Company Secretary

In Conversation with: Avneesh Chopra, Head (Legal) and Company Secretary at Valvoline Cummins Pvt Ltd (India)

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

Was doing law pre-planned or did you instantly make a decision to pursue law?

Yes, doing law was pre-planned. My father who is also law graduate from Delhi University introduced me to the law and law books. We used to have a small library at home where I enjoyed reading the case laws on contracts, IPC etc.

When I went to do B. Com (H), I was introduced to contracts law, sale of goods, partnership, and property laws, where the actual journey to understand the law started.  To further enhance my knowledge of law, I also decided to pursue the Company Secretary course which provided me more insight into finance and taxation, and the law governing the corporate entities.

Having more than 2 decades of experience in the legal industry, what strategies keep you going in this profession?

The strategy which keeps me going is that I always consider myself a student. As a student, I am open to new learnings, changes and challenges.

As a law student, I developed the habit of observing and learning, before interpreting and applying. While working as an in-house lawyer, I realized that to have legal knowledge is not enough; hence, I worked myself to understand the other facets of the business, competition, industry, and kept myself updated on foreign economic and  regulatory environment, as well.

During my career, I also faced a few up and downs which fortunately helped me develop a network of mentors, comprising individuals who have supported me during testing times.

Do you think after doing CS, it’s an easy sail for every legal professional in the corporate world? We have heard opposing arguments though from some people!

Nothing is easy in the corporate world if you are a legal professional. The Company Secretary Course will help you understand the way in which an organization operates and functions. If you wish to work in the Legal Team of a company, then the Company Secretary course is a good option as it is designed to give you knowledge in various subjects and areas which are beyond the law as well.

The Company Secretary works as a link between the company and its board of directors, shareholders, government, and various regulatory authorities.

Hence, they take up diverse roles in the management, taxation and finance departments of a company and help the company in all such areas. It is incorrect to say that Company Secretary course is an easy sail; it should be kept in mind that every professional in the corporate world must prove their worth and deliver results to move up the ladder.

Avneesh as you are experienced in dealing with POSH cases, we have heard a lot about “Quid Pro Quo Harassment” and what are the punishments for the same?

In Latin, “Quid-Pro-Quo” means “something for something”. Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when employment, pay, benefits, title, position or other opportunities for advancement or training, are conditioned upon the submission to unwelcome sexual advances.

Quid-pro-quo is a serious offence. It is extremely important to be very clear and transparent in all businesses dealing with employees at the workplace. The punishment depends upon a case-to-case basis ranging from disciplinary action including a written apology, reprimand, warning, censure withholding of promotion/ pay raise/ increment, termination of employment, undergo counselling etc. In some matters, it could also lead to a criminal complaint against the perpetrator.

Reg -Tech is helpful they say in doing compliance’s, how far do you believe this?

Definitely, any tool and technology which reduces human efforts and intervention are going to help. In a digital environment featuring complex business structures with the change of law and regulations almost happening on daily basis, organizations require tools that will keep them up to date with the latest regulatory changes thereby minimizing the likelihood of human error.

Reg-Tech can also provide increased confidence in meeting board agendas pertaining to issues such as transparency and proactive reporting of risks and compliance. This technology also allows companies to meet regulatory-driven data activities and support submissions to regulatory bodies in an accurate and consistent manner.

However, before implementing and recommending Reg-Tech, we as lawyers need to learn about the technology, its architecture, data models, as well as algorithms.

We also need to understand cross-functional teams for evaluating the risks, beyond the legal risk of using manual and automated processes, along with the legal risks related to any specific Reg-Tech product. Data protection and privacy remain the most important factors to consider when using Reg-Tech.

As tech startups are growing like never before, do you think our data is protected and the level of secrecy is maintained?

Data is growing faster than ever. Data secrecy and conditionality are prime concerns of General Counsels (GCs). The prevalence of cyber-attacks, frauds & crime and the emergence of new regulations like CERT guidelines are forcing boards and their GCs to work closely with the chief information security officer (CISO) to make decisions about how to protect the company against cyber-attacks, respond to data breaches as well as other attacks, while complying with applicable data protection laws.

My personal experience suggests that many tech start-ups are not investing enough time & sources and are not incorporating privacy as the default.

In recent times, we have seen the Government withdrawing the personal data protection (PDP) Bill after receiving concerns from Indian start-ups, which suggest that data localization requirements in the draft PDP Bill are too “compliance intensive” and could hamper the ease of doing business and stifle innovation.

The same may be true, however data security and confidentially should be paramount and should be a part of the core DNA of any start-up or organization. The tech start-ups should consider data privacy as part of their core foundation before offering any products, services, and processing data, which will enable them to be future-ready. Further, it will bring transparency and trust among the users and customers.

How do you see the corporate world serving more opportunities to individuals in the legal world?

Multiple opportunities are available in the corporate world for individuals. The legal department as business partners must take ownership and support the overall success of a company.

Depending on the nature and size of the business, in-house legal work has been rising in volume, especially in specific areas like environment & safety, data protection & privacy, competition law as well as other  regulatory & compliance work arising out of amendments and change in law, compliance breaches, intellectual property protection, M&A etc.

Another reason for the increase in legal work is the growing attention to legal budget control and better risk management, whereby in-house lawyers’ must have more knowledge about the company as compared to external lawyers.

At present, many lawyers are contributing to multiple facets of the organization such as corporate governance, contracts, litigation, compliances, ethics, investigation, internal control & audit, employment, data privacy as well as other security matters, corporate social responsibility, policy advocacy & liaison, taxation and finance.

The key attribute for an individual to grow in the corporate world is that they should have commercial sense, be willing to learn, explore new opportunities and be ready to work outside their comfort zone.

Any advice for our readers?

To succeed as an in-house lawyer, you need to be proactive, flexible, find solutions and communicate them in a concise and simple manner. You must understand the business, the industry, collaborate more with other businesses, build trust, and relationships. One must also ensure the alignment of expectations and communicate them. It is also important to remain  a lifelong learner.

In today’s dynamic environment, if you can think and act as entrepreneur, the same is going to help you immensely.

Get in touch with Avneesh Chopra-

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