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This article is written by Ramanuj Mukherjee, CEO, LawSikho.

Law students in top NLUs work very hard, not only at academics but usually at a number of other pursuits, such as mooting, debating, law review, various college societies, organizing conferences and symposiums etc. Even in non-NLU law colleges, good students try to do these things emulating the NLU students.

These are all considered important CV building exercises, and if you are smart, you can use these well for networking as well.

There is no doubt that these are very good pursuits. However, the problem is that most students totally get caught up in the web of these activities and completely fail to cash in on an amazing and unique opportunity people only get in college.
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It is indeed a tragedy because you can completely elevate your law school experience to a different level altogether if you just readjust your sails a bit. That is what we are going to talk about in this piece.

The time you are going to spend in college is limited and precious

The time you spend in college is limited and precious. When you stare at 5 years of law school or even 3 years, it may seem a never-ending long period, but believe me, it will get over in a blink.

During this period, you have a lot of freedom, a lot of time on your hands and a young, fresh mind. Most of you will not have to worry about basic questions of life such as what to eat, how to afford rent or buying expensive things like cars or houses.

Most of you would not have any major responsibilities in life. You do not have children or old family members to look after. And hopefully, you have boundless energy and optimism, a natural side effect of youth.

Things would not be this way forever.

After you graduate, you will probably get a job, in which you would work somewhere between 10-14 hours a week. You will spend a lot of time commuting. Being lawyers, you will bring work home and probably sleep very little.

You will struggle to make time to go to the gym or for a walk. Your doctor will scold you and tell you that your lifestyle is unsustainable.

One in three lawyers apparently have depression, according to studies, and incidence of mental health problems is much higher among lawyers as opposed to any other profession.

Yes, lawyers earn a lot of money and wield a lot of power in our society, but it’s also a crazy rat race to the top. The people down the chain often get crushed.

It is unlikely that you will get much time to innovate, experiment, invest time into self-development, or even take a breather when you become a lawyer and begin a job or even begin to practice independently.

From that perspective, the time and the freedom to experiment you have while you are in college is invaluable. You will never get an opportunity like this again.

Don’t tell me you are already too busy and have no time

Don’t tell me you are already too busy with academics and mooting and stuff, and that you don’t have time for anything else. That’s rubbish. You have no idea what is busy. Wait till you join a real job, then you would know what is busy. What you are doing currently is probably not even one fourth or one-tenth of what you will be doing as a full time professional in a well-paid job.

My friends in big law firms often work through the night, months after months, and not sleep even for 4-5 hours a day. I know people regularly fall sick from working too much. Those who work in courts, have to spend the day in the court, and then they go back to the chamber to do the next days drafting, study and preparation. It is rare for them to finish before midnight.

And this cycle goes on and on until one is senior enough to hire a bunch of reliable juniors to reduce the workload. Or maybe until they start their own law firm and get some control over their own time and decide what matters to take and what to reject.

Young lawyers who graduate from law school and join the profession, usually have to work three times harder, simply because they have no idea about what is going on. They are not taught the practical aspects of the law. Hence they have to learn everything on the fly as they are trying to do the work.

This means they repeatedly make mistakes at work and their bosses shout at them and ask them to do everything from scratch again. As a result, they end up spending more time than necessary at work.

Many young lawyers can’t take this pressure and quit or have nervous breakdowns. In big law firms and chambers of lawyers, such meltdowns are quite a common phenomenon.

The least you can do is to work regularly and develop yourself strategically and continuously so that you can have the discipline and mental preparation to deal with this gargantuan work pressure with elan and style when you join the profession.

What I did in college and how it saved my life

In my 3rd year of law college, I was coming out of a depression. I realized that I needed some sort of competitive advantage over others to succeed big and get to the top as I wanted to.

I didn’t want to top in the class. That didn’t seem relevant at all. I had seen the power of money in the preceding few years. Coming from a small town, lower-middle-class background, I had no clue about the power of money before that. But I had rich classmates and I saw the magic they had access to, and I didn’t.

It became clear to me that money would definitely be a parameter for success. So I got rid of the righteous disdain and high-nosed rejection of money my parents tried to inculcate in me and decided that money is important and I was going to earn it.

However, the turning point was my discovery of a skill called speed reading. As I learned to speed read, I could suddenly complete my class work super fast. I learned how to learn case laws even faster. So when my classmates will spend hours trying to make sense to dense case laws, I would finish my study in 5-10 minutes and spend the rest of the time on more productive pursuits.

One of the major such pursuits was working for a CLAT coaching center, building their study material, promoting their course in different schools, taking classes for CLAT aspirants, or even just working my English speaking skills or learning martial arts at times.

This was just the beginning. After a point, I launched a website called CLAThacker, which even got some coverage from LegallyIndia at that time. I took this platform to 3000 members in a year. Then I felt that this is too small a market, and I wanted to do something bigger.

I tried launching a bar exam course. I would succeed at this only in my 5th year.

I was frequenting startup events in Kolkata by this time. I was exposed to startups our of IIT Kgp who would start an office in Kolkata, raise venture capital and went on to build large businesses. I started helping them out. Soon I had a few clients who wanted me to draft contracts for them. After a point, I ended up setting up a legal risk management consultancy and named in iPleaders.

We worked on several projects, small and large, from the incorporation of a company to a 2 Cr investment deal and made some money. However, it was not easy to get new work. We had to find a way to generate new leads and impress the business people around us.

We started a blog. That was the genesis of iPleaders blog, now with more than a million users a month, and one of the biggest legal blogs in the world. But back then when we started, we rejoiced even if we got 100 readers in a day.

Even earlier, in my 2nd year itself, I had started a blog called A First Taste of Law, where I wrote about whatever I wanted to write about, but mostly law school and my life. I convinced a few more students to write there as well. I was already learning to build teams and persuade people. As I handled more and more work from the CLAT tutorial, I had to set up an ad hoc team of 20 law students who worked for me. I restricted myself to editing, direction setting, quality standards, and planning.

My leadership qualities were getting developed. I was learning how to delegate and get things done on a deadline.

However, starting CLAThacker and iPleaders blog meant I was learning email marketing, blogging, wordpress, online marketing, and such other skills necessary to grow online businesses.

Then Day 0 happened. I got multiple offers. I and Abhyuday, my co-founder at iPleaders, planned and decided to go to the same firm so that someday we could revive the project we were working on. Until the day we went to that law firm, we kept working on the project we called iPleaders.

The result was this when we were leaving Trilegal, we had work waiting for us. We hit the ground running. We knew exactly what we will be doing when we leave. In fact, the website of the venture we will launch once we quit was ready even before we quit.

I saw so many of my batchmates positively suffering in various law firms, or even in litigation. They didn’t like what they did. They wanted to do something else. However, they didn’t even have the time to stop and think. Most of them had to suck it up and just do whatever was asked of them to do.

I didn’t like my law firm job. Towards the end, I hated it. And I didn’t have to stick to it. I was able to walk my chosen path. It worked out. It was not an overnight success. There was a 3-year history behind that success. The last 3 years in the college I did very different things than what an average law student does in college. And that prepared me to take on a very different kind of challenge and succeed.

Success is not accidental. You only get the opportunity to do such experiments as freely as I could in college. In college, you will rarely find this kind of opportunity for self-improvement and self-development once again, unless you secure enough riches to take a break and experiment without having to worry about earning.

My life would not turn out the same had I not started doing all the different things I was doing in college, without any idea about how it all was going to add up. I see many young lawyers trying to do a startup and fail. There is nothing wrong in failure, but I am sure they could have really increased their chance of success if they worked on some of the relevant skills right from college time!

Let us take a look at how people actually spend their time in law school.

How do most law students spend their time?

Law students spend more time talking about, gossiping about, worrying about and thinking about exams rather than actually studying for exams.

Law students spend a lifetime talking about moots, gossiping about moots, worrying about and thinking about moots than actually learning how to do well in moots.

They expect someone in college is going to come and make them learn things and tell them what to do, which never happens. They see the bevy of choices of various activities before them and hope that doing some of these will somehow get them to the point of success.

Even worse, some of them assume that they are going to get a great job anyway because they are part of an elite institution. They just need to wait till the time is right.

They take weeks to write a single article, whereas they would get a few hours to write much more substantial pieces at their jobs in real life a few years down the line. Even most of the good students fail to publish more than 2-3 articles in their whole college life.

Some of them work for law reviews, out of which only a few have any decent standards, while the rest just exists for beefing up CVs of the students with very little relevance to anyone else.

Law students usually spend a lot of time volunteering for various college activities as well. However, these are often randomly selected and do not necessarily contribute to their development. This helps colleges as they get free labour but is that always enough?

Most law students stop doing everything else in life from one or two months before exams. They save their time for studying but then rarely study that much. In any case, they prepare at the last moment before the exam, through all-nighter study sessions. However, that does not stop them from not taking up other projects during those months!

This is how typical law students spend most of their productive time in law school. If there are some important things I am missing please let me know!

Playing in the sandbox v. real-life projects: understand the difference

I describe activities such as mooting, debating, writing for law reviews that nobody reads and MUNs etc as playing in the sandbox. Please be careful to not spend all your time playing in the sandbox. Even academics in India is mostly sandboxed.

Why do I call this playing in the sandbox? These are small games that are supposed to develop some skills and virtues in you. However, these have no real-life impacts. These will be CV points that would demonstrate your “potential”, but does not demonstrate “actual abilities”. If you win a moot, you may think you are on the path to be an amazing lawyer, but it would not be true at all.

However, if you take up some pro bono case of some people who cannot afford a lawyer, but has been stuck in some unjust situation, and get them justice, you will actually take a much bigger and effective stride towards becoming a good lawyer.

The principle is simple. Is there something you can do that has a real-life impact, whether or not people will pay for the same?

I would suggest that you instead spend at least some of your time, if not most of it, pursuing such projects that have real-life impact.

Take Lawctopus for example. It was a side project Tanuj Kalia came up with. He pursued it with a few friends. It was originally supposed to be monetized through InternSmith, where they were going to help people to get internships for a fee. That thing didn’t work out, but as a side effect, he asked people to write about their internship experiences. That worked! Tons of people were coming to write and read internship experiences.

An automated content engine was created. Advertisers came in. Since then, Lawctopus has earned crores and Tanuj never had to go and work for some other company.

Even iPleaders was a result of such projects with real life impact. I focussed on helping startup entrepreneurs who did not have easy access to corporate lawyers back then. When I began to assist them, it opened the doors of a new world for me.

I also focussed on writing blogs that people actually use in real life rather than writing for journals. That meant I was able to build up an audience where others only manage to write a point or two in their CV.

A student of mine, on my advice, began working on consumer cases of poor people in her district. Then she went on to help construction workers who were not getting minimum wages. In the process, she became a familiar face with labour inspectors, lawyers and judges. As a young law student trying to help out poor people, she received tremendous encouragement and support from all quarters.

During her internships, later on, she stood out as someone with a lot more understanding of law and process compared to her peers. She was eventually recommended to a very famous lawyers chamber by another lawyer who had come to be her mentor after taking interest in her social work.

She currently practices at the Supreme Court, and every time we meet, she profusely thanks me for pushing her to do those practical projects that had a real-life impact. Those experiences accelerated her learning and growth as a lawyer in the formative years, when the rest of her classmates were most bothered about getting onto the university mooting team.

Real life experience and skills will always trump the experience and skills of playing in the sandbox.

What are you going to do?

The hard part about real life projects is that you have to find one, define it and actually get it done on your own initiative. A sandbox game is given to you on a platter.

However, remember that in real life projects there are barely any competitors. You will probably be the only one doing such a thing. Sandboxes are intensely competitive.

How do you use your time in college the best: experimental projects

Find your project. What kind of injustice boils your blood?

What are your personal experiences of injustice? Can you stop such things from happening in the world for other people?

Where can you give your time, energy and focus and make a difference in the world?

What are the things that give you joy, satisfaction and a purpose in life?

Stop worrying about academics and moot and CV, and pursue these things. At least one thing. Could it be writing? Could it be legal aid?

How can you make the legal aid centre better? In most colleges legal aid centre is dysfunctional. Can you start a legal aid centre on your own, outside the control of your college, which will likely dumb down things on every stage and put up obstacles anyway?

Don’t expect your teachers to understand, encourage or even support these projects. If they were so smart then the law colleges would not be so bad at training lawyers and law graduates would not have to struggle so much to find their feet in the world of law practice.

However, your friends and peers may help you. Most will not, but find one or two or three people who will. Make those people you want to work with read this. They will understand the importance if they are the right people.

After all, this opportunity will not come again.

When you begin to work on real-life projects, you will also begin to understand what are the skills you need to develop in order to succeed in the world. That is when you will really begin to invest in yourself because effort and reward will be visible to you on your face.

You can only do a few things, and the years will pass by very fast. So chose the activities with maximum impact, because the value you get in life is directly proportional to the impact you create in your environment.

And it is a thousand times better to be picked up for your abilities than for your potential that one hopes will someday develop into some ability.

You will probably succeed accidentally, but that is why it is so important to engage in the right experiments while you are in college.

Finally, it is a battle of mindsets. You need to focus on generating more and more value for people, rather than competing with them as if you are chasing the same things and you have beat them one way or the other.

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