Interview with Debolina Saha, Founder of Internship Bank

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In this interview, we talk to Debolina Saha Narayan, in her capacity as Founder of Internship Bank. Debolina is a senior lawyer with over a decade’s experience from some of the top domestic and international law firms and specializes in the area of Capital Markets.

Most recently she founded the online platform of Internship Bank with the aim of connecting upcoming first-generation professionals with senior women professionals through internship opportunities. Since mid-December 2019, when Internship Bank was initiated until now, this platform whose long-term aim is to correct the skewed-up gender diversity in India’s work-force has been creating waves. From being mentioned in legallyindia.com (in just four months of being established) and several other blogs and news medium, partnering with the top Indian law firm L&L Partners and most recently as of 30 June 2020 securing over 80 internship opportunities, Internship Bank has been in the news for all the right reasons! For more details, please visit www.internshipbank.org

We hope the below interview helps in providing valuable guidance to our student audience both in terms of understanding Ms Saha’s journey as a lawyer, her platform Internship Bank as well as her initiative of providing online credit course in the subject of Capital Markets law.

Trishala: What motivated you to pursue law?

Debolina: Law did not happen to me by total accident. I always aspired to join the Indian Administrative Service and so after class XII, I wanted to do something which would later help me in my career as an IAS officer and that’s when I decided to take up law. In law school, however, I realized that there was more to law than just civil and criminal law. Eventually, corporate law caught my fancy and after I had secured an associate position with Amarchand Mangaldas, there was no looking back.

Therefore, just to sum it up, law was not entirely an accident to me. It was a very conscious choice but what perhaps was more accidental was that I took it as a full-time career.

Trishala: What made you want to start Internship Bank?

Debolina: I previously worked in London and I am currently working in Hong Kong jurisdictions that you would normally associate with more balanced gender representation. However, so many times I  have and still continue to walk into meetings or presentations where I am the lone woman or one of the very few women attending such an event. To say in the very least, such under-representation of women frequently left me (and continues to leave me) quite perturbed.

Secondly, during my many teaching assignments at various Indian colleges, I often found myself surrounded by brilliant students requesting for an internship opportunity on grounds that even though their curriculum vitae showcased good extra-curricular and academic achievements, they were often ignored because they came from lesser-known colleges or colleges that lacked strong alumni network.

It was in the backdrop of the above events,  that I thought of establishing the online platform of  Internship Bank in mid-December 2019 with the sole aim of connecting young women professionals to internship opportunities provided by senior women professionals and in the process improve the gender imbalance as well as the reputation of students from lesser-known colleges (especially those which lack a strong alumni network).

Trishala: In one of your talks, you said that the ingredient to excellence is to never be satisfied with yourself. However, you also said that to achieve one’s potential, one has to be at peace with who they are. How in your opinion should law students incorporate these seemingly contradictory perspectives in their lives?

Debolina: Good question and I hope I can clarify this. When I say you need to be at peace with who you are, I mean it is important to understand your limitations. We all come with our own sets of limitations and such limitations could be as regards financial situation, natural talent, etc. What one must be mindful of are situations that are beyond one’s control and understand what is within one’s power and what is not. It is little use and a complete drain of one’s energy if the entire effort is geared towards focusing on controlling situations or results beyond one’s control.

This is not to say that one cannot and should not strengthen their skills (which is within one’s control) or just remain satisfied with one’s current situation. The focus should always be to work and hone one’s strengths and build on such strengths but also simultaneously work on improving one’s weaknesses and forget about being in control of results. Trust this explains how one can achieve a balance in a seemingly contradictory statement that I previously made in my earlier interviews.

Trishala: The COVID-19 pandemic has caused some unforeseen changes in the manner of edifying legal education.  Do you think webinars are an apt substitute for good old classrooms?

Debolina: I am an old school teacher and for me, one of the greatest joys comes from interacting with my students-therefore my vote will always be for “class-room” teaching and I do not think anything can replace the good-old classroom teaching! Webinars can supplement class-room teaching but not completely replace classroom teaching! However, given the COVID-19 situation, I think in the current circumstances, webinars have played a key role in helping students keep up-to-speed with their classes and there is no denial about this.

Trishala: How important are soft skills when working in an International Law Firm?

Debolina: I have always believed that soft skills are as important if not more, than technical skills! The first impressions at an interview or a meeting are always created by your soft-skills and therefore, it is important for you to develop this skill-set as early on as possible so that it becomes an integral part of your character. Most importantly, as you grow higher up in your professional ladder, good soft-skills play a crucial role in distinguishing you as a lawyer and determining your success as a rainmaker for the firm!

Always remember that technical skills can be taught but soft-skills need to be inculcated and nothing works more in your favour than that rare combination of excellent soft-skills and technical knowledge!

I think it will help every lawyer to understand that a client will only approach you in the first place if you are a pleasant person, to begin with! You could ace in your technical skills but if there remains much to be desired from you in terms of soft and relationship building skills, you will struggle to interact with clients and the same is true for the vice versa situation. Thus, there should ideally be a balance between technical and soft-skills and both are equally important.

Trishala: What is your advice to law students and fresh law school graduates who wish to build a career in the field of capital markets?

Debolina: It is not a mandatory requirement but it would help students who are gearing up to become a capital markets lawyer, to perhaps do a basic accounting or finance course and as US securities laws are considered as the “mother” or the “golden standard of all securities laws” a course in US securities laws, including SEC rules and guidelines and general disclosure issues, would be fantastic! Needless to say a good understanding of the Companies Act and general up-to-date knowledge on financial news and how the stock markets operate in reality would be an added bonus.

Trishala: Why should Indian universities consider providing a course on Capital Markets law, as part of their curriculum?

Debolina: The top spots in Chambers UK rankings are taken up by the magic and silver circle firms, as well as a number of US firms for whom Capital Markets and Capital Markets transactions are central areas of business activity. The subject of Capital Markets is also increasingly becoming important to larger commercial firms in the domestic sphere.

Also, a quick glance at Legal500.com will show that international firms such Linklaters, Clifford Chance, Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, Allen & Overy, Shearman, Skadden, have large operating Debt Capital Markets Practice as part of their global practice and are regularly involved in advising on the full spectrum of debt capital markets products, including Regulation S/Rule 144A corporate bonds, dim sum bonds, green bonds, liability management, and equity-linked and other structured products.

Therefore, since within the wider subject spectrum of Capital Markets law, key international law firms (as highlighted above) are primarily focused on the subject of “Debt Capital Markets”, it will be helpful if Indian universities try and build an impeccable record in the successful placement of its students by equipping young students with knowledge in the Debt Capital Markets space and thereby, add value to the commercial law or corporate law subjects that are already being offered by such Indian universities.

In fact, I plan to conduct online credit courses on International Debt Capital Markets very soon.

Trishala: In the previous question you mentioned about providing online credit courses in the area of Capital Markets, please could you tell us a little more on what sub-topics you cover under such a course?

Debolina: I have specifically designed the course to help students stand out in the placement application process with international law firms and given that the subject of Debt Capital Markets is often intertwined with many other industrial sectors and legal areas, the Course will also equip students to develop an interdisciplinary understanding, given that the subject of capital markets often involves various industrial sectors of an economy.

Additionally, given that the US securities law is the “golden standard” and “mother” of all securities law (including those devised by the Securities Exchange Board of India), even students who decide to pursue capital markets in the domestic sphere will find this Course useful and relevant.

Lastly, the course will help to enhance the following key-skills in students:

  • Ability to co-relate concepts and knowledge from different areas of law and various industries;
  • Develop problem-solving skills and ability to interpret data; and
  • Develop oral, written, and understanding competence.

Therefore, if anyone of you is able to convince a group of at least 10 fellow-students or your University to approach me for a credit course on the above subject, I am more than happy to help and can be reached at [email protected] However, please note that I offer the teaching course in my personal capacity and this service is not associated with the gamut of services offered by Internship Bank!


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