Akanksha Antil is the Founder of ‘To Whom It May Concern’, an India-based legal talent management firm. She has over 10 years of experience in the recruitment, training and consulting space. Akanksha graduated from the National Academy of Legal Studies and Research (NALSAR) University in 2008 and found her calling in legal talent management space. She joined Rainmaker, a legal executive search firm, in 2009 and continued at Vahura until 2014. With this experience, she joined Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas (erstwhile AMSS) and help structure and manage their pan-India talent practice.
Q. You have extensive experience in the field of legal talent management. As a lawyer, what led you to decide that you want to focus on the areas of recruitment, training and consulting?
Joining the field of legal recruitment was not an immediate decision after college. I knew what I did not want to do viz. joining a corporate house or a law firm. Also, not so many career options were available at the time I graduated. I sat for judicial service coaching, spoke to people from different fields, worked with Central Information Commission for some time. In hindsight, meeting all these people from different backgrounds (students and professionals beyond the National Law School circuit) was instrumental in making me a good recruiter and a consultant. Then, one of my friends from law school told me about Rainmaker, a legal talent management company and it was love at the very first sound of it. I immediately knew what I wanted to do professionally. Working there was amazing and among other things, mentoring law students was very fascinating.. Rainmaker then (later Vahura) was a start-up led by a bunch of national law school students and HR professionals offering legal recruitment services. Working at Rainmaker and Vahura (in their formative years) was a fantastic and an enriching experience.
Q. During the Covid-19 pandemic, everyone’s mental state has been significantly affected. How would you recommend that candidates cope with the current situation and what factors should be considered while preparing for an online interview?
Firstly, one should not consider that the pandemic is a unique situation affecting only an individual, it’s a universal phenomenon. These difficult times are a good reminder of our privilege and we should be extremely thankful for them. Everything else is manageable. Of course, the pandemic is going to impact hiring for the next couple of years, especially those looking to join the workforce. Therefore, it is also the right time to prepare for interviews and hone one’s skills to come out as a better candidate. Students should think long term and acquire skills and knowledge to prepare themselves for the future. This includes writing research papers, brushing up on the basics of legal subjects, taking up extra courses and remote internships, networking, etc. It is also important to take a step back and relax and spend time with your loved ones and pursue some hobbies and interest which one couldn’t while being at law school.
An online interview is still an interview with the same format and criteria to select a candidate. The only difference in case of an online interview is that the recruiter is not available in person and that might just be the future of recruitment for a lot of campuses who are not in metro cities. [BASIC THINGS – INTERNET CONNECTION, PRESENTATION, EVERYTHING ELSE IS THE SAME]
Q. What are the aspects that you consider during legal recruitment? What is different about the recruitment process for individual employers and law firms?
There are a lot of factors that are vital to the legal recruitment process. The major factors remain your academic record, internships undertaken, participation in co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. All these collectively give a recruiter a clear picture about the candidate, about their seriousness towards their career, their personality, cultural fitment, future plans, etc. Among these factors, technical soundness and knowledge of basics are non-negotiable. The difference in recruitment for individual employers and law firms is very simple – a candidate is only required to fit in with a small set of people in case of former. While in a law firm, other than being the right fit for the team that you are hired for, one has to be the right cultural fit for the firm at large.
Q. You have headed the pan India talent management vertical at Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas (CAM). How was your experience different at CAM in comparison to that at Vahura?
Vahura trained me to be a top recruiter by giving me opportunity to hire for the top law firms and corporate houses in the county. As a recruiter, I guided candidates by quipping them with industry knowledge, helping them with their resumes, training them for the interviews and eventually negotiating their offers. At CAM, I moved to the client side and managed the hiring from fresher to Partner level. This helped me in understanding and experiencing client’s expectations from the prospective hires. It also helped me to understand the internship and hiring process for law students. I was part of the Day Zero interview panel from CAM at all major law schools during my tenure there. In a way, CAM completed my experience as a recruiter and a trainer.
Q. At CAM, how did you distinguish an interview of a fresher with that of a partner? What other factors do you consider during the latter’s recruitment? Further, what is the difference between questions asked for an internship interview and a fresher’s interview for a job?
In both cases, there are a few common things that you look for in a candidate – personality, attitude, cultural fitment, long term plans etc. The difference comes in the way you assess them on the technical grounds. For a fresher, you will look at their academics, knowledge of law, internships, co & extra-curricular activities. For a senior professional, clients look at the pedigree, work experience, technical soundness, business case and past track record on transactions and relationships with previous clients.
In case of an internship interview, the assessment is less complicated and quite basic as it involves assessing a candidate for a 4-week period. A lot of firms, as you would have seen, don’t necessarily have an internship interview. Typically, a candidate is shortlisted on the basis of his resume itself.
However, in case of a fresher, it’s a different ball game altogether. You have to understand that this is where the transition from a student to a professional is accomplished. As a fresher becomes the part of the firm involving a long-term commitment, a detailed interview is conducted so that the right decision can be taken.
Q. You are the founder of ‘To Whom It May Concern’. What led to the discovery of your own start up? How’s working at your own start up different from your previous experience of handling legal recruitment at CAM, Vahura & Rainmaker?
At CAM, I felt there was a dire need for quality recruiters who would spend time getting to know their clients and candidates and accordingly make the right match. Also, in the law school space, after sitting for innumerable PPO and day zero interviews at CAM, I realized there is no training option available for students which will equip them with not only resume writing, interview skills but also with the right industry knowledge. At Vahura, I was trained by the best in the industry, Mr. Lee Ignatius and Mr. Ritvik Lukose. At CAM, I had the wonderful opportunity to work closely with Mrs. & Mr. Shroff and was trained by Dr. Jay Narayanan. Combining both the experiences at prestigious institutions like Vahura & CAM, I started ‘To Whom It May Concern’ (TWIMC).
Working for myself has given me the independence to be a quality oriented and not a target orient professional. It has also given me the flexibility to pursue my interests, training law school students being a big part of it.
Akanksha Antil was interviewed by Sandeep Golani, a campus ambassador at LegitQuest. Sandeep is a third year BA. LLB student at the National Law School, Odisha.