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Humility, Combined with expertise, is the key to successful client interactions in the legal profession. – Nandita Khurana’s evolution from Litigation to International Corporate Leadership, Sr. Partner (Public Policy and Regulatory Matters), Anhad Law

This interview has been published by Namrata Singh and The SuperLawyer Team

We would love to know about your journey from the college days in Delhi University to becoming a senior legal other than that  you are in the leadership role with  companies. So please share your journey and how you reach there. And what were your learning’s?

Yes, my journey began in Delhi, where I spent a significant part of my early life due to my father’s service in the income tax department. Although we moved around a bit, we eventually settled in Delhi. After completing my education at Convent of Jesus and Mary, I joined St. Stephen’s College and later pursued law at Campus Law Center, predating the establishment of National Law Schools.

I graduated in 1984 with honors in English from St. Stephen’s and then pursued a full-time law course at Campus Law Center, completing it in 1987. The career landscape in those days was limited to professions like engineering, medicine, and law. Considering my passion for communication, I briefly explored the possibility of entering the field but eventually focused on law, drawn to its capacity for expressing opinions and views.

During my law studies, I engaged in extracurricular activities such as hosting state shows and working as a radio jockey. After graduating, I joined the Supreme Court and gained valuable experience representing the State of Gujarat. The supportive environment of the judiciary at that time encouraged young lawyers like me to present cases confidently.

Following my time with Mr. Shroff, where I also contributed to legal aid work, I moved on to work with Rani Jethmalani and gained exposure to commissions, primarily MRTP (now Competition Commission). After a brief stint in an independent law firm, life happened, and personal priorities led to a temporary pause in my legal career.

As India opened up, I joined law firms such as IILC and later Singhania and Company, gaining experience in mergers, acquisitions, and foreign funding. Despite enjoying criminal law, I found myself increasingly involved in women-centric matters due to gender biases prevalent at the time.

However, by 2005, I reached a point where I realized I had my fill. The joy of being in courtrooms had waned, and I felt that continuing was a futile investment of my time.

Making the decision to prioritize my enjoyment and satisfaction, I acknowledged that my heart was no longer in the legal battles. Fortunately, I’ve been blessed with unwavering support from my family—especially my husband and children—who have consistently encouraged my pursuits in life.

In 2005, I decided it was time for a change. Returning to the legal sphere, I joined Kochhar & Co. and immersed myself in corporate law once again. This period, spanning about one and a half years, proved to be a rejuvenating experience as I rediscovered my enthusiasm for the intricacies of corporate legal matters. Subsequently, I ventured into in-house counsel roles, including a significant stint with Michelin in Singapore, where I served as General Counsel for India and Australia. The role expanded to overseeing the legal aspects of a billion-dollar factory setup in India.

Upon returning to India, I continued to evolve within Michelin, eventually taking on the role of Regional General Counsel for Africa, India, and the Middle East. The company’s culture of constant growth and challenges suited my evolving professional aspirations.

In 2016, I embraced the additional responsibility of Public Affairs Director. This dual role continued until my departure in August 2022, marking around 14 years with Michelin—a period where I found satisfaction and continuous learning.

Post Michelin, I transitioned back to the legal side, collaborating with the law firm Anhad Law as a Senior Partner. Additionally, I contribute to the legal education sector by teaching LLM at IILM, a private law university known for its MBA programs.

My life extends beyond the legal profession, and I find fulfillment in various pursuits, living a well-rounded life beyond being just a lawyer.

I’m eager to delve into your roles as an independent director and consultant in legal and public affairs. Could you elaborate on your approach to these responsibilities? Furthermore, what guidance would you offer to someone seeking to comprehend these roles? Additionally, could you shed light on why it is imperative for businesses to actively engage in social cooperation?

Certainly, you’ve presented several questions simultaneously, and I’m considering the best order in which to address them. For now, let’s explore the significance of ethical organizations.

When we talk about ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance), it encompasses policies that underscore our responsibility towards the environment and future generations. Establishing a robust governance system is crucial for ensuring sustainability. This awareness has gained traction globally, with a notable surge in the last few years, emphasizing the three Ps—People, Profit, and Planet.

The growing emphasis on responsibility towards the planet is a response to the evident repercussions, as we witness the environment reacting to our actions. People are increasingly demanding that organizations be socially conscious and considerate in delivering projects and services. Consumer consciousness has played a pivotal role in shaping corporate practices.

In the past, companies focused solely on profitability when relocating production to countries like China, often overlooking environmental and labor conditions. However, this paradigm has shifted. The impact of consumers’ demands for ethical practices has led to a change in how companies operate globally.

For instance, let’s consider the tire industry, where I have substantial experience. Michelin, as a tire company, has long prioritized the production of “green tires,” considering environmental aspects in its processes. This commitment to ethical production not only contributes to environmental sustainability but also aligns with the consciousness of consumers. People are now more inclined to avoid products that are perceived to harm the environment or have unethical production processes.

This shift in consumer behavior has prompted corporations, governments, and semi-governments to establish ethical processes and systems. While profit remains a driving force, companies have realized that ethical practices contribute to better profits. This movement has evolved into a self-sustaining cycle.

As we discuss this, it’s essential to acknowledge a sense of righteousness that comes with contributing to positive change. There’s a shared responsibility among companies, employees, and consumers. Establishing transparent, visible, and easily accessible systems is crucial. Companies must educate their employees, align their ethics with societal expectations, and constantly work towards building a sustainable ecosystem.

For someone starting their career, I would advise thorough research before accepting an offer. Young professionals today play a significant role in shaping the future, and making ethically aligned choices can lead to a fulfilling and prosperous career. It’s about more than just chasing money; it’s about contributing to a sustainable and responsible future.

Could you elaborate on the intricate dynamics between antitrust, corruption, and compliance? Additionally, what proactive strategies do you believe businesses should employ to navigate through the prevalent legal and ethical challenges, especially considering the contemporary norm where discussions on ethics, technology, compliance, and ethical standards have become commonplace? How do you perceive this affecting companies directly and, consequently, their profits, their personnel, and the broader impact on the planet?

You’ve likely heard the saying, “No point bolting the stable door after the horses have bolted.” This essentially means that addressing issues only after they occur is not effective. When we discuss critical topics such as ethics, privacy, competition, and other impactful considerations for organizations, it’s clear that consequences can be severe. Every organization is naturally concerned about repercussions and seeks to address issues proactively.

However, waiting until after an incident has occurred to take action is insufficient. Organizations have learned, often from the experiences of others, that by the time they start addressing a problem, it might be too late. It’s crucial to establish systems and processes beforehand. Successful organizations, whether global or socially responsible entities with a long-term vision, have robust risk management systems in place.

Creating a risk map involves defining top risks across various categories, such as legal, technical, regulatory, and financial risks. For legal risks, compliance with laws, antitrust concerns, and data privacy are often significant considerations. Identifying major risks is just the beginning. To effectively allocate resources, organizations must differentiate between higher and lower risks.

Key management personnel or directors often face direct penal or significant financial risks. Once high risks are identified, working with teams to develop a risk mitigation process is essential. This process includes implementing policies, providing education, conducting regular internal audits, and periodic external audits.

By conducting a comprehensive risk mitigation exercise, organizations are better equipped to handle potential issues when faced with regulatory authorities. While mistakes and slip-ups may still occur, being well-prepared significantly improves an organization’s ability to navigate challenges. This proactive approach not only benefits the organization but also provides peace of mind to its consultants, advisors, and external teams who want to see the organization thrive. It emphasizes the importance of performing these exercises long before trouble arises, as once a crisis hits, control may already be lost.

When we are dealing with complexities in international legal cross border transactions and other aspects.How do you see yourself focusing on that? Because when we start we do not realize that it’s only legal issue. So How have you learned that combination thing, and What would be your views as in when you are trying to explain these things to the Newbies. How to Be focused, find a calling, and then only get into a job or get into a work. But how does that work? How do you suggest that can work for them.

When delving into international legal compliance’s, understanding your client goes beyond viewing it merely as a legal matter. It’s crucial to comprehend your client’s business thoroughly. While legal issues, especially involving contracts, have transitioned to digital platforms with the advent of technologies like ChatGPT, It’s becoming a lot easier while contracts is a big part of what you, as a lawyer in any organization international or national, will do.

The first step for any lawyer, even external consultants, is to ask pertinent questions and gain a deep understanding of the client’s business. Drawing from personal experience working in-house and collaborating with international players, it became evident that understanding the client’s business is paramount. International consultants often visited factories, observed processes, and interacted with various teams, not just the legal department. This holistic approach provided diverse perspectives.

To be effective in the legal field, one must adopt a business-centric mindset. Understanding the larger picture involves grasping the culture, values, and driving force of the business. Lawyers are integral, but they must recognize their role as a part of a more extensive machinery. It’s not about preventing actions; it’s about guiding clients on how to navigate within legal boundaries.

This approach is essential for lawyers to add substantial value. Whether in-house or external, spending time to understand the client’s business creates a lasting partnership. Lawyers become invaluable advisors when they align legal advice with the client’s business objectives. Rather than hastily providing answers, the emphasis should be on asking the right questions and comprehending the nuances of the client’s business.

For aspiring lawyers, the message is clear: be patient, ask the right questions, and understand the client’s business intricately. The goal is not to dictate terms but to collaborate effectively. The tendency for some lawyers to have an inflated opinion of themselves and talk down to clients is discouraged. Humility, along with expertise, is the key to successful client interactions in the legal profession.

In your role, how do you actively foster awareness and cultivate values of humbleness and humility within the legal community? Particularly, while instructing LLM courses and other legal programs, How do you ensure that students grasp the significance of simplicity, humble conduct, and the avoidance of the traditional tendency among lawyers to assert authority over clients? Could you share your motivation behind these efforts and the strategies you employ in this regard?

I wouldn’t term it as a specific strategy. To be completely transparent, when I teach, I’m fortunate to have a class of professionals, all of whom are qualified lawyers. I encourage them not only to express their thoughts but also to question and challenge not just me but the established norms. I urge them to bring innovative perspectives to the table because this generation, although confident, is incredibly intelligent. They respond well to friendly conversations and are open to embracing new ideas and challenges, more so than previous generations. I try to nurture their curiosity and inclination to question, making them more open-minded.

Allow me to share an example. In one of the courses I teach, “Law and Justice in a Globalized World,” we delve into legal theories, which can often be perceived as dull. However, during the class, I observed an enthusiastic group of students. Recognizing differing opinions, I transformed it into a debate, providing a safe space for them to challenge each other on sensitive topics like religious freedom. I encouraged open discussion, allowing them to express their views, whether positive or negative, as a form of catharsis. The outcome was fascinating, with diverse theories emerging, and it turned out to be an enriching experience.

By exposing today’s students to such humbling and learning experiences, I believe they become adept at considering various perspectives. It’s crucial for them to grasp that their opinions may not always be the only correct ones. These experiences instill humility and a continuous thirst for learning. While I can guide them in the classroom, life remains the ultimate teacher, and maintaining a questioning and curious mindset is vital for personal and professional growth.

What do you believe are the key qualities that make a successful person an entrepreneurial leader? And how do you see? how do you think that you can instill this kind of win-win environment in your own leadership style? And we can learn from that particular thing? How did you do that for yourself?

I have consistently maintained an open and transparent communication style, coupled with a genuine enthusiasm for acquiring new knowledge. A fundamental aspect of my approach is the pleasure I derive from collaborating with individuals and functioning as a team player. Throughout my journey, I’ve come to realize that the learning process is perpetual, and I humbly acknowledge that there is always more to explore. I firmly believe that working together with others is the most effective and rewarding way to achieve common goals.

Maintaining open lines of communication is crucial. Respecting others and acknowledging that they possess knowledge and perspectives I may lack fosters a positive working environment. Taking responsibility for actions or inaction’s is another vital aspect. While some may feel hesitant or scared, building confidence, even if it requires a bit of false bravado, is important, especially in leadership roles.

Confidence, coupled with knowledge, tends to get recognized. It’s about accepting the role as someone capable and being open to new ideas. Many individuals, despite their intelligence, often undersell themselves. I’ve observed that even highly intelligent people may hesitate to articulate their thoughts or needs. Soft skills, including effective communication and public speaking, are essential for success, and I believe there should be more emphasis on developing these skills in our educational and professional journeys.

Given your experience in fostering relationships with CXOs, clients, and government departments, what role do you believe effective communication plays in the success of a legal professional, both in and out of the courtroom?

First and foremost, a solid understanding of your subject is imperative. Attempting to navigate without a thorough knowledge is not a strategy. It’s crucial to recognize that the individuals on the other side of the conversation are likely well-versed in the subject matter as well. Therefore, thorough preparation is key, and it’s a form of respect towards those you’re engaging with. Honesty plays a pivotal role in effective communication.

Being forthright and transparent is essential. Some might withhold information for various reasons, but effective communication requires openness. Whether interacting with C-level executives or individuals at lower organizational levels, the approach should remain consistent. Transparency, honesty, and respect should be extended to everyone, regardless of their position.

Moreover, active listening is paramount. Responding to questions appropriately and addressing concerns reflects attentiveness. People want to be heard, and effective communication involves not just expressing your thoughts clearly but also genuinely listening to others. It’s a two-way street, and understanding the questions posed is crucial for maintaining the flow of the conversation.

Is there a particular achievement or project in your career that you are especially proud of, and would like to share with our readers? Also what advice would you offer to the upcoming generation, Specially the generation one, because they always have this feeling that if I’m Gen.1 there is a possibility we would not get that pampering.

Absolutely, there’s no denying the presence of nepotism in the legal industry, just as it exists across various professions. While it might be more accessible for second or third-generation lawyers, I can personally attest to the fact that being a first-generation lawyer isn’t an insurmountable hurdle. I come from a lineage where my father studied law, but never practiced, and my grandfather’s experience with the legal system predates my active involvement.

Breaking into the field might not be instant, but with hard work and sincerity, opportunities will come your way. It’s essential to discover your passion within the legal landscape—whether it’s litigation, in-house work, or exploring the expanding realms of quasi-legal roles in public affairs and regulatory domains.

Today’s legal professionals have a plethora of opportunities beyond traditional roles, providing a chance to find a niche that truly resonates with their interests. It’s crucial to experiment, explore, and identify what brings genuine happiness because longevity in the profession requires fulfillment.

As for my own achievements, every milestone, no matter how significant at the time, pales in comparison to the long-term success of overseeing the establishment of a billion-dollar factory in India. Commencing in , this venture involved navigating complexities, securing approvals, addressing corruption issues, and developing comprehensive legal frameworks. Witnessing the first product roll off the production line was a moment of immense pride.

Beyond financial victories, I consider creating an ethical and compliant organizational culture as one of my most substantial achievements. This involved instigating change, imparting global corporate norms to local teams, and fostering an environment where individuals could thrive without compromising personal ethics. The recognition from the government, acknowledging our entry into India without financial obligations, stands out as a testament to the success of building this ecosystem.

While I can recount various legal cases and wins, the real excitement lies in the trans-formative projects that contribute positively to society and business.

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