ranjana adhikari

“My philosophy in life is that you need to keep growing. The reason for this is that you can’t help people in their career paths unless you keep growing and evolving yourself.”

1. To begin with could you start by giving us a glimpse into your journey from a law student to entering the professional field? What was your motivation to study law?

I will start by answering the second part of the question first. I took science in 11th and 12th, and I hail from Nagpur. Initially, like everyone around me, I was set on becoming a computer engineer. In my school days, a good student would aspire to become either an engineer or a doctor and law was looked upon as an option only for those who were rather average performers. So, the obvious was to choose one of the two. However, I always wanted to do something different, and I felt I had the knack for public speaking right from early school days, which inevitably led me to law. On a lighter note, I even manipulated a bunch of my aptitude tests to get law as a recommended career option for me. My father was friends with Mr Harish Salve KC, Senior Advocate, and erstwhile Chief Justice of India Mr Sharad Bobde. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to have them guide me on choosing the right law school and the stream of law. Coming to the first part of the question – on receiving a pre-placement offer (PPO) from Nishith Desai Associates (NDA), I joined them right after law school. It was the most wonderful journey, which lasted for 13 years, Nishithbhai and my colleagues at the TMT practice set the foundation for where I am today. I learnt very early in my career on how to be a leader, how to have a vision in terms of where I see myself in the next 5 to 10 years. While it is a cliché, something very important in today’s world is to decide on whether you want to be a micro specialist or a generalist. In my time a lot of people did not give a lot of thought to these things and where I was the culture was different, as it made you contemplate all of this. In fact, Nishithbhai was one of the first people who noticed my interest in art and entertainment as a consumer and suggested that I would make a good fit in the media and entertainment practice.

About a year and a half back I made a shift to IndusLaw. My philosophy in life is that you need to keep growing. The reason for this is that you cannot help people in their career paths unless you keep growing and evolving yourself. I felt that it was time to take things to the next level for myself – new place, new things, a few challenges that come with setting up a practice. The last year and half have been extremely exciting – I have an energetic team that keeps me on my toes both in terms of being millennial which TMT requires and keeping me in touch with the current consumer needs, likes, etc. It has been a great a journey so far, it might have not always been easy, but it has been extremely fulfilling.

2. You have always acknowledged the people who have guided and supported you in your career. How important is finding a good mentor right at the start of your career?

To be very honest the question is not about finding a mentor at the start of your career or at a later stage. Having somebody or some people in the system who can mentor you versus being your boss, is in my opinion one of the most important events in a lawyer’s journey. The effort and energy that you need to remain a constant in the legal field is enormous. To have that constant energy, you need to keep the passion alive by reinventing yourself time and again. That is when you need someone to mentor you, untangle your thoughts and help you see something with more clarity.

3. What does it take to be a mentor? Following up on that how has your role as a mentor changed pre and post the pandemic, especially when conversations around a conducive workplace environment have been gaining momentum?

A mentor needs to keep evolving in my view. You need to keep working towards effectively contributing to the growth of the people you are mentoring. So for me, it is about finding a balance between guiding my team to deliver on the job – the technical aspect and being empathetic towards and conscious of their needs. As a mentor, my approach is to be mindful of the fact that I am working with adults, not kids. We all are just in different phases of learning irrespective of our seniority and every member of the team deserves the same level of respect as anybody else. We all deserve an equal chance at work-life balance. There are definitely days when maintaining that balance can be a little challenging, but I have been extremely fortunate throughout my career to be surrounded by very mature and responsible individuals, who understand that when we make a commitment we need to deliver, we need to shine. While the team did let go of that weekend when required, we always look out for each other. If somebody wants to take an hour off to hit the gym, join a hobby class, walk a toddler or just take a break, that is okay, we respect that as a team. My approach has always been to respect everyone’s time and space. I try to encourage an environment where we interact with each other and consciously try to preserve that weekend for each other, not to impose unnecessary deadlines and basically just make life easier for one another.

The people I work with know that they can come and talk to me about anything they need. Communication is key to preserve the work environment we have. With the shift to the work from home set-up, it was tough to grow the same connect with a brand new team and keep the levels of comfort intact. But we worked on it as a team, with no agenda conversations, virtual birthday celebrations and made it a point to meet in the pandemic when we could. This allowed us to learn so much about each other, which set the tone for the working environment that we wanted to achieve.

4. How has it been working in the TMT space?

To be honest these are questions that you do not usually ponder on unless you are made to. The beauty about TMT is that you feel very close to the subject because as a consumer you are consuming most of it. Back when I started my journey as a media and entertainment lawyer, mobile phones were used to converse, films were the heart of media and entertainment and you would see in theatres and then there was technology in the form of a television set; a couple of years down the line I saw all three converge as a Netflix on my phone. Which is to say, the industry saw a shift and new opportunities were created, overall, an extremely exciting time. The journey from being a consumer to a lawyer can only be bridged when you are really passionate about these things as a consumer. As a consumer, the convergence fascinated me and keeps me intrigued as we go along.

When you are with a TMT team in a law firm set-up or an in-house counsel or in any capacity you are at the cusp of policy change. The pace and complexity of what one deals with as a TMT lawyer is different from many other practice areas. The law in this space is not constant with tons of jurisprudence to back it. As a TMT lawyer, you are the genie of evolving the surrounding jurisprudence, you are a part of the journey. So being a TMT lawyer requires someone who is looking for a challenge of doing something new every day. Which is why having that strong passion for the subject is super important.

As TMT lawyers every conversation we have, every panel that we discuss and deliberate in – all contribute in big or small ways to shape the changing policy in the country. India is one of the only developing countries that is at par with developed countries where the need for speed is required for evolving tech policy. It is exciting to feel like you are at the cusp of the best as a TMT lawyer.

5. Following up on the previous question since as a TMT lawyer you are in a position to direct policy, how important is it then to have a sound understanding of the industry at large?

As TMT lawyers we act as a bridge between consumer interest, industry interest and government policy. When you are in that unique position, if you do not understand how the industry or the business functions, you will never be able to bring clarity or provide an explanation to all the counter judgments that the Government might have while creating policy. In the same way if you are not in touch with the consumers’ needs or the Government’s concerns, you will never be able to advise the industry on the responsible steps that it can take. Today we see a new wave where self-regulation and co-regulation is being championed for most TMT-led industries, unique to any other country in the world. To understand the fine balance that would help a sustainable model for governance on these lines cannot be achieved without having a sound understanding of the industry and the vision of the policymakers.

6. There is a perception about the corporate world when it comes to work-life balance. Is work-life balance a myth or is it possible to achieve it with consistent practice?

This question is relevant not just for the corporate world but for anything in general. The answer to the question also boils down to who you are as a person, how driven you are, how passionate you are about something. It is not easy when you start off as a fresher because you are so overwhelmed with hierarchy. You believe out of respect and even sometimes out of fear that those higher up in the hierarchy need to dictate how your life needs to run. That being said, a partner can always choose to run the team in a strict and balanced manner. It is not always easy to keep up with the pace of the job, the expectations of the management all while ensuring that work-life balance is met. Over time I have realised that the single best way of communicating your approach to a healthy balance, is by setting an example yourself. Your work-life balance is what you decide.

We need to understand that at the beginning one will be burning the midnight oil. You are in the learning phase of your life, it is natural that you are going to take a little longer to finish a task than somebody who has already invested a few years in this profession. This foundation that you set at the beginning will help you achieve the work-life balance you want at a later stage in your life. However, it is important to also be able to differentiate between what is okay and what is not. For example, any imposition by those in the system to the extent that it starts having an adverse effect on your health or something on those lines, is not alright. Always look for a place where there is intent, instead of where the results are. Where there is an intent and attempt for work-life balance, is the place you want to be.

7. What is the one trait that you want a young professional setting foot into the real world to cultivate?

It is hard to put it into one trait. As far as my team is concerned, I personally like a combination of aptitude and attitude. You need to have the aptitude and inclination to read and absorb a lot, because that is what is going to help you ahead. The drive to learn is extremely important. I do not necessarily want a know-it-all but somebody who has the ability to learn in a team. Team spirit is absolutely necessary because you do not want anything to ruin the working atmosphere. Collegiality needs to be there. No matter at what stage you are in your life, you need to be greedy to learn more and stay humble. The moment you approach your work with passion and think out of the box, you have nailed it. The fire to learn, to consume information, passion is what is going to take you a long way in your profession.

8. Any advice that you would like to give to our readers?

The difference between the profession when I entered it versus now, is that at that point of time it was okay to be a generalist and it was okay to think in terms of a generalist. In today’s world you need to adopt what is called an inverted “T” approach to learning. A lot of people these days very early in their careers decide on their super specialisation, and work solely on those related aspects. If you limit yourself at the beginning, you will not know what is out there. So, while you have the mindset to do something you should always focus on honing your skills on a horizontal plane. Be open to working on anything, from litigation, to policy, to an agreement, to advisory – anything. Start honing your skills based on what you are doing. While it is great to see people being active in law school, my advice would be to start initially crystallising where you see yourself. It can change as you progress but contour your internships in a manner that it gives you variety. At the same time do not restrict yourself to one specific area – explore. Writing is a great way to do that, it allows you to understand where your passions lie.

9. On a lighter note, if there was one book that you could recommend to somebody or that gave you perspective what would it be?

To be honest my answer to this question keeps changing from time to time. If you had asked me this a couple of years back, I would have said How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. Something that I really believe in is that there is a business of law and there is a profession of law, understanding the behavioural patterns of people and just understanding how to connect with people is an art. It is not something that you are necessarily born with, but it is something that I genuinely find extremely interesting. This book helped me understand personalities better, helped me manage my team better, it let me connect with clients and peers in a different yet effective way. I would definitely recommend this book to people.

If we are talking solely non-fiction, another book that I did enjoy reading was Do Epic Shit by Ankur Warikoo. What I like about his writing style is that it is to the point and relatable. He has some very interesting thoughts; you may not resonate with everything written but there is something for everybody in the book. It is extremely real for the current times that we live in and relatable at the same time.

That being said fiction will always be my first love, the charm of good storytelling never gets old.

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