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Pratik Bakshi On Founding NILS, working with Ram Jethmalani and foreign policy magazine Policy Eye

Coming from a small town in Orissa to traveling across the world, Pratik Bakshi has achieved what most 20-somethings dream of. As a founder of one of the world’s largest law students associations, NILS as well as successfully beginning many other ventures, he talks about what drives him, the mistakes he has made and how he worked around it while still studying in law school.

Quotes and Takeaways

  • “To fight against all critics and give the best.”
  • “Don’t think too much, because the more you think, the more time you waste predicting how to do it.”

How was your childhood and schooling? Can you think of any incident from your childhood which may have influenced your decision to create these organisations?

I had a very regular schooling in a not-so-big-town in Orissa, Rourkela. I cannot really single out any one incident that has shaped my thinking. However, business and something entrepreneurial had always been something that I fancied. I always wanted to have my own company and run a really successful business; and in-fact I ran my own imaginary company since I was like 10 years or something. But then again, I was too young to do anything; so it was only after I passed high school and was about to make into law school, I thought myself to be adult enough to get out of the imaginary world and do something. I would probably say that reading Richard Branson’s autobiography, ‘Losing My Virginity’ gave me that final push that I needed.

You began all these organizations while in college. How did you manage studies while working on your organizations?

So before I checked into law school, I was told how much law students have to study and that it’s not going to be easy at all. It was far from the truth. There’s literally nothing to do in law schools in India – it’s so bland. Therefore, it depends a lot on your own initiatives, what you do to shape your career ahead. And I believe the same applies not just to law schools, but most schools/universities in India, across all streams. Therefore, I would not say it was a herculean task managing studies apart from running these organisations. The major difficulty one has to face is probably the distractions that come your way; and focus on what you want to achieve. I studied mostly before the exams; and used the hours during the classes to work on whatever I had to work on; and that literally gave me at least 12 hours a day to work on whatever I have founded.

You have closely worked with Mr. Ram Jethmalani as his social media manager. How did you first meet him? What is working for him like?

When I was first starting the Network for International Law Students (NILS), I wrote to the most prominent lawyers in India to get their support. It was either no response or a negative response from most of them. Mr. Jethmalani was the only one who called me back and was happy to support us; and that’s how I came across him. As far as social media is concerned, it so happened back in 2015 that I was with him when he realised that the article which he had written in The Sunday Guardian, a weekly-newspaper that he was the Chairman of, removed his article and replaced it with an advertisement. The article was removed by the editorial body, apparently after some interference by the present-day Government, as the article primarily targeted a senior minister. He was mad beyond imagination; and resigned immediately. He then tried contacting other newspapers to publish the same article, and none of them obliged. The article was finally published as a paid advertisement in The Indian Express for a whooping amount of Rs. 13 lacks. This is how determined he was to publish that article, against all odds. That’s when I suggested him having his own blog and creating a strong social media following; because that is something which can outnumber newspaper reach; and was obviously far more viable option financially as compared to paying to publish articles as advertisements. That was it; I helped him start his own blog/website that I have been running so far, apart from sharing it on social media.

You are the founder of one of the world’s largest law students’ associations called Network for International Law Students (NILS). What is the story behind it? NILS is present in 26 countries. Any plans of expanding? What is in store for NILS now?

I started NILS during the end of my first year. The idea was to connect law students internationally; and help them learn those skills and values which law school does not provide them with. Our USP is that there are no other law student organisations that work across such a diverse network; and most successful law students associations are regional. The only other international organisation is International Law Students Association (ILSA), which organises the Jessup Cup, but they do not really do anything substantial apart from that. And it’s mostly run by lawyers with a student body. We wanted to have an organisation, run by and for law students.

We have expanded rather quickly to 26 countries in a matter of 4 years; so the plan for this year would be to solidify our presence there, because we don’t want to spread too thin. Expansion is always there, but I will take a step back and we would focus on taking the existing network to the next level, before adding more numbers to it, not exceeding 30.

We already have an excellent international board coming in, and I am confident that they will do a better job than what I did, so I am not too tensed about it. I will still be around as the Chief Advisor, but won’t have any board or voting powers.

You have also created another organization called the Indian Union Debate Forum. What made you want to create that? What was the inspiration and motive?

The inspiration behind IUDF was the stellar speech of Shashi Tharoor at the Oxford Union that went viral. India needed such civilised debates and there was so much room for it. While the TV news channels enjoy their TRPs from not-so-civilised debates, the intellectuals are getting tired of it. So there we were – a forum mainly targeting people believing in intellectual debates and discussions. This year, we rebranded it to ‘The Union Debates’ and might have plans for internationalisation in the near future.

Tell us a bit about your foreign policy magazine Policy Eye which you sold it to a UK based news agency. Why did you decide to sell it? Do you still currently act as the Editor-in-Chief?

I was approached by a few people, mostly students to head the creation of this magazine, which had to be fiercely independent and focused on foreign policy, law, economics and global politics. Once I came on board, we created a small, efficient team, and looked out for funding. We received an affirmative answer from a UK-based publishing company, later to realise that they had a political leaning and started interfering with the editorial policies. A few of the founding members were not really happy with it, however most of our team members did not mind it since they were in a much better position to pay them for their work, while we weren’t. So yes, we decided to sell it off along with the team members; and I have not been involved with it ever since.

You also have started this really interesting organization called Broke Trips. Tell us a bit about it. How do you plan on executing it?

The reason for starting Broke Trips was that I saw that there was a misconception in the minds of the people that travelling internationally was an expensive affair; however that’s not always the case. If well planned, there are ways to travel cheap – that’s what most backpackers do. We were sort of a company that facilitated organised backpacking. Partnerships with local hostels, airlines, tourism governments is the model on how to keep the prices low; with focus on lower profit margin but bigger customer base. The response and work load was kind of overwhelming; and so we could not really go full-on with it; but I will soon be building a team to re-start it; as I still see an empty market in this space.

Rumour has it that you worship Roger Federer. Do you play tennis yourself? What are your hobbies or what are the activities you like to pursue in your free time?

Well, I don’t worship Federer literally, but yes he’s a big inspiration; and has been more so since his comeback last year. To fight against all critics and give the best. I am also inspired by his foundation which has done amazing work in Africa. I did play tennis earlier when I was in high school.

Well, I don’t really have the regular hobbies anymore; because I don’t really get the time for them. So I would say working on my own organisations, is a hobby – I know it’s pretty boring. And then like everyone, I listen to music most times, when working or otherwise. I am still a fan of U2. I like to catch good movies at the cinema; and at home, I prefer watching brainless comedies, which wouldn’t need any further effort from my brain. I have watched all the movies that Adam Sandler has made in his career; and some of them more than once. I believe sometimes lame, brainless stuff helps me get the stress out.

In your journey, what according to you are your best experiences so far?

Sorry, it is not really possible to single out on this. Every experience has its own charm.

When you started out, did you have any mentors in your journey? How have their work influenced yours?

I had a couple of seniors at law school who I spoke to and who were very helpful. However, I would say there were more people who casted doubt on what I aimed that, since most of my ventures involved me working at an international level. I would say they influenced me to outperform myself.

What are you working on currently? What should our readers watch out for next?

I recently co-founded World Law Forum, which is an independent, international organisation having certain focus areas. Our plan is to work with lawyers, students, civil bodies, legislators and governments all across the world and discuss transformation and better implementation of laws. So that’s what I will be focussing on mostly.

Apart from I am a Sounding Board Member of the Hague Rules on Business and Human Rights Arbitration, which is an upcoming arbitration system for adjudicating business and human rights disputes. That’s my favourite area of work; and I will be working on that as well. I am also involved in varying positions with other organisations like The Negotiation Academy and International Youth Leadership Conference.

What is your message for law students who want to do something differently?

Well, think of what you want to do; and why you want to do it; what difference are you making by doing it; make a business plan and get started on it. Don’t think too much, because the more you think, the more time you waste predicting how to do it. You learn as you start doing it. But there should be a strong platform or base from where you get started.

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