In the second part of our series on entrepreneurs of NUJS, we speak to Tanuj Kalia of Lawctopus fame, and hear his story on how he created the first-of-its-kind website that caters to law students across the country. Tanuj speaks of how he noticed a vacuum in the system regarding information on noteworthy opportunities in law schools, and decided to pursue it, “From the beginning of college, I noticed of how none of us, including me, would share information of exciting competitions that we’d come to know of. Also, information about getting your article published in a good law journal seemed hidden away and proprietary to some good seniors. I thought this wasn’t healthy”.
While speaking to his parents about his career in middle school, Tanuj realised that there was family consensus that he should do something in the writing field. An introvert throughout his schooling at St Mary’s, Tanuj bagged the top ranks and impressed its audience with his flair for writing. His father brought home some tests for NLS, and they poured over it together. “My father told me that lawyers had to do a lot of writing-related work. I saw that the tests were heavily subjective, required a lot of writing and had very little math, and that suited my interests. I decided that law would be the thing for me”. After the decision making point, getting Tanuj into law school became like a familial mission. Accompanied by his father, Tanuj moved to Chandigarh from Sundarnagar (a town in Himachal Pradesh) for two years to attend the LST coaching centre. Finally, the endeavour was successful, and Tanuj gained admission into NUJS.
He had enormous expectations from the university, and admits to having been a bit let down by the infrastructure at college. In addition to that, he realised that this was a highly competitive arena, “When you’re from a small town, it is easy to be exceptional at a lot of things – especially at school. It is only when you enter college that you meet people who are better than you at things you were actually proud of, like writing, and academics. It was a quite a reality check”. He admits to having felt a little lost in his first year, overwhelmed by the sheer number of opportunities offered by NUJS. There was a multitude of experiences, committees, societies – all novel, and all that offered different opportunities and different experiences. As time passed, however, he found himself settling in. “If you asked me what I miss most from college, it’d definitely have to be my friends. It’s very difficult, post-college, to keep in touch with everybody. We’re all busy with our own working schedules and commitments. It’s a drastic shift from having your friends live down the corridor from you, like in college”.
Tanuj had been freelancing at Legally India, and had founder Kian Ganz act as mentor, giving him feedback on his write-ups and tips on interviewing skills. He holds both the website and the founder in great esteem, saying that they were a huge influence in his own journey with Lawctopus. In addition to his association with Legally India, Tanuj also wrote for Bar and Bench. In his initial years at college, he’d been an active member of a community on Orkut called ‘Legal Internships in India’. All these experiences formed the background of him starting Lawctopus. The idea of Lawctopus came to him while suffering from a bout of chickenpox.’. The two weeks of complete bedrest at his maternal grandparents’ home in Chandigarh gave him time to mull over the idea of a website made exclusively for law students. He jotted down the ideas at the back of a book, and started pitching the idea to his peers when he returned to college. Drafting a 1700 Word document on his ideas and sending it out found him an agreeable group of friends who went on to become the core team at Lawctopus. As Tanuj describes, Dhruv [Mairal], the tech-savvy member, was appointed to set up the website, Prateek [Bhandari]was the numbers guy who had a knack of producing doodles which went viral, Debanshu [Khettry] played the role of the reliable best friend to whom one turned in crisis, while Naman [Gupta] worked on establishing contacts across law schools in India.
Presently, all the other co-founders hold various jobs in law firms (and the army, that’s Naman), and are not directly associated with Lawctopus. Their friendship had to stand the test of diving into a start-up, but has come bobbing up safe and entirely intact. Tanuj talks of their moment of crisis when the breakup of the website’s shares had to be decided. “It’s next to impossible to separate your personal equation with the person you’re also working with. After all, you’re interacting with the same person. The decision of the ‘shares’ was a strained period for all of us. Not in the long term, of course. But it was a trying time. The fact that our relationships survived is just love and understanding. You hear of so many stories of start-ups that broke down because of disagreements among the founders”.
On a lighter note, Tanuj describes the moment they discovered that they wanted to call their website ‘Lawctopus’. Amidst a discussion on ‘good names’ in the legal sector and ‘fabulous internship opportunities’, the talk went from TRIlegal to PENTagon and eventually shifted onto ‘Paul the Octopus’ – the world famous mollusc that had an uncanny knack for correctly predicting the winner of matches. Someone in the room put together law and octopus, and Tanuj and Dhruv jumped at the name ‘Lawctopus’. Since then, the name has stuck.Tanuj had to manage everything towards the end of college, and says that even in his final year, he had not imagined that this website would become a full-time occupation for him. Today, he has 200+ campus leaders across universities in India that contribute towards the content on the website. Officially, however, Lawctopus is a small unit, with one member for content and one for the tech area.
Recalling his college days, Tanuj talks of a workshop he attended while in first year that he describes as the best course he’s ever attended. It was conducted by Open Space, themed ‘Gender, Sexuality and Human Rights’ and panned over a week. “It had two wonderful facilitators; I even remember their names because it was absolutely fantastic. A lot of people signed up for it from my batch” he says. Among his official courses, he remembers ‘IT Law and Copyright Law’ as something he’d been very interested in. “Even though I flunked in that course, I thoroughly enjoyed attending and learning Jurisprudence,” he says.
“I didn’t invest much in my academics from my third year, because that’s when I started Lawctopus. In hindsight, I really shouldn’t have let my academics suffer, although at the time, it was a conscious decision. It’s my biggest regret,” he laments.
Among his newest ideas, an extension of Lawctopus is NoticeBard, which attempts to go beyond the law student audience, and go into other streams as well, including medical and engineering. The challenge to this addition, as Tanuj sees it, would be to create a brand name for NoticeBard to gain traction from other areas of study. Apart from his devotion to Lawctopus, Tanuj enjoys catching up on movies and hopes that he can return to playing cricket more often like his childhood and college days.