Scrambling through exams, admission processes and finally managing to get into the course and college of your choice. But instead of taking up conventional jobs that you are ideally ‘supposed’ to, you are being drawn towards exploring other opportunities within the same field. Sounds familiar?
Lawyer turned entrepreneur Vibha Mane has a similar story.
Most of Vibha’s family adorned either black or khaki and she liked both – the lawyers and the police officers. Law and order has been a part of her life since her childhood. She was always fascinated by her father’s aura and was smitten by the authority, his uniform and his post. He served the Indian Police services and Vibha would often drop into his office after school.
“There was this big State Police logo behind his office desk – A hand indicating protection, encircled with a star. The logo read ‘Sadrakshanaya Khalnigrahanay’, meaning protecting the righteous and annihilating the evil,” recalls 33-year-old Vibha.
But how did she end up choosing a career in law over police?
“Friends and acquaintances often consulted my father for career guidance. I had once asked him, ‘why don’t you advice people on joining the police force?’ He said that the police force is bound by the law, lawyers know the boundaries of law, they know how to interpret rules – from two sides,” says Vibha.
This made her look at law from her father’s perspective and that is when she found it influential, impressive, enabling, and empowering. She wanted to be a lawyer since she was 14. However, people around her were stumped at her choice. Having seen her write, dance and act well had made them assume that she would choose arts as her profession. Looks like they were partially right as today Vibha is mostly on stage, at various forums addressing and training law students on various topics.
While Vibha was studying law at Symbiosis Law School, Pune, she was like any other average student. She thought she would end up practising at the Bombay High Court five years down the line. Even in college, Vibha maintained a low profile and had few friends. She wasn’t active in moot courts or debates either. Vibha’s classmates who were interning at top law firms had fancy looking resumes at the end of the five-year course. But Vibha had only gone to lower courts on the perusal of the senior advocates in her family who thought it was more important to work at district courts to understand the ground reality.
“For them, such fancy internships didn’t matter.”
Vibha was not particularly happy with this, but she kept going with the flow. The turning point of her career was around this time.
“Lower courts were depressing. They broke something in me. I didn’t find anything ‘empowering’. It was all just a sad state of affairs,” she recalls.
Vibha tried hard at the Bombay High Court and struggled with Indian Penal Code, land laws and electricity laws. But by the end of it, she was convinced that courts weren’t meant for her. Her family felt puzzled by her decision.
Questions like ‘What else will you do?’ and ‘Why did you study law then?’ had started doing the rounds. They couldn’t think of anything else a lawyer could do. Vibha decided to take a break to buy time and ponder over what she wanted to do next.
“I felt terrible about my resume! But I was confident about one thing – studying law was not a mistake. I strongly believed I had a career in it. I thought ‘there must be something I can do with the degree.”
And so the pursuit began.
Vibha started applying to universities in UK and chose to join the University of Glasgow, Scotland, as she was always fascinated by the Scottish landscapes. This was the phase when she came into her own.
Vibha realised her inclination towards academia, although she knew that teaching law would be boring, mediocre and an easy excuse for not litigating back home in India. But she brushed all her fears aside and concentrated on the tasks at hand. She took up a job in a call centre to be able to pay off her education loan. Though the job paid her well, she had to discontinue it as the odd timings were taking a toll on her studies. She was fortunate enough to find another job at the university cafe, where along with earning some extra bucks she also got free food and enough money to save up to go back home. Vibha was no more the average student, she participated in cultural functions of the Indian community.
As her convocation approached, Vibha began applying for jobs in India. With an education loan to pay off, a job in law schools would not suffice. Around this time, she got an offer from Rainmaker, a law firm started by four young and energetic National Law School Bangalore alumni. The job required Vibha to create content, write courses, head projects and impart training. She went on to work with the Maharashtra State Electricity Commission for a brief period. But the government style of working didn’t excite her enough. Her biggest career break came in the year 2009 when she was appointed as a Research Associate with OP Jindal Global University.
After she got married in 2011, Vibha got through the prestigious Tata Institute of Social Sciences and was hired on a contract to create what would be the first LLM course for the institute. She then went on a one-year maternity break and utilised it well for independent research of her own experiences during her job opportunities. She came up with a paper which she presented at the Gender & Law Conference in Turkey in June 2014.
As she started considering applying to various law schools in Mumbai to return back to a full-time job, her husband was insistent on her taking up entrepreneurship. But Vibha was reluctant.
He is a businessman and such thoughts are only natural for him. I am a hard core service class person – go to office, do the work, get paid- simple.
A little bit of mulling over the idea and convincing later, she contended that instead of working with one organisation for content or teaching, she could offer it all under one roof. Vibha eventually started her Law Matters in February 2015 after brainstorming with friends, colleagues and meeting principals, vice chancellors of various universities.
Law Matters started with two people and some initial funding from her father-in-law, Vibha’s firm creates courses for law schools, universities, management schools and other educational organisations. The firm also conducts seminars, workshops and training sessions for law students on career options after law, resume crafting, legal research methodology, effective legal writing skills, soft skills for lawyers.
It is now a team of 10 members, mostly lawyers. It has worked on prominent government projects like the Maharashtra Beef Ban and the policy issues of motor launch owners in Mumbai. The firm is also getting several demands for training and content creation from Delhi, Haryana, Pune, Satara and Bengaluru.
But this growth wasn’t easy. In the initial phases Vibha faced the challenge of having to convince the heads of colleges and universities for the need of a more innovative law course in the curriculum. Her problems only multiplied as she was treated differently by most people for being a woman entrepreneur. This particular challenge was new to Vibha because as a practising lawyer, she had never felt the discrimination.
“I have to speak tough, look tall and wear a saree! This may sound absolutely ridiculous, but so many women lawyer friends and colleagues have shared similar experiences. Saree seems to work in Indian legal education culture.”
Apart from these hacks, what has also worked for Vibha is her persuasiveness and dedication to bring about innovativeness in the run of the mill law courses that are prevalent in our universities today.
Law Matters is working with Symbiosis Law School, Noida; Bharti Vidya Peeth, Pune; Ismailsaheb Mulla Law College, Satara; Indian Academy of Law and Management, Delhi. A few important projects from Delhi, Pune and Bengaluru are also in the works.
Vibha’s long-term aim for Law Matters is to have a huge data bank of courses on varied topics. Her team is also considering developing an online platform for all their services. They also want to tie up with some organisations doing ground level work and provide them with all the legal assistance required.
Amidst all this, how is she managing to successfully multitask between motherhood and entrepreneurship?
“I am blessed to have a big joint family who has my back all the time. All I manage to do is leave early from work and take weekends off!” she signs off.