I recently watched this talk by Anurag Kashyap, where he tells the entire story of how he broke into the inner sanctum of Bollywood, a fiefdom of few families which fiercely protect their turf and do not allow outsiders to come in. Here is a link to the talk, and you must watch it.
It is sheer marvel. As you know, Anurag went on to make some of the most amazing films made in Bollywood. He made a formidable name for himself, introduced new genres even, built a cult following, and took Indian cinema to foreign shores. However, the biggest challenge of all was perhaps the first one – the challenge of getting the first opportunity, the first break.
In some ways, getting the job of your dreams can also be like that. Especially in law, a profession driven by old boys’ clubs.
Making it big in litigation takes years of patience and hard work. Securing jobs top law firms can be tough unless you are from top tier national law schools. You may want to be a great lawyer, but how will you get your first break so that you can show how talented, how committed and how brilliant you are?
I want to suggest that if Anurag Kashyap can break into Bollywood, you can get your dream job too, even if the entire system is geared against you. There are some tremendous lessons to learn from a master who worked his way up inch by inch.
So what are the things we can learn?
Get your foot in the door
Yes, there will be people who easily get paid internships at big law firms thanks to the recommendation of their uncle who happens to be a bigshot client of the law firm. They might even get a job with a single interview and a recommendation from a bureaucrat. You will probably not have it so easy. Are you going to let that demotivate you?
Yes, students from fancy law schools may get through internships and jobs thanks to their ubiquitous alumni network, elite tag or whatever else, and you may not even get replies after applying because you are not from a top law school. It can feel very unfair.
But it’s ok. With strategy and patience, you can prevail.
What did Anurag Kashyap do? He wasn’t allowed to enter Prithvi Theatre, the centre of all cinematic action of the time. So what did he do? He took up the job of a waiter at the cafe in the theatre so that he could get closer to the action. He worked for free. He then realised where people sat and wrote scripts. He started by editing and writing screenplay for TV serials. He didn’t ask for money or name, just kept doing the work for free!
Can you believe that?
Will you be able to do all the work for free when your future is uncertain, there is no comfortable income coming in, but you get to learn the work, get to know the industry and get better at your craft? Even if you don’t get any credit or name for the same?
That’s a price you should be ready to pay when you are starting if you need to. I would if I had to.
If I didn’t go to a good law school, and wanted to work at a big law firm, I would have to make a long term strategy. It will involve learning a skill that is very valuable to such law firms, even if it means doing it for free for a while.
I will be ready to go to a tier 2, tier 3 or boutique firm, find a partner who is respected in the profession for his quality of work, and offer to work for free. Once I learn the work, getting to the next level, and into a big law firm will really not be a big deal.
Unpaid internships after graduation are perhaps the best opportunities to get into good law firms. It is best if you can get paid work. However, if that paid work is a dead end job without growth opportunities, or not aligned with what you really set out to do, consider getting your foot into the right door by working for free if necessary.
Let people get a taste of what you can do
When you don’t get money for the work you do, the only thing you get out of it is experience. That is truly liberating. It forces the lazy beings that we are into taking meaningful action towards being better and better at what we do, because that is the only reward we can hope for.
When I was a law student, I began to work with entrepreneurs. A lot of time I would work for free or for a very cheap price. As I kept doing my job, word started spreading. You have a contract to make? Ask this kid called Ramanuj. He will make a decent agreement for you and charge next to nothing. As more people began to approach me, and I had a lot of work, my ability to charge and my client’s willingness to pay also increased. By the end of the 4th year, I worked on investment agreements for which I could charge INR 70,000.
That’s the magic of positive word of mouth. As a law student if I could build that kind of word of mouth, what can you do as a full fledged lawyer with all your time being focused on developing a legal practice/profile?
If you want a job in a big law firm, or in the chamber of a famous advocate, is it possible that you could start with doing lots of free or dirt cheap work for some people, let the positive word of mouth build up, and then approach or obtain an introduction?
Anurag Kashyap lived in poverty for years, but kept giving a taste of his genius, for free, to the industry around him. Several years! That worked. One day Ram Gopal Varma approached him to write a script for Satya. He got paid and for the first time his name was mentioned in the rolls. That was the break he needed.
Build your own network!
I hear people complain that kids with influential dads and uncles get favoured when it comes to getting jobs. Sure they do. However, I have a simple question. What have you done towards building your own network? Why are you not having influential friends, mentors or seniors who are willing to put in a good word for you?
Many students ask me: did I make a mistake by choosing law? I have no family members in the legal industry, can I still succeed?
Of course you can do well even if nobody in your family was ever into law. However, you must be into law yourself. There is no harm if your dad doesn’t know the who’s who of the legal industry, but you must make their acquaintance. You must have people on your address book who would pick your call and extend some favours for you if you needed. Without that, it is very difficult to do well in law.
And this is something that nobody is born with. You build your network. Even if you don’t have one yet, no harm. You better start building it!
Anurag Kashyap created his own ecosystem of professionals. He did not crib that he was not included in other established professional networks. He even went abroad with his movies, looking for an international audience.
When you are ready to be flexible, creative and focussed on a goal, the power of a network can create wonders.
It is not that hard
Looking back, Anurag Kashyap’s journey seems amazing, thrilling and insane. It certainly was insane. However, getting into Bollywood the way he did is thousand times harder than getting into a law firm for a reasonably smart and hardworking lawyer. If he could, you certainly can.
Just be ready to pay the price. And remember, it’s not going to be a straight line.
I you want to learn the law, excel at it, pursue the journey to greatness, you don’t have to do it alone. We have a team in place for you. A lot of other like minded people working together to achieve that dream. Come join us as LawSikho.
All the best. Before you go, leave a comment below letting me know what is the one lesson you are taking away from this article!