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The Recruiters: Aakash Choubey, HR Partner at Khaitan & Co
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The Recruiters: Aakash Choubey, HR Partner at Khaitan & Co

Aditya AK

 “The Recruiters” is a weekly series that seeks to help law students fathom what it takes to gain employment in a field of law they wish to pursue. Each week, we garner insights from recruiters at the top law firms, companies and organisations.

This week, Khaitan & Co’s HR Partner, Aakash Choubey talks to Bar & Bench about the qualities his firm looks for in prospective corporate lawyers, his experiences at Day Zero interviews 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?

Aakash Choubey: The student’s CGPA is an important criterion, but I would not say that it is the only determining one. If somebody has a good CGPA over a period of five years, it reflects diligence and consistency on his/her part. That’s how we approach CGPA as a criterion. Having said that, in our experience we have seen people who did not have a great CGPA do extremely well in the firm. We have also seen people who had high CGPAs but were unable to adapt to the practical aspects of the job. I would say that CGPA is not the most important factor, but it is more of a first level cut-off for us.

Also, when we are recruiting students, we also speak to students and alumni and get some intelligence on students who may have low CGPAs but have promise in them.

The most important criterion for us is whether the person sitting for the interview will make Partner in seven to nine years from the date of hiring.

B&B: Given the high attrition rates at law firms, how do you determine whether a candidate will stay with the firm or leave after a year or so?

Aakash Choubey: From our perspective, with the exception for one year, we have not seen as high an attrition rate as other top law firms. Our internal analysis leads us to believe that we do not face that much attrition among hires made through campus recruitments. We feel that unless we retain a critical mass of campus hires over a period of time, we will not be able to build a sustainable firm. For us, the math operates like this: suppose you have ten hires from the batch, no matter how much you try to keep them together, by the fifth year, you would have at least 3 or 4 dropping out. It might be for personal reasons, some may opt for LLMs, and some may have other interests. Retaining them is a challenge.

I do not want to criticize, but some students take a very naïve view when they select a law firm. Nominal amounts become very critical in influencing their decision to join a firm. At times, they are smarter than us, but when they make such decisions over a paltry amount of money, it does not augur very well because it reflects a narrow mind set. The decision should be based on career opportunities rather than compensation. As a firm, we truly believe that the home-grown talent developed over a period of time is the best talent you can have. This is because they understand the DNA of the firm and have the potential to be future leaders.

We spend a lot of effort and time in our training programmes. For us, the graduate hiring and induction process is a 45-day programme. We were the first firm in the country to introduce a 18-month rotation programme for the graduates. This includes a 6-month mandatory litigation rotation, because once you are a corporate lawyer or a real estate lawyer, you may not actually go and visit the courts. We have seen some interesting observations at the end of the third year, where certain students who we thought would be more inclined to the corporate side have gone ahead and chosen litigation. In one way, it is heartening to know that more students enjoy litigation, and it also breaks the perception that students from national law schools prefer joining corporate law firms.

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

Aakash Choubey: There are two aspects to this – the law and its practice. If a candidate answers a question with practical insight, there’s nothing like it, but this is very rare to come across. We do expect them to be well-versed in the basic principles of contract law and agency, Companies Act, etc. If you do not already have your foundation in these areas, it becomes difficult to catch up. When it comes to the research part of things, there are some students who are street-smart and know how to get answers quickly, and there are others who can apply what they’ve read in the last five years. Knowledge of the law is important to the extent of knowing the basics of a few subjects.

At times, a student may come up and say that he has written a paper on derivatives. But if you don’t know the basics of contract law, then your knowledge on derivatives is superfluous.

B&B: How important is the university one has studied from?

Aakash Choubey: As an organization, we would love to go out and hire from as many Universities as possible. But, we have our limitations. As you know, we are on an all-equity partnership. Each practice has a different team and different requirements. For example, if we want to hire from the batch of 2016, all teams have to give indicative numbers as to who they want to hire and how many they want to hire a year or two in advance. We start making rounds of the campus a year before. We always look at a limited pool from which we try to pick the best quality students. This is done in two ways – one by going to select law schools. For law schools that we are not able to go to, say the ones down south that are coming up the ranks, we actively engage with them throughout the year and accept internships from their students.

B&B: Looking back at your years as a HR Partner, do any interesting interviews that come to mind?

Aakash Choubey: Nothing specifically out of the ordinary but in general terms, one thing I’ve noticed is that students who are outgoing and outspoken during the interview undergo a change in personality after working with the firm for a year or so. Some change for the better and some make you wonder if they were the same person you interviewed. This happens especially in the case where we hire fourth-year students who still have a year to complete. I think the fact that they have a job in hand makes them very complacent in their final year.

At times I think Day Zero is a bit like a one-day match, where if it’s your day, you perform very well. (laughs)