ILJ’s Vikrant Pachnanda spoke with Donnie Ashok , a student of Gujarat National Law University and an Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access (IDIA) Scholar about how he started and how he did not let odds come in his way to realize his dreams of being a lawyer.

  • Donnie Ashok
Ques: You started a website that shares with the legal community, the professional experiences and insights of lawyers. How did you come up with this brilliant and intellectually stimulating idea?

Ans: Ramanuj Mukherjee, a co-founder of iPleaders, came up with this idea and he has been working on this project since the end of 2012. In Feb, 2013 we bought the domain.

I joined the team quite late in around August 2013, for me this idea to interview advocates and legal professionals to gather career insights appeared very novel and unique. As during my Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) days, when I was preparing for the entrance in Mumbai with the guidance of Ramanuj Das taying with him during those months really changed a lot about my life. I got to meet many of his friends, got guided by many of them, got to know about the legal industry, and even before I cracked the CLAT, I had the opportunity to learn why a premier law school graduate would leave a job as lucrative as that of one of the top three firms of India, and venture out to carve an independent career for herself.

To be honest, before writing CLAT, I knew the best thing happening to a law student could be getting a law firm job. But this period changed it forever, as I found out that several law school graduates from the top law schools, had quit law firms after working, and some of them never thought in their lifetime to join one. This is when I realised there is so much to be done with a law school degree. Each of the people I met had a different story, I recall meeting someone who wanted to work in the Bollywood as an actor after graduating from NLSIU and working at AMSS. This inspired me a lot to not look at the degree as a professional course or a key to a job, but something, which can frame the basic structure of a reasonable person.

Due to such prior experience, when Ramanuj Da invited me to create the necessary technology for SuperLawyer, I got very excited and we readily started ideating on it. Given the sheer number of great achievers I knew and continue to know, it was not a difficult task reaching out to them in the beginning. People like Teslin, Esha, Deepak, Rukmini, Divya and yourself too, took to this idea kindly, and even before SuperLawyer was even a site, you all took out time to give this idea a shape by sharing your career experiences.

Thereafter, I was made a co-founder in the project. When the onus of making the project a success came upon me, I took the opportunity to take feedback from people like Dr. Shamnad Basheer, Madhurima Mukherjee and incorporated those feedbacks thereby increasing website interaction. We have also been fortunate as people like Raghul Sudheesh, Prateek Mohapatra and you have voluntarily agreed to be our advisors.

When we launched it in May 2014, immediately we had a tremendous reception as many law students and young lawyers have questions about their career that they cannot get answered unless they are from a privileged background. You can say we’re democratizing access to career insights. Successful practicing lawyers are sharing their experiences and insights and young lawyers and law students are reading.

The job of interviewing lawyers is a formidable task, it requires huge patience! Generally an associate would reply in under a week, but sometimes it can extend to as long as 4 to 6 months for the senior people in the legal industry. Remembering, keeping a tab, and following up takes a huge amount of time everyday regularly. But the benefit it serves is titanic compared to the effort I put in it.

Ques: How did you approach Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access (IDIA) and how did it help you in pursuing your dream to be a lawyer?

Ans: Again Ramanuj Da, had a huge role to play in introducing me to IDIA. I came to know about Ramanuj Da through my sister, the day he met me he had suggested me to take a test, which was going to be held at a specific day at NUJS, Kolkata in August, 2010.I knew about the NLUs from earlier as my friend Arnab Roy, had cracked the NLUJ Entrance test, and was studying at NLU Jodhpur. I used to talk to him about legal studies and the law schools. I knew nothing about the test, I didn’t even know that it could be a key to the future, I took it very casually. I went unprepared as I had promised Ramanuj Da to take the test. Fortunately, the test was about checking basic English and Logical Aptitude with around 10 current affairs questions, and I cracked the test. Later, I came to know that the test was the first IDIA National Aptitude Test (INAT).

Later when the results were out, IDIA volunteers connected with me and admitted me to the nearest CLAT coaching centre at IMS, Salt Lake. Under the guidance of IDIA Volunteers like Diptasri Basu, Ramanuj Da and IMS Director, Rajneesh Singh, I had learnt a lot more about the NLUs, and cracking an aptitude test.

Most importantly, I was not going to school in those days because of financial constraints. IDIA paid all my backlog of school fees, counselled me to go back to school, and gave me the much required confidence, that if I do work hard, there is an assured result of it.

Without this idea of Dr. Shamnad Basheer, true that I would have cleared my boards in sometime, but I would have still been working at the logistics office entering Challan data day in and day out, throughout my life.

Ques: Does being an IDIA scholar put pressure on you as far as performance is concerned once you joined Gujarat National Law University to pursue your legal studies?

Ans: To realise the answer of this question, we would need to look at the origin of every IDIA scholar, and the larger background of what IDIA does. IDIA’s work doesn’t end at admitting a scholar to law school, in fact it starts from there. IDIA continuously monitors scholar performances, mentors them through the wide network of legal professionals who have volunteered to guide IDIA scholars, guides us with career advice and tips and strategies whenever we require.

After a scholar finds so much love and support from so many people, he can’t prevent himself from performing better and transcending his own limits and barriers. It’s inexplicable how we always keep motivated about performing better than we knew we could do. We always keep inspired through the IDIA Conferences and meetings. The IDIA teamleaders are very helpful when it comes to troubleshooting our day-to-day problems at law school.

Assimilating into the elite atmosphere of the law schools was never taxing as there were friendly volunteers always.

It must also be a tremendous task for IDIA to mobilise funds for my education, the moment I realise the amount of benefits I receive for that, I can't deny the existence of my duties towards it.

I have had very poor scores in a few subjects, in the beginning it felt difficult sharing this with my mentors, but they have always been very encouraging. I remember Dr. Basheer writing to me that, "Your competition is only with yourself".

Ques: Where do you see yourself once you graduate from law school?

Ans: This perception has been changing regularly from my first day in GNLU. I have been confused a lot. Sometimes I see myself as an advocate of Civil Rights, sometimes as a volunteer in the far flung rural areas, I have also thought of taking law to the masses through developing technology. All of these, would for obvious reasons require me to be selfless, and that I have lately realised I can’t be, I still do belong to my family. So now I am looking forward to a well paying job after graduation for at least 7-8 years. Maybe if the situation improves, I would consider going into pro-bono litigation and much more socially-relevant work.

Ques: You are inspiration of how to fight all odds to realise one' dreams. Would like to share some words of inspiration with us?

Ans: I am just in my fifth semester, and I am unsure about my own future, let alone inspiring others. If probability would have it that somewhere there is another law aspirant without means to further his education, I would suggest him, that the premier legal education at the National Law University’s and other premier law schools may not be worth the fees they charge. It’s all about the tenacity, if one has to study law, he can and excel in his own rights. Someone studying at the National Law School, Bangalore, has the best reason to study law, but you can’t excel in this profession with a reason to study it, you need the tenacity, which can be there inside you irrespective of where you study.