In Conversation With Deeksha Malik, Senior Associate, Khaitan & Co| BW Legal World 30 Under 30

In this fireside chat with Chandril Chattopadhyay, Junior Correspondent, BW Legal World, Deeksha talks about her journey in law. She talks about her mentors, the importance of AI in Law, importance of higher degrees and much more

Many congratulations on winning the BW Legal World 30 under 30. How was your initial reaction after joining the elite club of BW Legal World 30 Under 30 Lawyers and Legal Influencers? How was your experience interacting with the jury and of the event? 

DM: This is the second time I have won the coveted award, and it truly fills me with motivation and gratitude. BW is one of the very few platforms that reward young legal professionals for their work and contribution to the legal fraternity, and by doing so, BW has kept pace with the changing times (gone are the days when young lawyers would be expected to keep their head down with no expectation of acknowledgment from seniors, let alone the larger legal community itself). 

My experience of the event and of interacting with the jury was special. The jury members were grounded and approachable, and it was amazing to see some of them talk about their humble beginnings at the event. 

Please walk us through your journey in this field of law? When did you first realize that law was your life’s calling? 

DM: At the outset, I wanted to become a civil servant, and my law school journey was supposed to be a means to that end. However, when I started studying law, things took a 180 degree turn. I realised that I have good analytical skills which, when combined with my reading and comprehension abilities, could be used appropriately to find solutions to complex legal situations. This is besides the fact that I also began to see possession of legal knowledge as empowering.  

Who according to you has been your guide and mentor when you started working as a lawyer and what did you imbibe from him as a junior? 

DM: I always say that my mentor has been Mr Anshul Prakash (Partner, Employment Labour and Benefits, Khaitan & Co). Anshul is a dedicated and disciplined individual and professional, and that shows from all achievements he has won in a limited span of time while maintaining a strong relationship with his family. Amongst the many things I have learnt from him, patience and perseverance top the list. No wonder he made it to BW Legal 40 under 40 apart from receiving many other notable recognitions.   

How did you decide on your practice area when you started looking for a job? How much do you think internships helped in carving out a pathway for young lawyers who intend to get in the profession? 

DM: For me, the exposure to employment law was purely by chance. I never set out to become an employment lawyer, but while working in a different practice area, I realised that I wish to take up a subject area that is relevant to ordinary people and the issues they come across and deal with on a day to day basis. This was my first year at Khaitan & Co, and I made a switch to employment law practice that seemed to me to be satisfying the above criterion. Little did I know that I would end up enjoying this subject in no time and continue my professional journey therein. 

In my case, internships have played the most important role in understanding how law comes into action in the real life and in bridging the gap between theoretical and practical knowledge (which unfortunately is large owing to the curriculum followed in several law schools in the country). Also, it would have been very difficult for me to make a leap of faith and explore employment law practice had I not worked in an employment law team as an intern. 

I would end this answer with just one tip for law students. Every experience has its own time, and fortunately, we get nearly half-a-decade of opportunities to explore and identify our area of interest. Therefore, it is advisable to not chase law firms from the very first year of law school just because our “popular” seniors have made a mark for themselves while working at firms. Each of our journeys is different, hence it is recommended to explore a range of fields from litigation to law firm work before pinning at a specific practice domain.   

Do you think higher degrees like LL.M. can enhance the skill set for a lawyer? If so, according to you which is the right time to pursue the same for a lawyer who has just entered the profession? 

DM: My response may seem biased as I gave up my offer from the University of Cambridge to continue my journey in the employment law practice, but it worked well for me. Ultimately, the extent of the benefits of a higher degree would depend on the path one chooses for oneself. If one intends to continue to work at an Indian law firm (as I did), a higher degree may not provide a significant advantage (although studying in a global environment works great for one’s personal development even in such case). Regarding the latter question, I do feel that it is good to have at least 1-2 years of work experience so that one can better appreciate the nuances of the subject they seek to specialise in. 

Do you believe that AI and Technology will supersede the lawyering skills in the coming times, especially with the recent hype around ChatGPT and other AI softwares? 

DM: In my view, we should see AI and technology in general as working in tandem with the vast capabilities that we as human professionals have to offer. Our research tools are, for instance, getting better with time and innovation. However, as humans, we have a great ability to analyse complex legal problems and come up with solutions that are bespoke vis-à-vis the specific factual context and our lived experiences. As an employment lawyer, while dealing with, say, an employee exit matter, my advice has to be circumstance-driven; I have to tap into the possible emotional state of the employee in question to advise my client as to whether communicating about the exit decision in a certain way can be absorbed by the individual without a lot of friction. I do not think the technology can come up with that level of precision in advice, at least as yet.   

What are you doing if not lawyering? What are your hobbies in general? 

DM: I have been a classical dancer, hence my first instinct when not lawyering is to dance my heart out. Other than that, I enjoy reading non-fiction and working on the blog I have been running for law students since 2018 (The Indian Review of Corporate and Commercial Laws).  

As a parting note, would you please recommend a favorite book that left a lasting impression on you? What has been your most recent read? 

DM: One of my recent favorites is Indra Nooyi’s My Life in Full: Work, Family, and Our Future. It is inspirational. My most recent read, however, is The Liberation of Sita by Volga. 

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