“Our role as in house counsels is to push the limits of permissible law and guide our business to take difficult decisions by explaining possible risk scenarios”- Ankur Deka Rabha, Founder & Managing Partner ~ Λrgħyä Legal

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

Can you share with us your journey of becoming a lawyer, starting from your graduation at NLSIU, Bangalore, to your current role as Managing Partner at Λrgħyä Legal?

My journey as a lawyer began when I joined the prestigious National Law School of India University (NLS), Bangalore in the year 1997. Law school gave me a whole new perspective on life, purpose and law in general. The initial years until graduation was a period of great learning and appreciating the law, legal research and developing an analytical mindset. After graduation, I worked under a few senior counsels as a litigating lawyer in New Delhi being fortunate enough to be practising in various courts like DRT, Tis Hazari, Patiala House, High Court and Supreme Court. This is the phase in my life where I learnt the importance of PERSEVERANCE & RESILIENCE. When your salary is meagre  (compared to what your peers earn in a company or law firm) and you need to survive on that, it requires a lot of PERSEVERANCE & RESILIENCE to not give up on your dream. 

I transitioned from a litigation lawyer to an associate in a law firm in the year 2006 when I shifted from New Delhi to Bangalore to work with a law firm dealing mostly with foreign clientele wanting to set up business in India. I was fortunate to be a part of the team managing contracts drafting and negotiations, M&A for some well known corporate clients.  This experience along with my previous experience as a litigation lawyer helped me to get into Bosch as an inhouse counsel and thus transition myself from a lawyer to a business lawyer. During this phase, I was fortunate to have both local and international exposure on various aspects of business and law in general. This phase was also about understanding and appreciating the importance of forging collaborations, understanding business, numbers, managing stakeholder expectations, managing teams, having the foresight for incoming risks and proactively taking steps to minimise risks.

Finally the culmination of all that I had learned and experienced over the years helped me in pursuing this new phase in my professional career i.e. the setting up of Λrgħyä Legal  The firm was set up with the aim of providing affordable and high quality services to select clients. Having been an in-house counsel most of my professional life I am able to understand the pain points/areas of concerns of corporations better and provide solutions which are practical and easy to implement from a business standpoint. Currently the firm’s focus is mostly on assisting in house counsels with the day to day issues, mergers and acquisitions, secretarial assistance and compliance training. 

With your extensive experience in various industries like healthcare, e-commerce, and IT, what motivated you to pursue a career in law, particularly in corporate and regulatory aspects?

Few factors that contributed to my decision to join NLS and pursue a career in law. The desire to move out of Guwahati to broaden my horizon in life in general and to join a professional course which was equally relevant as that of medical and engineering courses.  I was very fortunate to be a part of this prestigious  institution.  NLS helped bring in a lot of maturity and clarity in my thoughts so once I graduated I had a clear roadmap in mind. Although someday I wanted to be an inhouse counsel, I first wanted to understand law and its nuances and see how it’s actually dealt with by courts, then law firms and finally settling down as an inhouse counsel. These experiences help me immensely while dealing with complex and critical situations which require strategic thinking. 

Coming to the question of why I focus particularly in the area of corporate and regulatory aspect. Well I would say although these two aspects are very important, it would not be the only ones that I would need to look at if I am an in house counsel in a leadership position. One has to remember that the role of an inhouse legal counsel is about being a generalist in law, being foresighted, proactive, collaborative, approachable and generally having an idea about every aspect of law which applies to the organisation. You are the first line of defence and your internal stakeholders will look to you for answers and solutions. So I would say I am a generalist whose job is to maintain a fine balance between compliance of law while facilitating smooth business transactions. I have been really fortunate to be a part of multinational organisations which exposed me to a whole gamut of issues on various aspects of law which were really complex and some of them even path breaking, both nationally and internationally. Such experience has enabled me handle complex issues with poise and maturity. 

You’ve held significant positions in both multinational corporations like Bosch and Essilor, as well as in consulting roles. How have these diverse experiences shaped your approach to legal counsel and leadership?

Experience does matter and as a lawyer, I have been really fortunate to have worked with great senior counsels, being part of great teams at various law firms and finally exposed to a whole gamut of critical issues in a corporate world mostly in the IT and manufacturing side ranging from labour issues, product issues, litigation, M&A, compliance etc. After more than two decades of being in the profession, each stage of my career has taught me something new which I would not have been privy to or learnt had I continued in just one field and not delved into others. I can safely  say I have seen it all but of course with the humility to state that the learning never stops and I still think of myself as a student who has the courage and conviction to unlearn and learn if required.

These past experiences of what it takes to drive business has an effect on how I counsel my clients today.  I look at the business and then apply law to see to what extent I can stretch my risks. Years of experience helps in a way to already visualise consequences. Hence, every suggestion or an opinion given to clients is based on their business need and practicality within the ambit of the permissible laws.  One size may not fit everyone so one has to be agile, quick and flexible to innovate. For example, I will never advise anyone to go in for litigation as a first step in a dispute situation. It should be the last resort and one needs to understand that the cost of litigation could dent a company’s bottom line.  During my stint as a General Counsel I have facilitated many negotiations and saved huge litigation costs to the companies I was associated with. 

As someone who’s been recognized for achievements such as “General Counsel of the Year – Healthcare,” what are some of the key challenges you’ve faced as a first-generation lawyer, and how did you overcome them?

Challenge is a perception and quite subjective. I always saw opportunities in everything that came my way and grabbed them to make a mark. There is also no alternative to hard work. Challenges are always present in life and we have to figure out a way to navigate through these challenges. Everyday something new happens which we may not comprehend nor anticipate and that is what keeps us going. Life without it will be very boring.

I was never really dependent only on people teaching and guiding me to learn new things. Of course its importance can never be negated. However, I realised early in life to learn from experiences around me by myself as well. Time is always of the essence and sometimes you miss the bus. During one farewell, the managing director of the company asked me what I would have done differently or changed if I had the opportunity to go back in time. I replied saying none. They were valuable experiences and if I had not encountered them then I would have never learnt. Learning is not only about law, at a leadership level it is about how much you understand the business of your organisation, it is about managing people, managing expectations of your stakeholders, maintaining a fine balance between compliance and business, learning leadership skills etc. This attitude helped me rise the corporate ladder faster and become the general counsel of a listed company at a very early age where I also had to lead cross functional peers who were double my age and experience. 

In your roles at Flipkart and Walmart, you managed legal aspects of B2B wholesale business. Could you elaborate on the complexities and nuances you encountered in navigating regulatory landscapes in the e-commerce sector?

I will answer this question in a more generic manner rather than answering specifically with regard to my stint at Flipkart as it applies in general with every organisation in the B2B e-commerce sector. Although regulated, it is not as stringent as the B2C ecommerce sector. Nonetheless, one cannot deny the fact that compliance of the applicable regulations is very important and in order to ensure compliance we need to understand the current gaps and that is only possible through regular interactions with internal stakeholders to understand how the business is being driven. Only once you understand what is currently in place can you strategize on whether any alignment or realignment has to be undertaken. Further, there are also changes in certain areas of law or process which are constant in the B2B sector. Most of the time you will see clarifications and circulars issued by the government under FSSAI, ISI or Legal Metrology or CDSCO on a regular basis.  Sometimes interpretation of such changes becomes an issue as they could be interpreted in more than one way and this is where we need to step in to reach out to the right authorities and conclude on the correct interpretation. Likewise we also need to reach out to relevant authorities and advocate for change whenever we find new changes in law detrimental to our business interest. In general I would say in today’s fast paced business and cut-throat competition, agility and quick decision making is critical to the success of a business. Our role as in house counsels is to push the limits of permissible law and guide our business to take difficult decisions by explaining possible risk scenarios. 

You’ve been involved in various legal domains such as M&A, compliance, and litigation management. How do you stay updated on legal developments, and how do you integrate these insights into your strategic advice for businesses?

Overall there are a few things which we need to keep in mind as in inhouse counsel. Firstly understanding the law enables me to visualise consequences and such awareness enables me to guide internal clients in the right direction. Hence, having a proactive mindset to look out for new changes in law and how it is going to affect your organisation’s business and ensure mitigation measures well in advance by working with business colleagues to ensure smooth transition is key. I strive to continuously read and research  on relevant and complex legislations/ provisions of law to ensure that I get the required clarity of its nuances from the perspective of courts/case law to not only properly guide and advice clients but also to be able to successfully provide alternatives during negotiations. Sometimes a simple oversight could cost a lot for your clients. Therefore, it is important to have an eye for detail and the patience to read every line and use one’s analytical skills to question whether what one is looking at really applies to the current situation or not. 

What is the story behind starting Λrgħyä Legal and embarking on a new chapter in your life. Many would see this as a huge risk stepping out of the comfort of a stable job and a successful career.

I always had a desire of exploring and stepping out of my comfort zone to try something of my own. After a lot of thought and deliberation with my family, my peers in the industry from whom I found acceptance in the concept of our firm, I finally decided that it is about time I pursued this passion. Having spent more than two decades as a lawyer and most of part of that career as an inhouse counsel with various multinational companies gave me great insights into the various nuances/complexities of managing an inhouse team, budget constraints, work pressure and impossible timelines.  It is very difficult most of the time for in-house counsels to manage/outsource work due to the high cost of legal services. I understand that very well being in that situation myself and feeling helpless. Hence, Λrgħyä Legal was born in the month of August, 2023 with the aim of addressing such issue and coming up with affordable services without compromising on quality. Λrgħyä Legal strives to foster partnership and lasting relationship with our clients rather than just mere commercial transaction.

Λrgħyä in Sanskrit means “Sacred Offering”. Λrgħyä Legal was set up keeping in mind the four principles: (a) Availability; (b) Affordability; (c) Quality; (d) Integrity. We collaborate with in house counsels and work on various models which helps in (i) outsourcing at affordable rates (ii) continuity of work during headcount reduction or headcount freeze (iii) managing critical manpower and reducing headcount costs and (iv) enabling ample time  to the in house counsels to focus on critical issues and (v) assisting organisation to implement compliance trainings on various legal topics. Currently the firm’s focus is mostly on assisting in house counsels with the day to day issues, mergers and acquisitions, secretarial assistance and compliance training. 

Lastly, given your wealth of experience, what advice would you offer to fresh law graduates aspiring to pursue a career similar to yours, particularly in corporate law and regulatory compliance?

In general, all I can say is no matter what one does, they should do it with complete dedication. Patience, Perseverance and Resilience is key to any successful career. There are no shortcuts to success. Do not be in a hurry to move on to new things without mastering what you are currently doing. 

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