While it may be too early to call it a trend as such but the number of entrepreneurial organisations at law schools is certainly on the rise. Very often these startups are launched and run during law school itself.
Over the past year and a half for instance, Bar & Bench has highlighted students who have set up an online “customized legal documentation solution”, an online legal advice portal and even a site dedicated to law school related announcements. Law students have branched out into niche areas such as offering information to pre-law and law students on internships (Lawctopus) and entrance exam guidance (Legal Edge, BarHacker etc)
And now another startup, named “Grayscale” is ready to join this group. Launched in March this year, Grayscale is essentially a web-based platform that allows clients to “out source” their legal research to law students. This service is completely free, with the students benefitting from the “currency of recognition and outreach”. In this interview with Bar & Bench, Grayscale CEO and founder, Rohan Mukherjee discusses the way Grayscale works.
Bar & Bench: When did Grayscale start operations and how much time went into the initial planning?
Rohan Mukherjee: We started our operations in March, 2013. I always wanted to do something at law school, something that somehow secures my future and a small group of people with me; so that when the rest of the batch hunts around for placements, we would have somehow placed ourselves. This was a fantasy I had before joining law school.
The concept of Grayscale came to me in my third year [at law school], based on two logical deductions – first, lawyers and legal professionals don’t have the luxury of interns at their workplaces all throughout the year, since these are generally taken up during the summer and winter vacations. So why not create a process, where students while at their respective campuses, and having access to sophisticated research databases, both online and offline can fill in this dearth of interns. Also majority of the lawyers don’t have subscriptions to certain online databases, so that works out well for us.
Secondly, I needed to attract students in order to materialize this idea. As a student myself, I had no certificates to hand out to students, and certainly no monetary benefits. That’s when it came to me. Why not offer something more real, which would make much more sense in at this point of our career – contacts. I had to sell outreach and recognition to students thirsting for it, [and I] figured it’s a gold mine.
I did a general ‘market survey’ by asking a few Senior Advocates and Associates at some of the top law firms if this concept would work, and if they would delegate their ancillary work to students - and the response tilted towards the positive side. Plus since it was a fresh approach, I guess they simply found it interesting, if nothing else.
I knew that I had to give this a shot regardless of what others, even established professionals opinionated. Within a day I had created a rough concept note and had started forwarding it to people I knew from various law colleges and made them forward it to their batch-mails. I needed to cover all of them- national law schools, private universities and other colleges.
B&B: Who are the people behind it?
RM: The administration is taken care of by Adhiraj Gupta (COO) of National Law University, Odisha; Swati Sharma (HR Manager) of Symbiosis Law School, Noida; Nivedita Saxena (PR In-Charge) of NLIU, Bhopal; and Shivam Hargunani (Diversity Consultant) of National Law University, Odisha.
B&B: How did you select the associates? Are they all in their second or third year or do you have senior students as well?
RM: When we recruit, we ask for a CV and a written piece –published or unpublished- be it for a moot memo, research paper, legal blog etc, as evidence that they have worked in their area of interest. Post selection, associates are put on a probation period of 2 weeks during which their work quality, efforts taken, and level of participation are monitored.
Our associates consist of students in their second year onwards; this applies to both 5-year and 3-year law courses and extends to postgraduates too. Since the incentive provided is outreach and recognition, that’s something that doesn’t stop with a degree.
B&B: How do you plan on overcoming issues such as confidentiality, quality control etc? Also, what if a researcher is unable to meet a deadline?
RM: We have already got our name (Grayscale Associates) approved by the MCA but are still in the process of getting it incorporated as a Section 25 Company. Till then, our research work is of general nature.
We have appointed Firsts (Team Leaders) who are in charge of the co-ordination and efficiency in their respective teams, they communicate with the client when needed and forward the final work to Adhiraj Gupta, our COO who makes sure that it’s fit to be sent out.
Deadlines are extremely important, especially in this profession. We set a buffer deadline a day or two before the actual deadline, since failure to meet with the same will require that task to be shifted to another team/associate. Failure to meet with a deadline, without any reasonable cause, faces penalties to the extent of being let go from the team. This might seem harsh prima facie, but we have to value time, since our clients do the same.
B&B: You are not charging any fees for research. So how does a student benefit from this?
RM: As I said, we deal with the currency of recognition and outreach. Apart from providing research work to lawyers, we associate with NGOs, other start-ups with legal needs, law journals, legal information websites etc.
For example, some of our associates have published their articles at Lex-Warrier (our Knowledge Partner) and some of them work for LawLex (our Media Partner). For NGOs like Help Children of India, we aggressively promote their cause, raise awareness etc.
We have also started a helpline and a blog called called Gray.Line to serve the practical needs of laymen. So with all of this combined, I like to think of Grayscale as a means to multiple ends. A student definitely benefits from this, since Grayscale links them up to all of these opportunities, which in the end provide them with some form of recognition, apart from their own experience.
B&B: What is the kind of work that you have been entrusted with so far?
RM: Apart from general research work for lawyers and associates at firms, we have proof read documents, we are currently working with other start-ups and organizations dealing with the law, we take up social causes and initiatives with our associations with NGOs and other national and international projects.
Some of the noteworthy assignments that we bagged are providing inputs to the Drafting Committee of the Film Certification and Cinematograph Act, 2010; which was well appreciated and we currently working on a project with the the International Bridges to Justice, Geneva we also have a panel discussion coming up at a latter month.
B&B: What happens to Grayscale once you reach, say the final year of law school?
RM: Grayscale is definitely a pre-career choice, so would I be interested in keeping this up after I graduate and establish myself? Definitely. How often does a law undergrad get to set up his own company, and make a huge impact in the process? The very thought of it blows my mind.
But again, the vagueness of it all is interesting and keeps us going. I’d do a status check after two years, and maybe pass the reins on to someone else. Frankly, the rate at which we have improved in a few months, both work-wise and exposure-wise; I see no reason to ease off from the accelerator.