Ramanuj Mukherjee is an alumnus of the National University for Juridical Sciences and is presently the CEO of LawSikho, a fast-growing legal education startup. He has also been the Co-founder of iPleaders blog which is one of India’s most recognized legal blogs with a global readership of 10 million annually. In addition to this, he has founded several other organisations such as SuperLawyer, ClikLawyer, InstaLawyer workshops. Apart from his work as the CEO of LawSikho, he conducts many workshops for law students and is an avid blogger and speaker.
Below is the transcript of the interview conducted with Mr. Ramanuj Mukherjee.
Rohan M Therattil: As the founder of many legal websites and organisations such as LawSikho, iPleaders, SuperLawyer, etc, could you share with us the reasons why you chose to pursue a career path in this field rather than in mainstream law and what led you to pursue this?
Ramanuj Mukherjee: Okay, so you asked me the question “what inspired you to start?”
You know all these startups are in the legal domain, right? Okay. When I started studying law there was a lot of inspiration that I will make a difference and I’ll be able to help people to get Justice. I believed if I am a lawyer I will be able to help people who are wrongfully accused or people who need help to secure justice.
But when I started studying law, I went for a few internships, I realised that the problem is systemic. I realised that it is very hard for most people. Including lawyers to get justice. It is an incredibly uphill battle.
Even if you help one person, you will not go very far in bringing justice when the entire system is problematic. So, then I wanted to work outside the system. It was very clear that if you are a lawyer or legal academician you are working within the system.
If you are a teacher, law professor or anyone teaching in college, you have to follow the rules, as a lawyer or judge you are bound to follow the rules, and chances are that you’re becoming a part of the problem and not the solution. Whatever systemic problems are there, you can’t really solve them if you are just following the system.
So, the idea was that okay, you want to create something which worked outside the system, and it looked like a disruptive startup can achieve that. So that’s why the idea of doing a start-up appealed to me.
This was the time when startups like Facebook, YouTube and Flipkart were rising. We could see how startups are disrupting the world market. For example, Facebook suddenly made connecting with anyone in the world so much easier and you know things that were impossible became suddenly possible. I had this idea that we would be able to build startups that would be able to make these kinds of difference in the world of law and justice, to make justice available to people.
One thing I thought I knew well and was good at was teaching because I was teaching people for CLAT and I was creating study material. I had launched a program for the Indian Bar Exam. So, the idea was to create courses that will make the law accessible to business people, entrepreneurs and people who want to help entrepreneurs. We were careful not to get carried away by idealistic tendencies. I knew before doing social work or impact projects I first had to prove myself commercially and create resources. So we prioritised programs that we thought had the maximum chance of commercial success at this point. However, we always wanted in our heart to find ways to create a larger impact.
That’s how it all started. No ideas, in the beginning, are perfect, and since there we have gone through an evolution over the years. As we learn more, we refine our vision, agenda and plan of action.
SuperLawyer was started based on my experience with lots of young law aspirants. It’s always been a very common question that law aspirants will ask: should I study law? What will I be able to do after I become a lawyer? What is life like as a lawyer? Even people who are studying law have a great deal of questions like that. What is it like to have a real career in law? When you’re a law student, it’s hard to imagine life beyond college. But if you can develop a vision, you can use your college time so much better. So I decided to create a portal where we will interview lawyers of different age and bring out their experiences that others can then learn from.
The common thought process is like when I graduate I will get this kind of job. But what will life look like when it happens? What are the twists and turns in a career? What does success look like, because success has no one definition, right? So what are some of the possibilities?
There are so many things to do and when I was in college, there were only a few things we ever heard of. You know, like, oh you can be a partner in a law firm or okay, you can be an arguing counsel and one day become a senior advocate in the court. That’s it. Maybe judiciary and UPSC as well, though in my law school hardly anyone considered those options. Most people wanted to go work for top law firms.
We had very few alternative examples to follow and while creating SuperLawyer I wanted to bring out thousands of different examples of what success can look like. We showed people that you don’t have to do legal practise or law firm work necessarily. You could be in academia. You can join public policy. You can do other things, you can start a company or you can do freelance work. There are so many amazing things that you can do!
You could be an in-house counsel. If you are in a pharmaceutical company, your work as an in-house counsel looks different as opposed to an in-house counsel in a fintech firm. So all these examples show the different scopes for jobs that are available and the interviews conducted even show how even people practising at district courts can be extremely successful.
So, we were able to show that success has a million colours. Even today a lot of people tell me that they want their children to become a lawyer so they are sharing SuperLawyer interviews with the kids so that they get inspired to study law and they can see what they can do if they become a lawyer. I think that’s really exciting.
Even now we show people what they can do through our various boot camps and being able to impact thousands of lawyers across the world at once is an amazing feeling.
Even if you are focused on creating some system-level change and want to bring in innovation, you won’t get to do that in a traditional organization. There was no other organization when I started which was actually doing these kinds of things, starting my own company gave me an opportunity to work on such problems.
Rohan M Therattil: Could you give us some more insight on what kind of efforts you undertake as the CEO?
Ramanuj Mukherjee: My primary job as the CEO is working with my team members. I mean there’s a lot of people who report to me, so I have to work with them to plan things like what is it that you’re going to go forward with next week, next month, next year and so on. We together set that vision, figure out how we are going to grow, analyse if we are going in the right direction etc. I have to recruit all these different teams who then report to me and I have to figure out with them what is the best way to make our products more powerful, how to make our courses more effective, how to increase the success of students etc. We have to measure progress and wherever they are stuck, we have to find new ways to move forward.
Additionally, I spend a lot of time writing, doing webinars, working on vision and strategy, identifying opportunities in the market, what we should do next etc.
Rohan M Therattil: Networking is considered a key factor in ensuring a better legal career as well as in attaining internships. How can students improve their networking skills? Additionally, what are your views in relation to the importance of the same?
Ramanuj Mukherjee: Okay, so let me first say what networking is. Most people nowadays don’t understand what networking is. They think networking means shaking hands with people or adding them online, maybe following people but that is not entirely what genuine networking is. Real networking has two aspects, one is exposure. So, shaking hands, giving business cards, adding people, these things are one component called exposure. But then apart from exposure, the other component is how much value you are adding to those people.
So that means if many people know and if you are adding value to them you are doing it right. I mean, are they benefiting from knowing you or being your acquaintance? How are they getting value from you? Because if they get value from you then you are a valuable connection and if you are a valuable connection, then only you can expect some benefit from networking rather than just saying I have 1000 connections that you give no value to, and who don’t particularly care that you exist.
First of all, you have to focus on giving value to other people. How can you give value to others? This is very very important and even on social media whether on Twitter, Linked In etc. what value are you bringing on board? Are people really benefiting from your presence there, even by being in touch with you online? This is where posting good content becomes valuable. More people will only follow you because you are giving them value.
Also, if you want to network, you have to see why you are doing the networking. I mean, there must be a purpose to it and purpose includes adding value to others so the moment you start looking at adding value as the core part, I think it is a game-changer for your networking abilities.
So just think about it. How are you going to add value? I think everyone gets the idea that they need to network, but they don’t have any clarity on how they will do it. For example, you know, right now you are interviewing me and you can interview hundreds of people like this, by doing that you are creating value to a community by bringing knowledge and information into the public domain and that is a very good way to network, right? So, you are connecting with me to do something meaningful, and then this content if it reaches a lot of people it will hopefully benefit them. So, you can potentially create a large network by doing that again and again. If you do this repeatedly, and if the content is very valuable, it spreads and then it will definitely create a good network for you.
There are other ways to create value for your network of course. How you do it is only limited by your imagination.
Rohan M Therattil: You have always been a strong propagator for the importance of publishing blogs on legal websites like iPleaders, in addition to just legal digests, conferences etc. Could you highlight the importance of such publications for young legal students?
Ramanuj Mukherjee: Yes, although these days many academic journals are online, most of them are not and they don’t have any good presence online. If you have published in a well-read blog, it is a great exposure since a lot more people come across it and additionally if it is a very well-written and informative blog more people can be educated from it boosting the articles’ viewership, influence and importance. The author, therefore, benefits a lot from that publication.
If you publish in an academic journal maybe 10 people will read it, not more than that in most cases. So that is a waste. Even if you can write one line about this in your CV, it’s not worth it. If you are able to publish in a blog and you know tens of thousands of people are reading it, that creates massive value for other people and therefore it creates some value for you also.
It’s a very important thing that we target well-read platforms where you get more eyeballs. So that’s one thing to keep in mind rather than having this dogmatic view that oh no, publications in a journal is the only useful publication.
This is a very old-school way of thinking. There are people who will still tell you that you have to publish in a journal, a legal peer-reviewed journal. It doesn’t make sense unless you’re going to be an academician. It won’t have any value. That’s number one. Number two is that it is very important to write on something that is actually adding value to people, for example by answering the legal questions people want answers to. If someone is facing some problems and, at that moment, they want a solution and what you are writing as an article or blog or whatever it is, can address those problems then you are getting somewhere with your publication.
Then you are adding real value to real people and slowly solving real problems. Leave academic writing to academicians. You should focus on building a larger audience.
Don’t write or publish for the sake of sounding important. Lots of people write because they want to sound important or impress people. Don’t try to come across as interesting. Just focus on adding value to people, focus on solving real problems. That way you will go far and you will have more success than by trying to impress people.
Rohan M Therattil: With the emergence of COVID-19, the entire legal system has seen a huge shift into the online or virtual mode unlike ever before. Could you give us your opinions on the importance of the internet in helping the legal system as well as legal students as a whole?
Ramanuj Mukherjee: Okay, so I think it has worked in favour of law students in a big way because now it has opened up opportunities for you to work remotely with foreign companies, startups and lawyers in foreign countries, thanks to remote work, and this opportunity at this scale never existed before. For Indian law students, I would say it has been a game-changer. A blessing, in fact, though for many it may be hard to understand why.
Earlier your job market was restricted within just your city, but now if you are smart, your job market doesn’t have to be restricted locally. You can work in another city, in India or in another country. Yeah, you can work with lawyers in the USA, UK, and other advanced legal markets provided you learn relevant skills accordingly. You can’t say that why would I, I don’t know anything, but please give me a job. I know domestically the job market is tough right now, but instead of shedding tears over it, we have to look for alternatives. What other option do we have?
The Indian job market has been impacted a lot by this, but lots of law firms and lawyers who managed to adapt to the new reality have grown significantly during this period too. The organizations and people who have been doing the right things, adopting the right advanced methods, technology and strategy have become even more successful during the pandemic. They have been hiring as well.
Okay, so giving you an example, imagine somebody was doing good blogging or somebody has been a YouTuber educating people about legal issues on YouTube. They have got a massive influx of clients because people now trust online influencers more than ever. Now the lawyers who built online presence seriously have benefited greatly. So that is the critical thing, you know now even in a small village people might go to YouTube and watch some videos before deciding which lawyer to hire. This is an incredible opportunity. People are increasingly turning to the internet to solve their problems, including legal problems.
Rohan M Therattil: What advice would you give to future lawyers on how to balance the various tasks and activities they can participate in within Law School?
Ramanuj Mukherjee: Okay, so I have never cared much for balance. What is it that are you trying to balance? I think it is very important to set targets and reach those targets and very important not to try to do everything.
It is natural to be tempted that I want to do everything, and I want to be good at everything. When you see something shiny or hear about something exciting, you want to do it. However, if you keep working in one direction, which most people don’t do, it’s the easiest to stand out and get stellar results. That is why you must choose one thing and keep working in one direction. If you do that, then you will get ahead of all the other people. Most people will try to do many things and not be able to match up and you will get lots of success. So, if you want early success in life, instead of trying to do a hundred different things, just focus on one single thing. Become the best in that one thing and that is the whole idea. Nobody does that, only very few people do it especially at a college level.
Maybe some people after graduation do it, someone smart enough to try that, but mostly at the college level, nobody’s doing that. Imagine for 5 years in college you focus on one subject and you continuously learn about that subject. You will become really good at it. You’ll build a reputation for it. I once interned with a lawyer who in his second year of law college discovered shipping law and dedicated himself to it. For almost everything he did, he would connect it to something about shipping law. For example, all his internships were related to shipping law. If it was to write a college project, he will write on something related to the shipping industry. So if it is insurance law class, and he has to write a project he would do it on shipping insurance. If it was contract law class then he would write on shipping contracts. If it was criminal law class then on criminal offences in the shipping industry. By doing this, he had developed a good knowledge about shipping law and then he specialized in shipping law as a litigator and became very successful.
I think most people don’t understand the power of focusing on one thing. It doesn’t have to be a subject. It can be a skill. Maybe something you are very good at.
Just keep going, till you become really good and then some more because if you keep doing it, maybe you will become one of the best in the world in that area. But people try something for one month and they are like nothing is happening. This is a problem and I think if you just do this one thing you will be sorted. This is my most important piece of advice.
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