Today we’d like to introduce you to Tania Shah.
So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I grew up on the west coast in California, and I decided to come out to Boston for law school for an “East Coast” experience. I went to Boston University for Law School and had solidified positions at large firms both on the east and west coast. However, a personal catastrophe left me jobless, in debt, and far away from home. It took me hitting rock bottom to decide that I was going to do what I really wanted to do: tutor students. I got myself a Hotmail address (firstname.lastname@example.org) and started to flier at every law school. I even got kicked out of law schools for posting tutoring services there. That was 17 years ago. I didn’t have any money so I bought myself a $10.00 card table from craigslist and kept posting fliers (and getting myself in trouble). It turned out there was certainly a niche in the law school market: students looking for support, guidance and mentorship. Soon, I realized that there was also a niche in the bar exam market, as the only real access for students to study for the bar is through online videos and online materials. While these are actually great resources, not everyone learns the same. In order to support LawTutors, I started to practice business law, which was extremely fitting since I had to struggle through the ups and downs of starting a business myself. I failed many times, but, as author Mark Manson put it, “failure is the way forward.” Now we have lectured and taught at over twenty law schools, have 4 books published with national publishers, and have self-published 22 more books. But most importantly, we have helped thousands of students in law school and to help pass the bar. Now they are my colleagues, and I can go to them when I have legal questions. 🙂
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It has not been smooth at all, and I guess that means I am actually lucky.
I was a nobody, I had no money, I had no financial backing, and the only two people who really believed in me were my two sisters (which means a lot and kept me going), and they were also across the country. I was also entering a very competitive and close knit market-that of legal education- which includes a lot of politics, money and ego (none of which I had).
That is when I realized having others who shared in a similar vision and who got a true spark in their eyes when I talked about the concept of LawTutors was really important. I hired staff who are still with me today, and I could only pay them percentages of whatever I got. It was a very slow growth, and I used to think others where whizzing by me. But even though the growth was slow, the pace was actually crucial in my earning the respect and space in the legal community I needed. And during the times I didn’t believe in myself, there were others who did. I remember by Vice President calling the largest legal publisher in the nation and just saying “you have to meet Tania Shah and LawTutors.” It must have been a slow day, because they said “ok.” I needed people like that on my side.
There were so many times I wanted to give up, and I wanted to have a “steady” job, and, for lack of a better term, lead a “normal” and non-chaotic life. Oh, and it would have been nice to not go months at a time without money. Keeping both my law practice afloat and establishing myself as a business attorney in the small business legal community while growing LawTutors seemed at times impossible, but each of them complimented one another so well. I could tell students about the exciting things that happened in the practice of law, and I could use my legal knowledge and teaching methodology to be the kind of lawyer who taught business owners to be independent, and not to feel like the complicated legalities of a business were beyond them.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the LawTutors story. Tell us more about the business.
When I was in law school, I realized that learning the law was in fact learning another language. I also realized that in our dramatically changing law student and lawyer demographic, some students need individual attention, support and mentorship. I wanted to form an outside legal education organization that was scalable, but also targeted the individual needs of students. LawTutors is a radically innovative, personalized system that ensures support, mentoring, contact and confidence. We have developed materials to help students study smarter, and not longer. We are known for having extremely high caliber instructors who use the LawTutors materials and methodology, but can customize it to each student. Our materials were developed essentially by our students telling us every year what they wanted to see, what they wanted changed, and what they thought didn’t work. So I am super proud of our materials.
I think what sets us apart is that we function like a family. At all times the student has a support network around them when they sign up. They have 4 people essentially looking after them: the Business Manager, our Office Admin, the Owner (me) and their attorney instructor. And they can really talk to us at any time about any question they might have.
And when students pass the bar or do well in law school, the joy of finding that out is absolutely inexplicable, we know exactly what it’s like t0 be in their position, so we can share in their fears, joys and success.
Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I have had both good luck and bad luck with my business, whether it was of my own doing or truly something out of my control. But I think both good and bad luck is much better than having no luck, or neutral luck. The very essence of having a business is facing the ups and downs, facing rejection and acceptance, and, yes, facing the good luck and the bad luck. I have avoided potentially unlucky situations by playing it safe and not going out of a limb; but by that very nature, I have avoided lucky situations as well.
My business was born out of a whole bunch of horrible luck, I definitely had a part in it, but it was like a bad luck soap opera. You can’t say that I got a “sign” that this business was going to be the key to everything. You cannot even say I was a natural entrepreneur. But you can say that there was time I didn’t actually think my luck could get much worse, so it just made sense to risk everything.
So I am lucky that I have been so unlucky at times. I guess I wouldn’t have had it any other way.