This article is written by Komal Shah, Content Head, LawSikho
OK, I might be giving you the key to the mint here. Most of us struggle with getting clients. At the beginning, nobody knows us and are much less willing to try our services.
It is common knowledge that for anything to kick off, what you need is the first break. So how exactly do you get that first golden client?
Here are a few tips on how you can initiate a company law practice.
You never start it from scratch
I am yet to meet any practising professional who did not initiate their practice from what they already had ongoing – whether this was college, employment, training or another existing business.
I started off my practice in my initial years with a retainership which was passed on to me by the management consultant I was training with.
My ex-partner started with a profit-sharing arrangement on specific assignments from the professional he was training with.
A friend of mine started off her practice since people whom she was dealing with in her employment recognised her special skill and encouraged her to start up.
If you are thinking you can complete your studies and your training and then start up, it does not work that way.
You need to start shining right from where you are, whether that is training or employment. The path to venturing out on your own starts right here.
Look for your circle of trust
Remember your chance meeting with a friend who is employed in a software company with crazy working hours and now wants to break free and start up on his own?
Here’s where your practice starts. There isn’t a specific place where you go look for clients – they are right here, in your network, in the people who know and trust you.
Your advice begins right at the moment the friend expresses that wish, not at the time when he has already come to know about what a company is and wants to set up one.
It should be you who counsels him on whether it is advisable to go for incorporation or not. Even better if you turn out advising him that it is probably not the right time to incorporate. Then he will listen to you when you tell him that it is the right time now.
Clients whom you begin to advise long before incorporation seldom leave you. They come a long way, so its difficult to cut the cord.
Your objective, therefore, should be to get as many clients who are in very early business stages as possible. Proprietorships may not seem attractive currently, but these are tomorrow’s corporate clients.
Don’t let them go. Help a proprietor file an income tax return may be or complete that shops and establishments registration, and tomorrow when he is looking to incorporate a company, he will think of you.
Focus on the skills – the ‘how tos’ long before you begin
Your brain should be a laboratory. Yes, you can make inventions and discoveries in law, but for that, you should be ‘trying out’ what you learn.
Unless you actually get your hands dirty with doing the things, rather than reading about them, there is no great learning in it.
The trick, however, is to not lose focus on the learning and simply go on doing. If you want to actively advising the clients and providing real solutions to their problems, you must know the ins and outs of your assignment.
Hence, while you are studying, maybe offer to work for someone for free. Or enroll in courses which provide simulators such as the Diploma in Companies Act, Corporate Governance and SEBI regulations.
Do anything which would give you a taste of the real thing. When you actively engage in doing, the way you read your textbooks or your study materials changes completely.
You’re not reading them as an essay or knowledge gathering exercise any more. You’re looking for real solutions to the problems – the ‘how-tos’. Chances are that you may not find the solutions in the textbooks and then you begin to look beyond them.
Develop a niche
If you are intent on starting a company law practice, you probably are already training with a corporate law firm or a practising company secretary or anyone who gets to do this work.
If you are also a student, even better, since you have more time to research on what exactly it is that you see yourself doing.
For instance, do you see yourself appearing before the National Company Law Tribunal or Securities Appellate Tribunal?
Or do you see yourself incorporating companies, advising founders on strategic issues and being the entrepreneur’s constant trusted guide?
Or do you see yourself specialising in handling mergers and acquisitions, right from locating the perfect partner to the integration?
Or do you see yourself as an IPO specialist?
I know people who have built their homes and offices working in one niche area in company law. You don’t increase your chances of getting clients by having a practice with a wide ambit, but by narrowly specialising.
If you are looking to engage in incorporation matters, you must be very well versed with business structuring and not just the MCA procedures. There are different things that you include in the constitution documents of a closely held domestic private company, a section 8 company and a company which is the subsidiary of a foreign company.
Understand the different structures and provide for the ‘what ifs’ accordingly. Whatever documents you create must be done thinking not only of the current scenario but also possible future scenarios.
If you are looking to advise listed companies, you need to be making a name for yourself long before you start – and as mentioned in the first point, you need to be seen with people who advise listed companies.
Large entities seldom trust beginners – they will most likely hire people with a proven track record.
Hence, it is necessary that they see you as being associated with someone who has that track record. Same for someone handling NCLT matters or an IPO – people rarely trust newbies in these areas.
There is this constant substance over form debate. People believe that if they have expertise over a particular area, they will get clients and that they do not need to engage in the show.
Well, it’s true that all that glitters is not gold, but gold definitely glitters. A little bit of self-advertisement, some articles here and there, some sessions at some places, some competition judging – everything is required if you want to be and stay relevant to the people who will use your services. It isn’t an accident that brand and image building is an industry in itself.
Even if you are a technical pro, how do you expect people to come to know about it without bumping into you somewhere? They must have had a chance encounter with you to know you exist – whether it’s on platforms like LinkedIn or in professional journals or on some websites or in some seminar or conference.
Listen!! And then get the ability to predict the future
There cannot be more golden advice to any consultant or practising professional than just ‘Listen’. Listen for what someone is saying, how they are saying it and what is not being said. Just drop everything and listen, and then, think like your client.
Where exactly is the shoe pinching? What’s the next stage he sees his business at?
If you are able to foresee the difficulties your client is going to face or if everything is going smooth, how to expand their operations, you will become very valuable for your client. See where they are likely to encounter problems, try to predict and prevent or solve these.
When you get someone out from where they are stuck, you will seem reliable to them and they can then entrust you with what’s forthcoming.
Do you believe a collaboration between two of your existing clients would probably work best for them? Then bring them together and you get to handle a merger or a collaboration agreement.
There’s an old saying that any business requires 1000 days to succeed. Though this has been defeated on many counts and in many ways by quickly successful startups, what it means is that you ought not to give up till that period.
That’s the time you need to give to develop clients, employees, network and last but not the least, internal systems. If you keep the practice lean and dynamic enough to grab new areas as they appear, or better still, before they appear, growth is a certainty.
As a lot of businesses in India are moving from informal to the formal sector, this is an area whose demand is steadily increasing. Similarly, as more IPOs take place and more companies go public, the work related to SEBI regulations will dramatically increase.
Company law and SEBI regulations are very technical subjects that are also often found boring because it is taught in a very lousy way in law schools and textbooks.
Most law colleges do not teach these subjects in an interesting way. Actually, these subjects are very interesting and enjoyable when you begin the understand the practical aspects.
This is also a reason why most lawyers don’t go beyond the surface and are unable to develop significant expertise in company law. To get trained on different kinds of real-life work associated with company law and SEBI regulations that are required to be performed by lawyers and other professionals enroll for the Diploma in Companies Act, Corporate Governance and SEBI regulations. We would even help you to connect with potential clients or employers.