Bar and Bench - Indian Legal news
Dina Wadia, J Sagar Associates
Dina Wadia, J Sagar Associates

The Recruiters: If your only interest is law, it makes you a very boring person! – Dina Wadia, J Sagar Associates

Aditya AK

The Recruiters is a weekly piece that helps law students fathom what it takes to gain employment in a field of law they wish to pursue. This week, JSA Senior Partner and Member of its Executive Committee in charge of Talent and Recruitment, Dina Wadia talks to Bar & Bench about the qualities her firm looks for in prospective corporate lawyers, her Day Zero experiences over the years and more.

Bar & Bench: Some of the criteria considered for recruitment include CGPA, internships, and publications. In what order are they prioritized?

Dina Wadia: Our recruitment is done through a combination of methods – students who have interned with us and to whom we have given PPOs, on campus interviews recruitment; and also long term internships – i.e students who attend college in the morning and come to intern with us after classes. We assess our requirements for the coming year and hire accordingly. While we certainly tend to look at students with higher CGPAs, the CGPA of a student is taken into account only to draw the base line. Thereafter it is a combination of various factors starting from professionalism, the attitude of the student and the assessment during the internships which have significant impact.

That they are smart, eager and focussed is a given and, after a point, all the CVs look somewhat the same; the students have all done umpteen moot court competitions and written and published papers on a host of interesting and worthy issues, interned at NGOs etc so we look for differentiators.

At campus recruitment, we don’t have group discussions but conduct a personal one on one interview with the shortlisted students.

B&B: How much weightage does the University one studied in have?

Dina Wadia,: The decision to go to a particular law school or university to a large extent depends on the experience we have with the students from that university. The quality of students who intern with us from such schools also influences our decision. While we do have a certain standard of University in mind, that again is not the only factor when making a selection. Given our recruitment mix, we don’t visit all the law schools that invite us and visit three or four law schools each year. We further rotate one or two of them each year to give other and newer law schools an opportunity.

For campus recruitments, we make only two or three offers per law school. We don’t make offers to the, say, top ten of each class from the law schools that we do visit to say that we have an intake of 20-30 students from campus, because within a year, it is likely that most of those will have shifted out as a firm may not be able to absorb all of them.

B&B: Big Law Firms generally tend to have high attrition rates. How do you determine whether a recruit will stay at the firm for more than a year or so?

Dina Wadia,: We aim to attract people whose philosophy is congruent with ours who we believe will seamlessly integrate into our culture, who embrace our values and our interviews are conducted with that in mind. As I’ve stated we don’t recruit large numbers of students so, if we’ve got our offers right, those we do hire tend to remain with us. So far our experience has been good on this count.

B&B: Any interesting interviews over the years?

Dina Wadia,: The students on Day Zero are all on tenterhooks, so we try to have a discussion topics on diverse topics and not only the law to ease their nerves. If I look at my notes, I’m sure there’ll be the odd one here and there with something really quirky.  What always strikes me is that nowadays it is a such a diverse bunch of students which was very different about 10-15  years ago when they tended to come only from the big cities. Now, with CLAT and the national and other good law schools, people come from all over the country. It’s very heartening to see that so many come from smaller towns. Some of them, of course, have family practicing in courts there but a lot of them are first generation lawyers with diverse backgrounds.

What I found through the interviews is that a lot of the students have some very interesting hobbies like drawing caricatures, graffiti art etc. apart from the usual music, books, movies and sport. Another thing is which is so wonderful is that the girls are so articulate –the ones who we have met at interviews tend to be more up-to-date and aware than most of the boys.

Today, it’s roughly a 50-50 mix in terms of gender ratio in law firms. Of course, the figures for litigating lawyers is still a little skewed. The students are also quite aware that law firms at the initial stages now generally pay more than litigation and in-house jobs. A lot of them have also taken bank loans which they need to repay. So even if a student is keen on litigation, they are aware that the first 5-7 years is hard graft where you don’t get any assured amount in hand. A lot of them don’t want to take that risk which is why they opt to work for a few years in a law firm and hope to someday join the Bar.

B&B: To what extent are students expected to know the law?

Dina Wadia,: It’s generally accepted worldwide that law schools don’t really prepare you for working in law firms though efforts are being made in that direction. Students are expected to have a basic understanding of the law but it is largely theoretical knowledge. Let’s face it, when you intern in a law firm, by and large, you are given bits of research and work helping with due diligence and other things that aren’t particularly rocket science. We do acknowledge that they have good knowledge and excellent research skills but applying that knowledge is something that you learn over a period of time through training and actually working on the transaction.

To us it’s important that the students have other interests in life as well and they should be well-rounded individuals. If your only interest is law, it makes you a very boring person! Our main aim is to find smart lawyers who believe in, imbibe and practice our values, fit in and are team players. Hopefully we mould them into fine lawyers that can hold their own anywhere.