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You have an extensive career in the legal field, spanning various industries and positions. Can you share your personal journey and what initially sparked your interest in law?
To talk about my background, I was born and brought up in Mumbai and I come from a family of doctors and engineers. No one from my family has worked in the field of corporate law and hence I am a first-generation corporate lawyer. My parents, now retired, were both hardworking individuals and were working. My father worked as a CS (Company Secretary) in various companies and my mother was in government service. Hard work and a zeal to learn was thus instilled in me from a very young age, since I grew up watching my working parents. I have completed my B.com and LLB from the Mumbai University along with a couple of additional diplomas and certifications. I was initially interested in being a Company Secretary (CS) which is a professional course, however my inclination towards being a corporate lawyer grew once I started studying law.
It was only after studying law alongside CS, I realized that it is of my interest and I would want to pursue it as my career. Law can be complex and challenging due to its interpretation at times and I enjoyed decoding its interpretation and studying its application. I cannot really point to a specific reason for choosing law – I just had a sense that in future the legal profession would gain importance & distinction, and I am very glad that it did.
As a seasoned professional with experience in law firms, manufacturing, and FMCG sectors, can you tell us about the most significant challenges you’ve encountered in each sector and how you navigated them?
That’s a very good question! A general perception about lawyers is that we know and do everything under the sun. However, one must know that the skills required for every vertical and industry differ from each other and while we know the foundation, many times it’s more of learning on the go for us.
I started my career with a law firm named, Oasis Counsel & Advisory (Chambers of Senior Counsel, Mr. Haresh Jagtiani) and I must say that my first taste of practical applicability of law and litigation was very exciting. Like every other law student, I too started my internships with law firms and while at Oasis, as an intern, my work mainly focussed on researching on case laws, finding precedents and drafting short documents like affidavits and letters. I qualified as a lawyer in 2014 and was lucky enough to be absorbed as an associate at Oasis. The kind of work that is handled at law firms is completely different than at corporates. At Oasis the challenges that I faced related to drafting court documents and handling clients at such a nascent stage of my career. I was blessed with amazing mentors during my tenure there who guided me to the right path and taught me the intricacies of practicing law. I would say that starting my career with a law firm was the best decision since this made my foundation of understanding law and the interpretation of it very strong.
Post this came my biggest challenge of transitioning from a law firm to a corporate since there is vast difference in the working culture and the system in general. For eg. In a law firm you deal with one client at a time, at a corporate you deal with multiple stakeholders which involves business partnering. One needs to align their goals with the vision and values the organization holds. The manufacturing sector is pretty compliance specific, and my role at PPG Asian Paints as well as Blue Star Limited, being a generalist one, included everything right from drafting contracts, identifying and ensuring compliances, handling trademarks and patents and business advisory. Wearing multiple hats and getting work done was challenging here, but then again my seniors helped me out and ensured that along with getting the work done it also gives me a good learning and enriching experience.
Post PPG Asian Paints, I worked with Bajaj Consumer Care Limited (BCCL) for a short while. BCCL is the FMCG wing of the Bajaj Group. It was a different industry than PPGAP and that’s what made it interesting. I worked extensively with the marketing and R&D teams on product claims and product packages, distributor contracts and IPR. It was during my time here, I learnt about product development and all the groundwork that happens on the same – on the legal front this was my first time working with and learning the workings of The Drugs & Cosmetics Act, The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) guidelines, The Legal Metrology Act and International Trademarks. Quite an exciting space to be in. The challenge here was meeting tight deadlines before product launches. This included drafting of the product claims along with the R&D team, approving artworks, approving advertisement scripts in line with the ASCI guidelines and then gearing up for the product launch. The best way to overcome any challenge is to get adapted to the environment that you are in. Also, asking people around really helps. The business teams here were collaborative and hence the challenge no longer seemed like one.
You’ve been involved in areas such as consultation and advisory, civil and commercial law, and corporate and cyber law drafting. How do you balance such a diverse skill set, and how has it contributed to your success in the legal profession?
Working in multiple sectors helped me build acumen on the diverse skill set that I possess today. Even after a decade of experience in this profession, I am still as curious as a beginner and that helps me in honing my skills and learnings further. In house roles do require wearing multiple hats and catering to the needs of various divisions in the company, therefore, one cannot limit themselves to only one stream of law. My observation has been that most of the mid/large cap companies in India prefer having a counsel with a generalist experience rather than a specialised one and that’s what sets you above the rest. Balancing a diverse skill set can be challenging, but staying up to date with amendments and changes in your field is a must, especially, when the field is as dynamic as the legal gamut in India.
Could you share some notable milestones and achievements from your career, especially in your current role at Mahindra & Mahindra Limited?
Of course! As an in-house counsel, simply knowing the law is not enough. In-house counsels deal with a lot of complex transactions which need a deeper understanding of the business and its technicalities. Therefore, the first step that a corporate lawyer needs to excel in is business partnering. All my milestones have been possible due to business partnering in all the projects that I worked on and I cherish each of these milestones equally. However, if I have to point out specific ones, it would be implementation of compliance tools at two of the organizations I worked with. While I was working with PPG Asian Paints and Blue Star, I got the opportunity to digitize compliance reporting and monitoring. This helped the companies to a great extent since we transitioned from manual work to robust softwares. It involved a lot of effort and time since we had to coordinate with multiple functions and stakeholders before finalizing the compliances. I was recognized and rewarded for this effort at both the organizations and hence it’s one of my close memorable experiences. I have also handled and closed POSH complaints as a member of the IC committee at one of the organizations which was a huge learning experience and which I consider as a milestone too.
At Mahindra & Mahindra Limited (M&M), I am a part of the business legal team for the farm equipment sector. I have been a part of various benchmarking exercises through which we implemented anti-counterfeit strategies in the Agri space. Also worked extensively on the Drone Rules, 2021 and on drone operations in India. Since we have a lot of exposure to international markets, we devised a risk mitigation matrix for our contracts in Europe & China. That’s the benefit of working for large conglomerates, the diversity of the work that one can handle has no bounds.
You’ve held positions involving compliance, policy development, and risk mitigation. How do you approach the complex task of ensuring legal compliance for your organizations, and what advice do you have for legal professionals working in this area?
As we are aware, ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) is the buzzword in our field currently. ESG is a framework used to assess an organization’s business practices and performance on various sustainability and ethical issues. It also provides a way to measure business risks and opportunities in those areas. Organisations worldwide are becoming ESG compliant for their investors and shareholders. Be it in the form of disclosures in the board reports, accountability to the shareholders or the reputation of an organization, ethics & compliance are the two very important aspects of conducting any business these days.
Having said that, I believe that ensuring ethics & compliance is never a one man’s job – the compliance manager therefore has to collaborate with every function of the organization, create awareness, conduct training and instill the importance of compliance in every employee working at the ground & top level. There has to be constant talk about compliance in the organization along with tone from the top. I am fortunate enough to have worked with leaders who have always kept compliance at the forefront and this helped me drive compliance at all the organizations I worked with.
My advice to professionals working in the area of compliance would be to stay updated with the changing laws and rules. Implementation of a digital tool helps and supports in this regard. Compliance training and awareness sessions are equally important, be it in the form of mailers, quizzes, celebrating compliance week etc. One can start with a compliance audit as a dipstick to check where their organisation stands today. A good starting point could also be to go through the ISO 37301:2021 for Compliance management systems. This document specifies requirements and provides guidelines for establishing, developing, implementing, evaluating, maintaining and improving an effective compliance management system within an organization.
As someone who’s been recognized for your efforts and contributions, what key factors have contributed to your professional recognition in the field of law, and what advice do you have for others aspiring to make a meaningful impact in their legal careers?
In my case, thinking outside the box has immensely helped me. Especially as in house counsels, we need to constantly think about initiatives that will reduce manual work and move towards digitization. Being proactive and actively partnering with the business teams always gets recognized. For example: conducting knowledge sharing sessions for awareness, standardising templates, making risk mitigation matrixes helps the cross functional teams and also reduces future efforts, so that you can focus on more important things at work. Everything counts when one gets recognized, with a primary focus on the change that you have brought about in the organization. Recognition comes in when you move out from your comfort zone and do more than just your KRA’s. My advice would therefore be don’t limit yourself. Do whatever work that comes your way, it’ll certainly not go unnoticed and will be a learning experience for you!
As you’ve achieved success in your career, what advice would you like to offer to fresh graduates who are just starting their legal journey or considering a career in law?
I get asked a lot, especially by young law students, on whether they should start their career as an in-house counsel or with a law firm. It’s of course their preference, however I would suggest starting out with a law firm. Corporates in India do not really have many entry level vacant positions for freshers. They are always on the lookout for someone with law firm experience or someone shifting from another corporate. Also, as I mentioned earlier, a law firm experience would give a good foundational base of law which would really help fresh graduates at a later part of their careers.
Other than this, a few takeaways for aspiring fresh lawyers are as below:
Unless you ask, the answer is always no: we as humans, have the fear of being rejected. And this fear holds us back from taking the first step. I would say take the step anyway. You’ll either succeed or fail. Same goes with asking people for help at organizations. For being a successful corporate lawyer, knowing law alone is not enough. You need to collaborate with business teams effectively for valuable inputs and commercial reasoning. Therefore, be curious, ask multiple questions and most importantly, ask for help whenever required.
While at work, do anything and everything that comes your way: In the initial years, do not be picky with the kind of work that is handed over to you. Every assignment comes with a learning curve which will help you in some way or the other in the long run. Experiment with whatever comes your way and be a lifelong student!
Do not take up a profile which matches 100% with your previous role: Taking up a profile exactly similar to the previous one limits your growth. There should always be room for learning and doing more. Growth starts when you move out of your comfort zone.
Wishing all the readers a rewarding and fulfilling career!
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