MGA Legal - For that cup of coffeeMini Gautam
I was always good in academics and other extra - curricular activities in school and dreamt of making it big one day. Law was not just a career choice but more of a lifestyle move for me. Every part of me was a lawyer, I didn’t know what else I could do or be. At the time I joined (2005) the number of national law schools in the country were not as many as today. I didn’t get through any of them. ILS Law College in Pune took admissions based on board marks, being a good student I had the requisite cut off and started off my journey.
After graduating, I worked in a number of companies and law firms. Many places didn’t call me for an interview because I wasn’t from a national law school. The prejudice against other law colleges is so strong that you won’t even be considered.
I remember joining a place and asking a fellow associate, “are there any coffee places around?” She stared at me as if she didn’t understand my question. Later I got to know, that this was something unimaginable. In office hours, one could not step out for a cup of coffee. You couldn’t take half an hour out of your own life to relish a beverage in peace. Superiors and bosses insulted you at any given opportunity, if you walked out at 7 p.m. pointless work was created to ensure you stayed till 9 the next day.
Somehow, I could never accept this work culture which seemed so prevalent in corporate India. The idea was always that as long as you are working for me, I own all your time. There was no freedom to speak your mind, the employees loved by the bosses were always those who kept praising them or excuse my language, “sucking up” to them. When I tried communicating that maybe the work environment needs to be improved, the response, not so subtlety put was, anyone who doesn’t like it, can leave. Nobody is indispensable. One will leave, ten will join. Employee retention is something law firms just don’t understand. Yes, India has a huge population and you will always get resources, but are you looking for a document manufacturing machine or an inspired and initiated young person with a spark in them. The former, you will always have at your doorstep, the latter, will be hard to attract.
Many law firms are bleak and depressing places to work in, but many corporates also subscribe to such thinking. Leaving at 7 p.m. is looked upon as a crime. Why can’t we respect that people have a life outside the workplace, and more importantly, what do you achieve by making people just sit in office without work. Life is short. People have families and friends and hobbies. Or have we forgotten all these things.
I finally started work at a place where the environment was much better and I felt appreciated. But by then I had realized one thing, some birds can’t be caged. There are many problems with the work culture in India, but we have to be the change ourselves. The solution to not liking your boss or your office work culture can’t always be to shift to a better place, at some time, some of us have to take an initiative and create good workplaces in this country where employees feel happy and appreciated and their jobs bring a smile to their faces. Volume of work is mostly never the problem, it is the attitude of your boss that affects you so much.
I didn’t get hired by the top law firms of the country and didn’t get a well - paying job in USA/UK. But I know one thing, none of it would have given me the happiness I am getting by being a creator. In fact I am happy those things didn’t work out, failure and rejection inspire you much more in life.
Today, I am building my own organization brick by brick. It is a process and it will take time. I don’t expect to be the top law firm of the city from day one. But I do know one thing, my juniors will always be treated well. I also get upset and irritated with juniors at times, but I know how it feels to be young and discouraged. It’s time we realize that this is a national problem, unhappy workplaces. Clients will always be the primary focus, but nobody can work in isolation, or at least nobody can go far in isolation. Our employees make or break us as workplaces. Money is just one thing, but you need to earn respect, both from your clients and your juniors. The first comes through good work, the second, through a sympathetic attitude.
I was and still am, scared of failure. But failure now seems like something remote and impossible. Yes, I believe that it is impossible for me to fail, not out of arrogance but because I know that I will only fail when I stop trying. And I am never going to stop trying.