1) Tell us a little about your professional background and how you came to be in your current role?
I have more than 20 years of work experience as an in-house counsel and corporate secretary specializing in financial services, Corporate & Securities Laws, Insurance, Banking & NBFC Regulations, IPR Laws, IT Laws, Dispute Resolution, Contract Management and Transaction Advisory.
I am working with Financial Services – Aditya Birla Group since June 2008. Starting with Aditya Birla Money as Head- Legal, Compliance and Secretarial and thereafter as Head Legal & Company Secretary with Aditya Birla Sun Life Insurance in Feb 2014. In March 2021, I joined as Head Corporate Legal, Company Secretary & Compliance Officer – Aditya Birla Capital Limited. Aditya Birla Capital Limited is the holding company for the financial services businesses of the Aditya Birla Group.
Key highlights of my career so far include the hands-on operating experience of multiple lines of business, working on different issues, dealing with regulations, problem solving, implementing best practices and developing the best in-house corporate legal and secretarial teams.
2) How big is your team and how is it structured?
Like most in-house teams, it is a midsized corporate compliance and legal team catering to all kinds of regulatory matters and providing transactional advisory support to business.
3) What are the biggest challenges facing in-house lawyers today?
The role of in-house lawyers is always challenging. With a plethora of regulations and an ever-changing regulatory landscape, these challenges are only increasing. One must stay fully updated on what is happening at all times and keep abreast of emerging laws to provide sound professional advice. On top of this, another challenge is the digitization and automation in legal departments which is leading to new ways of optimizing resources. All this while continuing to provide value and keeping costs low.
4) What are your own biggest challenges? How did you/your team overcome these?
Each of my roles in the financial services industry over the past 20 years came with its own challenges. I found that adaptability, agility and acumen were three great pillars I used to deal with obstacles. Other factors include developing my skills as a good team leader with a collaborative approach, building partnership and concentrating on being well versed on my subject matter.
5) Did you have a mentor early in your career? Is mentorship important?
Absolutely. I was quite lucky to work with learned seniors and mentors during my formative years and thereafter too during my career so far. Mentorship is important because it shapes your ‘mental and emotional state’ and adds to overall experience both soft skills and technical skills, which helps in the long run. But my peer group has been also a great source of mentorship. I also constantly seek feedback from my team members to help me improve.
6) What are the biggest challenges specific to your industry?
The unique challenges in financial services industry include digital disruption, the emergence of fintech companies, data privacy, cybersecurity, the rising need for customized client solutions in a competitive environment and a tight regulatory framework.
7) Is technology changing the way you work? If so, how?
Technology is transforming how in-house legal functions manage their work. Whether that’s for litigation and contract management or for due-diligence and document discovery – or even regulatory compliances. I look at it this in two parts. Firstly, there is a rapid adoption of technology for managing compliances and day-to-day monitoring, research work and repository which is boosting operating efficiency. The second revolution is in data analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) letting legal departments more quickly devise suitable strategies for legal risk mitigation. Having said that, nothing can replace the human capital and ignited legal minds for creating customized advice and unique solutions.
8) What do you most look for in a law firm when outsourcing work?
A law firm should be a trusted partner for an in-house team. It is an extended arm bringing specialization and different views to the table backed by research and industry experience. When choosing a partner, various factors must be considered that depend on the nature of the work and the specific problem. An ability to quickly understand the issue, deep industry knowledge and the ability of offering practical solutions in a client’s interest (rather a theoretical analysis) are also critical factors.
9) Other than law firms, what service providers and tools help your legal department the most?
The most essential tools for legal departments today include technology to help manage day-to-day compliances, along with systems for managing contracts, and litigation and vendor billing too.
10) What aspects of your in-house role do you most enjoy?
The most exciting part of being an in-house lawyer is dealing with issues across multiple facets of regulations each day and problem solving within the applicable regulatory frameworks. You ought to know every bit of law that applies to business such as the contract act, civil or criminal procedures, intellectual property rights (IPR), technology law, labor and employment laws, securities laws, foreign exchange, corporate governance and even taxation. Every in-house counsel must master these to become a trusted advisor.
11) What changes do you foresee in the next few in how legal services will be provided?
Certainly the direction is towards increased impetus on specialization and a renewed focus on legal risk mitigation and its integration with governance, risk and compliance. Other trends will include a greater adoption of technology, more digitization and automation solutions and the increased use of AI and machine learning for higher efficiencies, reducing TATs, effective monitoring and reporting, allowing productive time for better decision making and enhancing business acumen.
12) What advice would you give to young lawyers starting out in their careers?
The most important aspect for every in-house counsel is to first deeply understand your business, key process and the associated problem statement thoroughly. You must strive to act as business enablers with the correct application of law and be solution orientated. Build collaboration, be well-networked, avoid shortcuts, develop an eye for detail and be vocal with your righteous opinion, so long as it is backed by solid research. Your ability to adapt and provide sound advice during difficult times will help your career immensely. Most importantly, stay grounded and humble. And keep upgrading yourself with knowledge and skills.
13) What do you most like to do away from work?
I enjoy cooking and reading aside listing to music. Every weekend I take up cooking which is now almost a ritual over the last three years. This is a great rejuvenation as it gives me a satisfaction of being creative on my own little way, coupled with blogging about the history of the food. I enjoy listening to music of different genres as well. Music charges me like anything. I also love writing, and I wish I could spend more time in writing.
Disclaimer: All views are personal and do not reflect that of the organization. The views shared are not intended for any legal advice and are for general information and education purposes only.