Essential Advice for Law Students: Q&A with Abhishek Subbaiah of Bridge Legal



Abhishek Subbaiah graduated from the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru and began his career with India’s largest private sector banking institution – ICICI Bank, in 2013. Having had a chance to work with ICICI Bank’s in-house legal team in locations ranging from Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru and in a broad spectrum of teams managing everything from legal documentation and processes to special projects and litigation consultation, he still considers this foundation and foray into law to be his greatest strength in understanding business requirements and blending legal theory with practice.

In 2015, Abhishek began his practice as a full fledged legal practitioner with tier I law firms in Mumbai such as Khaitan & Co., Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas and J. Sagar Associates, with experience in Finance and Technology related portfolios and a specialisation in working with marquee clients such as Reliance Jio, Franklin Templeton and Goldman Sachs, to name a few. Rounding his experience off with a foray into India’s insolvency and bankruptcy regime and working closely with resolution professionals engaged in sectors ranging from manufacturing to industrial processing and logistics, he gained close to five years of in-depth experience as a go-to legal counsel with a strong focus on innovation and leadership in his role as a Senior Associate.

The year 2020 saw Abhishek’s return to his hometown Bengaluru and the inception of his firm Bridge Legal in a city that in his opinion holds ‘a lot of promise and potential to be the next Delaware’

TOP 12 Questions that are most frequently asked by law students

1)Many first-generation law students fear their path will be harder than those with lawyers in the family. How would you address these concerns, and what advice would you give?

Abhishek Subbaiah-“Of course, the relevance of academic records depends on the hiring organisation – large scale firms obviously need a benchmark to evaluate multiple candidates and to say that grades are irrelevant at the start of one’s career would be a very incorrect statement to make.

The more of a chance one has to demonstrate one’s skill and expertise, the less relevant grades do become in a practical, non-academic scenario – for example, someone with good work experience who has exhibited a high level of performance will have such a background trump any academic record from years ago; I suppose one could apply this to internships as well, where one has a chance to prove their worth especially if contrasted against mediocre or simply bad grades.

What is a ‘top’ law firm? One that functions at high economies of scale and can afford to pay high salaries to freshers? If so, yes, grades matter unless one personally knows someone at said law firm that understands that the grades are not an apt reflection of the values needed (they usually do not have much time, though – the bigger the firm, the larger the number of applications). The best teams in law firms (any law firm) know how and when to look out for diamonds in the rough, though – the aim should be to prove this worth and work harder especially since grades won’t come to one’s rescue. Compensate and adapt – there are always more ways than one to reach a target goal.”

2)Law students often stress about building the perfect CV to impress employers. What are the key elements of a strong CV, and how can a student’s application stand out from the crowd?

Abhishek Subbaiah-” Students are paying organisations to draft CVs now? I didn’t know this but that would seem to preclude a larger problem of communication (or lack thereof). In either case, seniors and peers from college are the best individuals to approach first – try and understand the differences between a CV for a law firm and one for an in-house position (they are very different) first. Try to access and read as many CVs as possible.

There is no ideal CV that works for any situation. The CV is a proposal, preferably for something specific, that reflects your experience and experiences that are relevant to the entity hiring. Clear and crisp, you can’t go wrong with a customised document highlighting your strengths and why you’re perfect for a role.

A rejected CV is one that is irrelevant to the job posting (meaning that the basic criteria is not met) and is either inaccurate or has language / drafting issues or both. Ask a senior or peer to have a look at your draft and take some inputs!”

3)Is it true that coming from a family of lawyers provides an advantage in the corporate law sector? If not, what matters more?

Abhishek Subbaiah-” I can only comment on the corporate law space – whether or not one is a first-generation lawyer or not is largely irrelevant. There are exceptions to every rule but I can say with confidence that what you do and what you become depends solely on you and not your surname. Maybe it can translate into more clients in the future, but at that stage a lot of other aspects become more important, such as how well you know and practice your law.”

4)Some law students believe that starting their careers in a law firm or company will lead to higher initial salaries than working under a senior advocate. What are your thoughts on this, and what factors should students consider when making this choice?pen_spark

Abhishek Subbaiah-” I haven’t worked under a senior advocate so I cannot comment on this. I should assume that each sector has its own pros and cons. As regards money, one can run a fact check in either case to understand which position pays how much.

To say that money is irrelevant is a very incorrect statement – I understand why the notion of a big paycheck seems attractive to many (I joined the corporate sector myself), but do keep in mind that it is really, really important to work on portfolios that one LIKES. I can’t stress this enough – those who work only for the money don’t usually do very good work and even when they do, it’s drudgery for them (combined with long work hours, that isn’t a good formula).”

5)There’s a perception that securing many internships is vital for success. Do you think quality of experience matters more than quantity, and how can students without connections make themselves competitive?

Abhishek Subbaiah-” I think the quality of the internships matter a lot more than the quantity. I’ve seen a lot of organisations choose interns on a lot more than just contacts (but it’s usually based on the next marker, grades) but no doubt contacts help. If you think you deserve an internship, try and find ways to prove it – draft a good cover letter, an apt CV and simply work hard to identify good people willing to identify talent. I know this is easier said than done, and I agree that it is a hard job and a very sad state of affairs generally. Firms and organisations also need to change (many have).”

6)Not everyone can get into top-tier law schools due to limited seats. What advice would you give to students who faced this disappointment?pen_spark

Abhishek Subbaiah-” I know a lot of great lawyers (and even interns, any level, really) from other law schools, all of whom have made it big and function at the highest echelons of performance. I don’t need to say any more.”

7)Do you think participating in (and winning) moot court competitions is essential to becoming a successful lawyer? What about students who don’t enjoy mooting?

Abhishek Subbaiah-” I can’t answer this question – I didn’t really moot much in college. I’m sure it does help, from what I’ve limitedly experienced and generally seen. I wouldn’t deem it compulsory to enter the corporate space, though.”

8)With so many online law courses available, should law schools be updating their curriculums to make these courses unnecessary? What changes would you suggest?pen_spark

Abhishek Subbaiah-” Oh yes, there is always room to improve. The biggest lessons need to be imparted just before getting into law schools, actually –  so that onus is at a schooling level, first of all. Secondly, there’s always room for improvement in terms of making available better and more relevant courses and I’m sure every good law school is aware of this and trying to adapt (if not, they really should).

Suggestions from professionals have always been the same – structure and allow for a lot more extra seminar courses that allow practicing advocates and lawyers to disseminate their knowledge.”

9) Many law students struggle to choose a specialization. How would you recommend they approach this decision, especially considering market competition and evolving technologies?pen_spark

Abhishek Subbaiah-” Focus on what’s not working out by identifying it, reevaluate your position and then adapt to the requirement, even if it means learning and working a lot harder than those who manage to get through. There’s no harm in taking other routes, either – conceptions of what is a ‘top’ job is very subjective and it really isn’t the only avenue open to become successful.”

10)Students nowadays are very confused regarding the area of law they should choose. Even if they know their area of interest, they are getting confused on which one to choose because nowadays there is immense competition in the market and due to the rise of technology it creates uncertainty about the future of certain jobs. What would you say to the students?

Abhishek Subbaiah-” Interest and passion needs to come first – the other parameters are largely irrelevant especially a couple of years into one’s career. If you like it, you’ll find a way to make it work. The world is a law student’s oyster – just pick aspects that you love to work on!”

11)What’s the most important life/career lesson you’ve learned that all law students should know?

Abhishek Subbaiah-” Love what you do or you will never do what you love.”

12)Was there a pivotal moment or piece of advice that significantly impacted your career trajectory? Would you be willing to share it?

Abhishek Subbaiah-” Many things and acts, actually. I can’t go on record, though (smiles).”


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