Blazing the Trail to Legal Entrepreneurship - In conversation with Mr Ashish Arun

Mr. Ashish Arun is the founder and CEO of Exlitem (formerly Offshore Research Partners), an expert witness search, research and practice management platform. He is also the founder of Expert Witness Profiler, a US based company which offers background intelligence on expert witnesses.

He graduated from the National University of Juridical Sciences in 2010 and started his entrepreneurial journey in the final year of law school by founding Offshore Research Partners, a legal research outsourcing firm.

1. It is a pleasure to be interviewing you. Could you take the readers for a walk through your journey in the field of law, from its inception to becoming one of finest legal entrepreneurs?

The pleasure is all mine. While it is far from my belief to regard myself as “one of the finest legal entrepreneurs” in any sense, I must admit that I have had quite a fulfilling journey overall.

My first brush with law was as a young kid taking dictations for bail applications and writ petitions from my father, who practises law at the Patna High Court. However, from a career perspective, the only two options were to pursue either medical or engineering. After a few failed attempts and dropped years trying to get into medicine, I eventually found myself at NUJS.

The course structure allowed ample time to pursue extracurricular activities which led to my foray into paid outsourced legal research and eventually culminated into Offshore Research Partners — a legal research outsourcing firm that I started in late 2009, a few months before graduating from NUJS.

2. Could you provide further insight into your company, including its overarching goals and the innovative approaches it employs in its operations?

We started as a legal research outsourcing firm and were servicing clients in US, Europe and India for the first few years. About 3 years in, one of our clients was looking for an exit from their business in the US and we stepped in to begin a new journey into owning and selling our own legal research product (Expert Witness Profiler) in the US legal market. We are currently undergoing another transition where we are building a platform for attorneys to find and work with expert witnesses across the United States, with plans to soon extend its coverage to other countries, including India. And while Expert Witness Profiler and its products are already the leading resources for expert witness research, our goal is to become the one-stop solution for the lawyer — expert witness ecosystem.

3. How did the experiences and learnings from your five years at NUJS, your alma mater, contribute to the realisation of your vision, ultimately leading to the establishment of your company upon completing your law degree?

Law school played a very important role in shaping up my initial career as it laid the foundations for most of the tools that are required to run a business. From organising cultural fests to leading the student body, it helped me developed skills that come in handy even today. Additionally, it was at NUJS that I was exposed to the US legal research system as a part-time researcher for an organisation called Daubert Tracker which piqued my interest in commercial legal research.

4. At such young age, how did you perceive the challenges attorneys faced in accessing expertise especially with the domain of commercial legal research outsourcing. What inspired you to envision a solution aimed at providing easy, instant, and efficient access to expertise within the legal realm?

Through my association with the Daubert Tracker, I got the chance to lead and manage a few commercial research projects — not for attorneys but for legal research providers like LexisNexis and a policy think tank at Northwestern University. For one of these projects, I was leading about 50 students across three national law schools. That was probably the first time I realised the viability of outsourced legal research as a career option. The fact that I did not particularly enjoy my law firm internships also made the decision to take the plunge a little easier.

5. You have demonstrated a keen ability to recognise the potential of research outsourcing as a valuable field. How do you assess the importance of research and online database tools such as SCC OnLine and EBC Reader in this context?

Online database tools, like SCC OnLine and the EBC Reader, are invaluable in the context of legal research — be it for primary legal research done by lawyers or analytical tools built by organisations like ours. Currently, we are on the cusp of a tectonic shift in the way we retrieve and consume information in this new age of Gen AI and I truly believe that online databases are going to play a very important role by being in the best position to exploit the advances in technology to create even better, more efficient and useful products for the legal industry.

6. While your success story is undoubtedly inspiring to startup enthusiasts, it is likely that your journey had its share of challenges. Could you discuss some of the obstacles you encountered within the ever-evolving landscape of technology and startup ecosystems?

The very first challenge was to convince lawyers to come work for an organisation which was founded by a final year law student. Being from NUJS and 2009 being a recession year helped in this regard and I was able to find the first 4 to 5 employees within a short period of time. Thankfully, we had paying customers from day 1, so we did not need to raise any money to get going.

Right from the beginning, I wanted to focus on profitability and organic growth which would allow the creation of a sustainable business sans the pressure of being answerable to investors. This approach also proved helpful in overcoming challenging periods of business slowdowns, including during the pandemic, as we kept our overheads manageable.

7. What advice would you offer to aspiring startup enthusiasts in law schools as they navigate their own entrepreneurial paths?

I think students today are way more enterprising than what we were back in the day. I would encourage them to work on building their network and put themselves out there — without worrying about failure. You always have the safety net of sitting for recruitment or taking the traditional career paths if things do not work out. If you have an idea, give it a try. Reach out to people who you think can help you. If you are solving a real problem, there is no reason why you would not succeed.

8. Could you recount an anecdote that solidified your career choice, perhaps involving a memorable quote, book, movie, or other source of inspiration?

It is difficult to point a single anecdote as the decision to startup was something that I mulled over for months. There was a lot of second guessing and self-doubt (there still is at times). A particular instance that does come to mind was an internship that I was pursuing at the end of my fourth year and ended up working on a due diligence report without a single day off for over two weeks. That is when I decided that if I had to work that hard, I might as well do it for myself. Although the startup journey turned out to be much harder with much longer hours in the beginning — thankfully, it all paid off.

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