A stimulating roundtable discussion, on the evolving role of General Counsels' in shaping the economy and businesses in India, was held yesterday at the O.P. Jindal Global University campus in Sonipat. The roundtable discussion hosted leading legal luminaries and thought leaders, representing various multinational organizations like Microsoft India, Barclays Bank PLC, Ernst & Young, General Motors, Shell India and Boeing India.
Experts at the forum deliberated on the future of GCs role in the Indian industry and also discussed the role law schools need to play in shaping the future workforce of in-house counsels. Important themes discussed at the forum included 'Role of GC as an upholder of ethical practices in today's competitive business environment', 'Role of GC as business lawyers and their participation in business decisions' and 'Industry-specific regulatory and business challenges faced by in-house legal departments'.
Delivering the welcome address at the forum, Prof. Anuranjan Sethi, Assistant Professor, Jindal Global Law School said, "As a premier global institution creating world class lawyers of tomorrow, we are committed to educating our students about every possible aspect of the legal profession in India and around the world. We sincerely believe that understanding the legal business and its role in the decision-making aspects of organizations, in a comprehensive manner, will be immensely helpful for our students in near future and will help them climb up the corporate ladder."
Mr. Amar K Sundaram, National Director-Legal, General Counsel (India and Bangladesh), Ernst & Young, said, that with the advent of globalization and liberalization and increase in the numbers of compliances and regulations, the responsibilities of GCs have multiplied manifold. "From navigating the industry through the complex regulatory environment, to wearing the hat of an in-house business lawyer and being custodians of corporate governance, General Counsels and in-house teams of corporate lawyers are nowadays proactively shaping corporate structures," he added.
Dr. Akhil Prasad, Country Counsel India, Boeing underscored that adherence to compliance issues of rules, regulations and statutes requires expertise. "This is why corporations and enterprises are increasingly seeking lawyers to fit more than just a legal consultation role. While external counsels are only able to see the tip of the iceberg from business decision-making perspectives, in-house teams help organizations in understanding, ideating and modifying business strategies aligned to the vision of situational risk analysis," he said.
Pointing out that cutting-edge artificial intelligence will be the key in understanding emerging technologies around the world, Mr. Apurva Mehta, Commercial Attorney, Microsoft said, "Our judicial system has undergone radical transformation and is, today, a prominent organ of the state. Financial firms, media houses, airlines and defence and technology are the few industries that have lately realized the potential of GCs in business development."
"Business counsels and attorneys are critical differentiators in bridging the gap for multinationals at this point of time. We understand the dynamics of competitive markets and compliance and at the same time help organizations' CEOs in taking smart risks, one at a go," Mr. Mehta added.
The role of General Counsels in the Indian corporate sector has undergone a radical change over the last ten years.
A recent KPMG survey of 320 GCs in 32 countries reflected on the transitional role of GCs into business decision-makers. The transition requires a shift in mind-set and behaviour from the GC as well as wider organizations, if the value that GC can bring to the top table is to be maximized, the report stated.
Mr. Mohit Shukla, MD & Head of India-Legal, Barclays, Barclays Bank PLC was of the view that even though lawyers are now being invited to management committee level discussion in board rooms, many companies still see in-house lawyers only as a support entity for formulation of principles and business-legal decisions.
According to Mr. Yogesh Wadhwa, Vice President and Lead Counsel, General Motors India, striking a feasible balance between what is legally correct and what is ethically correct is extremely important in any business. There are some legal areas which are of specific relevance for certain types of business. "In-house counsels must have a deep understanding of the employment as well as all the subject matters of solicitation, especially of the country where they operate, for an insightful risk analysis of businesses per se and to settle dispute resolutions," he noted.
Distinguished members at the roundtable also agreed that law schools in India needed to play an instrumental role in shaping quality workforce for this profession.
The first-of-its-kind, interactive forum also generated interesting discussions on masterstrokes adapted by GCs in various business environments in the recent past.