'In online learning, India is at par with other countries'

Ashna Ambre

When Rudy Baylor, a character played by Matt Damon in the 1997 American drama The Rainmaker, battles his first case against a corrupt insurance company on behalf of his client, all he has is his law degree and idealism to fight devious and experienced lawyers representing a large firm. Though Baylor eventually wins this trial, the movie ends with his decision to abandon practice and teach law instead with a focus on ethical behavior.

Nikhil Chandra, 34, a law graduate from National Law School in Bengaluru has a similar story, albeit less dramatic than Baylor's. He joined a law firm after his graduation in 2002. "The exposure at Chambers of Zia Mody (CZM) was brilliant and in five years my learning curve accelerated," recalls Chandra.

In 2007, the economic environment in the legal fraternity went through a transformation. More people opted to join the profession and that created a need for legal content, especially in the field of corporate law.

Inspired by this, Chandra snapped the opportunity as an early mover, quit his job that year, and launched Rainmaker Training and Recruitment Private Limited -- a Mumbai-based startup, which has developed an online platform for legal courses called myLaw.net. This platform gives legal practitioners something no law degree can offer -- an edge.

Unaffected By Recession

"India is at par with other countries, at least in the space of online learning. I think we are matching up to international standards for once," says Chandra, Founder of Rainmaker.

Since its inception, the legal education startup has raised close to $3 million or approximately Rs. 16 crore over three rounds of funding through a group of angel investors that include prominent businessmen and senior lawyers from the Indian legal fraternity.

"We began research to identify areas of concern and real issues pertaining to access of content. We convinced IGNOU about our idea and launched a legal online diploma program for them in 2008," says Chandra.

The year 2008 was a bad year for business due to the economic crisis and growth for many was on a decline. However, Rainmaker being in a recession-proof sector like education was not badly affected. If anything, it had a reverse effect.

"During tough market conditions, people prefer to enhance conventional skills to expand their knowledge and prepare for the future. Even though marketing this concept of learning online was not easy at that time, it was well taken," he recalls.

Chandra says that 60,000-80,000 law students graduate from India annually and the firm has over one million registered lawyers -- a number large enough for Chandra to build content for specific courses with myLaw.net, 2009 onwards. 

The content is based on three specific areas of law: Skill-based (drafting and communication), fundamentals (constitutional and contract law), and corporate practices like securities, mergers and acquisitions, trade law, and foreign investment laws which are all delivered as short-duration courses for university students.

Rainmaker also has specific content  which is meant for litigation and niche areas like sports law.

Bridging The Gap

"There is a disconnect between what is expected in terms of knowledge from Indian lawyers and what they are taught at law schools. A particular set of skills are essential, besides knowledge of the subject. Rainmaker is bridging this gap well," says Sajan Poovayya, Managing Partner, Poovayya & Co., an investor with Rainmaker.

Year 2010 ushered in a breakthrough when Rainmaker secured the one-time contract to conceptualize and manage the All India Bar Examination (AIBE), the first qualifying examination for legal practitioners.

Rainmaker completed it in 2012 and has been primarily responsible for putting the process online. This gave Chandra the confidence to eye the entire legal ecosystem. He got into the hiring space with Vahura, a legal talent management company that had been an affiliate of Rainmaker since 2011, providing recruitment, assessment and consulting services.

As Rainmaker grew and the focus on online content became stronger, in 2013 Vahura was spun off as a separate entity.

Law School Clients

Rainmaker works with law schools across India including NALSAR Hyderabad, NUJS Kolkata and Rizvi Law College, Mumbai whose students have access to these customised online courses as additional study material besides the university syllabus.

"Students are eager to enroll themselves for these courses. The subjects and content offered by the platform is well structured and easy to comprehend. Students feel that they have an edge over the others, especially during placements," claims Daisy Alexandra, Principal, Rizvi Law College.

"While we have had multiple programs offered in the past, we currently have 15 certificate and accredited programs offered on myLaw.net. Sessions last for 12 weeks and cost Rs. 5000," says Chandra, adding that they have worked with over 12,000 students and professionals and currently have over 2,500 enrollments on the platform.

The content also includes video interviews on law and the legal profession. By the end of this fiscal, Rainmaker plans to make 40 programs available. Soumita Mohanty, a student, says, "myLaw.net has provided me with an excellent learning opportunity. Reading materials are concise, yet lucid. The videos are crisp, to-the-point and have greatly helped me in understanding the tricky aspects of the subject."

Poovayya says while Rainmaker operates in a sector with immense scope, scaling the business depends on how well they can structure the content and how fast they can reach out to students and corporates. "We are launching various programs and are engaging with students and professionals, both legal and non-legal. There is demand from law schools who are keen to embed our programs into their curriculum," claims Chandra. Rainmaker currently has over 30 employees across offices in Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. Chandra expects to break even by FY15 and has a lofty topline target of Rs. 100 crore by FY18. He aims to make myLaw.net the premier platform for legal education in India and plans to tie up with legal institutes and law firms countrywide.

While he's off to a good start, only the future will tell us if he has been a real Rainmaker or not.

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