“I attribute my success to a combination of continuous learning, meticulous preparation, strategic thinking, adaptability, and dedication to my craft”- Sachiv Kumar, Senior Partner, SDS Advocates

This Interview has been published by Pragya Chandni and The SuperLawyer Team

Could you share a bit about your journey into the legal profession, particularly what led you to specialize in Banking & Finance and General Corporate law?

My career path is a tapestry of diverse experiences, woven together by a passion and zeal for continuous learning and a relevant drive to understand the intricate legal landscape and providing strategic solutions to complex legal challenges. 

My Journey of becoming a corporate lawyer has been very dynamic and full of exciting professional challenges. To sum up these extremely rich and eventful years (approx. 16 years) in a few sentences/para is surely an impossible task, however when I look back, the journey has been very rewarding and no experiences, challenges and detours have gone in vain. I have handled an enormous variety of matters and legal issues pertaining to Banking & Finance, General Corporate, Real Estate and Foreign Exchange Laws.  I also have experience in handling cross border deals encompassing Singapore and English laws. 

My legal profession began when I secured placement from my college in India’s top private bank in 2008 and as an in-house counsel gained first-hand experience with the intricacies of financial laws, regulations and varied nature of transactions including project finance, corporate lending, syndications, consortium lending, etc. Working as an in-house counsel initially in a highly reputed private bank provided me with valuable insights into the legal challenges faced by financial institutions and complex documentations. This experience sparked my interest in specializing in Banking & Finance law, as I saw the opportunity to deepen my understanding of regulatory frameworks and provide strategic legal advice to financial entities. Within 4 years of my career, I was exposed to International banking and handled work related to English Laws, Singapore Laws, DIFC laws and worked on varied complex matters pertaining to these geographies along with all tier-1 international/domestic law firms and understood the nuances of International transactions which sparked my further interest in Banking and finance.

Moreover, my role exposed me to various corporate matters, from contract negotiations to compliance issues, structuring the deals (including cross-border) and handling the clients on a day to day basis, which piqued my interest in General Corporate laws. My early days taught me to be disciplined, versatile, multi-tasking and detail oriented. 

“You might find it funny but my friends used to call me ‘justice’ during my early days which some of them still continue to do and I was being labelled as ‘Hawk Eye’ because of my eye to minute details”. 

What is your approach or philosophy to winning or representing a client and how do you balance the strategic needs of your clients?

My approach inculcates ethics that best suit clients’ needs and works towards the satisfaction of clients. I have earned a reputation for the simple philosophy of “personal and prompt service and advice relevant to modern practical requirements of business”. My out of box thinking about a particular issue and providing a solution which is in the best interest of the client is what sets me apart. I take extra care to ensure that my client feels assured, focused and on track throughout the tenure of our arrangement.

On various occasions, pointed out to me by my clients, my ability to deeply empathize with them, being able to put myself squarely in their shoes, and suggest a course of action that is in their genuine best interests even if it means it might not be so much in my own, has

been the reason for winning the confidence of my clients. 

One needs to understand that while negotiating you should only speak when it is required, be articulative, put in a fair offer and add value. While negotiating contracts my approach is to have a detailed eye on the minutest thing and find a balance. I don’t believe in taking extreme approaches and keep my calm and patience even if the discussion is going otherwise . No doubt for doing a proper negotiation you need to be prepared, have subject knowledge and confidence. I make sure that I have read the agreement and related laws before my negotiations and have thought about the best and worst outcome. 

Balancing the strategic needs of clients with legal requirements in corporate advisory involves careful analysis and communication. I prioritize understanding the client’s goals and objectives, then develop strategies that align with both their business objectives and legal compliance. This often entails conducting thorough legal research, risk assessment, and collaborating closely with the client to ensure transparency and informed decision-making throughout the process. Effective communication and proactive management of expectations are key to maintaining this balance while navigating complex legal landscapes.

I float ideas and suggestions and have my back up ready in case the initial recommendation/suggestion fails. Also I synchronised my thoughts and executed in such a manner that the other side get convinced with my arguments and advances. I give patient hearing to the points made by the other side and then ask them questions as to ‘why’ and ‘how’ the same is relevant to a particular issue. The idea/approach is to close the deal and find out the solutions so that the business is not affected and also legal requirements are met. There have been various instances where I have been part of major negotiations with bigger law firms/companies of the country, and I have been able to get the deal done in favour of my client with my negotiation skills and understanding of laws.

With your extensive experience in both Indian and English law, could you highlight some of the key differences you’ve encountered when handling cross-border deals?

Though Indian laws are based on common law principles, there are lots of differences between the two. The distinctions between Indian and foreign laws (including English Laws) encompasses various aspects, including the way commercial contracts are drafted, legal frameworks and jurisdictional principles, contract formation requirements, dispute resolution mechanisms, regulatory environments, and taxation considerations. 

In most of the foreign geographies including England, there is no concept of stamping the contracts (except the debenture for mortgage of immovable assets), unlike India. There is no requirement of signing each and every page and only the last page is signed and executed as the burden of proof lies on the person denying the execution.  Anything above 2 (two) % of default interest is treated as damages, which can only be awarded by the courts, treatment of fixed and floating charges by the authorities under insolvency process. The loan agreement in foreign geography is based on standard Loan Market Association (‘LMA’) format in UK/European Countries and Asia Pacific Loan Market Association (“APLMA”) format which is a guiding factor and works as model loan agreements for use in various transactions and jurisdictions. Additionally, the compliance requirements, licensing procedures, and reporting obligations are slightly cumbersome in India unlike foreign countries which impacts the structuring and execution of cross-border transactions.

Further, in Singapore, providing upward/cross guarantees are not easy unless some commercial consideration and corporate benefit is involved between the subsidiary (guarantor) and holding company. There is no requirement of board resolution in Singapore and the extract of ACRA is sufficient proof to evidence the persons authorised on behalf of the Company to execute the documents. 

Your accolades speak volumes about your contributions to the legal industry. What do you attribute your success to, and how do you stay ahead in such a dynamic field?

A lawyer’s work is perpetually exciting and stimulating. Please refer to the answer given in Question no.2 above, which is required to win your client and stay ahead in this dynamic field.

Further, I attribute my success to a combination of continuous learning, meticulous preparation, strategic thinking, adaptability, and dedication to my craft. In such a dynamic field of law, staying ahead requires staying updated on legal developments, networking with peers, and being proactive in seeking out new opportunities for growth and innovation. Additionally, maintaining a strong work ethic and a passion for the law has been essential in staying ahead in this competitive environment.

What sets me apart is my ability to understand clients’ wants, empathise with them, and ensure desired results in a time bound manner. Professionalism and courtesy towards my clients are my distinctive traits. One of my notable attributes is attention to detail and to leave no margin for errors. Reading large amounts of research, absorbing facts and figures, analysing material, and distilling it into something manageable is my key feature. In order to ensure that my clients feel assured and satisfied, I pass a legal problem through multiple screens and filters and subject it to multiple revisions to ensure a favourable outcome. 

Further you need to be innovative in approaching clients nowadays as they have multiple options to get the desired result and to break the ice in this competitive environment one needs to be equipped with the target sectors. One of the innovative ways to get client’s attention is to keep updating your practice areas, your portfolio and your recent achievements on your website and periodically sharing information on various social media platforms and across various legal networking websites so that clients have easy access to them. Our team does extensive research on various RBI & SEBI Notifications/Circulars, Important Judgments and creates “Articles/Newsletters” and sends them to my clients so that they are informed about the latest changes in law. We are trying to focus more on making ourselves available and accessible digitally. Additionally, I also stay updated by reading newsletters/articles by other law firms and publications by legal databases/journals.

Given your expertise in areas like Fintech Laws and Digital Lending, could you shed light on some emerging trends or challenges you foresee in these sectors?

Certainly, In the rapidly evolving landscape of Fintech laws and digital lending, there are several emerging trends and challenges to consider:

  1. Regulatory Compliance: As Fintech innovations continue to disrupt traditional financial services, regulators are working to keep pace with new technologies while ensuring consumer protection and financial stability. Compliance with evolving regulations such as sandbox regulations, AIF regulations, Digital lending Guidelines, Digital Personal Data Protection Act, 2023, GDPR, and AML/KYC requirements, etc. remains a significant challenge.
  2. Data Privacy and Security: With the increasing digitization of financial services, the protection of sensitive consumer data/personal data becomes paramount. Fintech firms must navigate complex data privacy laws and implement robust security measures to safeguard against cyber threats and data breaches and would need to strictly adhere to DPDPA, 2023, otherwise there may be huge penalties.
  3. Digital Identity Verification: As digital lending platforms gain popularity, the need for reliable methods of identity verification becomes critical. Fintech companies are/should explore innovative solutions such as biometric authentication and blockchain-based identity verification to streamline the lending process while mitigating fraud risks.
  4. Default Loss Guarantee (‘DLG’): With RBI coming with an overall cap of 5% on DLG structure to the LSP under Default Loss Guarantee Guidelines and all-in-cost mechanism, the Fintech’s/FIs are finding it difficult to the do the business and time and again clarity has been posed to RBI.

Navigating these emerging trends and challenges will require collaboration between Fintech firms, regulators, and other stakeholders to foster innovation while maintaining trust and stability in the financial system.

Handling diverse finance deals, from ship financing to asset-backed finance, must present unique challenges. Can you share a particularly memorable or challenging deal you’ve worked on and how you navigated it?

It’s very hard to think of a memorable or challenging deal as there are quite a few and I encounter the same ‘now and then’ and I have always believed in taking up challenges and don’t like doing work where there are no challenges. The recent being the resolution of Reliance Commercial Finance and Reliance Home Finance Limited, where the matter went up to Supreme Court where the issue encompassed SEBI circular, RBI framework on stressed assets, debenture holder rights, etc. 

Though each case presents unique complexities, but with my ‘out of box thinking’, greater and clear understanding of the issue and by staying adaptable and keeping abreast of legal developments, I am able to overcome these challenges. I think from 360 degree on any problem and filter my thought process. My approach inculcates ethics that is best suited for clients, and I ensure to put their interests over and above everything. I act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client and patience and never-giving attitude is the key. 

In your experience, what are some common misconceptions/expectations that corporate clients have, and how do you address them?

Some common misconceptions clients have:

  1. Cost: As there are a variety of corporate clients ranging from start up to mid-size and mid-size to big one, clients sometimes think that hiring a corporate lawyer will be too expensive. But we have modelled various categories of fee structures which are tailor made depending upon the complexity of matter and size of the corporation we are dealing with. For mid-size companies, we also offer a flexible retainership monthly model and navigate their day to day issues at a reasonable cost.
  2. Complexity: Clients sometimes believe that corporate law is overly complex and difficult to understand. We simplify legal concepts, providing clear explanations, and guiding them through the process step by step.
  3. One-size-fits-all solutions: Clients might assume that corporate legal solutions are standard and apply universally. We provide tailored legal advice to the specific needs and circumstances of each client’s business and tell them how a particular agreement cannot be used for some other deal.
  4. Timeframe: Clients may expect quick fixes or immediate results, underestimating the time required for structuring a complex contract or legal processes involved in achieving a desired result. We normally manage the expectations and provide realistic timelines so as to give quality services. In case of any urgent matter, we make sure that clients meet their deadlines even if we have to work extra hours.
  5. Importance: Some clients may not fully appreciate the critical role that corporate lawyer plays in protecting their business interests but in our discussions we have highlighted the potential risks of non-compliance and the benefits of proactive legal strategies.

By addressing these misconceptions through clear communication, education, and personalized attention, corporate lawyers can help clients better understand the value and importance of their services.

With your wealth of experience, what advice would you give to young lawyers aspiring to specialize in Banking & Finance and General Corporate law?

Banking & finance is a wide spectrum. Being a banking lawyer gives you exposure to a wide variety of laws and clients. It encompasses lending, fintech lending, real estate, project finance, NCDs, Securitisation, syndications, issuance of equity, fund creation, etc. Not only as a banking lawyer but being a corporate lawyer requires resolute, unwavering, and fierce commitment to underlying principles of understanding and applying the laws. Needless to say, smart work coupled with hard work is the ultimate combination. 

Some of my advice to young lawyers aspiring to specialize in Banking & Finance law or otherwise in any area of law would be:

  1. Passion and Zeal: First and foremost unless you are passionate and have the zeal to achieve, you cannot achieve the desired result. One needs to be mad for this profession and there is nothing called work-life balance, if you want to be successful in this profession. You need to make law your life and your life should be dedicated to law.
  2. Dream Big: Unless you dream, your dreams will never turn into reality and if you have to dream then why to dream small.
  3. Observe and Focus: Students must be very focussed during internships and should learn as much as they can and should not be in a hurry to leave early. Apart from learning legal knowledge, in my view internship is all about understanding the traits of becoming a lawyer. One should observe his/her seniors and learn the trick of the trade.
  4. USP/Impact: Create your own USP and be different from others. Make your presence felt. Please remember that it does not matter what you do, but it matters what impact and impression you create, when you leave the place.
  5. Delivery: Deliver more than what is expected.
  6. Responsible: Be responsible for your work and take onus for any mistakes. Committing a mistake is not an issue, but repeating the same and not admitting your mistake is a big problem amongst the current generation. Don’t give justification for your mistakes. Just admit it and move on. 
  7. In-depth Knowledge and Continuous Learning: Focus on building a solid understanding of  laws, including corporate law and financial principles. Read the books and bare acts instead of google research. Google is for reference and not the source of your opinion. Stay curious and open to learning. The legal landscape is always evolving, so ongoing education and professional development are critical for long-term success.
  8. Stay Updated: Keep abreast of industry trends, regulations, and market developments. The banking and finance sector is constantly evolving, so staying informed is key.
  9. Develop Analytical Skills: Hone your analytical skills to assess complex financial transactions and corporate structures. Attention to detail is paramount in these areas of law.
  10. Inter-personal skill: Build relationships with professionals in the field, including clients, mentors, and peers. Networking can open doors to opportunities and provide valuable insights. Develop strong communication skills, both written and verbal. Clear, synchronised thoughts and concise communication is key for a lawyer. One should be able to express what they think.
  11. Integrity and Professionalism: Lastly, uphold the highest ethical standards and act with integrity in all your dealings. Trust and credibility are invaluable assets in the legal profession.

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