Amit Singh (Head of South and South-East Asia Capital Markets, Linklaters Singapore) sat down with Debolina Saha Narayanan (Editor, Apprentice Lawyer-Bar and Bench) for our “Fireside Interview Series.” Fireside Interviews are exclusive chats with senior partners and regional heads of international organizations.
Prior to his role at Linklaters, Singapore, Amit was a Partner at Allen & Overy (Hong Kong) and an associate at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP (New York and London). In this interview, the St. Stephen’s, Oxford and New York University School of Law alumnus recalls his own journey as a lawyer and shares six lessons that can help young law students and lawyers alike.
You Do Not Have To Get It All Correct from the Start
Amit stresses that it's fine for students to be unsure of their career paths and not have a “clear vision” of where they would be heading. He said he was “extremely unsure” of his own career path after earning a two-year Bachelors degree in law from Oxford. So he returned to India to try and figure out his way forward.
The Radhakrishnan British Chevening Scholar says he spent the next two years “being a little adrift.” Amit adds that his indecisiveness also contributed to his sense of feeling lost. Not knowing what he really wanted to do, Amit moved from being a practicing lawyer to being a news reporter including anchoring few news bulletins for NDTV around late 2000. After 3 months as a news reporter, he decided to accept a long deferred training contract with Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer (London) (Freshfields) and take his first major step towards a law-firm career.
Have a Burning Desire for Success
After two years at Freshfields, Amit decided to step out of his comfort zone in London and head to the United States to earn a masters in law degree (LLM) in Corporate Law from the New York University School of Law (NYU). It was not all “smooth sailing.” Even in his first semester at NYU, he began applying for jobs. He sent more than 100 applications over the course of year, fueled by a “desperate desire” to find a job to pay back his loan taken to pay the tuition fees and received many rejections. Finally, Amit was “lucky” enough to secure a job with Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP (New York) and he never looked back. Years later, Amit went on to work for two magic circle law firms in succession -- Allen & Overy (Hong Kong) and then Linklaters (Singapore), where he is currently employed.
“Keep knocking on doors until a door opens,” is Amit’s simple message to young students and lawyers. “[It helps to] have a sense of purpose, and ambition to know how to go about achieving the things that you have set for yourself.”
Be A Solution Provider
“Having the ethos of a problem solver helps,” says the St. Stephen’s College, graduate. “It is easy to highlight issues. It is harder to think about and invest the time in putting yourself in the client’s shoes, and understand what a client wants.” Therefore Amit stresses that students need to develop a “business mind” and provide pragmatic solutions anchored in sound legal principles and not just “theoretical solutions”. “Walking that extra mile to think laterally helps," Amit adds. "And students and young lawyers would do well to spend time on thinking what is the underlying reason for the client asking the question [as opposed to] and their commercial objectives rather than simply answering the questions of the clients”.
Focus on Developing Technical Skills
As a junior lawyer it is important to get the fundamental concepts right. Spending just a couple of hours each weekend clarifying concepts helps young lawyers hone their skills. Amit followed this drill on weekends. And he says that if he hadn't put in those weekend hours, he would not have been the lawyer he is today.
“Hard work is always ultimately rewarded," Amit says.
It is A People Business
“If you decide to be a commercial lawyer, you are not supposed to write pedantic answers which recite the law," Amit said. "You are supposed to think like a lawyer wearing a business hat and be a business adviser who will provide workable solutions.”
He adds “if you do, [this], you will form some amazing client relationships as a trusted advisor.” Developing soft-skills such as the ability and willingness to connect with people and invest in relationships brings in that extra quality that helps form good client relationships for years to come.
It is Not All About the Brand
In the last 10 years or so, international law firms have been making the conscious choice to hire more talented individuals from lesser known colleges, Amit reports. These firms are starting to understand that diversity helps improve the overall offering of an organization. Amongst other things, students should not be deterred by studying at a lesser known university but work hard at securing good grades and showing motivation and personal initiative.
“Obstacles are there to keep the other people out” Amit explains. “If you are determined enough, you will not be deterred by obstacles” and it would be good for students and young lawyers to keep this in mind, as they continue their journey in a career in law”.