By fostering open and transparent communication, I strive to establish a collaborative environment that promotes constructive dialogue and a mutual understanding of the parties’ needs- Ashutosh Shekhar Paarcha, Government Counsel, State of Rajasthan

This interview has been published by Priyanka Karwa and The SuperLawyer Team

Sir, please tell us about your journey and how you ended up pursuing a career in law after graduating from the National Law School of India University?

After graduating from the National Law School of India University, my journey in the field of law has been both fulfilling and exciting. I always had a deep interest in understanding legal systems and advocating for justice, which led me to pursue a career in law.

During my time at the National Law School, I had the opportunity to study under renowned professors and engage in stimulating academic discussions. The rigorous curriculum and practical exposure provided me with a strong foundation in various aspects of law, including constitutional law, criminal law, corporate law, and international law, as well as developing skills like negotiating contracts, legal research, etc.

During my internships at the Trial Courts and High Court of Delhi, I realized that the law taught to us in college, is different in terms of practice in Courts like procedure, evidence, etc. Therefore, following my graduation, I began my professional journey by joining a boutique litigation law firm, where I started as an associate. This experience allowed me to work on a wide range of legal matters, including litigation, contract drafting, due diligence, and legal research. I had the opportunity to collaborate with seasoned lawyers and gain valuable insights into the intricacies of the legal profession.

While practicing at the law firm, I developed a particular interest in litigation and advocacy. This passion drove me to transition into a litigation-focused role, where I had the opportunity to represent clients in court, present arguments, and analyze complex legal issues. This phase of my career allowed me to refine my legal skills and develop a deep understanding of courtroom dynamics.

Over the years, I have had the privilege of working in both litigation and corporate legal, being in-house counsel to various MNCs. I have also had the privilege to work in domestic as well as international markets and with the diversity of not only strictly legal, but also public policy, advocacy, etc.

In addition to my professional work, I have also been actively involved in pro bono initiatives, providing legal aid to underprivileged individuals and contributing to social justice causes. This aspect of my career has been immensely rewarding, allowing me to use my legal skills to make a positive impact on society.

Overall, my journey in law has been a result of my passion for justice, a drive to make a positive impact, and a constant commitment to enhancing my legal knowledge and skills. I am grateful for the opportunities I have had and look forward to continuing my journey as a legal professional.

You have had a diverse range of experiences in both litigation and in-house legal roles. Could you share some key highlights or significant cases that have shaped your career so far?

Throughout my career, I have had the privilege of working on various significant cases and handling crucial legal matters, which have personally challenged me and were exciting projects. It is difficult to pin-point a couple here. 

But generally speaking there have been cases in litigation both criminal and civil where you may arrive at a point when you think you have no case or no argument and then one needs to take a step back and think a little outside of the box and develop an argument. I think that is the least we owe to our client, to give more than our 100%. And when the Judge appreciates your argument and the fact you were able to find the point, that feeling is pure ecstatic. And frankly, I think it’s that feeling that pushes us to keep doing better in litigation.

Similarly, as an in-house counsel, I have been working with commercial transactional agreements, international or domestic, sometimes not only closing the agreement, which itself becomes a task, but also providing other solutions to get the maximum output from the deal. For example, bypassing domestic and international tax laws, corporate structuring of the deal, exposure to the least risk possible, etc. 

These are just a few highlights from my career so far. Each experience has contributed to my professional growth, deepened my understanding of various legal domains, and reinforced the importance of being up-to-date with the laws, effective advocacy, strategic thinking, and meticulous attention to detail. 

As the Director of Legal & Business Development at Indian Reprographic Rights Organisation (IRRO), you gained experience with international laws and commercial transactions. How did this role contribute to your professional growth, and what were some of the challenges you faced?

As Director, at the Indian Reprographic Rights Organisation (IRRO), my role was basically spear-heading the Organization. It involved working on domestic and international laws and commercial transactions, which significantly contributed to my professional growth. It was basically a Non-profit think-tank which worked towards helping shape the IPR policy and provide the government with inputs.

As it was the first time I was working in this kind of Organisation, the challenges were infinite. It was basically like working in a start-up. The team, initially, was small. I had to be responsible for all the decisions that were taken. Challenges like micro-managing everything, realizing that no one has heard of the Organisation, working with limited funds, government red-tape and diktat, FERA & FEMA regulations, etc. However, once you grasp your way around things, it becomes easy and the experience I gathered was amazing.

It helped me grow as it provided me with international Exposure. Working on international laws and transactions exposed me to different legal systems, regulations, and business practices. It broadened my understanding of how laws operate in various jurisdictions, enabling me to navigate cross-border legal issues more effectively. It improved my contract negotiation and drafting skills. It provided me with insights regarding compliance with regulations.

Overall, my role at IRRO provided me with invaluable experience in international laws, commercial transactions, copyright education, and stakeholder management. It enhanced my legal expertise, honed my negotiation skills, and deepened my understanding of the complexities of intellectual property rights. The challenges I faced, such as compliance complexities and managing diverse stakeholders, reinforced the importance of adaptability, strategic thinking, and effective communication in addressing multifaceted legal and business issues.

In your role as General Manager – Legal for Franchise India Group of Companies, you headed the legal team and dealt with policy and advocacy matters. Can you elaborate on the challenges you encountered and the strategies you implemented to ensure legal compliance while supporting the growth of the conglomerate?

As the General Manager – Legal for Franchise India Group of Companies, I was basically their Global Legal Head as Franchise India is an MNC with offices in 6 Countries and business almost everywhere in the world. My experience was different as the setup here was quite elaborate vis-a vis my previous Organisation. It had its own perks but its own challenges too. 

A major challenge that I came across was that I have always been an individual contributor. While I did lead a decent team in my previous Organisation, being completely able to delegate work to someone who you have never worked with before, was tough for me. However, it took me a bit of time but that was the easiest of the challenges. 

The more difficult challenges were dealing with multi-faceted legal compliance. The conglomerate operated in various industries, each with its own set of regulations and compliance requirements. Ensuring legal compliance across all sectors was a significant challenge. To tackle this, I developed a robust compliance management system that involved conducting regular audits, creating compliance manuals, and implementing training programs to educate employees about legal obligations. I also established strong relationships with regulatory agencies to stay updated on regulatory changes and engage in proactive compliance measures.

Policy and Advocacy: Dealing with policy and advocacy matters required a comprehensive understanding of the legal and regulatory landscape. I closely monitored legislative developments, engaged with industry associations, and actively participated in policy discussions. I collaborated with internal stakeholders to develop and advocate for favorable policies that supported the conglomerate’s growth objectives while ensuring compliance with applicable laws and regulations.

Contract Management: Since international agreements were a major part of the organization, it brought along the need to have knowledge of international laws and their domestic laws as well. The conglomerate engaged in a wide range of contracts, including lease and license agreements, strategic partnerships, service agreements, and distribution agreements. Managing and negotiating these contracts while safeguarding the conglomerate’s interests was a critical responsibility. I implemented standardized contract templates, streamlined contract review processes, and provided training to internal teams on contract negotiation and risk assessment. This ensured consistency, minimized legal risks, and expedited contract closures. Many times, there were language barriers too but I feel as long as both parties want to enter into an agreement, in good faith, challenges can be worked upon.

In summary, my strategies focused on proactive compliance management, policy advocacy, efficient contract management, stakeholder engagement, risk mitigation, and effective dispute resolution. By addressing these challenges, I contributed to the conglomerate’s growth while ensuring legal compliance and minimizing legal risks.

As the Legal Head for Medicover Group of Hospitals in India, you were involved in various acquisition and merger agreements, as well as corporate structuring. How did you navigate the complexities of these transactions, and what role did you play in ensuring smooth operations for the organization?

When I joined Medicover, the biggest challenge was COVID-19. I joined the organization at the brink of COVID and the times were tough. The challenges began right away being employee issues as people didn’t want to come to hospitals to work. Although the Organisation was great and swiftly provided all the protective gear and things to employees, it was still difficult for people as no one knew about the virus and the magnitude of it.

For smooth operations, I relied on the experience I have gathered till date. Before engaging in any acquisition or merger, conducting comprehensive due diligence was crucial. I oversaw the due diligence process, which involved analyzing legal, financial, and operational aspects of the target entities. By identifying potential risks, liabilities, and regulatory compliance issues, I provided valuable insights to the management, enabling them to make informed decisions.

Secondly, Structuring Transactions. Each acquisition and merger presented unique considerations, such as regulatory compliance, taxation implications, and integration of operations. I worked closely with internal stakeholders, external advisors, and management to develop the most suitable transaction structures. This involved assessing legal and regulatory requirements, drafting and negotiating agreements, and ensuring compliance with applicable laws.

Thirdly, Contract Negotiation and Drafting. This was comparatively easy as I have been doing this throughout my career and hence played a key role in negotiating and drafting acquisition and merger agreements. I ensured that the terms and conditions were favorable to Medicover Group while protecting its interests. This involved collaborating with the business and finance teams to identify key deal points, conducting negotiations with the counterparty, and drafting agreements that clearly defined rights, obligations, and protections. Throughout the acquisition and merger process, I identified and managed legal and operational risks. This included conducting risk assessments, implementing risk mitigation strategies, and advising the management on potential risks associated with the transactions. By proactively addressing risks, I helped safeguard Medicover Group’s interests and ensured the smooth functioning of the organization.

Fourthly, Regulatory Compliance. Healthcare is a highly regulated sector, and compliance with various laws and regulations was critical for smooth operations. I worked closely with regulatory authorities, such as state and national governments and healthcare regulatory agencies, to ensure compliance with licensing, permits, and other regulatory requirements. I also advised internal teams on healthcare-specific regulations, including those related to patient privacy, medical ethics, and quality standards.

Lastly, Integration and Post-Merger Activities. After completing an acquisition or merger, integrating the acquired entities into the Medicover Group was crucial for seamless operations. I collaborated with cross-functional teams to harmonize processes, systems, and policies. This involved managing legal aspects of employee transfers, aligning corporate governance structures, and ensuring compliance with Medicover Group’s policies and procedures.

Overall, although my stint was short with Medicover, it provided me with immense experience and the Management was amazing. The healthcare industry is quite fast paced and there are multiple issues everyday being compliance issues, litigations, licenses, adherence to govt. notifications (due to COVID), etc. My CEO trusted me with almost everything and relied on my expertise and advice and didn’t micro-manage. Medicover provided me with great exposure into a new industry with both domestic and international issues to be dealt with.

Throughout your career, you have gained extensive experience in contract drafting, negotiation, and management. What are some key strategies or approaches you employ when dealing with complex contracts or negotiations?

When dealing with complex contracts or negotiations, I employ several key strategies and approaches to ensure effective outcomes. Here are some of the techniques I use:

Thorough Understanding of the Subject Matter: Before entering into any contract or negotiation, I make sure to develop a deep understanding of the subject matter. This involves conducting comprehensive research, studying relevant laws and regulations, and familiarizing myself with the industry practices and standards. This enables me to identify key issues, anticipate potential challenges, and negotiate from a position of knowledge and strength.

Clear Communication and Active Listening: Effective communication is essential during contract negotiations. I focus on clearly articulating my client’s objectives and requirements, while also actively listening to the counterparty’s concerns and interests. By fostering open and transparent communication, I strive to establish a collaborative environment that promotes constructive dialogue and a mutual understanding of the parties’ needs.

Preparation and Planning: Adequate preparation is crucial for successful contract negotiations. I thoroughly review all relevant documentation, including the contract terms, supporting materials, and any applicable laws or regulations. This enables me to anticipate potential issues, identify potential areas of compromise, and develop a well-rounded negotiation strategy. I also establish clear objectives and priorities, ensuring that my client’s interests are protected while seeking mutually beneficial solutions.

Building Relationships and Trust: Building trust and rapport with the counterparty is instrumental in reaching favorable outcomes. I strive to establish a professional and respectful relationship based on trust, integrity, and transparency. This can involve engaging in small talk, finding common ground, and demonstrating a genuine interest in understanding the counterparty’s perspective. By fostering a positive rapport, I create a conducive environment for finding common ground and resolving disagreements.

Flexibility and Creativity: Complex contracts or negotiations often require flexibility and creative problem-solving. I approach negotiations with an open mind, exploring alternative solutions and considering various options. This allows me to think outside the box and propose innovative approaches that meet both parties’ interests. I am willing to consider different perspectives, explore compromise, and find win-win solutions whenever possible.

Documenting Agreements and Managing Risks: Once an agreement is reached, I ensure that it is clearly documented in a comprehensive and enforceable contract. This involves carefully drafting the contract terms, considering potential future scenarios, and addressing any legal or business risks. I pay close attention to detail, ensuring that all relevant provisions are included and accurately reflect the parties’ intentions. By addressing potential risks in the contract, I help safeguard my client’s interests and mitigate future disputes.

Continuous Learning and Adaptation: The legal landscape and business environments are constantly evolving. I prioritize continuous learning, staying updated on industry trends, legal developments, and best practices in contract negotiation and management. This enables me to adapt my strategies and approaches to the specific context and leverage new insights and techniques.

By employing these strategies, I aim to facilitate effective contract negotiations, foster positive relationships, and achieve optimal outcomes for my clients.

As someone with a successful legal career, what advice would you give to fresh graduates who are starting their journey in the field of law? Are there any particular skills or qualities they should focus on developing?

Frankly, I don’t think that I am successful enough yet to give advice to other people. However, the few kids I mentor or if someone reaches out to me on LinkedIn for advice and how to proceed in their legal career after college, I just tell them a few things. Firstly, if its clear to you that you want to choose any specific field, that’s great. But if you are not clear, that works fine too. 

For eg; some students are clear that they want to do only litigation. However, many first-generation lawyers like myself are not sure what to choose and how to go about it and of course there is lack of guidance. My suggestion is to try everything. Being a litigator has its own perks, but being in-house counsel is also great. It is only after trying things one can be sure if they like it or not. 

The one thing non-negotiable is hard work. You must be willing to put in the hours with dedication. Smart work will only take to a certain level but hard work will always pay off in the long run.

You have written articles and provided opinions on various legal issues, such as copyright, education policy, and IT rules. How do you balance your professional commitments with your passion for writing and contributing to legal discourse?

To be fair, it is extremely challenging and hence I haven’t been able to publish more articles. However, I believe that engaging in legal writing and sharing my perspectives on important legal issues allows me to contribute to the broader legal community and promote meaningful discussions.

I must attribute some credit to NLS for this. The curriculum is so intense, it makes you respect deadlines and provide your best work in the shortest time. To manage this balance, I allocate dedicated time for writing and research outside of my professional commitments. I stay updated on legal developments, both through my work and personal research, which helps me identify relevant topics to write about. By effectively managing my time and prioritizing my commitments, I ensure that I can devote sufficient attention to both my professional work and my passion for writing. It requires discipline and careful planning, but the opportunity to contribute to legal discourse and make a positive impact on the field makes it all worthwhile.

Lastly, what are your future aspirations and goals within the legal field? Is there a particular area or cause that you are passionate about and would like to focus on in the coming years?

In the future, I aspire to continue growing and excelling in the legal field while making a positive impact. I am passionate about various areas within the legal field, including intellectual property rights, technology law, E-commerce and corporate governance.

One of my key goals is to contribute to the development and implementation of legal frameworks that promote innovation, protect intellectual property, and foster a fair and sustainable business environment. I am particularly interested in the intersection of law and technology, and I aim to stay at the forefront of emerging legal issues in areas such as data privacy, artificial intelligence, and digital rights. To keep myself updated with these, I try to take up courses available.

Additionally, I am committed to advocating for access to justice and promoting legal awareness among marginalized communities. I believe in the power of legal education and empowerment to bring about positive social change. In furtherance of this cause, I volunteer with a couple of NGOs which work towards prevention of Human Rights. I am generally open to other causes as well and people reach out to me on LinkedIn for advice.

In the coming years, I intend to deepen my expertise and provide my services to the clients. Apart from litigation, I am deeply interested in IPR Licensing, Financial Services & Insurance, Fin-tech, E-Commerce industries. I would love to work in these sectors and collaborate with organizations and stakeholders to drive legal reforms.

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