My internship experience at the oldest law firm in my city, Kolkata, which also happened to be one of the most reputed firms in the country, was, in a word- disappointing. I had been pre-warned by fellow batchmates and seniors about the same. However, still went ahead with the internship for the incentive of having a reputed firm on my CV (Haven’t we all been guilty of falling for that incentive at some point in our legal careers?)
People said it was a ‘dying firm’, and in all probability they meant ‘dying’ in terms of the number of cases/ the profile of the cases that the firm got/ the financial status of the firm. What I found ‘dead’ at the firm, however, was what I’d like to call Atticus Finch-ism or the art of fighting for what one’s own conscience permits one to fight for, rather than simply fighting a case for the sake of fighting it.
Atticus Finch, the protagonist of one of the greatest American classics of all time, To Kill A Mocking Bird, was a lawyer who acted not in alignment with ‘morality’ but in alignment with his own conscience. While morality is subjective and the morality prevailing in that time and age, would have infact required him to choose not to defend the black man who had been alleged to have committed rape on a white woman, Atticus acted in alignment with his own conscience because as told by him to his little one, Scout, it was his own conscience that he had to live with and not the society’s. This would be one of the reasons why the youth today, who are perpetually questioning and condemning objective standards of morality, would love Atticus even more- because he advocated living with and as per one’s conscience and not with accepted standards of morality.
Thus having grown up with ideas of law inspired by Bollywood movies, John Grisham books, Alan Shore’s arguments and mostly Atticus Finch’s ideals, when I discovered that the things that my mentor wanted me to prove through research were things which it seemed like the law of the land was quite blatantly prohibiting, my own conscience was shaken and more often than not I found myself trying to prove things which were completely opposed to the convictions of my normally steady conscience.
Unfortunately, for me it was an exercise in the sort of practicality I hope to never acquire. I was to pin-point ambiguities where none existed in the law and maneuver the situation to suit the client’s requirements. Requirements, which were prima facie unjust. Often I found myself researching for proving my mentor’s arguments which seemed completely fallacious to me and arguments which she was unable to prove herself sometimes. The fact that I did not have, and could not gather any faith in those arguments whatsoever- logical, legal or moral- did not help matters much.
I was a disheartened, disgruntled soul. But as somebody famous (Charles Lamb) has said, “…he’s no lawyer who cannot take both sides..”, I think this was a great experience in learning to argue from both sides – even from sides you don’t particularly believe in the cause of.
Getting back to my internship experience, however.. there was another thing which did not exactly help my researching abilities a lot. The office had access to Manupatra, yes, but there was no multiple-users login facility available. So if one wanted to use Manupatra to research (which again, was also the only legal research database that the firm had access to) one either had to be very lucky, or first go around finding the person using the database, and then beg him/ her to vacate Manupatra for a while.
Now for the good things about the internship! There were indeed several good things about the internship.
Topping the list would definitely be the infrastructure, the library and the CCD Coffee Machine at the office which you could use any number of times you wanted. The machine usually gave us good coffee despite the fact that regardless of whether you chose Cappucino or Latte, you would always get exactly the same kind of coffee. Also, sometimes the machine would run out of coffee beans/ powder and you’d simply get a cup of warm milk. That too, though, was good rejuvenation from the mind-numbing research that you were expected to conduct there using IndianKanoon.
The library had a decent collection of books and Shibu Da was always readily available to find you whatever books you needed if the search got prolonged or difficult. Most of the upper level of the office (there were two levels) was made up of a calming shade of brown wood. The feel of the interiors was just the right amount of lightness mixed with heaviness- it made you want to work hard.
The work environment was great as well- atleast in terms of the discipline it taught you to maintain. In my first week, I managed to get pally with my co-interns. One of those days, these friends of mine happened to be leaving office by 5.57 pm as they were done with their work. Realizing that I was done with mine too, I went up to my mentor and asked if I could leave. I was informed that I could, but only after 2 minutes. A little confused I asked her if there was any other work she wanted me to do. She showed me the watch and reminded me that office timings were till 6.00 pm and it was only 5.58 pm. That was the last time I ever asked her if I could leave early. Great work enviroment and great timings – 10.30 am to 6.00 pm. My boss’s boss though, was extremely cooperative – he gave you early leaves and tried making sure that you were having no difficulties working around in the firm.
The co-interns and the lunch hour you spend interacting/ hanging out with them is b.r.i.l.l.i.a.n.t. It makes up for everything else. This, however, depends on your luck with the kind of co-interns you get.
Another thing that was good about the internship was that the interns never looked down upon the ones who had come by way of a ‘reference’.What was disturbing was the knowledge that nobody looked down upon those who’d come by way of references because ALL the interns there had been picked up by way of ‘references’. Not a single intern there (including myself) had been chosen on the basis of merit. Inquiries conducted by the interns amongst themselves for purposes of curiosity-satisfaction revealed this disturbing piece of information.
One amazing thing was the end number of food stalls that line up the lanes near the High Court- this area was definitely the Glutton’s Paradise. It had good food, brilliant food, amazing food, and all kinds of food. You name it and they had it! The food was reasonable as well. Just what a disgruntled intern needs at the end/ middle of the long summer days to keep himself rejuvenated and ready for whatever tasks are thrown his way.
And last but far from the least, the fact that this was my first stipend internship added to the delight of it all. I received a stipend of Rs. 1,500 for my 4 weeks at the firm. This sort of made up for everything else. Also, birthdays at the firm were celebrated with cakes from Kookie Jar, and birthdays of about 4 associates fell in the month of May. Needless to say, we got treated to delicious birthday cakes almost every week of our internship. That helped to make things better.
All in all, it was an experience worth having. There was one thing the internship convinced me of beyond reasonable doubt – I never wanted to sell my soul to a law firm. Not anytime in the near future anyway. The firm just described in the experience, by the way, is Fox Mandal and Associates, Kolkata- the oldest law firm of the city.
Despite everything, it is a great place to be for those wanting to move up the corporate ladder and earn ‘big bucks’. The cases that the firm got while I was interning there were definitely some of the most high profile cases of the city. Regardless of how the other branches of the firm are performing in the other major cities in India, Fox Mandal, Kolkata, is certainly a good place to begin for the future Corp Maestros. Maybe not that great for an Atticus Finch follower.
This is the unedited version of the write-up which was submitted as an entry to the Lexis-Nexis Lawctopus Summer Internship Writing Competition, 2014. The post was published on the website after incorporating suitable changes to make it more acceptable for Lawctopus and certain additions were made to the write-up to make it more suitable for Star In The Boulevard. The Lawctopus entry may be found here http://www.lawctopus.com/internship-fox-mandal-associates-kolkata/
Disclaimer: The ideas expressed here are a representation of the facts from the point of view of the author and sometimes indulge in the use of a sarcastic sense of humor purely for the purpose of making the post a little more interesting/ entertaining. No offence whatsoever is meant to any person/ their views/ opinions/ sensitivities.