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On Investment Banking, Consultancy, and the Road to Business School: A Conversation with Apurva Shuk

Apurva Shukla graduated from Law School in 2016. He went on to join Deutsche Bank, where he worked for 1.5 years before moving to a FSG, a consulting firm. He is now taking a break before he starts his MBA and MS in Design Innovation Degree at the Kellogg School of Management this fall. Quirk asked him to share with us some of his experiences working as an investment banking analyst and as a consultant.

Hi Apurva, thanks for taking out time for this interview. Can you start by telling us a little bit about your time in Law School? What committees were you a part of, what kind of activities were you interested in, and what did you prioritise?

So, I had a fairly humdrum Law School life, which is to say I did most of the usual stuff. In most things, like sports, academics, mooting and debating, I was painfully okay. So I carved my own path in some ways and did not partake much in committee-life.

In my third year, I co-started a humour and satire email account called Jitenge.bhi.Jitenge. This account used to send these ludicrous emails to my batch to drum up interest in our sporting events, but over time, it grew to be much larger than that. Some of the things we did with it were quite bold. Once we wrote to the VC to bless our mid-law party and allow us to take a cement duck from his lawn to be our party mascot. A lot of random things like that, but our humour in those emails was always top-notch. This innocent experiment was my first brush of doing something new and very unique to me in Law School. 

Towards the end of college, I had a big desire to give back. It’s hard to state here how much Law School changed me. I came in as a cocky guy who was greatly insecure about most things beneath the surface. Law School beat up my ego well and, in the process, made me more humble and self-aware, which explains my desire to give back. So, in my final year, I stood for the position of Vice President of the SBA and co-started Quirk. As a result, my final year of college was my most busy and challenging year of all of my five years at Law School. 

As a whole, I think I prioritised activities that lead to my own self-development. I felt that the student experience of Law School was very sub-optimal and undertook initiatives to improve that. It was this desire to improve Law School’s communal aspects that led me to prioritize Jitenge.bhi, SBA and Quirk. 

It’s now been four years since you graduated Law School. What have you been doing since then? 

Immediately post-Law School, I worked in the Consumer & Retail investment banking team at Deutsche Bank (DB). This was in Hong Kong and Mumbai. I worked there for a bit over 1.5 years, after which moved to FSG, a social impact consulting firm in Mumbai. I spent exactly 2 years there, and since February 2020, I have been on a break from work till I go to business and design school. 

Was choosing an alternative career a difficult choice to make, given the importance of corporate law jobs especially around 4th year in Law School? 

This is a hard question to answer. In some ways, it was a straight forward choice because the opportunities in law were not appealing to me. But yeah, what was challenging was the uncertainty of trudging down an uncharted track. In hindsight, it seems silly. Doing an IB analyst role is maybe one of the most well-defined career paths out there.

One of the options in law that I did consider was to litigate. I felt a draw towards both its entrepreneurial and intellectual sides. I had also, foolishly, romanticised the hustle involved in litigation. After I had done a stellar internship in the Bombay High Court in my third year, I began to seriously consider it, but there were some grave doubts in my mind. First, I was unsure if I wanted to spend decades of my life in just one city. The second was that I did not know if I loved law enough to sustain interest to grind it out for years. And the third, the most practical one, was that I did not know how to financially sustain myself in the early years. Being reliant on my parents was not appealing. 

With these doubts, I felt I should still give corporate law a chance. So I ended up doing a two-week internship at a big law firm. That experience was sufficient for me to know that it was definitely not meant for me. I was not put off by work or the hours per se, but more by the unhappiness and unprofessionalism I saw around me. Everyone was always walking on eggshells, teams did not seem to be collaborative with one another, interns were given the most mindless work, hiring was nepotistic etc. Everyone was decently remunerated, but the lifestyle and culture were not appealing.

Soon afterwards, DB came to take interns and thankfully they picked me. Later they gave me a full-time role and that marked the end of my career in law. After this, I never considered going back to the law except for one time, towards the end of my time at DB, when I gave an interview with a very senior person at a kickass law firm. After they awarded me an offer, I immediately knew I had made a mistake and retracted my application with profuse apologies.

How do you feel about not working with the law per se, which is a concern many people in Law School have about alternative careers? 

Oh, I love not being involved in the law. It has probably been the best decision I’ve made to date. I had grown exceptionally disillusioned with the teaching and practice of law by my fourth year, especially how it eschewed any form of legal empiricism. And once you get disenchanted like that, it’s hard to recover. 

I think all those who wish to explore alternative careers should know that staying in the law is far more straightforward than hustling outside it. Being from NLS, you enjoy unparalleled privilege. Even inside law firms, NLS folks have more visibility with the decision-makers. So breaking away from the law does puncture this privilege significantly. Mind you, I am not saying that a career in law is by any means easy, far from it in fact. All I’m saying is that it’s predictable. But once, you get over that fear, you realize that predictability was a silly notion to hold dear. 

On a more abstract note, breaking away from the law did open up the world and its wonders to me in profound ways. Surrounded by highly smart folks with backgrounds in engineering, economics, business etc., was the best bit. There is much to be learnt from these different schools of thinking. 

What are the demands of a job as an investment banking analyst? What about as a consultant? Do you think your education at law school has helped you with the job?

The analyst role is an old and well-greased way to step into investment banking. In this role, you are under the tutelage of senior bankers, where you assist them in either completing corporate transactions or seeking new business. Unlike law firms, here you get involved early into the transaction process because a part of your role is to originate transactions i.e. go to a CEO and propose a potential M&A etc. It’s a great role with a steep learning curve.

As a consultant, your subject matter is vastly different. While you are still in the business of selling services, the kind of business problems you solve differs dramatically. Here you pitch to solve an operational or strategic issue faced by a client. As a result, you generally experience a variety of projects of different types (unlike transactions in investment banking, which differ significantly in terms of nuances but are still financial problems). 

I worked in FSG, a social impact consulting firm, where we primarily helped the government, philanthropic foundations and corporations invest their capital in ways that led to the most beneficial impact. The ‘Law, Poverty and Development’ course taught by Ms Neha Mishra was a big influence on my moving to FSG and wanting to blend business realism and social impact. Some of my projects at FSG included helping scale a for-profit education company that served low-income primary schools in urban India, designing toys that children in low-income households could use to learn fundamentals of math and English from the concept of play, help shape global sanitation policy by understanding what made some sanitation businesses more profitable than others etc. Interesting work overall.

In most junior roles, the expectations are the same. People want you to take ownership, ask smart questions, have an eye for detail, show a good attitude etc. They call these things basic hygiene. Though law school did not prepare me for the technicals of any job, it did help me be decent at these aspects. However, it was never the classroom instruction or the projects that helped me here. It was all the learning I experienced in leadership roles. 

What is the best / worst part of these careers? 

Hmm, this is another tricky question to answer because the best/worst is so subjective to the specific role and individual. The best bit about junior roles outside the law is the steep learning curve of new skills and ways of thinking. What I mean by this is that law school is great at teaching you how to either make or defend an argument. What it glosses over is how to make an on-ground change. And this is what most businesses are about.

So for example, even our projects are intellectual exercises. For any topic, we consult the various legislations, explore the debates behind their drafting, deep dive into opinions and judgments of courts and study prior academic thought. All of this is done with an agenda to look at an existing issue from, hopefully, a new unexplored academic angle. But all the while, there is little thought on how to change the issue, on how to mobilize action, on how to create sustainable models that actually change things on the ground! 

So back to my point, the careers outside the law, especially in business, are centered around a different way of thinking. They involve attacking an issue with an attitude of ‘how can we solve it’, as opposed to ‘how can we study it’. Also, careers outside the law also allow for more freedom to manoeuvre around and assume greater leadership roles early in the career.

What would be your piece of advice to someone looking to explore a career in these areas?

Network, network, network. Finding what you want and then breaking in is the hard bit. So try many things, learn some marketable skills, speak to many people and get a host of experiences. Most people want to help university students, so reach out! You’ll be surprised at how generous people are with their time. I am also happy to be contacted using this link

The other thing I suggest is to decide early if you want to break away from the law. If you’re in fourth or fifth year with a modest inkling that you may not enjoy working in a law firm, try doing an internship in something else to test the waters. There is so much happening in Bangalore right now. It’s harder to discover alternate career options 2-3 years into a law firm job if you haven’t already allowed yourself the freedom to explore what you like.

What made you choose to go to business school? Do you think your time at Law School influence this choice in any way? Did an education in law help with this decision?

I had decided that I wanted to go to business school fairly early. Again, this came from a desire to have a more global career. When I was working in Hong Kong in DB, I did feel that our tiny law school’s brand did not mean much at the global sphere. This is true when you step outside the law. Apart from that, I also want to move into the tech industry in the long-term. So a business school does help with that transition. I don’t know how much of an influence law school had on this decision of mine. I would have likely made this choice even if I had not gone to law school.

What would be your advice to someone looking to go to business school?

Business schools want students who have adequately flapped their professional wings before committing to school. Therefore, the factor that business schools care most about is how much you have personally and professionally evolved. So go do what your heart tells you to. There is no one defined path to business school.

That being said, business schools look for signs of demonstrated leadership. They want people who have questioned the status-quo, thrived at work, navigated through some hard decisions etc. They also like people who have been intentional and serious about their career moves.

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