Entrepreneur & Alternative careerists

Harsh Gagrani, Director, LegalEdge, on being author, entrepreneur, and lawyer

Harsh graduated from NLIU, Bhopal, in 2011. He is the director of LegalEdge Tutorial. He also recently authored The Pearson Guide to the CLAT.

We asked him about:

  • Starting up on his own with LegalEdge
  • His advice to law students who couldn’t make it to top NLUs
  • On CLAT 2015 and writing The Pearson Guide to the CLAT

Kindly acquaint us with your college life and your aspirations in college.

Studying in NLIU was one of the most profound experiences of my life so far. It helped me break out of my comfort zone, and hone my basic skills as a person. The students in NLIU are the chosen best from across the country, and my illusion of being at a higher pedestal in a few activities I have always been good at (quizzing, writing) were shattered right in the first trimester. Thankfully, leaving my comfort zone helped me prepare for the bigger battles I face every day now.

As for other activities, as ironic as it may sound, I was never into anything that involved speaking (moots, debates et al), even though I’m a teacher now! I experimentally wrote an article for a website in the first year, and got seriously hooked to writing. Over the next few years, I wrote and got published close to a dozen articles, winning a couple of essay competitions on the way. Somehow, and this goes against popular wisdom, mooting never gave me the high that a publication did.

 

Any fond memories which you would want to share with our readers related to your days in law school?

A couple of them actually. The first was the publication of my first article, on a pretty obscure website. The article, when I read it today, seems like a complete piece of trash. Even a website publication barely added any value to my CV. But more importantly, it got me started and developed my fascination towards writing, which has helped me to this day.

The second, astonishingly, would be the moment when I decided against going for a job and starting my own venture immediately after graduating. In my final year, I did sit for placements and sadly (read: thankfully), got through none. As the end of college life was approaching, I had casually decided upon starting my own venture, but half-heartedly sat for placements to gain ‘work-ex’ of a few years, as that’s what the conventional wisdom said. Not getting through the placements came as an eye-opener for me, and I re-evaluated my plans. Luckily, my peers and family supported my fanatical plan of starting the venture without any experience. It has worked well for me so far.

 

What motivated you to start Legal Edge Tutorials?

As I’ve already stated, I zeroed in on starting my venture sometime in my final year. However, I was entirely clueless as to what I would start. I toyed with a few ideas, all of them requiring some prior experience, which I lacked. This included starting an e-commerce company (with absolutely no tech experience), starting an Indianized version of SSRN (if anyone is interested, I’m still game!), a virtual stock exchange (seemed promising then, seems absurd now) etc. I researched on all these ideas, met people, prepared business plan, spoke to interested parties and conveniently shelved the idea, seeing a lot of pitfalls in all of them.

The idea of starting a law test prep coaching was given by a good friend. Bhopal had matured well as a go-to destination for law aspirants from all over India, and regretfully, the feigned best in coaching business still yielded highly dissatisfied aspirants. We saw an opportunity and started working towards it. Luckily, we didn’t have much time to ponder over the idea and finalize business plans, as the ideal time to launch batches was already around the corner, or I’m sure I would have shelved this idea also. We set the ball rolling and launched within a month of writing our last examination in NLIU.

 

What makes Legal Edge Tutorials different from its peers?

The competition in CLAT prep industry, especially in Bhopal, is very tense. The city already has old guards maintaining their presence, brands spreading their presence and new players establishing their presence. Luckily, we’ve been able to carve a niche for ourselves. Why we’re different? I’ll deviate from clichés like ‘personalised attention’ and ‘best infrastructure’ and get straight to the point:

  • We never compromise on faculty, which in my humble opinion, is the single most important determinant of any student’s success.
  • Extremely high focus on developing great content. The content we give to the classroom students has been regenerated to develop best-selling books, twice.
  • New modes of learning. I take close to 30 internal current affairs quizzes in a session, we regularly take newspaper reading and magazine reading sessions and conduct tons of inter-batch competitions. All these activities play a major role in getting even a disinterested student involved in the learning process, by making the process more fun and exciting.

Also, while we’re growing rapidly and trying to establish presence in various cities, we try not losing sight of the importance of our job. Students and parents trust us blindly. They swear by us in choosing what exams to take, what colleges to go for, what books to refer to and the like. These decisions potentially make or break careers. The constant realization of this incalculable responsibility, and the delicateness with which we try to deal with the same, truly differentiates us from the peers.

 

Five years from now, where do you see Legal Edge Tutorials?

A student I taught in the first year of LegalEdge, who missed securing a seat in National Law Schools by measly three marks, recently came up to me and told me that he is now preparing for UPSC. The habits he had developed while studying at LegalEdge, especially the reading habit, speed reading tricks and fascination towards subjects like GK, has been with him ever since. He says it has vastly helped him in his preparation for other examinations.

I’d like LegalEdge to replicate this for thousands of students over the next five years. Opening more franchisees and expanding our presence is a given, but I’d like LegalEdge to be an experience of a lifetime for students.

 

Do you think CLAT scores are truly indicative of a student’s potential?

We’ve been lucky enough to have hundreds of students every year who work to their full potential and give CLAT their best shot. However, due to the very nature of competitive examinations, not every student, and not even every brilliant student, necessarily cracks a good National Law School.

Message to those students- I’ve seen most of the non-National Law Schools, especially the newer ones, working even harder than National Law Schools to establish their presence. They get the best competitions organized, liaison with established authorities to deliver lectures in the college and connect with the students, devise a strict curriculum, help the students in getting internships and try hiring great faculties on a regular basis. If you haven’t cracked a National Law School but are lucky enough to be  part of such a college, you’ve got pretty much everything a good college has to offer, National or otherwise. Be proactive. Participate in multifarious activities. Establish a good network. If you waste the fantastic opportunities coming down your way, the blame for failures later on in your life should then be reserved only for yourself and not your college.

 

CLAT 2015 is probably going to be online; how do you think students should get themselves prepared for an online exam?

The whole hullabaloo of CLAT going online has been due to an interview which the Vice-Chancellor of RMLNLU (CLAT 2015’s conducting authority) gave sometime in June, 2014. Since the official notification isn’t yet out, I’d suggest against going for online mocks for now. The notification, clarifying the online conduction of CLAT, should be out by November. Students at any level of their preparation would then have sufficient time to go for online mocks, and acclimatize themselves with this completely different test taking pattern. Till then, I’d say stick with offline mocks.

 

Do you provide any work opportunities for law students?

As a matter of practice, we do not hire undergrad law students as faculty. We’ve been fortunate to have some great NLIU, Bhopal alumni as faculty, including Kapil Duggal (’14 Batch), Swapnil Verma (’10 Batch), Shreya Dua (’14 Batch) and Shivendu Joshi (’11 Batch). However, we’ve hired some really good undergrad students in the content development team from five to six National Law Schools, with some of them working with us since the past three years now.

 

Please tell our readers, when and how you decided to write a book.

Sometime during the end of our first year, we realized that our Current Affairs section was becoming extremely popular among students, when we received dozens of inquiries for the same in a short span of time. It was then that I decided to compile the questions in the form of a book. Since we had most of the content, it didn’t take us much time to release the book. About 500 copies of the book were printed, which were sold out in a month’s time, about 90% of them only in Bhopal. It was then that I realized this big gap in CLAT preparation guide market.

I sent a few copies of my first books to about a dozen good publishing houses, of which Pearson and Macmillan replied. After the initial contract was signed, it took close to nine months for our team to deliver the content and come out with this 700-pages long CLAT guide. We’ve been fortunate enough to get rave reviews about the book from students, teachers and the publishers alike. Work on second edition of this book has already begun and it should be released sometime in January.

 

How is writing a book different from writing a blog?

Flexibility is what differentiates the blog writing experience from the book writing one. A blog can be written to cater to the needs of different target markets within the same segment. This doesn’t necessarily apply to the book writing experience. Which brings us to the point of aspects to be considered while writing a book. In my humble opinion, they are as follows:

Define your target market neatly: A book meant for all is a book meant for none. An author should always decide beforehand an ideal reader for whom the book will prove to be a boon, and ignore everyone else. My book is primarily meant for students at the beginning of their preparation journey.

Giving a strong answer to the ‘why’ question of buying your book: Think about the strongest reason why would you want your potential reader to buy your book over others. While working on the book, stay true to that reason. In our case, it was highly original questions. It sure took us much more time, but the effectiveness of the end product made it worth the efforts.

On requiring external help: In my opinion, bringing more people on board helps in churning out a much better work than working alone. However, don’t lose sight of the second point (staying true to the reason) while deciding upon the people to include on your work.

 

What does it take to be an entrepreneur?

Even more than the guts to start and invest, being an entrepreneur involves guts to carry on when the tides aren’t exactly in your favour. There are times when even your closest ones don’t really believe you can make it big. The self-belief shown during those times can sometimes make all the difference. Other than perseverance, here is a list of three most important skills an entrepreneur must possess:

Not compromising – Each business has at least one aspect which cannot be compromised, come what may. In coaching industry, this aspect is hiring great faculty. Infrastructure, material, other staff, location et al can all be compromised on and a prep centre can still work like charm, only if the quality of teachers is not compromised, though it is never the other way round. An entrepreneur should start his venture keeping in mind this uncompromisable aspect of his business.

Seeing the Bigger Picture – This is primarily what differentiates a follower from the one being followed. An entrepreneur should be able to see through the daily clutter the business generates, and broaden his horizons as far as possible. Business book E-Myth Revisited summarizes this aptly, “Work on the business, not in it”.

Ability (and willingness) to toughen up – Being a new entrant in the industry, we’ve screwed up the way any new venture does. But I’ve always made sure we face even our critics as they help us improve in a way a satisfied customer can never do. Actively solicit reviews to products and services, and have the courage to face the negative ones as well. They’ll help you improve beyond imagination.

 

Lastly, what would be your message to law students and young lawyers who want to pursue entrepreneurship?

Legal Entrepreneurship took its time to take off but has now certainly left its nascent stage. We’ve seen some great ventures taken up by law students/graduates in the past half a decade, including iPleaders, Lawctopus, CLATapult and LiveLaw. Here’s the message to budding entrepreneurs of legal sector:

Start soon, and start with something small. A blog. A YouTube channel (and keep updating it with relevant stuff), a social organization, a website to help CLAT aspirants (Joking! We already have quite a lot of those). You got the point.

Find a mentor. You’ll find people who have been there, done that, in every field. Connect with them. You’ll learn bucketful of relevant things with every conversation you have with them.

Do it for profits. There, I said the unspeakable. Take up a venture for the profits. Don’t make it your primary purpose, but don’t ignore it either. Profits are like oxygen for any venture. A venture should not be existing solely for profits, but in absence of profits, it’ll die down soon. The problem is that I see a lot of initiatives coming up with no definite profitability plan even after many years. They start-up for the sake of starting-up. Unless you don’t make profits as one of the purposes of starting-up, your motivation will die down soon and the venture will appear like a liability, serving you and your customers no good.

Final message- If you’ve been thinking about starting up, do it. Right now. Not after graduating. Not next month or next week. Start anything up right now. It doesn’t have to be big (it cannot be at this stage, anyway). But it’ll kick-start your entrepreneurship journey and prepare you for handling bigger ventures. And let’s connect if you need any help!

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