Lawctopus’ Ryan Wilson interviews Asutosh Mohanty, the managing partner of Pegasus Research Offices Global and a 2013 graduate of RMLNLU, who speaks to us on his journey of starting his own law firm.
In this interview, Asutosh minces no words while giving advice to those who want to venture in legal entrepreneurship and is impressively candid on his experiences so far.
RW: Hi, Asutosh! What is your target area of practice? How hard is to break into?
Asutosh: Pegasus Research Offices Global started in August, 2013 by three individuals as partners, Mr. Prashant Bhatia as the major investing partner who has a pharmaceutical industrial undertaking, Mr Shatrudra Pratap Singh who is a practicing lawyer and closely associated with the BJP and me as the managing partner.
When we started, we had the idea of a firm functioning in a place like Delhi but circumstances made us learn how different cities like Lucknow are where things are not so professional in our field. That’s the reason why not many law firms have offices in a big city (though not a metro) like Lucknow.
You just can’t afford to choose specific areas of practice here. Initially, we had decided not to practice in family, criminal and tax matters.
But, now except tax disputes, we are open to practice in any field of law. We even don’t say NO to clients with tax disputes, we simply engage a tax expert. So, I sincerely feel there is absolutely no need to be specific in areas of practice, eventually it’s supposed to be a firm of lawyers catering to clients of all sorts.
RW: Any tips you could give to build a good “referral network”?
Asutosh: Referral network is the most vital tool for advancing any business or professional venture. For a law firm, it’s more important as we are not allowed to advertise like other commercial entities.
The BCI Rules restrict display board sizes of a law firm too. We are allowed only to maintain a website with profiles of associates that too, with a disclaimer. Therefore, many law firms adopt surrogate methods like sponsoring competitions, organizing seminars and conferences, etc to bypass the futile regulations of the BCI.
To build a good referral network, you have to brush up your personality first. You can’t afford to be rude to people especially your clients or talk ill about others in the profession. That’s a big negative if you do so. Even the biggest of firms actively solicit clients.
So, building a good contact base and networking is something that you cannot simply do away with. This applies to individual lawyers too.
RW: Any plans to expand?
Asutosh: We broke even in March, 2014. After breaking even, we have finally decided that we will have our second office in Cuttack, Odisha which is my hometown and where my father already has a flourishing practice.
Our expansion plans also include offering outsourcing solutions to foreign law firms and organizations by augmenting our setup here.
I had interned in an LPO during my law school and one of my close friends manages one, so I always wanted to foray into this area as well. All these expansion plans should materialize by July, 2015.
RW: How does a new law firm develop a client base?
Asutosh: I wouldn’t just advice anybody to open a law firm here in Lucknow.
I would encourage only people with good capital and contact backup to go ahead. We were lucky to have a huge contact base to survive and then progress, others might not be that lucky. Client base as said earlier depends on your present clients, relatives, friends and other lawyers who refer you cases.
You have to be sincere and wise to grab and utilize opportunities. There is a lot of shamelessness and petty politics involved in our practice, so you should know what waters you are entering into.
Even a senior advocate proudly practices the Crab Theory. Soliciting clients depends on your persona, client counselling skills and surrogate advertising.
RW: What is the minimum infrastructure required to start one’s own law firm?
Asutosh: Fortunately, a law firm demands minimal infrastructure compared to other sectors. We can safely run a law firm in a building in a residential locality. So, we save on exuberant rent and other commercial taxes.
Major investment goes into furniture, books in the library and online legal databases. New or refurbished conference tables, sofa sets, executive tables and modern looking book cabinets and shelves are the basic furniture you require.
A complete bare act set (individual and in form of manuals), commentaries on ALL subjects of law, local bare acts and commentaries on state legislations like UP Land Revenue Act and online legal database preferably SCC Online Platinum Edition are a must for your library.
Please pay importance to interior decoration of your office. Keep it simple but trendy. In a place like Lucknow, initially you need close to half a million for your furniture and library requirements.
You need to have a backup of another half a million for office space rental, landline and broadband rental, electricity charges, salary of associates, clerks and peons, domestic help charges and office stationary. This one million is almost the half of what you would require in a city like Mumbai or Delhi.
RW: How different are the initial years of a law firm start up from the initial years of a solo practice in litigation?
Asutosh: There is a sea of difference in both.
Solo practice in litigation doesn’t require the initial financial burden of a setup as is for a firm. So, less investment. No staff maintenance and team management hassles for a solo practitioner. He also doesn’t have the burden of marketing an organization and that too in such a surrogate fashion. He can gradually improve upon his library and furniture; a law firm can’t afford to do so. There is a basic minimum requirement that a law firm has to cater to.
On a personal note, I would say a law firm is much more demanding as it commands a lot of time investment where you have to manage your partners and family skillfully.
To successfully run any organization, balancing your relationship with your partners and family is the key.
RW: Law school may have taught us to be lawyers, but it did not teach us how market and manage a law firm. Would a post LLB MBA help aspirants?
Asutosh: A law school doesn’t just make us lawyers; it makes us the most aware citizens in the society who a lay man doesn’t take very casually. A law school like a military academy- it changes the basic thinking process of an individual. I
t gives vent to a lot of abilities which other professional courses do not. Abilities to research, put it into quality use, oratory, witty replies, facing the public, etc are some of the few things that I learnt from my law school.
Starting a law firm is quite different from any other commercial entity. An MBA degree from a good college would definitely help an individual but not particularly someone who wants start a law firm.
Even the biggest law firms in the country are the smallest of organizations. A person with good contacts and capabilities to work with and lead a team can do wonders with a law firm.
A law firm is a skill based small entity where lawyers get together to provide their services collectively. It’s just organizational practice. Adequate knowledge in law (cannot be substituted), working with a good team and meeting the expectations of clients is the success mantra of a law firm.