Debolina is a dual qualified lawyer (England and Wales and India) and the Founder of “Internship Bank”. She was previously a Senior Associate at Dorsey & Whitney, Senior Legal Counsel (APAC Region) at Cantor Fitzgerald and an Associate at Allen & Overy.
She has significant experience in advising issuers as well as underwriters on various MTN Programme establishments, updates and drawdowns including advising on green bond and masala bond issuances. Additionally, she has also been invited as a guest faculty in some of India’s top law schools and fluently speaks three Indian languages.
Q. We know you graduated with a bachelor’s in Law in 2006. What was the inspiration behind choosing law? How was the NUJS experience? Adding on to your experiences, what skills should a student take from law school for a generally successful career?
So, pursuing law did not happen to me by a total accident. I always aspired to join the Indian Administrative Service and so after class XII, I wanted to do something which would later help me in my career as an IAS officer and that’s when I decided to take up law. In law school, however, I realized that there was more to the law than just civil and criminal law. Eventually, corporate law caught my fancy and after I had secured an associate position with Amarchand Mangaldas, there was no looking back. Therefore, just to sum it up, law was not entirely an accident to me. It was a very conscious choice but what perhaps was more accidental was that I took it as a full-time career.
The NUJS experience was definitely enriching. Law school days were busy but I enjoyed the cosmopolitan culture of WBNUJS. Being a first-generation lawyer with no contacts whatsoever, I knew my best bet at getting a job then was to do well in academics and excel in as many extra-curricular activities that I could get involved in!
In order to excel in the legal profession, students should be able to “find the law” as opposed to simply being able to rattle various sections and provisions of the law. It is okay if you don’t know the law. The emphasis should always be on learning ways to navigate through the various legs of a legal problem to find the best suitable solution for a client. It is also equally important that students are able to absorb instructions clearly and spend time developing a coherent and clear manner of speaking along with establishing good analytical and relationship building skills.
Q. What made you think of starting off “Internship Bank”? What was the primary motivation behind it? How has it helped women in the professional and legal sector? Was your legal background in any way beneficial in setting up the organization?
I previously worked in London and I currently reside in Hong Kong—- jurisdictions that you would normally associate with more balanced gender representation. However, so many times I have and still continue to walk into meetings or presentations where I am the lone woman or one of the very few women attending such an event. To say in the very least, such under-representation of women frequently left me (and continues to leave me) quite perturbed. Secondly, during my many teaching assignments at various Indian colleges, I often found myself surrounded by brilliant students requesting for an internship opportunity on grounds that even though their curriculum vitae showcased good extra-curricular and academic achievements, they were often ignored because they came from lesser-known colleges or colleges that lacked strong alumni network. It was in the backdrop of the above events, that I thought of establishing the online platform of Internship Bank in mid-December 2019 with the sole aim of connecting young women professionals to internship opportunities provided by senior women professionals and in the process improve the gender imbalance as well as the reputation of students from lesser-known colleges (especially those which lack a strong alumni network).
In a span of eight months, Internship Bank successfully placed over 135 female students from lesser known colleges in India. So I would definitely think that we are making a difference in grooming the next generation of women to find their next big internship and ultimately their dream job.
I sourced Internship Bank’s first set of internship opportunities from my connections built over 13 years not just in the field of law but in other areas including banking and finance and real estate. Furthermore, training as a lawyer makes you diligent, a good spokesperson and hones your negotiation, persuasive and writing skills-so overall being a lawyer has definitely been advantageous in setting up and spreading the word on Internship Bank.
Q. What institutional reforms would you recommend to make a generally more equitable professional sphere for all genders?
Most of our work-places today are built for men. There is no denying that in India and most other Asian countries, women are still expected to be the primary caregiver. The result is that this outlook often burdens women with an extra-job which even though unpaid, comes with the expectation of being executed as a seasoned professional. While there has been some progress, yet we are far from a day when having crèches in offices are a norm and not an exception, flexible working hours and remote working options are a given right instead of being favours and vigilant policies and an active and emphatic human resources team that promotes gender diversity and ensures prompt action against sexual harassment and other similar complaints are the order of the day. Only with such and similar institutional reforms can we make the work-place more equitable for women.
Also, adult caregivers of children have a very important role to play in ensuring that children do not look down upon the female gender and it is engrained in each male child to respect their female friends. It all begins in the roots and early childhood values play a great role in what kind of adults young kids will grow up to—–ones which give equal importance to careers of their female counterparts or ones who think that careers of men are more important and they alone should be the breadwinners of a family.
Q. What did you learn from your entrepreneurial venture? What all have you gained personally from mentoring students?
Well, learning is still on-going. This is my first social entrepreneurial venture and the fact that it has been an uphill task is a mere understatement. However, on this journey, I have learnt some useful lessons too. For example, once you have an idea, just go for it. While it is good to plan, do not spend much time thinking of all the “ifs” and “buts” for once you begin your journey, there will be helping hands and solutions that will keep coming by. Also, having a great computer and tech knowledge is a huge positive and so is a backbone of a great networking circle!
Mentoring students has personally been a very satisfying experience for me. It is my way of giving back to the law-community from which I have gained so much. Nothing can beat the joy and adrenaline rush that I get with each successful internship placement and a message from a student or an internship offeror letting me know how happy they have been with Internship Bank’s help. Surprisingly, even with repeated success stories, the feeling of joy feels as nice as it did when we heard on our first Internship Bank successful placement confirmation!
Q. What should law students, currently in university, who aim to venture into career paths less trodden focus on?
It is often walking on the narrower paths that lead to greater satisfaction as the wider known path is walked over by many and such paths are already well-paved. So if you are one of those few who seek out to tread on the entrepreneurial roller coaster ride and this passion keeps you awake at night, I would simply say ‘just go for it’. As I said earlier, while it is good to plan, do not spend much time thinking of all the “ifs” and “buts”. Once you begin your journey, there will be helping hands and solutions that will keep coming by. Additionally great computer and technical coding knowledge along with fantastic people managing skills and building a big networking circle will be crucial in your success as an entrepreneur!
Also, it may not hurt to keep a back-up plan ready and keep honing your skills in some other area. This will provide you with suitable opportunities to build your career in an alternate path should your entrepreneurial journey not materialize in the manner you had visualized it.
Q. Any tips for students to be able to achieve your goals?
Students need to be at peace with who they are, as they should understand their limitations. We all come with our own sets of limitations and such limitations could be as regards financial situation, natural talent, etc. What one must be mindful of are situations that are beyond one’s control and understand what is within one’s power and what is not. It is of little use and a complete drain of one’s energy if the entire effort is geared towards focusing on controlling situations or results beyond one’s control.
This is not to say that one cannot and should not strengthen their skills (which are within one’s control) or just remain satisfied with one’s current situation. The focus should always be to work and hone one’s strengths and build on such strengths but also simultaneously work on improving one’s weaknesses and forget about being in control of results.
Q. What parting message would you like to leave with our readers?
LAABh Foundation is a wonderful platform and I extend my heartfelt support to this endeavour. I would urge every student and all personnel engaged in the area of law, to extend every support they can to this wonderful initiative that aims to uphold the dignity of human beings and promote awareness of rights and duties of citizens in order to deliver social justice to the deprived via alternate means other than litigation.
Find out more about Ms. Debolina Saha –
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/debolina-saha-narayanan-b5523046/
- Website: www.internshipbank.org
Disclaimer – All views and opinions expressed in this interview are personal and belong solely to the interviewee(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the LAABh Foundation or the individuals and institutions associated with LAABh Foundation.