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This article is written by Ramanuj MukherjeeTeam LawSikho.

 

Hey,

Today I want to share with you about a project we are starting with a lot of hope and aspiration, and with a lot of love for our country. As a part of the LawSikho community, we wanted to share this with you and seek your help. 

This project is dedicated to Prof. Shamnad Basheer and his goal of making legal education reach marginalized communities and every corner of this country. 

His birthday is coming up (14th May), and this project is our tribute to sir. If you do not know who he was, it is hard to describe. You can try reading about him online, but nothing really does do justice to who he was. I will recommend this for starters: https://www.bloombergquint.com/opinion/shamnad-basheer-my-friend-an-enigma-a-troubled-soul

I have thought of an alternative name for this project too: Shamnad Basheer Academy for Legal Mavericks. We would take a call on the name based on feedback we receive from you.

While Shamnad Basheer was around, this was a canvas we all left for him to paint on. 

Now with him gone, it is high time we take up this cause in our own way. 

He always wanted to create leaders, and not followers. 

It would be a disservice to him if we didn’t attempt to innovate or create something with a different vision in the same space, and did not try in our own way to make the impossible possible. 

Why this strange selection of name?

Maverick used to be Shamnad Basheer’s favourite word. 

He used to call me a maverick too, for my career choice and my approach to problems. 

Shamnad Basheer set up IDIA because he believed that our top legal talent and leadership potential is hidden in some remote villages, and he wanted to reach them and turn those kids into mavericks. 

I remember my first trip with Shamnad sir to Pelling, a small hamlet in Sikkim, where we sensitized students in a government school. I will share about those adventures another day.

Many times I proposed that we should create an open online learning platform online, but initially he wasn’t very convinced. Later on, he agreed to let me try this out but it never panned out.

There were people in the IDIA team who were apprehensive of iPleaders, a commercial venture being seen as too close to IDIA, as if we would steal away some brand value or pollute IDIA by association. 

Perhaps some other territoriality issues were there too, but the end result was that I wasn’t effectively able to do as much as I wanted to do for IDIA post 2013. 

I remember once I offered to use our Learning Management Systems free of cost to host a free course for any law aspirants to try and crack the CLAT. IDIA office bearers shot it down saying that they would run such free courses on Moodle. Of course, as per my knowledge, nothing ever happened on that front.  

I would have been very happy if such initiative ever took off. Having run dozens of online courses we knew exactly where the challenges could be, and could see it through, but that was not to happen.

Anyway, IDIA is an institution we love and we have tried to help it as much as possible from outside, and even today we offer free LawSikho courses to IDIA scholars. 

There is an open offer for IDIA scholars to join any LawSikho courses of their choice, and about a dozen till day have taken up that offer over the last one year.   

However, I believe the time has come for us to step up and take Shamnad Basheer’s ideas to the next level. Access must be created where it is possible. And there are small things each of us can do.

He was always worried about funding of IDIA scholars. My goal is to create something that takes care of this issue to a great extent, if not entirely.

Objectives

  • Set up a financially independent organization that provides free training for law aspirants for all law entrances. 
  • Make information available transparently regarding quality law schools and private law colleges through blog posts, youtube videos, instagram, tiktok and other major social media channels used by youth.
  • Organize webinars and seminars for schools around the country, and organize talent search tests. 
  • Organize daily webinars and weekly mock tests and mentorship sessions free of cost.
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How will we finance this?

  • The initial financing required will be provided by LawSikho. We expect this to be around INR 10 lakhs over 6 months.
  • We will not accept any donations or contributions in cash or kind. However, there will be donation buttons and calls for contribution on all our platforms wherever feasible, and all donations will be directed to IDIA (provided it has no objection to this arrangement, we have not consulted them yet).
  • The project will not be a separate entity to start with, and will be a vertical of LawSikho at least until it is successful, big and financially independent. If the need arises, it will be spun off as a separate entity later.
  • LawSikho will receive branding benefits for its contribution.
  • We will allow private law schools looking for student admission/ marketing/ brand building support to pay sponsorship amounts/ marketing fee to the project, and in return we will promote those law schools in a transparent and honest manner in our platform. 
  • Any money generated will be first used to pay for all the people working on the project, and from any profits generated we will pay 20% to IDIA to support scholars (subject to their approval, I have not consulted IDIA or sought their opinion on this project). 
  • Remaining money, if any, we will use to create content, free resources, talent search tests, awards to recognize outstanding contribution to the justice sector, organizing events to promote access to justice and legal education and anything else that we may feel will help us to make Shamnad Basheer’s ideas come to life. Focus: encourage more mavericks and empower them. 

What is the immediate work?

  1. We need to identify an anchor for the project, whose salary will be borne by LawSikho. So far, Padmini Baruah, a CLAT topper and outstanding legal scholar has agreed to take up this mantle till July 2021.
  2. We need to find a group of volunteers who can offer free webinars, and create some content, who should ideally be remunerated for their efforts. Primary preference for CLAT toppers of previous years. 
  3. My colleagues at LawSikho have already created some content, apart from some content created by me, which will be useful for this project will be turned over to Project Maverick for the free course.
  4. LawSikho would provide the necessary technology and admin support to take this project off the ground. 
  5. We need to create free class plans from now till August for various law entrances. We have reasons to believe that holding the CLAT exam before the end of July or early August may not be possible.  
  6. We will make at least one full time hire of a young law graduate to manage this project end to end. Prior experience of CLAT training desirable. 
  7. We would start a blog and a forum for all the law aspirants to interact. 
  8. We will also create content that would help the students who will join the project to be aware of the wide opportunities in the legal sector apart from obvious ones like law firms and judiciary. 
  9. We will reach out to schools and organize free webinars for them, where we would call leading human rights lawyers, civil rights lawyers, entrepreneurs contributing to the cause of justice and other legal mavericks to sensitize those who want to pursue law.

Want to help?

Drop a line and let me know. I am widely accessible on all social media channels, but easiest to get to me on Twitter. 

You can help by teaching.

You can help in recruiting volunteers by putting me in touch with CLAT toppers of the last few years. 

You can share your good advice. 

You can put us in touch with schools where we can use the internet to reach out to students. 

You can help us to create free youtube content for all law aspirants, now and in future to come!

You can put us in touch with legendary lawyers, so that we can invite them to inspire law aspirants by sharing their life stories.  

You can help by donating to IDIA, just let us know, so that we can track how much we have been able to help. Tracking impact is important to encouraging our team!

Let’s roll out the revolution! I do not know why I didn’t do this earlier, now I feel for stupid for not acting on this earlier. 

But why not do it together now? What is stopping us anyway?

For solidarity,

Ramanuj Mukherjee

CEO, LawSikho

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