Phaguni Nilesh Lal (Batch of 2013) is the Legal Counsel to the International Business team, Star India Network, Mumbai. In this interview she talks about her time at AIL and after.
The Blue Pencil: What was your motivation behind pursuing Law?
Phaguni Nilesh Lal: To be honest, I was one of those to whom law happened by default. I was on my way to becoming a commercial pilot after my twelfth, but just the thought of having to do physics (or any science related subject for that matter),made me instantly review my career choice. You see, I had taken science in my twelfth and all I did for those two years was pray for them to get over! Luckily, I had taken the entrance exam for AIL and she was kind enough to take me in.
TBP: How was your experience while you were in college? Are there any memories that you want to share with us?
PNL: Just the thought of college brings back the most beautiful and now deeply cherished memories for me. College was the time when I grew into my own person and had the opportunity to experience some of the most amazing and crazy times, made some lifelong friends and learnt some law along the way!
Sieving through my basket of memories, the one experience that I remember with a huge smile on my face (it’s also one of the few I can share on a public platform!), is when a team comprising of one of my closest friends Mithila, a junior of ours- Pragati and me, managed to get selected for the International rounds for the Leiden Sarin Air Law Moot Court Competition. What makes it special was that AIL was hosting the domestic rounds – it was one day of back-to back rounds and at the end of the rounds, four teams were to be selected to represent India at the International rounds, which were to be held at Abu-Dhabi. On the day of the competition, after having mooted my throat dry, I was under the impression that our team would probably not make it. I went back to my room exhausted and planned to skip the valedictorian ceremony in the afternoon where the winners would be announced. While I was lying down, I heard deafening cheers coming from the auditorium – instantly I knew something life changing had been announced – Maybe the Girls Hostel’s in-timing had been extended! Nevertheless, I had to witness what was happening, so I put on some slippers and ran to the auditorium. On entering the auditorium, I saw Mithila on the stage with a couple of other participants and as soon as she caught my eye, she dashed towards me and gave me a tight hug! We had qualified, and that too second in order of merit!
The International rounds were a great experience and our team did decently well, but I realized two things (i) nothing can match the feeling of winning on home ground (ii) Ailians have an extra vocal chord when it comes to cheering!
TBP: Considering the fact that while in college you excelled in academics as well as you did prestigious moots such as Jessups, what is your take on the importance of academics as well as mooting for a law student?
PNL: Honestly, both are equally important. Academics help you with your placements and your career progression in general. Mooting as an experience not only exposes you to subjects beyond those prescribed by the University but also gives you a glimpse into the on-ground realities of our profession. If I have to make a confession, today I remember more of what I argued in moots than what I scribbled on those answer sheets. Also, I would like to emphasize on something here – Our University studies are not very tough and what is very unique about AIL (and something I really appreciate), is that it gives everyone and anyone the opportunity to participate in national moots and debates. Trust me, in other colleges, mooting is a privilege reserved for only a few. So, while you guys work towards those grades, you must make an honest endeavour towards having a couple of competitions in your kitty.
TBP: How do you think internships contribute towards the overall development of a law student?
PNL: Internships are very important as they help you determine what kind of practice you want to pursue (or not to pursue), and in some exceptional cases, they even help land a job! An honest suggestion to all the young lawyers – try interning in all possible set-ups i.e. from flaw firms, chamber practicing lawyers, NGOs to even companies. Test all the waters before taking a plunge into one!
TBP: Prior to Star India Network, you’ve worked for Trilegal and Nishith Desai Associates. How is the type of work and the work culture in a Law firm different as compared to that of working as an in-house counsel?
PNL: Law Firms, honestly, are a great place if you want to stay true to the profession and are willing to devote 14 hours to your desk! Both at Nishith Desai and Trilegal, my learning was great and I handled arbitrations and litigations almost single handedly, however the 14 hours a day for me personally were a kill-joy and not sustainable. On the other hand, though it’s probably too early to evaluate (as I joined Star only a couple of months back), in-house work is fairly straightforward with an 8-10 hour workday and a life to live beyond work.
TBP: Lastly, What advice do you have for our readers and the students of AIL?
PNL: Ahh! It’s gyan time! Listen carefully-
To all the readers in the fifth year- make this last year count. To those from the 2nd to the 4th year – guys work hard – play hard, but participate in all dance and drama Thursday activities! They make amazing memories. To those in their first year- 5 years are too short (unlike what they seem), experience every year to its fullest and assuming that participation in all Thursday activities is still mandatory for you guys – I’ll skip that bit!