How we built India's First Lawyer Search Engine, Lawyersofindia.com
An idea that cropped up while having a casual discussion led to beginning of our startup journey and experiencing all the highs and the lows first hand.
It was in February 2015 that Kunal Narain and I (Mohit Nayar) were having a casual discussion about the legal sector in general over a cup of coffee. Kunal was a Lawyer and I was engaged in my family business for the past 7 years. Neither of us knew anything about building or running an internet company, nor did either of us knew how to code.
It was during this discussion that we realized that there was no way for the public of this country to search for a Lawyer online the intelligent way and not just like an alphabetical order dictionary. There was no way for a man to know which lawyer specialized or focused his practice on which area of expertise.
We had decided to change that even before our coffee was finished. We got up and left for home to start researching about the same.
We spent a week searching for websites that were already present and doing what we were about to do. We couldn't find a single one which did all that we had decided to do. There were some who did one thing then there was another which had included another feature but none had done it in a consolidated manner and nor were they looking to expand their presence. Then one day, we read that Lawyers are not allowed to advertise in India (Something that hadn't crossed our excited minds in the past 7 days).
The great research began as to what can be done to make sure we do not cross the boundaries set forth by the Bar Council of India. It wasn't long before we found out that in 2008, after a few such queries had been filed, that the BCI had decided to allow Lawyers and Law Firms to enroll in web directories or create their own websites on the condition that they would not give certain details of the Lawyers like Awards, Positions Held or Past Case wins history. The B.C.I had explicitly mentioned 5 things that Web directories could tell about Lawyers or Law Firms. This was it! We had found a gap that we could fill with our solution.
It confused us a lot to see several websites doing exactly what the Bar Council had asked them not to do. And not just web directories, even Lawyers and Law Firms themselves were openly flouting the rules set forth by the BCI. We read hundreds of articles on the internet which challenged several very popular platforms which were doing things the wrong way. It seemed no one cared about the rules. But Care we did. While creating the plan, we had agreed upon one thing that we would not bypass any rules of the BCI.
The next step was making the Website. We did not know how to do it, so we hired a software development firm to do it for us. We hired a company in our home town thinking that it would be the best idea to hire a local team whom we can approach easily anytime we wished to. This turned out to be the single biggest mistake of our whole journey till date. Not only was the work sub-standard, they cheated us over a lot of things. The response for our platform was thus extremely bad. Everyone loved our idea, no one loved our platform. We had to change that to keep the dream alive.
We realized that we had two options with us. We could either hire another company in a metro city to do it for us or we could look for a Technical Co-Founder. The problem was simple. We did not know any software engineer. There were none in our friends circle, none among our cousins and the few we could search were all working at established firms, not ready to leave their well-paying jobs for "Us" as it is we had no prior experience of running an internet company.
Finally after weeks of searching we came across a guy who was interested in working with us. It was Neeraj Rai, an acquaintance of ours who was working at another software development firm and was interested to work at a Startup.
Meanwhile, we had lost our already small user base as we had not updated anything in the past couple of months. It was February 2016 and by now several other Legal Tech platforms had emerged. We knew we were already very late at executing our idea. 6 months is a lifetime in the internet business. We were already a lifetime behind everybody else.
It took us another couple of months to create a new platform, one which worked like we wanted it to. Finally in the middle of April, we relaunched Lawyersofindia.com
We had already covered Allahabad Lawyers in the previous year. This time we headed to New Delhi. We enrolled 200 Lawyers in 5 hours. We then went to Lucknow, where over 350 Lawyers enrolled in a matter of 4 hours.
We were on a high now. Every single person who came across our platform understood that we were doing something totally different from the competition. We were an open platform. No useless registration for users to search and no cost to pay. A user could search, filter and contact the Lawyer he deems fit, all by himself. We do not mediate the Appointment booking process at all, whereas almost all other websites are mediating the appointment booking process. We now have over 2000 Lawyers registered from about 40 different cities all over India.
Lawyers come forward and appreciate us for the herculean task we have undertaken upon ourselves to engage all Lawyers in this country to have an online presence. We believe everybody deserves to be visible to the public, and not just those who can afford to do so.
We never rate or review Lawyers as this is again against the wishes of the BCI. On top of that ratings and reviews often lead to bogus entries which lead to professionals getting miffed.
It has been a really fruitful journey so far. Meeting so many Lawyers from all over India, our perception about the legal profession changed completely. We learnt a new business along the way. We worked more in the past one year than what we had in the past 5.
Entrepreneurship is like being an actor in Bollywood. It looks all rosy and flashy to the public, but what they don't realize is the constant struggle that goes on 24*7 in their lives.