This article is written by Ramanuj Mukherjee, Co-Founder and CEO at LawSikho.
I was a 3rd year law student. I had taken up the sports law optional and that required me to go to the NUJS library to get some articles from HeinOnline, a database of international legal journals. As I was grudgingly looking for the material we were asked to read for the next class, a gentleman came and occupied the computer next to mine. For some reason, he was looking at his own screen far less and a lot more at mine. I felt a little weird and looked at him eye to eye. He was perhaps waiting for this moment. He asked me out of the blue: you must be a student here, right? Can you show me how to use Manupatra to find cases?
I was taken aback. Firstly, we rarely see people above 20 in the library except for a couple of strange faculty members who actually visit the library. Who is this guy? And why does he want to learn how to use Manupatra of all things?
We were not allowed to talk much in the library, but curiosity got the better of me. Soon, I found out that I am conversing with an executive officer from L&T. L&T, at that time, entered into an arrangement with NUJS to train about 30 of its employees about basic commercial laws like contract drafting, companies act, etc. My neighbour in the library was flown down to NUJS for a few days to get a crash course in business laws, and get a certificate at the end of it.
He was an extremely persuasive, well spoken and suave person. He got me to spend some time showing him how to use Manupatra which some law teacher had mentioned in the class. He asked for my number in case he needs any help later on. I gave him my business card, which I used to carry with me (due to efforts at business development). He gave me his card too: Arvind Bhargava, Project Manager at L&T EBG division.
After a couple of months, the L&T crew was back in campus. Soon, I got an invitation from Arvind to come and have dinner at a posh hotel which was close by. Again, curiosity got the best of me. When I turned up, Arvind explained that he needs a crash course on contracts law as he has an exam the next day! All the law is not making much sense to him. I saw the book he was supposed to read – the ever scary Avtar Singh that runs into over 1000 pages. For the next two hours, standing in a small hotel room, I explained the most important tenets of contract law. At that time, I was highly practiced at this – having designed several modules for IMS law entrance courses, plus hundreds of hours of classroom teaching.
While I was at this, I said something that shocked Arvind. I was talking about what is liquidated damages and why it doesn’t work in India. We have a law that prevents penalty clauses from being given effect. Arvind said that they have penalty clauses in every contract and they usually end up paying the penalty also!
Anyway, after our rigorous learning session, I enjoyed the fantastic buffet and got back to college. Arvind finished his certificate course and went back to Mumbai. I thought this was the end of the story. Apparently not!
Towards the fag end of the semester, as winter set into Kolkata, and we were dealing with the exams, I got a call from Arvind. He needed help, again. He had to make a presentation about this penalty clause issue to his bosses. He wanted me to make the presentation. I didn’t feel like saying no to him, though I was buried under work. I paid off a classmate to make the powerpoint presentation and sent it to Arvind. I got a call some days later thanking for the presentation. Seemed like it went really well. That was good.
That winter, I needed to apply for and bag a summer internship. Somehow, despite having a nice rank in my class, my internship applications did not get confirmed. It was really strange! I was so confident that I will get an internship, thanks to my class rank, in a good law firm through the placement committee of NUJS, that I had not tried to apply anywhere on my own. I started to panic when I didn’t get a call from a single one of those law firms of my choice. Later, I found out the reason though – I had some horrible typos in my CV! What a rookie mistake.
Anyway, when I got none of the top internships of my choice, and was wondering what are my options, and if finally I needed to pull in some favours to land a tier 2 law firm internship – I got a call from Arvind. He was looking for a lawyer for a project he was working on. It was a huge 700 crore project in Maharashtra. He explained to me that he had spoken to several lawyers but didn’t like a single one. He was calling me because he trusted me to help him with that work.
What work was this? He sent me an email. I was looking at a 300 page government contract. I didn’t know where to begin reading it and where to end. He wanted me to draft some downstream agreements for vendors based on this contract. I grabbed the opportunity with both hands. I knew I will learn a lot from this one assignment compared to 10 internships put together. This was going to be my project for the summer.
Later on, I got a call from Arvind again. This time to inform that I was not going to be paid for the work as we are not qualified lawyers. I said no worries – can I still do the work and get a certificate for the work done? The answer was positive.
Over the next one month, I enlisted help of Abhyuday, my best friend from NUJS and Prateek Mohapatra, who was one batch junior to us, studying at RMLNLU, Lucknow. Three of us did the work, made a presentation on how L&T can reduce legal risks arising out of that contract and sent it across. The PPY ran into some 80 slides, at least, from what I remember.
We were just hoping for a certificate. Instead, we got a call to come and present this PPT before all the project managers and contract managers. L&T paid for train tickets. Abhyuday, Prateek and I turned up at a Vashi plant of L&T, and put up our presentation in a big conference room. It went on for at least 3 hours. The room was eventually overcrowded as we made progress with the presentation. In my memory, it was a spectacle. There was great enthusiasm. We were asked a hundred questions about everything. We loved it. At the end, Arvind and his boss, a Contract Manager, took us to get some lunch. When we stepped out of that L&T complex, we were on top of the world! Wow, what was that? We had just gotten a taste of how people love the law and want to know more about it when they can relate to it and understand it.
Why else do we get over 60 lakh individuals reading our iPleaders blog every year? When all the top legal blogs were writing on complex legal issues, we chose to focus on simple language, demystifying jargons and frequently asked questions. Then we allowed the readers to ask questions and the experts to answer them! And that’s how iPleaders Forum was born.
But let’s not digress. Let me tell you the rest of the story. We got a train from Mumbai, headed back to Kolkata. In the train, Abhyuday and I discussed a few things. The L&T episode taught us some very important lessons:
- If you teach, people respect you. We can build our practice faster if we teach law to business people. At that time, we wanted to build a legal risk management practice more than anything, so that was very important to us. Potential clients often rejected us because we were too young. However, with teaching, comes heft and respect. That’s how two 4th year law students and one 3rd year law student ended up giving a 3 hour long presentation to director level officers at L&T, a blue chip company! That’s why I got the opportunity in the first place, because I had taught contract law to someone, isn’t it?
- Business people want to learn the law. They respect the power of law. They want to be empowered with it themselves but there is no easy or reasonable way for them to learn the law.
- L&T sent its employees to learn the law to NUJS, so there must be more such companies. There seems to be a validated market for teaching law to non-lawyers.
What if we start an online course for entrepreneurs and business managers? And that is how we got the idea of starting our Diploma in Entrepreneurship Administration and Business Laws course. Sitting in a long distance train. Boredom encourages creativity. Take lots of long train rides to get the best ideas of your life.
We just didn’t think of good ideas. We drew up a syllabus, a proposal and went to work with that. That course was launched by NUJS about 2 years later, and has been so far taken by at least 3000 individuals, out of which at least one third have been business managers, entrepreneurs, scions of family businesses, CEOs and MDs of listed companies, and even foreign investors with interest in India. Here are a bunch of success stories. Eventually, we launched an even more kick ass version of this course without NUJS, over here.
After starting the course, we started by marketing it to entrepreneurs and managers, but lawyers and law students were buying it very quickly. After all, even law students don’t really like to read the dry law books and want to learn the law without all the jargons and mysticism.
Of course, we have grown to over 40 courses now over the last 7 years. We are India’s largest and most respected legal courses platform. However, the seed of all of this was hidden in a chance interaction that happened in the NUJS library 10 years ago.
I never understood why I took that punishing sports law optional. I can now look back and see how useful it was, albeit indirectly. It changed the course of my life.
You must follow the unfolding threads of your destiny with passion and eagerness. What is happening in your life? What steps are you taking today to make your destiny come true?
There were so many unreasonable things that I did along the way. Deciding to teach a stranger contract law when my own exams were impending. Paying off a friend to make a PPT – for what reason? I had no foreseeable benefit. It was an investment into a relationship. Taking up a scary project that you don’t even understand yet. Saying yes first and then figuring out what to do and how to do. Then slogging the entire summer, creating a team to crack that work. Going off to Mumbai to make one single presentation. After making that presentation, seeing the opportunity and committing to work on that path. There were tons and tons of wise but tough choices we made. Even now, sometimes it feels too damn difficult to carry on the burden of entrepreneurship. But we get back at the wheel and keep focussing on the work.
I am writing this at 2 am in the morning. My work day is not done till I tell this story to you.
Are you making those choices? What could you do today to invest in a future that will bloom 10 years down the line?