forward to next year, I cracked CLAT in the first attempt and got into NLU Kochi. Fortunately, I was also able to clear Symbiosis; at Jindal Law School and was a ranker (AIR 25) in the Punjab University Law Entrance Test. For multiple reasons, I decided to join the BA LLB program at Nirma University, Ahmedabad, one of the 15 colleges on my list!

How did you find your niche in TMT and which factors motivated you to specialize in the TMT space?

Actually, TMT found me! And how! In my third year, I decided on Intellectual Property as my specialization. I interned with various Tier 1 IP firms, such as Remfry and Sagar, Anand & Anand, ALG India Law Offices, and Fox Mandal Associates. All my co-curricular such as publications and moots were also in and around the subject. 

By the end of my ninth semester, I had two Pre-Placement Offers from two highly regarded boutique IP firms. However, in my final semester of law school, I interned with TMT Law Practices. There I worked on interesting projects related to OTT, media, data, and Web3.0. Working on such mandates fascinated me, and I developed a deep interest in the legal aspects of emerging technologies such as crypto, blockchain, and cyber security. 

By the end of law school, I had a very clear idea of what my career in IP would entail, and even though, it was the practice area I had trained in, I wanted to explore more within the length and breadth of the subject. Consequently, at this precipice of my legal career, I decided to change my practice area from IP to TMT, and that has made all the difference.

You have worked with TMT firm Spice Route Legal fresh out of college and now you have joined a full-service Tier 1 law firm. How has your experience been working in both firms? What are the major differences you have noticed between the two? 

I have been very lucky to work with the biggest names in TMT in the country and even luckier, that both of the firms have the most incredible work cultures! I think the obvious differences between the two emanate from the fact that one is a relatively new specialized boutique TMT firm, whereas the other is an established full-service Tier 1 firm. 

SRL was instrumental in shaping the foundation for my career. It’s a small team, and the interaction amongst members of the firm is a lot more cohesive. Everyone knows everyone and the teams function together like a sports team, oft-times working on the same mandates. There is a lot more mentoring by senior associates and the firms allow you the space to make mistakes as freshers. The majority of the workforce is young and very inter-connected in ways other than professional. There’s also pay transparency, and everyone is encouraged to voice concerns. I made some amazing friends at SRL, who I’m still in touch with.

With IndusLaw, due to the sheer number of people working across cities, the teams work in silos. So, members of the team often take up, work on, and complete mandates by themselves. The work atmosphere is a lot more professional with an implied sense of formal decorum. For the longest time, I did not know anyone from the firm other than my team members and HR. There’s less mentoring as everyone is expected to be a self-starter, and work on mandates independently. Processes pertaining to HR, billing, and general admin at the firm are automated and a lot more seamless. 

During your law school days, what did you focus on: Moots or Publications? Did it play a role in your Pre-Placement Offer? 

Personally, I focused way more on publications than moots. I tried my hand at mooting in the first year with my law school’s intra-batch moot rounds. Even though it was a good experience, and my team and I garnered praise, I realized early on that doing well in a moot was a product of multiple factors, most of which were out of your control. For me, the choice was between choosing the right moot, the right team partners, the right role, and investing an immense amount of time as compared to presenting and publishing papers in your chosen practice field for a fraction of the time, that is ordinarily invested in mooting. I’m very aware that for some people, the entire mooting process is a very adrenaline-inducing, thrilling activity. However, I wanted my co-curricular to enhance my academics, rather than take away time. So, I published multiple articles, which included, inter alia, paper presentations, blogs, chapters in books, and taking part in various essay/ article writing competitions during the course of my law school. Alternatively, I participated and fared well in various national ADR competitions. In my final year, to make up for the lack of mooting on my resume, I participated in the Monroe E. Price Media Law Moot Court Competition, organized by the University of Oxford, which was without a doubt, a great experience.

Absolutely. The publications, and co-curricular activities on my resume generated multiple questions during my placements and invited passing compliments from the interviewers. Such co-curricular demonstrate an active interest and experience in activities other than academics and internships. At times, if you’re lucky, a specific topic or an activity may strike a chord with the interviewer, which is ultimate, beneficial. 

As a TMT Lawyer for a Tier 1 firm, what types of matters do you generally deal with? What are the challenges you have faced in your journey, so far? 

As a TMT lawyer, you deal with a whole array of matters, each unique with its own sets of challenges and problems. 

Within the TMT umbrella, one can come across matters relating to data (for ex., international clients trying to understand the kind of privacy features their platforms may need to implement to be compliant with India’s data regime); media & entertainment (for ex., an artist wants an artist engagement contract with a record company they just signed a deal with, an international OTT platform wants to enter Indian markets and wants to know applicable laws); Technology (for ex., financial products which need to be reviewed keeping in mind Indian IT and RBI laws, drafting terms & conditions for SAAS based platforms), Gaming (for ex., figuring out whether a gaming product is a game of skill or chance; summarizing applicable laws for gaming platforms featuring NFT tokens or blockchain bases platforms), etc. There are also some firms, which deal with the IT aspect of corporate transactions or litigation.

The biggest challenge I faced, which I believe is unique to my batch, was missing out on our confirmed physical internships during our penultimate and final years. One of the most critical times in a law school student’s career is their fourth and final year, during which most students bag their PPOs. However, with Covid 19, most firms canceled physical internships for students, and it was a while before they resumed online internships (which came with its own set of challenges). 

Further, as a TMT lawyer, this problem was compounded, since my law school did not offer courses on most of the TMT subjects such as Data, Media, Telecom, or IT, as subjects or even as electives. Not having a theoretical background in the subjects, leaves a lot to ‘learning on the job’ – an unenviable position. Personally, the pandemic posed the biggest hurdle in my professional career. 

Throughout your Law Firm Journey, what is the most interesting matter/case/transaction you have worked on so far?

I’ve been privileged to work on a lot of interesting mandates for top players in the media space along and some technology giants. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be working for a gaming unicorn’s proposed NFT-based, digital collectible platform, wherein we had to provide the client with guardrails and good practices to mitigate potential legal risks. It was very exciting to scope out the gaming, technology, fintech, intermediary liability, platform governance, consumer protection, and data protection risks relevant to the platform. I especially enjoyed compiling applicable marketing and advertising laws for the client’s campaign for the platform too. 

How important are grades/GPA for obtaining a job? What would you suggest to those students who do not have good grades but wish to enter corporate law firms? What steps can one take in college itself to land the position of associate with the TMT team of a firm? How could they secure a job at law firms considering that most tier 1 firms are picky and spoiled for options?

I’ll tell you something my senior once told me, which has since held me in good stead. There’s no single thing that will cause your CV to be chosen or rejected. It’s always your overall impression. 

With a specific focus on a good GPA, I firmly reject the notion that only good grades aid in bagging an offer. I know some batch toppers who did not participate in any co-curricular. They were placed way later than most who had well balanced CVs. GPAs occupy less than a line on your CV, what you fill in the rest of the page equally merits a response from recruiters. Doing ‘badly’ in one test, one subject, heck, in one semester is hard if at all, a determinant in your CV being short-listed. Having said that, it always helps to be above the average curve of your batch, academically. Pulling an overall 8+/10 GPA, at the end of 5 years cumulatively, is always a good indicator of your dedication and tenacity. 

I think the shortest and easiest way to sneak a peek into the corporate world and find out whether you would like TMT, is to intern. It is also the smartest way to Tier 1 firm, I think the first and most important step is to find out which firms offer TMT, apply to those firms, intern, and if you like the place, intern until you are offered a PPO. 

One can crack an internship through their CV, and one cracks a PPO through a good assessment internship. Performing well at an internship is simply a product of showing up, being diligent, and not being afraid to ask questions. Remember, it’s better to turn in good work late, than to submit shoddy work on time. 

Which subjects should one focus on for a career in TMT? What kinds of laws are generally covered in the TMT sector? If any law student is keen on becoming a TMT Lawyer, what is the basic skill set required to enter this industry? 

I do not think there’s a formula or a specific skill set that leads to success as a TMT lawyer. I’ve seen lawyers from fields such as PE/VC, M&E, and even Banking switch to TMT and I’ve also witnessed multiple people leave the practice area after gaining experience as it was not what they expected it to be. 

Having said that, good drafting and research skills are valuable in any denomination of a legal profession. As a starter, it would serve well for any person looking to specialize in TMT to acquaint oneself, inter alia, with Technology Laws (Information Technology Act, 2000, the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, and blocking rules under the same); Data laws (Right to Privacy cases, PDPB Bill 2019); Fintech (Payment of Settlement Systems Act 2007, Master Directions on Prepaid Payment Instruments 2021, Guidelines on Regulation of Payment Aggregators and Payment Gateways 2020, etc.); IP Law basics (Trademarks Act 1999, Copyright Act 1957) and regulations governing print media, cable television, and radio, and media transactions.

What kinds of career shifts are possible after working in this area? 

Possible shifts include in-house counsel roles with internet and, fintech companies or production and media houses; data privacy consultants; tech-policy related roles (independent or government). 

Compensation-wise, what can one expect as a fresher in a law firm in TMT Sector?

Purely depends on the firm you’re joining. Most firms do not discriminate on the basis of practice areas, and you will be making the same fixed salary, albeit with variation in your bonus, as your counterpart in a PE/VC or an M&A role. 

With most Tier 1 firms, as a fresher, one can expect to make in the bracket of 14-18 LPA (exclusive of bonus). 

Your suggestions for budding corporate lawyers who wish to join law firms in the future.

Other than the Gyan I’ve already spouted, I would definitely want to emphasize that one should not compare their journey to anyone else’s. It doesn’t matter if it’s your best friend in the same college, your ex who went to an NLU, that kid who comes from a law background and scores the best internships even though you have a better CV, and most definitely not the over-achievers on LinkedIn! Your journey is yours, and whatever happens, must have happened for a reason you will later figure out. 

As a student, don’t obsess over the small stuff and take it one day at a time. It always helps to trace goals backward: envision what you want out of your life, and work towards it. Knowing your ikigai, charting out short- and long-term goals, and some discipline, is half the race won. Remember that good things take time and are borne out of hard work, timely decisions, and opportune timing. I was never the batch topper, the kid winning moots or the one with the maximum publications. In fact, I had a pendulum GPA, did not intern seriously until my third year, and was one of the most inconsistent performers in the batch. However, I charted out a plan, put in some serious hard work for over a year, and networked professionally. Most importantly, I never hesitated to bother my seniors with questions. 

I would be remiss if I don’t suggest enjoying your college life to the fullest and making life-long friends, it never comes back and no matter what, you will always look back at it with fond reminiscence. Five years is a very long time, you will have plenty of time to try what you like, ditch what you don’t, and excel where you want to.

Before I bid adieu, a nugget of wisdom – a job is a part of your life and never your life. You can be replaced at your job, you can get a new one, and you can wake up one day and decide you don’t want to be a lawyer anymore. Your family, your friends, and your health are not replaceable. No matter how prestigious that shiny 18 LPA corporate job at a swanky Tier 1 law firm might appear to be, nothing is ever worth your mental health. 

[Ms. Pragya Sharma can be reached out at pragyasharma0502@gmail.com ]

Categories: Interview

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