“It’s essential to explore different areas of law to gain a well-rounded understanding of the legal profession.” – Abhiraj Kumar, Legal Counsel and Data Protection Officer (DPO) at Deutsche Bank Group Company

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

Disclaimer: [All views are personal]

Abhiraj, could you please introduce yourself to our readers and walk us through your journey, from what inspired you to pursue a career in law to where you are today at Deutsche Bank Group company? What pivotal moments or experiences have shaped your career trajectory thus far?

Absolutely, it’s a pleasure to share my journey. My path into the world of law was somewhat unconventional. I was born and raised in a middle-class family in Samastipur, a small district in Bihar (India). During that time, engineering and medical were the go-to career choices, but I had a different path in mind where I decided to pursue commerce and later aim for CA, steering away from the mainstream. 

While gearing up for a CA course in Delhi after my 12th board exam, a chance encounter with Chanakya National Law University advertisement in a newspaper changed everything. With my father’s attention drawn to that advertisement and his subsequent encouragement, I decided to give it a shot, despite doubts. Surprisingly :), I cleared the exam, prompting a last-minute decision to pursue law instead of commerce. Thus began my journey into the legal realm in 2006 and subsequently earned my law degree in 2011.

Law school was an amazing time for me, packed with fun, studies, and a range of extracurricular activities. From internships to various co-curricular endeavors, these experiences not only enhanced my understanding of the law but also helped shape my character and confidence in this field.

Transitioning from academia to the professional sphere wasn’t easy, especially as a first-generation lawyer. After gaining insights into court procedures at a boutique law firm for about a year, I made my foray into the corporate world, beginning my journey at UnitedLex Corporation. There, I honed my skills in contract drafting, vetting and negotiation for their Fortune 500 clients, eventually transitioning to in-house counsel roles at MNC’s like Pearson, Randstad (seconded to Idemia), MPS Ltd. I have acquired extensive and varied experience during my tenure at these companies, spanning across various facets of law and industries. This includes, but is not limited to, managing and supporting legal functions encompassing advisory services, litigation and arbitration, legal & regulatory compliance, Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), contract management, acquisitions, stakeholder management and other corporate matters. Today, I find myself at Deutsche Bank Group company, where I am fortunate to apply my legal expertise in a dynamic and challenging environment. My role here as a Technology, Regulatory & Privacy Lawyer allows me to not only navigate complex legal landscapes but also contribute to strategic decision-making processes that drive business success in a global market. 

In short, I can say that each step has been filled with challenges and learning opportunities, supported by colleagues and mentors along the way. Throughout my journey so far, pivotal moments and experiences have played a significant role in shaping my trajectory in the field of law.

Finally, I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to my family and my alma maters: Central Public School, DAV School, and Chanakya National Law University. Their unwavering support and dedication to nurturing my learning and skills have laid the foundation for my professional journey. 

Your journey seems incredibly diverse, from legal counsel to data protection officer. How did you transition into your current role at Deutsche Bank Group company, and what inspired you to specialize in technology and data protection law?

My journey has been quite varied, indeed. Transitioning into my current role at Deutsche Bank Group company was a result of my passion for technology and data protection law, coupled with my background in legal counsel. Over the years, I’ve been increasingly drawn to the intersection of law and technology, recognizing the critical importance of data protection in our digital age. This led me to pursue additional training and certifications in data protection and privacy, equipping me with the necessary expertise to transition into the role of a Data Protection Officer. The opportunity to work at Deutsche Bank Group company presented itself as an ideal platform to apply my skills and knowledge in a dynamic and challenging environment, where data protection is paramount. 

For this, I would like to express my gratitude to my current company for providing me with the opportunity to learn and grow in the field of data privacy alongside with my responsibilities as legal counsel where I am currently providing strategic legal advice and support in relation to legal topics and issues around technology and outsourcing regulation, data protection, intellectual property, contracting, and related areas impacting bank business in the region. In addition, I also support the management of legal, regulatory and reputational risk in outsourcing and tech-related transactions.

We noticed you’re passionate about technology. How do you see emerging technologies like AI, Blockchain, and Big Data impacting the legal landscape in the future?

Technology is a great teacher. It constantly teaches us that change is the only constant in the evolution of technology. Over time, new technologies replace old ones, which can bring new problems and challenges. New technologies are constantly pushing the boundaries of the law and therefore lawyers and legal professionals around the world are witnessing significant changes in the way they practice law, thanks to innovations like artificial intelligence, blockchain, and data analytics.

Emerging technologies such as AI, Blockchain etc. are poised to revolutionize the legal landscape in numerous ways:

  • AI in Legal Research: AI-powered tools can sift through vast amounts of legal data in seconds, significantly expediting legal research and document review. 
  • Predictive Analytics: By analyzing past case outcomes and legal trends, AI can predict potential outcomes of ongoing cases, enabling lawyers to make more informed decisions and develop stronger strategies.
  • Automating Routine Tasks: AI-driven automation can support repetitive tasks at preliminary stages like contract review, document drafting, and due diligence. This allows legal professionals to focus on higher-value activities that require more human judgment and creativity.
  • Data Analytics for Case Management: Big Data analytics can extract valuable insights from large volumes of legal data, helping lawyers identify patterns, assess risks, and optimize case management strategies.

Overall, the convergence of AI, Blockchain, and Big Data is set to transform the legal profession, driving efficiency, reducing costs and providing new avenues for innovation. 

In my opinion, while emerging technologies may reshape the legal profession and alter the nature of legal work, they are unlikely to eliminate the need for skilled legal professionals altogether. Instead, they will complement lawyers’ capabilities, create new opportunities for specialization, and require continuous adaptation and upskilling to thrive in the evolving legal landscape.

Beyond your professional achievements, we hear you’re an avid traveller. How has exploring different cultures influenced your perspective, both personally and professionally?

Certainly! Exploring different cultures through travel has been an enriching experience that has shaped both my personal outlook and professional approach in several ways.

On a personal level, immersing myself in diverse cultures has enriched my understanding of the world and broadened my horizons. Experiencing new cuisines, customs, languages, and traditions has fostered a deep appreciation for the richness and complexity of human society. It has taught me to approach unfamiliar situations with an open mind, curiosity, and respect for cultural differences. Moreover, interacting with people from diverse backgrounds has helped me develop empathy, tolerance, and a global mindset.

Professionally, my travels have enhanced my interpersonal skills, adaptability, and cross-cultural communication abilities. Working in a globalized world, where interactions with clients, colleagues, and stakeholders from different cultural backgrounds and jurisdictions are increasingly common, these skills are invaluable. Moreover, exposure to diverse perspectives and ways of thinking has fueled creativity and problem-solving in my professional endeavors.

Overall, my passion for travel has been a source of inspiration and growth, both personally and professionally that I carry with me in all aspects of my life and work.

You’ve worked with both law firms and in-house legal departments. How do these experiences differ, and which environment do you find more conducive to your professional growth?

Having experienced both law firm and in-house legal environments, I can say that each offers unique advantages and challenges. The key differences between these two settings can influence professional growth in distinct ways.

In a law firm setting, the pace is often fast-paced and diverse, with exposure to a wide range of clients, industries, and legal matters. This diversity provides ample opportunities for skill development, as lawyers are constantly challenged to adapt to new cases and clients. 

On the other hand, in-house legal departments offer a more immersive experience within a single organization, allowing lawyers to develop a deep understanding of the company’s business operations, industry dynamics, and strategic objectives. This depth of knowledge enables in-house counsel to provide more targeted and strategic legal advice, aligning legal solutions with broader business goals. Moreover, working in-house provides opportunities to collaborate closely with non-legal departments, such as finance, operations, and marketing, fostering a holistic approach to problem-solving and decision-making.

When considering which environment is more conducive to professional growth, it ultimately depends on individual preferences, career goals, and work style. Some lawyers thrive in the fast-paced, client-focused environment of law firms, where they can gain diverse experience and build a robust professional network. Others may prefer the stability, strategic focus, and sense of ownership that come with working in-house.

Ultimately, the choice between these two environments depends on individual preferences, career goals, and the type of work that best aligns with one’s strengths and interests.

With your broad expertise, what would you say is the one thing the current generation can do to excel in their legal careers, considering the dynamic nature of the profession?

With the legal profession evolving rapidly due to technological advancements, globalization, and shifting societal norms, excelling in this dynamic environment requires a multifaceted approach. However, if I were to highlight one key aspect for the current generation to focus on, it would be adaptability and continuous learning.

Adaptability encompasses the ability to embrace change, learn new skills, and pivot in response to evolving circumstances. In today’s legal landscape, where new laws, regulations, and technologies emerge regularly, lawyers must possess the agility to navigate these changes effectively.

Here’s how the current generation can cultivate adaptability to excel in their legal careers:

  • Embrace Lifelong Learning: Continuous learning is essential for staying abreast of legal developments and acquiring new skills. Whether it’s through formal education, professional development programs, or self-directed learning, dedicating oneself to ongoing education fosters adaptability by ensuring relevance in a constantly evolving field.
  • Develop Technological Proficiency: Technology is reshaping the practice of law, from e-discovery tools to AI-powered legal research and contract management platforms. Lawyers who are proficient in leveraging technology to streamline workflows, enhance client services, and analyze data will be better equipped to thrive in the modern legal landscape.
  • Cultivate Interdisciplinary Skills: The intersection of law with other disciplines such as business, finance, technology etc. is becoming increasingly prominent. Lawyers who possess interdisciplinary skills can offer more holistic solutions to complex legal issues, making them invaluable assets to their clients and organizations.
  • Networking is key: Start networking with legal professionals, alumni, and legal experts early on. These connections can open doors to exciting opportunities such as jobs, valuable industry insights, and mentorship etc.

In short, being adaptable is key to thriving in today’s fast-paced legal field. If current lawyers can adapt well, they’ll do great in their careers despite how things keep changing.

How do you see a Data Protection Officer can balance the need for data security with the demand for innovation and efficiency in today’s digital age?

Balancing the imperative of data security with the drive for innovation and efficiency is indeed a multifaceted challenge for a Data Protection Officer (DPO) in today’s digital landscape. Achieving this delicate balance requires a proactive approach that integrates robust security measures with agile and adaptable processes.

First and foremost, a DPO can ensure that data protection policies and procedures align with relevant regulations such as GDPR, CCPA, or any other applicable laws. This foundation establishes clear guidelines for data handling, access controls, encryption protocols, and incident response procedures.

To promote innovation and efficiency, one should collaborate closely with their IT and development teams to integrate privacy and security considerations into the design and development of new systems and technologies. By adopting a privacy-by-design approach, one can identify potential risks early in the development lifecycle and implement appropriate safeguards without impeding progress.

Regular risk assessments and security audits are essential to identify vulnerabilities and ensure that security measures remain effective in the face of evolving threats. 

Furthermore, one should prioritize the ongoing education and training for all their employees to foster a culture of data security awareness throughout the organization. By empowering staff with the knowledge and tools they need to recognize and respond to security threats,  can minimize the likelihood of data breaches while promoting a collective commitment to protecting sensitive information.

By employing a combination of regulatory compliance, risk management, education, collaboration, and proactive measures, DPOs can navigate this balancing act successfully, ensuring that data security remains a priority without hindering the organization’s ability to innovate in today’s digital age.

Your journey includes several internships across different law firms and organizations. Could you share one of your most memorable internship experiences and how it influenced your career path? Additionally, what advice would you give to students regarding the types of internships they should pursue, and how crucial do you believe internships are in shaping one’s legal career?

I participated in internships as a mandatory part of my law curriculum. Throughout the five-year law course, students were required to undertake various internships based on their interests and career aspirations. During my internship with Tata Steel, I gained valuable insights into legal challenges from a corporate standpoint, particularly from an in-house counsel perspective. Working alongside a seasoned team, I had the opportunity to delve into various legal matters and comprehend the intricacies faced by the in-house legal department. This experience significantly influenced my interest in pursuing a career as a corporate lawyer. 

My advice to students regarding internships is to seek opportunities that align with their interests and career goals. It’s essential to explore different areas of law to gain a well-rounded understanding of the legal profession. Additionally, internships provide valuable networking opportunities and allow students to build relationships with experienced professionals in the field. I believe that internships are essential for students to explore their interests, gain practical experience, and make informed decisions about their future legal careers.

With your extensive experience across various industries, which one stands out as the most challenging or rewarding in terms of legal complexities?

I firmly believe that with a solid grasp of the basics and a commitment to discipline, navigating various sectors and fields of expertise becomes quite manageable. Among the diverse industries I’ve worked in (service industry, publication & education, Edtech, Information Technology Enabled Services (ITes), banking services especially from technology and privacy standpoint), each has presented unique legal complexities. However, I found the technology sector particularly challenging and rewarding. Innovation in technology moves quickly, which can create new legal questions and challenges that haven’t been addressed before. Navigating these complexities requires staying ahead of emerging trends, understanding intricate intellectual property laws, and addressing complex data privacy concerns. Yet, overcoming these challenges can be immensely rewarding, as it involves shaping the legal framework for groundbreaking technologies that drive societal progress.

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