“In a country which is governed by a Constitution and which practices the Rule of Law, it is a privilege to serve the society as a lawyer”- Attreyi Mukherjee, General Counsel at Tata Industries Limited and a Published Author

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

Can you share with us your journey into the field of law, from your early education to your current role as General Counsel of Tata Industries? What inspired you to pursue a career in law?

From the early days of my education, I was a keen student of History and Political Science, finally graduating with Honours in History from Lady Shri Ram College for Women under Delhi University. At college I was enthused with the ideals of human rights, rule of law and gender equality. I was fortunate to be able to channelise my interests in my professional journey which started with my LL.B degree from Mumbai University and very recently been admitted as a Solicitor in England & Wales.

With your experience spanning both law firms and in-house counsel roles, what differences do you find in the challenges and opportunities presented by each environment? How did these experiences shape your approach to legal practice?

Practice of law remains constant in both these environments. Considering in-house counsels as ‘legal managers’ is a thing of the past. According to me, the key difference between the two is that in private practice, you work from transaction to transaction, whereas in an in-house role, you are much closer to the business and as such have greater ownership of the matters. In-house counsels are also expected to wear a business hat, by that I mean, having a business/strategic perspective.

Transitioning from practicing at law firms to working as in-house counsel, what adjustments did you need to make in your approach to legal practice and stakeholder management? How do you balance the demands of providing legal advice while also understanding the business needs and goals of the organization?

It is important to recognise the role of in-house counsel as a key risk manager for an organisation. This is something which sets apart an in-house role from that of private practice. But this does not translate to mean adversarial position with business. Legal must work with business to find the right synergistic solutions which serve the business needs while mitigating any legal exposure for the organisation. That is not to say that there are no situations where there would be a disagreement with your key business stakeholders, and these are precisely the situations where your mettle as the in-house counsel is tested. It is important to stand one’s ground and to find the appropriate approach to convincingly put the point across. Logical and persuasive arguments would always find takers.

You’ve handled complex transactional matters, including domestic and cross-border M&As, JVs, and Technology Licensing deals. Could you walk us through a particularly challenging deal you’ve worked on and the key lessons you learned from it?

I have experienced inflections in my learning curve when I have advised on the sell side, especially when the asset has been under stress. It requires enormous fortitude to get through the negotiations, to hold your ground and work towards the best outcome. The key practices which can help in such situations are (i) a thorough vendor diligence, which prepares you for the negotiations points you know might come up; (ii) alignment with management/client, so you know the redlines of your own business team; (iii) a clear strategy for the negotiations; and (iv) speed in execution.

As the Co-Chair of the Legal Affairs and IPR Committee of the Bombay Chamber of Commerce and Industry, you’re involved in designing and speaking at seminars on diverse legal topics. How do you stay updated on the latest developments and trends in the legal landscape, especially in areas like Tech Laws, Data Privacy, and Gender Sensitivity?

Thank you for the reference to my work at the Bombay Chamber. It has been my privilege to be associated with one of the oldest and well-respected industry associations of the country. As far as knowledge management is concerned, it is always easy to stay updated on the developments in areas which are of keen interest. I read a lot, both online and offline and also my interactions with peers and seniors enrich me. Ours is a knowledge-based industry and the only way to keep our skills relevant is by staying updated. This is especially important now, when the world is witnessing unprecedented social transformation and technological development, giving rise to whole new legal and regulatory paradigms.

Your involvement in co-authoring editions of the Handbook on the Law on Sexual Harassment at Workplace demonstrates a commitment to promoting a safe and inclusive work environment. What motivated you to contribute to this important area of law, and what impact do you hope your work will have?

I have always had an interest in human rights with a special focus on gender issues, more particularly issues around gender-based discrimination at the workplace. So, when India legislated the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, it was a welcome opportunity to dive into the research in this field and the result was the book which was first published in 2015 and remains the most detailed commentary on this subject to date. Since the publication, me and my co-author have received notes from many women around the world telling us about their experiences and it is humbling to learn how far we still have to go. It is important for organisations to understand that this has become a Board level issue and requires attention and investment at leadership level. I am frequently invited to hold lectures and training sessions at different forums on the subject and I sincerely hope that I have been able to contribute meaningfully to the cause.

Given your extensive experience and achievements in the legal field, what advice would you offer to fresh graduates aspiring to pursue a career in law, especially those interested in business law and corporate governance?

In a country which is governed by a Constitution and which practices the Rule of Law, it is a privilege to serve the society as a lawyer. For those who are aspiring to join the profession, I would say that there has been no better time. The new generation of lawyers will not only get to practice law but would also be an integral part of re-defining the legal landscape which is underfoot around the world. From laws on personal data protection, regulating artificial intelligence, new challenges to intellectual property rights, re-defining consumer protection rights, on the commercial side to securing individual rights, protecting those who identify beyond the gender binary, promoting safe workplaces, fighting against discrimination in all forms, there is so much and more which a fresh graduate can contribute towards. Those who wish to practice corporate law,  the increasing focus on governance through transparency would provide greater opportunities for research and practice and continuing economic growth would fuel transaction practice. Eventually, hard work, research, drafting skills and a strategic mind are the true assets of a successful lawyer.

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