Sanjana Tikkoo is an MBA ’21 candidate at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. In an interview conducted by Prachi Gupta, Sanjana discusses, inter alia, her own experiences as a law student at Jamia Milia Islamia, where she graduated from in 2014.
Sanjana also shares her journey as a corporate lawyer with stints at Luthra & Luthra, and Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas, and how she went about choosing the right business school for an MBA.
What made you choose law as a career?
I did not choose law as a career. It just sort of happened – maybe it chose me! I have always envisioned myself as a bit of a renaissance person – someone who has broad intellectual interests and enjoys both the arts and the sciences. Consequently, coupled with the fact that I was generally undecided and unprepared to take the plunge after class 12, I ended up applying for (and in some cases getting into) programs as varied as biotechnology, computer science, and law. I ended up choosing law and don’t regret that choice much. But even today, I don’t know what I want to be when I “grow up”.
As a law student, what were the main challenges you faced, and how did you manage to overcome them?
As I am sure you would appreciate, studying a non-national law school has certain advantages and disadvantages. In my case, my school’s location in Delhi was a huge advantage – I was able to pursue post-class internships when the school was in session and to earn some pocket money on the side through events and tuitions.
The disadvantages, unfortunately, were rather tedious to deal with due to the level of uncertainty they brought into the mix. The biggest challenge was getting internships. Top law-firms or lawyers have very little reason to hire from traditional law schools.
If you look at it from their point of view, they were not incorporated for the benefit of law students in every itty-bitty law school out there. Their job is to maximize their clients’ and other stakeholders’ interests. If they decided to go searching for talent every year to every campus out there, it would be a very inefficient use of their time indeed.
This is not unique to India and in fact a trend which prevails worldwide in law firms, MBB firms in management consulting, as well as the top investment banks or tech companies.
Another huge challenge was the lack of resources and guidance when it came to participation in moot courts, parliamentary debates, or writing academic papers worth publishing in journals of some repute.
The school I went to was heavily focused on pushing folks to pursue state judicial services or litigation in the district, courts and the system were not fine-tuned to cater to students with other ambitions.
How difficult was it for you to land a corporate job upon graduating from Jamia?
It was difficult, but surprisingly, it wasn’t as difficult as it is generally made out to be. My family did not have what law students often call “contacts” or “connections” in the legal field. I had to hustle hard and network effectively with the right folks to get into the top firms and legal chambers, and then to build my personal brand by working hard during my internships.
Law school was a five-year marathon. I believe I did a decent job of pacing myself and slowly ticked all the boxes that are required to set oneself up for a solid job. My first legal job was with a small corporate law firm called ASP Advocates that had just started – I will be forever grateful to the partners there who took a chance on me and gave me the perfect training wheels and huge exposure to many areas of law and legal practice management that set me up to successfully navigate the path ahead.
My mentors at Luthra and Amarchand were also hugely instrumental in teaching and mentoring me every step of the way, and I would know nothing without their guidance.
How does an MBA align with your degree in law? What made you consider doing an MBA after your law degree?
I had spent approximately five years focusing on equity and debt capital markets transactions, with a little taste of corporate advisory and M&A. I had the opportunity to lead teams of associates within my firm on end-to-end execution of various IPOs and domestic and international bond transactions.
I realized that I enjoyed the transactional work, fast-paced, demanding environment, and project management aspects of deals a lot more than the legal and advisory aspects. I wanted to add elements of decision orientation to my skills of process orientation and drive transactions instead of being driven by the process.
So, I decided to get an MBA to round-out my skillset before moving over to investment banking.
I believe my corporate law experience equipped me with three key skills that would translate well into business:
Execution ability: Getting deals through despite short time frames, demanding clients, multiple issues, and parallel workstreams; the work ethic required for effective project management under extreme pressure.
Client interactions and negotiation: Ability to deal with clients, develop relationships, and manage to be authoritative yet reassuring at the same time.
Understanding of legal and regulatory issues –Developed a strong sense of risks and mitigants.
Have you faced any challenges in B School being from a non-maths background?
Not really. The GMAT features class 10 level math. Once you cross the admissions hurdle, there are excellent resources in business school to bring you up to speed. I studied math until Grade 12, so while I was a little rusty, I wasn’t completely clueless.
How can one go about choosing the right B School? What kind of internships and courses should they do?
It is a fine balance between depth and breadth. You need to experience various fields in law to get a taste of what resonates with you (breadth) while you also need to hone your skills in 2-3 focus areas you end up choosing based on that experience (depth).
This can be through internships, moot courts, research and academic writing, networking, etc.
What has your experience been like working for the top law firms?
Amazing! It was a great mentorship experience, you get a play a role in transactions featured on the front pages of business publications, and a fantastic bunch of people to work with (which in my view is the most important factor).
Most of these firms also don’t make you feel like you’re being compensated unfairly – in fact, good compensation plans are a huge motivator to attract and retain talent.
Is there any piece of advice you have for the upcoming lawyers?
Build a well-rounded profile.
Please don’t waste a majority of your time on social media or Netflix. Consume the best of literature, fiction, non-fiction, history, behavioural economics. Be a great student of the world around you.
Do not ever pigeon-hole yourself.
If you want to be a good lawyer you have to first be a great student – learn a bunch of things which have nothing to do with the boring dusty tomes of legalese written by some paper-pushing bureaucrats. Learn what motivates people.
Recognize the existence of biases in decision making. Frequently engage in self-reflection. Travel, solo whenever possible. Surround yourself with smart people and lean on one another to make each other succeed.
Most importantly, learn how to analyze and mitigate risk – identify your reference points in choice and in risk; clarify your reference points by distinguishing your expectations, objectives, and constraints.
Be all-in but do not forget the role of chance in your life. Risk is a choice, not a fate, but only if you can make that choice. Be wise about when and where you decide to be bold.
(Prachi Gupta is a student of law at Aligarh Muslim University, and a mentee at the Upeksha Education’s Mentorship Programme)