We have time and again heard our seniors in the profession tell us about how we must be careful when choosing our areas of specialisation and how making a transition at a later stage might be a challenge.
We have also heard a lot about how a corporate job is very different from that of litigation. No matter how many years of experience you may have as a corporate lawyer, if you want to start over in litigation, you may have to start from scratch.
For those of you looking for a change and wanting to take the leap, here is our conversation with Adv. Firoz Berly, ex- Ernst and Young GDS, who tells us how he made a sucessful transition from corporate law to litigation.
Please give us an introduction about yourself.
My name is Firoz Berly, I graduated from the National University of Advanced Legal Studies, the first National Law University of Kerala in 2016 and started working with Thomson Reuters LMS as a contract drafting attorney, through our campus placement program. TRLMS was later acquired by Ernst and Young GDS and shortly after that transition, I left my role, at the Assistant Manager level.
Was there a particular reason that you chose to study law?
The conventional education system that I had at that time prioritized the moulding of students into engineers and doctors. It worked against me and I ended up doing badly in school. However, I had a great aptitude for reading and consuming information. After I left school, my family and I were a bit confused on how to further my education and during that time one of my dad’s friends recommended that I take up law since I read a lot. And that’s how I chose law!
Was getting your first job, your actual preferred job when you passed out of law school?
I honestly didn’t have a preference for the job that I wanted to take up. But I think deep down, I knew the skillset that I wanted to gain. I wanted to write and speak well, so that I could clearly articulate my thoughts to the people around me. Because I believe that being able to clearly communicate with the community that you are in, helps translate certain things into action, for everyone’s benefit. So I took up the first job that would help me inculcate those habits that would get me to that skillset.
What made you switch from corporate to litigation?
Within two years of my life in corporate, I gained a certain amount of knowledge which greatly changed my perception. Firstly, I realized that I was spending 10 hours a day (on an average) and using my intellect and energy, to help a profit-making entity gain more profits. I mean, sure, I was getting adequately paid for the job but it felt futile. Because after those 10 hours, I would use that money to reward myself with experiences that demanded the use of my salary. It ended up feeling like a vicious and unhealthy cycle to put myself in and I clearly wasn’t saving enough. After a point, I realized that it made more sense to make those 10 hours of work a reward in itself and for that, I needed a job (a) where I could be independent (b) where I could be of better service to the people around me (c) where my value increases even after reaching the average retirement age and (d) which was flexible.
The second realization that I had, which is more personal, came during the CAA protests, the most prominent protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in India that were happening across the country. I come from a community of Muslims and during that period I could see and feel fear, anger and discomfort gripping across young people from that community. It was clear that all of those emotions stemmed from a sense of helplessnes. That was when I realised, when the secular and welfare state that we grew up in, slowly shows signs of turning into an majoritarian and authoritarian state, we needed to have a better understanding of the law, especially, the criminal justice system. Because when you become a part of a community that is discriminated or marginalized, the law is the last line of defense before you end up becoming subservient or even, violent.
It was these two realizations, that made me take up litigation. To become an independent individual, who could set his own terms and who had the necessary tools in hand to deal with the issues that he foresaw.
Like the great writer and ethnobotanist, Terrence Mckenna said “A man without a plan, becomes a part of another man’s plan”.
Where do you work now and how did you get this role?
I now work at one of the top Law Firms in Thiruvananthapuram, Dileep Sathyan & Associates in Trivandrum. I spoke to a few people in my batch who were doing litigation. I told them about my interests. One of their relatives connected me to his office.
How easy was the switch?
To be honest, I panicked on my first day of litigation because it felt extremely different from the environment that I was in for the past 3 years. But within the first month I realized that both the roles were oddly similar - you are still interpreting the law, you are still dealing with clients and instead of arguing with other lawyers for your clients you are now in one way, arguing with judges.
The only aspect that does feel difficult during the switch is the payout. You have to really grind and be patient to start getting that money in your hands, either from your client or from your senior advocate.
For anyone, who is planning to make a switch, I would only ask them to consider one thing, i.e. whether they have the option to “leverage their privelege” and what I really mean is that, “Will your family be able to provide you money for shelter, food, clothes and transport for a period of 2-3 years?”
Taking that into consideration, makes the switch easier.
Do you need different skills to pursue litigation, as compared to corporate?
Nothing. Only interest. Everyone learns on the go.
Corporate Job is said to be a 9 to 5 job. Litigation has no such timing, and it is full time. Is this true? How did you manage to cope up with this dynamic change in timing, and what do you prefer?
I think the very assumption that corporate is a 9 to 5 job is wrong. Atleast in the legal field, it’s not. As lawyers, the amount of time that you need to invest to help your clients is immense, just like doctors. The only difference is in the amount of mandated leaves that corporate provides for its employees. You don’t have that benefit while working in the litigation field. You do have court holidays, but you might end up working then too.
So the change in timing didn’t feel that dynamic. However, I had to realign expectations with my loved ones. I had to make them understand that my timings would be a bit more unpredictable than it was in corporate and that I can’t take leaves as easily as I could before.
Even though there is the grind and work timings are unpredictable, I still prefer the litigation field because I know that the time that I am investing now will adequately reward me later, in terms of flexibility and payout.
And for anyone who does have more questions on these kind of transitions, feel free to write to me at [email protected]!