Words: Manojna Yeluri (April 2019)
Image Credits: joshua Ness (Unsplash); Alexander Gilbertson (Unsplash); Vojtech (Pexels); Rawpixel (Pexels); Manojna Yeluri
Reading Time: 3.5 minutes

Lawyers are known for being an interesting lot. We’re known for being perceptive, verbose, and shrewd problem-solvers, among a list of other characteristics – some nice, some bad, and some entertaining. Unfortunately, accessibility doesn’t often find itself in the list, leaving me to wonder what other biases prevent people from reaching out to us lawyers, in times of need.

The more I think about it, the more I understand how popular media has played a very big role in shaping the perception around lawyers. Whether we turn to books, television or film, many of us have to agree that the archetype of a legal professional is often that of someone who is swamped with deadlines, too busy to take on more work, and often too expensive to afford. In other words, most of us are conditioned to believe that access to legal services and counsel, can be daunting.

As the founder of a legal practice that is dedicated to working with independent artists and content creators, I often encounter a lot of creative professionals, who are apprehensive about engaging a legal counsel. The reasons for this are many, but largely revolve around the idea that such services are inaccessible owing to a price and contextual barrier – why hire someone who is probably going to charge you a lot of money, to help you do things that don’t really align with your creative career?

Needless to say, if you as a creative professional, can’t justify the costs of engaging a a lawyer, you’re probably not going to invest any time or resources into providing yourself with legal services, which in turn makes for the underappreciation of good legal counsel, timely execution of contracts, and the need for intellectual property rights protection.

Clearly, things had to change.

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The Experiment:

So in July 2018, I set out to undertake an experiment. For a whole month, I offered to provide creative professionals, artists and content creators, legal counsel in exchange for a cup of coffee, to be shared whenever and wherever we would meet next. The idea seemed simple, and focused on (a) creating a real connection that was based on mutual respect for each other’s professional experience; and (b) removing the first hurdle towards accessing specialized legal counsel by making it affordable and approachable.

The campaign was launched by way of a simple social media announcement over my personal and consultancy’s social media channels, with a few equally simple rules, along with a hashtag #coffeeforcontracts, that was meant to be used while sharing any information regarding the campaign.

The Responses:

By the end of the day, #coffeeforcontracts had spread to a large number of people in my immediate network, and was fast being shared among creative professionals from across the country. I had asked interested individuals to get in touch with me through direct messages on my social media accounts, as well as by emailing me.

Responses to the campaign started coming in from musicians, designers, illustrators, film makers and even lawyers – many of whom had learned about the existence of my consulting work, and felt comfortable enough to speak to me about their work, owing to the friendly barter that the campaign supported.

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The Relationships:

The interest in the campaign reached its peak pretty early in the month, and it’s safe to say that by the third week of July, the responses began to dwindle. While the volume reduced, it’s interesting to note that the people reaching out to me, were individuals who were truly appreciative of the value that my consulting work would bring them in the long run. In other words, by opening myself up to others, I had in fact set the foundation for long term relationships that were based on mutual respect and trust – an incredibly rewarding realization considering the fact that many creative professionals are quite apprehensive of engaging a lawyer.

As a result of the campaign, I was able to connect with multiple stakeholders and members of the creative industries, convert atleast five casual conversations into long term clients and retainers, as well as discover individuals who shared my passion for accessibility, and thus collaborate on a project that I hope to share news of very soon.

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The Take-Away:

#CoffeeforContracts was a month long initiative that helped me understand the value of trusting myself, and then putting that same faith into others as well. Opening up to strangers over the internet, and even offering to meet them for coffee, is honestly an exercise in embracing a feeling of being vulnerable, and letting go of control in an effort to see what the Universe might help you discover. The quality of the connections and conversations that unfolded through this campaign, has honestly been a game changer in the manner in which I network, and engage with people in a real sense, and not just as clients that need to be attended to. While the campaign officially ended at the end of July 2018, I have been working on extensions of the campaign that can impact lawyers and people in a meaningful way, both online as well as in person, and hopefully see it grow to reach a wider group of people, and help with even more diverse causes and legal domains.

MANOJNA YELURI is the founder of Artistik License, a legal and business consultancy for artists and creative professionals. She is based out of India, and is an entertainment and intellectual property rights lawyer. Manojna appreciates the need for greater dialogue between the different stakeholders of the creative economy, and is dedicated towards furthering the same through her work. She also believes in the power of strengthening community and cultural exchange. 

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