Adv. Utkarsha Nikam has working experience as an Associate (Real Estate) at Kanga & Co. She is currently the Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief at the Indian Real Estate Blawg (IRB). She has authored several articles in reputed journals and blogs. She is also a Student legal Advisor (Public Legal Education Program)- at qLegal and currently, she is pursuing her LLM in Commercial and Corporate Law from Queen Mary University London. In this interview, she talks about her experience through her college and job. She further discusses concepts like specialization and internships. She takes us through her journey of selection at Queen Mary University which is a dream of many law aspirants.
Here is an excerpt from the interview conducted with Adv. Utkarsha Nikam.
Shubhi Sharma: You went on to be a part of India’s one of the top law firms before choosing to continue with your education, how do you see this journey, how would you describe the advantages and disadvantages of working with a law firm and their overall contribution to your career.
Utkarsha Nikam: The challenge of being a lawyer has always attracted me. Consequently, after graduating from law school, I received an offer letter from Kanga & Company, India’s one of the top law firms specializing in Real Estate. I was very eager to delve into the life of a lawyer. The Real Estate practice in law firms is not confined only to the law regarding the property which is taught in law schools. This really assured me that law was what I wanted to study and pursue as a profession because I was very interested in what I was learning and being shown, and I wanted to learn more about it.
I felt comfortable in the environment and confident that pursuing a career with the firm was an excellent opportunity. You won’t always be tied to a desk, typical daily tasks for a lawyer range from meetings and calls with clients, drafting and circulating legal advice via email, researching specific points of law, and liaising with colleagues as to the best way to manage cases and transactions. The precise skills and achievements you gain will vary according to the role you take on, but you could potentially gain or develop the following: leadership skills, experience of different transactions, relationship-building and teamwork, emotional intelligence, the appropriate communication skills for different settings and audiences, problem-solving and creative thinking.
Spending time in my firm for work experience strengthened my interest in the profession. Working in a highly professional and competitive environment is a life-changing experience and makes a significant impact on your personality. Every legal problem requires analytical and evaluative skills. Clients present their lawyers the fact and expect the lawyer to analyse it and compare the possible legal solutions, and then advise of the respective merits of each. Often, entire departments will be tasked to solve one legal problem, and it’s vital for a lawyer to draw on all the expertise and talent available and bring the best out of whoever they’re working with. I believe that over the course of time, I have been able to gain significant proficiency in Real Estate which will be beneficial in the long run to prosper anywhere on the global platform.
Talking about the disadvantages of working with a law firm, there are high expectations from day one. Personally, I feel this has helped me to go out of my comfort zone and deliver my best. I tend to thrive under pressure because it forces me to really focus on what I am doing, assess my priorities, and come up with a plan.
Shubhi Sharma: Apart from academics what were your interests during the years of your graduation which helped you build a better profile for your postgraduation?
Utkarsha Nikam: Extra-curricular activities have proven to be beneficial for me and balancing my academics with co-curricular activities has always been my priority. Being a law student, you have so many co-curricular activities and opportunities in front of you, and you should choose wisely. Small things may create the finest balances. The leadership and organisational skills became apparent when I was selected as the General Secretary of the Legal Aid Committee at Government Law College, Mumbai. Let me cite an example; as a member of the Legal Aid Committee for three years, I had the chance to organise various competitions, conduct workshops for students. I learned something new each time when I donned the hat of a coordinator because I had to interact with a group of more than 100 students each year, keep track of these competitions and report the progress to faculty. Just being active in a committee will hone your time management skills; it shows that you can fit in regular commitments alongside your studies.
Over the years I participated in a number of moot court competitions, MUNs, Lok Sabha’s etc and through these experiences, I have learnt to effectively work in a team. In addition, I undertook various community-based service projects aimed at spreading awareness in society. These experiences in positions of influence and leadership have strengthened my organisational and problem-solving skills, teamwork as well as allowed me to develop effective communication skills.
Apart from academics, I have kept myself professionally engaged to be more productive and discerning. I believe that practical experience is quintessential to supplement theoretical knowledge. Accordingly, throughout my law school tenure, I interned in multifarious law firms dealing in various areas of law such as Labour Law, Real Estate Law, Civil Law and Intellectual Property Law. I constantly felt the need to upgrade myself with respect to the nuances of law.
I enjoyed taking part in sports and I am very competitive. Of course, I did some bit of volleyball and football too. I like to keep fit by going to the gym and swimming regularly in my spare time showing myself to be a well-rounded individual. My appetite for playing sports and my ability to fight back when I am losing has taught me the value of an active work ethic. These passions have developed into a way of life for me. As a mature learner, I believe that I have many experiences which have shaped who I am today and who I achieve to be.
Though challenging as it might have been, I have benefited greatly from my overall College experience and has reaffirmed my decision to pursue law, refined my ability to think critically and work under significant constraints and duress.
Shubhi Sharma: A lot of individuals are not able to streamline their internships or decide the area of law they want to peruse after college. Did you face a similar problem? What according to you can be done to channelize our interest into a particular field?
Utkarsha Nikam: I can’t stress how important it is to understand what you’re getting into when you choose the area of law you are going to make your career in. It’s really important to have some practical work experience in that area of law before you commit to it, so you will know if it suits you. This is why internships are really valuable to newly qualified and about-to-be qualified, lawyers.
The point about my little story is, the only way to know for certain whether a practice area is right for you is by gaining some first-hand experience. This is why work experience in a law office, firms or company is an unbeatable way to find the career that suits you. It doesn’t even have to be in the practice area which most interests you. Even if you decide that the areas you experienced during the placement were not for you, it is useful because you know not to apply for jobs in that field in the future.
Poor career choices will lead you to either becoming professionally stressed, cause mistakes in your work or worse. It is always a good idea to work in a field in which you would excel, thus ensuring professional development, growth and, not to forget, professional, personal (and mental) happiness all around. Choosing the wrong specialisation or area of practice (and staying in it) is the one way to ensure you will be miserable and perform poorly. So let me finish with the same message I started with – read about law as much as you can. Participate in moot court competitions; write articles that will expose you to different areas of law and invest in internships. Take your time to work out what area of law would best suit you and only then, make your choice.
Have a plan for your career. Don’t drift aimlessly from one job to another. Decide what kind of law you want to practice, what kind of organisation you want to work in and what position you want to fill in that organisation. Now you can see where you want to be, the next step is to decide what is the best route to get there. You must, I repeat, must have a plan that to follow. Break the eventual goal up into smaller steps, little steps if possible – they are much easier to achieve and you will gain momentum and confidence.
Shubhi Sharma: You got selected in Queens London, which is a dream for many law students. Tell us about the preparation you did to achieve your goal.
Utkarsha Nikam: Apart from submitting the application form, you need to obtain the requisite score in an IELTS (International English Language Testing System), submit a Statement of Purpose (SOP), Curriculum Vitae (CV), reference letters (academic and professional), transcripts, college degrees etc. While the timeline for obtaining copies of transcripts and other necessary documents would depend from university to university, your SOP, CV and reference letters require days, if not months, of preparation and persistence – to revise, review and refresh so that can they stand out and catch the eye of the University that is screening thousands of such equally good and well written SOPs and CVs.
One must keep the documents ready and apply early. I believe that pursuing an LLM abroad is a matter of personal choice depending upon a multitude of factors including the availability of financial resources. However, the student needs to choose the university wisely depending on various factors including the area of specialisation, the professors imparting the specialised knowledge, and the university ranking etc. However, it must be kept in mind that pursuing an LLM at any international university is primarily aimed at learning international law and increasing one’s domain; one must not view it simply as an investment to secure better job prospects.
Shubhi Sharma: At last, can you give certain tips which can help in enhancing and developing CVs.
Utkarsha Nikam: There is by no means a correct way of setting out a CV, but I find the most successful CVs are set out using the following structure:
- Work Experience
- Positions of Responsibility
- Awards and Achievements
- Interests and Hobbies
There is no need to include all of these sections. Your CV needs to be tailored for each job opportunity, double-check it through to make sure that you have the right version for that particular company or organisation. I personally feel including the interests and hobbies section is a great conversation starter for interviews. Include a simple but clear description of each role and highlight your best skills. Always proofread before sending.
Abilities are things that you can acquire or improve, so again, it’s up to you to put the effort in. The luck often comes from the amount of effort and work we put in, so a lot of it is up to you – Golfers say, “The more I practice, the luckier I become”. In the legal world, we can help create our own luck by acquiring and honing our abilities and working effectively towards our goals.
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