This article from 2010 is being republished from A First Taste of Law, and all those of us who attended Startup Saturday in the past in search of inspiration, are going to feel nostalgic reading this. Especially the lawyers!
You may or may not have heard of Start-up Saturday, you may or may not know about opportunities in the legal field for start-ups, the bottom-line is that a generation of legal entrepreneurs is emerging. If you don’t want to be caught by surprise, read on. The post is brought to you by Ashwini Sharma, a 4th-year law student and underground rapper from NUJS.
Did you ever have dreams of making it big as an entrepreneur? Does your idle mind ever make business plans though you never get around to implement them? Do you believe that knowledge alone is not enough, what matters is how it is used? Does a great idea inspire you, or bring a smile on your face? If the answer to any of these questions will be yes, and you have never attended a Startup Saturday, you are missing out on something.
Lab 1 of Globsyn Business School saw another edition of Startup Saturday on January 10, 2010 that enabled young and would-be entrepreneurs to come together and share their ideas and experiences at startup companies, some of which they run themselves, and at other start-ups they work.
India is coming up with its own brand of entrepreneurs who dare to buck the trend of joining established institutions and instead attempt to mark their own niche territory amidst formidable firms and business houses. Recognising the potential of a whole generation of enthusiastic entrepreneurs emerging across India to excel in their chosen callings, Headstart Network had come up with the idea of creating a platform which would allow such young guns to come and showcase their individual efforts and allow them to come in touch with other similar like-minded individuals and entrepreneurs. Startup Saturday was the outcome and it has kicked off several events where entrepreneurs meet and discuss the feasibility, viability and future prospects of their startups.
According to Ramanuj, “I attend Start-up Saturday because it is a great learning opportunity for me. On every session, I meet some people who can give me new ideas that I can implement in the projects I am doing. Sometimes I can see a new opportunity that I would not have even known to exist otherwise.” It is a consensus among regulars at this event that it is one of the very few events in India where start-up owners or people providing services to start-ups can network. No wonder this event in increasing in popularity, and now being held in 6 different cities in India.
The event in Kolkata may not be as high profile or well-attended as the one in Mumbai, but it still draws a wonderful crowd of engineers, finance guys, seed funders, web developers and of course, lawyers (we wouldn’t be discussing here otherwise, shall we).
Coming straight to the point now that we know what is Start-up Saturday about, the January edition was clearly dominated by lawyers. Does that strike you as odd? Lawyers practise in courts, businessmen come to them only when they need to make a contract or to sue the counter-party, isn’t it? You can also seek their help for raising funds during mergers, but what is the connection between young lawyers/ law graduates/ law students and entrepreneurs? Well, to those who are wondering, we are planning another edition where we shall introduce some more legal start-ups. Please come, we will love to see your bewildered expressions! You have no clue how much fun it is.
Sorry for the digression! The January edition of Startup Saturday Kolkata was focused on two new startups in the legal field and consequently saw a comprehensive deliberation on entrepreneurial opportunities in the legal world, both for legal start-ups as well as the opportunity to technological start-ups in the legal field. I was invited by an over-excited friend and decided to go despite my uber-reluctance. However, after attending the event, I can safely say that my decision was made for the better.
Several other followers of Startup Saturday, as well as first-time attendees, were present at the event. The event brought together Rohit Das, an NUJS alumni who left India’s top law firm AMSS to start his own firm Rohit Das & Associates which has been slowly and steadily establishing its offices in major cities of India (5 so far). Also present through voice conference was Kian Ganz, a lawyer from UK who initiated legal journalism in India with the ever-so-popular Legally India website, catering to an almost 1 million lawyer community of India by providing legal news of every kind and colour, from college moots, bar election results to major law firm deals and corporate mergers. The discussion was moderated by Ramanuj Mukherjee, an NUJS student whom the readers of this blog may be familiar with.
The discussion was focused on the challenges faced by startups in the legal field and the personal experiences of those who have made it through initial hiccups. It also centred around on involvement and role of technology, or rather, the lack of it in the legal industry. Ramanuj argued that introduction of technology related to billing, data protection and public relations could increase the productivity of associates of Indian law firms. Rohit Das waxed eloquence on the distrust of the average Indian lawyer for anything that is digital. He brought out the poor acceptance of computers and computer-related technology by Indian firms and the obvious effect of the same on delivering quick and efficient legal service.
While Indian Lawyers are amongst those at the very bottom of the learning curve when it comes to technology, it presents a great opportunity to those who can identify the right opportunities to provide technology of value to lawyers and educate them by demonstrating the effect of good technology on profits. On the other hand, lawyers need to open up to technology more, and realise that a computer typed plant, Supreme Court Cases (SCC) CD or an online legal research database like Manupatra is not the last frontier of technology. Technology may help lawyers not merely by making information around the world available at the click of a button, but can also be intricately harnessed for the purpose of delivering quicker and better quality client service.
Kian Ganz had much to share as he is seeing the Indian legal industry from close proximity after a stint at Clifford Chance, one of the biggest law firms of the world. He elucidated on the practices observed by UK law firms as compared to Indian ones. If future is to be predicted by looking at the development that took place in more mature legal markets such as that of UK or USA, as the legal indutry grow in India, in terms of size and depth, there would be such as technology, Public Relations, management and consultancy, recruitment agencies focussing solely on legal industry.
The next focal issue that came up was the large disorganised legal sector brought home by the fact that there was hardly any initiative by lawyers to start law firms that can turn out to be future cradles of legal whizkids. It was observed that the way the legal sector is centred around sole legal practitioners and their training of junior lawyers inside their chambers was in fact acting as an impediment to the emergence of India as a solid nesting ground for legal eagles because junior lawyers were hardly paid enough to sustain their enthusiasm and quest for legal excellence.
We have heard before that one should start a legal career at the bar, but this time we heard something very different: that law firms provide better scope for personal development as well as expansion of the legal mind for young lawyers. After hearing Kian and Rohit, both of whom started their careers at law firms, I am myself convinced about this.
The consensus arising out of the discussion was captured very well by Kian Ganz when he said: “It is clear that in the coming years there will be plenty of new opportunities opening up and it is heartening to see that entrepreneurs are sensing this and are turning their eye on the legal sector.”
But this was not the be all and end all for the event. Questions were thrown from the present and attentive audience consisting of Start-up Saturday followers and entrepreneurs regarding legal practice, legal services and quality lawyers. One important aspect addressed was how start-ups can obtain quality legal service from lawyers and law firms. Financing a start-up at the initial stage may be difficult, and incurring legal costs is very often unthinkable. Nevertheless, legal assistance at this level maybe crucial as one enters into contracts that will define the future of the company. Legal advise at this stage can save a lot of pain later on. Rohit said that many upcoming firms will be very willing to provide services to such clients at affordable rates looking forward to a good relationship as the law firm will certainly benefit if the start-up grows at a healthy rate and keep coming back for futher legal services. He also said that services maybe rendered in exchange of equity in some cases.
Startup Saturday has a section called “lightning pitches” which allows a chance for anyone in the audience who wished to talk about a new idea or theme or any other entrepreneurial attempt. Anyone interested from the audience was invited to speak for five minutes on any idea that they were fiddling with in their minds or any other product that they have launched already. I quickly decided to showcase my attempts in promoting Desi Hip Hop/Rap in front of the seasoned and budding entrepreneurs. Soon enough I was on the podium delivering a short and compact presentation on the underground movement of Desi Independent Rap Music and Rap Batting Culture and my efforts to promote the same among Indians through internet. Though all the ideas that I touched upon were still in my head, the audience was very supportive as well as appreciative of whatever I had to say and I was extremely gladdened by the warm and positive response that I was bestowed with by those present.
In short the event successfully brought together young entrepreneurs and allowed them a chance to present their initiatives and enter into a healthy debate and discussion. Start-up Saturday is a pioneer in bringing together entrepreneurs to provide them with a stage to highlight their initiatives as well as bring together like minded people for further networking and bonding. Kian Ganz would put it this way – “I thought it was a very valuable and interesting way of connecting industries to the entrepreneurial community.”