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An estimated 5-minute read

Due Diligence and Dreaming Beyond It.

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Note: This is a very rambly account of my very first impressions interning at a large law firm. It is amateurish, shortsighted and somewhat one-sided, but I post it anyway because I know many of my friends and classmates experience the same first impressions and face the same difficult career choices. I have occasionally exaggerated for comic effect, and no offence is meant.

It's a beautiful day outside.

And by beautiful, I mean, of course, that it's pouring angry grey bullets of water outside. Because the monsoon is the nicest weather in Mumbai. (If you think something else, we can agree to disagree on this.) When it isn't raining, slate blue water sparkles in the sun with the faint silhouettes of ships bobbing in the distance. God's in his heaven and all's well with the world. Or something like that.

It's a beautiful day all right. So what do you do? You do what's obvious.

You take yet another sip of the craptastic office-machine coffee and bury your nose in yet another file. When you take your nose out, a few hours later, your eyes are pink with the strain and there are ink marks on your fingers from the cheaply printed documents the Tehsil office sent. You never want to hear the phrase 'Articles of Association' ever again, and you want to cause physical injury to the next Nominee Director' you see.  It doesn't take a doctor to know what you're suffering from, it simply takes a law student who has ever interned in the corporate department of a reasonably large firm. You, my friend, have been felled by the Due Diligence scourge.

The problem with students having aspirations toward corporate law is, they don't really know what the job involves. All they see in their ickle, romantic minds, is the vague image of a Dude with great hair, wearing something with a logo on it and striding importantly past the hoi polloi at airports, leaving them in a cloud of expensive perfume. It's a mix of all those car ads where men with good hair and great teeth are always sipping champagne inside their cars and driving on excellent roads with beautiful women next to them.

The funny thing I found out is that - it's true. There are some differences of course. Corporate lawyers tend to look more like Tiku Talsania than Christian Bale for example, and rather more tend to be balding than you'd expect. But a large part of the impression is true. They do have the cars, and they can get the women. They wear the suits and talk in that special lingo ("we'd like to leverage that equity so we can shift our paradigms") that no one else really gets, so you do come away suitably impressed.

Sold on that lifestyle, you push GPAs and pull strings, levers and your daddy's hands to get an internship at Awesome & Awesome LLP. You spit-polish your shoes, throw a tantrum until the presswalah creases your pants to perfection, part your hair so you look like Imran Khan and even shave. You land up at work, your arms outstretched, ready to take on the world.

Instead, you take on a three-foot high pile of files. Mr Bored McJaded (Associate) explains. "Diligence", he says. You are puzzled, but proceed to exercise your rather expensively earned legal acumen on spotting spelling errors, adding up figures and correcting numbering and formatting. You take it all back to Mr Bored, eager to find out what happens next. What happens next is diligence. And what happens after? Diligence. What about after that? I hate to kill the suspense, but diligence it is.

One week down and you're an old hand at this diligence stuff. You look at the new files presented to you every day, with a jaundiced eye. You can spot a spelling error at fifty paces. You deliberately make offhand comments like "Oh, that minutes book hasn't been initialled..it's a Section 291 violation" to impress the new interns, with an air suggestive of Soli Sorabjee casually pointing out a gamechanging flaw in Ram Jethmalani's argument in some high profile case. The highest point of your day is when you realise that Property X does not have the relevant Zone certificate. You quickly make a note on a colourful Post-It which comes as part of the endless supply of fancy stationery your office supplies you.

Whenever you zone out (once every ten minutes), you idly surf the internet and chat with your fellow sufferers in large legal sweatshops, who agree that most of the Important and Glamorous work they were expecting to see, seems to be the correcting of spelling errors with Staedtler pencils and the highlighting of arithmetic mistakes with expensive German-made highlighters. You decide to investigate the situation and approach Mr Bored McJaded. Without looking up, he says "Diligence". And you say "What happens after?" And he looks surprised at your question. "The making of a comprehensive report on every aspect." he says. And then? "We make a term sheet with a list of issues" he says. And then? "You use it to negotiate, and you draft your contract" he says. Ah, so THATS where all your work goes, then! And here you were thinking that all your diligence simply ends up at The Great File in the Sky. You are reassured... there IS more to corporate law than diligence! Relief.

So this negotiation, do you bang on tables and bargain actively? you ask. No, he says. We sit around a table and discuss files. What is all this nonsense, what are you imagining. We are not a fish market.

Duly chastened, you slink back to your seat and watch as your friends in Litigation departments of firms babble excitedly online about twisted arguments and hard-won adjournments and fights with Judges and cross examinations. They post photos of their grimy, sweaty selves shading their eyes from the cruel sun outside Courts. They tell stories of funnily drafted divorce plaints and property disputes dating from 1986 where the most bitterly fought-over asset is a Sumeet mixer-grinder. Every day it's a new case.

You read it all, sit back in your comfortably padded, ergonomically designed chair, shut your eyes as someone turns the airconditioning up, and, for the first time, really truly wonder about the career choice you've (almost) made.

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