Jyoti Kakatkar is a part of the legal team at Eight Roads Ventures - a global investment firm. As part of the Eight Roads’ team, Jyoti plays a crucial role in strategizing and closing deals with early/growth stage companies operating in fields of healthcare, technology, consumer and financial services. Prior to Eight Roads, she worked in the corporate law teams of Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas and Khaitan & Co. Being an ardent animal lover, in her spare time, Jyoti feeds and looks after the stray animals in her locality. She is also passionate about animal rights and laws protecting them in India. Having experienced the caregiving journey with her late mother as a young-adult, Jyoti is determined to spread awareness on the issues faced by caregivers in India and coping with grief. She’s an Ambassador for Caregiver Saathi - a non-profit organization dedicated to address the concerns of caregivers in India.
1. How did you decide to get into the profession you are in now and what prompted you to change gears?
Growing up I always knew I wanted to pursue a profession which empowered me, helped me stand on my own feet and simultaneously equipped me to help others. However, I did not immediately delve into law and like with many youngsters, it took some amount of self-exploration. I studied science in high school, followed by a degree in mass media; each of these fields being vastly different from the other. While I thoroughly enjoyed the logic put forth by science and the creative freedom mass media offered me, I felt the need to pursue a career which integrated both. Coupled with my strong sense of justice and a need to express my opinions, law became the easy answer. I enrolled into the three- year law course at Government Law College, Mumbai, and secured a job with the then Amarchand Mangaldas through the campus placement program. So began my journey as a corporate lawyer.
As a young associate, I had the opportunity to work on several cross-border, high-stake deals and the clientele spanned from domestic conglomerates to multi-nationals. As a part of these transactions, I frequently interacted with in-house counsels and was intrigued by their outlook on legal matters. While law firms at times erred on the side of caution with legal advice, the ability to take commercial calls in the interest of cementing partnerships interested me. I always wondered what happened to a deal after we closed it; what occurred beyond the documentation and months of negotiations. I realised I wanted to be in a position to make those commercial judgments, carry the transaction well beyond its closure and nurture the bonds formed. I decided that I would eventually make the shift to an in-house counsel role.
At the start of my legal career, my late mother was unfortunately diagnosed with liver cirrhosis (a side-effect of diabetes) and her condition only worsened over the years. As one of her primary caregivers, I found myself constantly juggling caregiving duties along with the demanding law firm life. Quitting was never an option; I was ambitious, and we required finances for medical care. My luck may have run out with my mother’s health, but professionally I was extremely fortunate to find an opportunity to work with Eight Roads Ventures- a global investment firm. The start-up ecosystem had started booming in India, and there was ample opportunity at Eight Roads to do quality legal work alongside some of the best investors and entrepreneurs. I took the plunge into the in-house counsel role earlier than anticipated, and I have zero regrets. Eight Roads has opened my eyes to the stimulating venture capital world working alongside ambitious founders, management teams, empathetic investors, and applying my legal knowledge practically in any given situation.
2. What does a day in your life at work look like and what do you enjoy the most about work?
Given the breadth of work performed as a lawyer at a venture capital firm, it is hard for me to describe any single day at work. As part of the in-house legal team, I work on a range of legal matters right from investing, implementing exits, tax structuring, reviewing confidentiality agreements, debt financing, monitoring corporate governance, CSR to overseeing employment matters. Each day looks different and comes with its own set of triumphs, learnings and challenges. There are days when I am reviewing and negotiating a banker engagement letter as passionately as a 200-pager shareholders’ agreement.
I enjoy working with the various stakeholders in the investment ecosystem. As a part of my job, I interact with experts from various backgrounds globally-engineers, business graduates, investment bankers, HR personnel, communications’ specialists, international lawyers, tech consultants and so forth. It is interesting to hear their views and learn from their experiences. Many a time it is daunting to realise that my know-how about business and the world in general is limited. However, I am grateful for the opportunity Eight Roads has afforded me to expand my knowledge base and explore numerous avenues.
3. What do you think is the difference between working at a law firm and as an in-house counsel?
I have had the privilege of starting my career alongside some of the best legal minds at Amarchand Mangaldas and Khaitan & Co, and the learning curve was steep. The scope of learning the law from my seniors and colleagues, and the opportunity to apply it across many complex deals was boundless. However, the corporate work at a law firm tends to be deal oriented and of course, largely focuses on the legal issues at hand. At Eight Roads, I have the advantage of working alongside the investment team members and understanding the commercial rationale behind each transaction. This helps me look at a deal holistically, take pragmatic calls on the legal issues and cultivate relations with our partner companies. My work continues well beyond remitting funds. It is a privilege to be a small part of the scaleup journeys of our budding partner companies.
As an in-house counsel, you are your own client and there is a greater sense of responsibility. I am liable sans caveats for every single legal call I take and to that extent, the accountability is much higher as compared to a law firm working on a transaction. You are equally responsible through the lows and highs of every deal alongside other members of the fund. As stated earlier, given the breadth of work undertaken by an in-house counsel and constant interactions with various stakeholders, the learning goes well beyond law. Being a part of a venture capital fund is invigorating and the work will always keep you on your toes.
4. What is your take on work-life balance? What do you do in your leisure time?
The instinctive answer is that work-life balance is important for one to maintain their physical and mental health, and that every working individual should strive to achieve this balance. However, it is easier said than done. The actual implementation is much more complex, especially for lawyers. Work can show up at the most unpredictable times and more often than not, the assignment has to be completed within strict timelines. A lawyer is required to work efficiently while paying attention to utmost detail. As a lawyer, it is not always easy to completely cut-off from work. Having said that, it is imperative to not let the work pressure overwhelm you; burn-out is detrimental to both employee and employer. Be cognizant of the work that is urgent, that requires your immediate attention and set healthy boundaries in relation to the miscellaneous. It will only help improve your career in the long run. I myself am trying to imbibe this habit as we speak. In my leisure time, I love to take a break from all the hustle, unwind and do things which bring me joy- be it exercising, spending time with my pet cats and strays around my locality, catching up with friends or even binge-watching content on OTT platforms.
5. What would you say is your greatest accomplishment/milestone so far? What keeps you going?
Honestly, in my view I am yet to achieve that momentous milestone in my career. I am still work in progress and have a lot to learn and grow into. However, I will cut myself some slack and be proud of what I have achieved so far. I am a first-generation practising lawyer in my family, and without a godfather in the profession or an N-school name, I had to work doubly hard to secure internships and my first job. Working constantly through my mother’s illness was extremely challenging and there were many days I just wanted to give up. However, work gave me a sense of normalcy, financial security and it made my mother proud to see her youngest daughter come into her own. The hope of being able to do better, be better and create a positive difference through my work (as a corporate lawyer or otherwise) keeps me going.
6. What do you think is the most important piece of advice for women who want to pursue a career similar to yours?
Firstly, a general piece of advice- do what is right for you and not because it is expected out of you. It is easy to get overwhelmed by the choices being made by your peers and compare your career trajectories. I myself have been a victim of this thought-process and it has only demotivated me. We can only make most of the circumstances we have been handed, and as long as you are true to yourself and your loved ones, you have won your own race. Be proud of your achievements, no matter how little you think they may be. The legal field has vastly expanded over the last decade, and there are many more opportunities beyond law firm and in-house roles- be it legal-tech, content writing, policy making or even legal journalism. Find a job that ticks most (if not all) of your boxes and do not be disappointed if it doesn’t match your expectations. Age should not be bar to experiment with your career.
If you are contemplating working with an investment fund or in any in-house role, first and foremost ask yourself why. There is a big misconception that life is easy in a corporate set-up. There are aspects of an-in house counsel role that are easier as compared to a law firm. Having said that, in-house counsels require a different skill set which includes expanding your horizon beyond the letter of the law, exposure to more liability, juggling varied tasks and even meeting deadlines at odd hours. If you are willing to sign up to the aforesaid, then you are ready to set foot into an audacious world filled with dreamers striving hard to create a positive impact in this world.