Shreya Vajpei is a legal innovator, legal technology writer and advisor, and practice development professional – having begun her career as a lawyer. In this interview with Asia Law Portal, she details the journey that led her to her focus on legal innovation – and how the law students of today might engage with non-conventional roles.
You currently work in Practice Development at Bharucha & Partners. Tell us more about what you do in this role.
As part of the Practice Development Group at Bharucha & Partners, my team works on everything that contributes to the growth of the Firm – whether it be practice, people, processes or technology. Practice Development in that sense is a lot broader than simple business development. My work ranges from working on business intelligence (collecting, monitoring, and analysing Firm or market data) to building or acquiring solutions based on the needs of the teams and the Firm. We also work towards collating market intelligence for initiatives and participate in visibility enhancement initiatives for the Firm. As a group, we always try to make the lives of our lawyers’ easier, so they can focus on what matters the most – the law.
You earlier worked with elite law firms in India, but then transitioned to practice development. What led you from practicing law to a career focus on practice development within law?
A lot of it was happenstance.
I started practicing law at one of the biggest firms in India. At that time they had the policy of ‘rotation’ for new law graduates, i.e. each of us got to work with three distinct practice areas before making a choice as to the practice area we wanted to build out our practice in. In hindsight, it was a great experience, because it allowed me to experience both the transactional as well as the dispute resolution practices.
Though law was very exciting, I wanted to dabble in more than just the legal aspects of the profession. Around this time, I spoke to one of my colleagues’ spouse – who was running a law firm management consultancy. That was the introduction of practice management and practice development for me. Thereafter, I learnt about a similar role at Bharucha & Partners, and everything else just fell into place.
While a law student you founded The Blue Pencil, an independent blog run by the students at the Army Institute of Law – and were also a Campus Coordinator for Bar & Bench. Tell us more about these roles – and did they help lead you to your current career focus?
I started working with Bar and Bench in my second year of law school (in India, law school is for 5 years). As the Campus Coordinator for them, I worked very closely on collating news from across law colleges in India on events, competitions, recruitment drives, and the like. I even got the opportunity to interview some very interesting people. Working with Bar and Bench helped me understand how online content, CMS, SEO, etc work.
On the other hand, The Blue Pencil was born out of the need for a space where college students could learn all about what was happening on campus, interact (among themselves and with alumni), and generally have an unbiased space to air opinions. All of my learning from Bar and Bench directly translated in running The Blue Pencil. And within a year of its inception, we were a 15+ member team, we were running events within the college independently (student run orientations for new students (heavily inspired from Law School Toolbox), alumni interaction sessions, and even The Blue Fuze (a city level open mic event)).
I think it was the very varied experiences from my time at Bar and Bench and running The Blue Pencil that really drives me to constantly learn, experiment, and explore more. I really enjoy roles that are dynamic and multifarious, and to that end everything I do with the Practice Development Group fits right in.
How important is publishing to practice development?
Practice Development is a very wide area, and visibility enhancement and brand management is part and parcel of the same. For the latter, it’s important to understand that, in India, lawyers are barred from advertising their services. With the advent of the pandemic, much of the established modes of acquiring potential clients have broken-down, and an information void exists.
The sudden digital push has now led to more clients than ever using the internet to find their next lawyer. As a direct consequence, more and more lawyers are realising the importance of a digital presence and persona. And the simplest (and most efficient) way to showcase oneself as an expert in a particular field of law, is by content creation and publication.
You’ve also been involved in legal technology and innovation initiatives. Tell us more about this.
The profession of law is undergoing massive change (and at a rate the profession has not witnessed before). Technology is, of course, the biggest and most obvious driver, but there is also liberalisation and the “more-for-less” challenge as Richard Susskind points out. It is not only changing how the lawyers (and law firms) operate, but also client expectations. To deal with these changes, it has become more important than ever to depart from traditional ways of legal service delivery and look for more efficient and innovative ways. As part of the Practice Development Group, we regularly work on improving processes and building efficiencies while focusing on creative solutions.
Recently, I have also started working with UnLawyered. UnLawyered is trying to bridge the information gap that currently exists regarding the non-conventional roles and skills in the legal industry. It is building beginners’ guides aimed to acquaint one with emerging areas (like Legal Design, Legal Project Management, LegalTech), while also curating events and opportunities, so one can actually engage with these emerging areas and get hands-on learning.
What advice do you have for law students who might be considering a career in non-conventional roles in the legal industry?
Most new age careers for lawyers sit at the intersection of law and other disciplines. Some non-conventional roles are legal solutions architect, legal project manager, legal operations manager, etc.
First, I think it is important to change one’s mindset, and learn skills from other disciplines. The usual “I cannot do math” or “I do not understand tech” are embargoes to learning and need to be done away with. A lot of law students now are learning project management, coding, design thinking, data analysis, etc. and these skills are always useful – even if one decides to become a traditional practicing lawyer.
Second, is to revamp the learning process. Law school curriculum needs to change. But with access to internet (and all the information it has to offer) there is a plethora of resources to get you started and even specific initiatives like Hotshot Legal, DLEX, O-Shaped Lawyer, etc.
Lastly, it is important to understand how the profession is evolving and get involved in the conversation. A great starting point are the books: (I)Tomorrow’s Lawyers; and (II) the Future of Law by Richard Susskind. There are also a lot of blogs (Legal Evolution, Prism Legal, Artificial Lawyer, 3 Geeks and a Law Blog), websites (see Lawtomate, Unlawyered), and online communities (r/legaltech, Center for Legal Innovation, Asia Pacific Legal Innovation and Technology Association) to get you started on your journey.