If you’re in the early stages of your career, it’s worth remembering that taking calculated career risks and opportunities beyond your comfort zone can accelerate your professional growth and success.
Young professionals in the legal industry may often be encouraged to follow the well-trodden career path of working at a private legal practice while hoping their income and promotions steadily increase over the years. The truth is those who take risk , such as working in-house for a reputable firm or working overseas, may progress faster.
Those looking for such opportunities can consider programs such as one from the Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), a multilateral development bank that invest in infrastructure that is green, technology-enabled and promotes regional connectivity in Asia and beyond.
In 2021, AIIB ran its inaugural Legal Associate Program (LAP) to train young in-house lawyers to cater to the Bank’s legal needs both for its private and public sector operations. LAP is a two-year contractual program that identifies, hires, grows and develops young talent with a passion for international development.
During each intake, five legal associates (LAs) are hired and, during their tenure, engage in intensive on-the-job and classroom training about the fundamentals of lawyering at AIIB, development operations and other institutional and governance matters.
One of the LAs from the 2021 cohort is Kabita Parajuli, a Nepali national who graduated in 2018 with a J.D. from UCLA School of Law. She most recently worked at Gandhi and Associates, a corporate firm in Kathmandu, advising clients involved in the manufacturing, retail, hydropower and solar power sectors in Nepal. Her earlier professional experiences are from the non-profit sector, with organizations focused on community economic development, migration, and education. Kabita explains she applied for the program because of her curiosity about the new multilateral development bank, and “AIIB’s focus on infrastructure development with attention to both impact and sustainability. I wanted to better understand how an institution like this one makes decisions around financing for development.”
After the initial intensive six-week training, each LA is paired with a senior lawyer while they conduct their work, including the provision of legal advice, conduct of legal research, drafting of legal documents and provision of general legal support to AIIB operations.
As the program is rotational, LAs gain opportunities and take on responsibilities for all the units within the legal department. These rotations aim to help the LAs to develop and apply skills across the business and to understand how AIIB and its Legal Department operate while dealing with a variety of internal and external clients.
Kabita was part of the sovereign-backed financing (SBF) unit for six months and is now in the nonsovereign and finance unit. “A typical day involves reading through project documents, tracking communications with the project team, and responding to drafting or research requests from the senior counsel on the project,” she says. “There’s a slightly different pace and responsibilities on the nonsovereign side, and more direct communication with project team members.”
Another of the LAs is Goktug Ersoy, a Turkish national who graduated in 2016 with a Bachelor of Laws degree from Galatasaray University. He has four years of career experience working at a Turkish law firm and a sovereign wealth fund.
Talking about the diverse experience he is gaining in the program, he says, “a workday (at AIIB) is not atypical to working in a private practice law firm. From the first week, I was involved in numerous projects across a variety of jurisdictions from project finance to fund investment deals. It’s intriguing to have the opportunity to take part in every stage of a project—which I may not have experienced in a law firm.”
Life in Beijing
Of course, both LAs have adjusted not just to professional life at AIIB but to the lifestyle and cultural differences that living in Beijing presents.
Ersoy describes Beijing as, “a wonderous city buzzing with energy that also manages to cater to those who seek calmness.”
Kabita admits that moving to China was her biggest worry about starting the program. However, “to my joy, Beijing has been a personal highlight,” she says. “Socially, it has been easy transition to . Beijing is a major metropolis which means there are a range of communities to connect with.” Still, her advice for anyone considering a similar move to Beijing is to “start learning Mandarin early.”
After completing a year at AIIB, both Kabita, Goktug and the other three LAs have said they are enjoying the opportunity to learn from AIIB. From a management standpoint, they have proven to be an asset to the legal department.
AIIB is now looking for the next batch of young lawyers to begin in the summer of 2022 who will benefit from the same intensive training.
AIIB is now accepting application for the 2022 Legal Associates Program. All interested applicants can submit via the AIIB Career Site. Application closes on 15 April 2022 (11:59 p.m GMT+8)