Rajesh has more than 19 years of versatile and enriching international experience advising corporate clients, CEOs, management members, boards, and business heads. He has worked in the role of General Counsel (South Asia) at 3i Infotech, Associate General Counsel at Capgemini. He has been legal adviser at senior levels in various MNCs, SMEs, and SSIs. He has been instrumental and trusted adviser in various assignments dealing with M&As, NeGP(PPP), international arbitration, dispute resolutions, Private Equity, M&A integrations issues, Labour unrest and unions matters, various matters at Ministry/EOW/Custom/DRI/ Authority, Company formation and registration (Singapore, ME & other Asian countries), data protection/privacy laws, Antitrust/Competition laws, litigations and advisory services for his organization in association with Amarchand&Mangaldas, DLA Piper, DH Law, JayeshAshar, Somandy and Associates, Little and Company and so on.
In this interview he talks to us about:
- His decision to pursue law.
- His views on career choices.
- His experience as a corporate lawyer.
- His advice to go for higher studies.
How would you introduce yourself, given that most of our readers are law students, law aspirants or professionals in the legal arena?
For my fraternity, I am one of their fellowship members consistently learning to strike a differentiator when had to compete with each of you at any stage of my life. When it comes to consolidating my energy, effort, and experience, I would like to be called as an astute corporate lawyer with 2 decades of exposure to fortunate opportunities of some international experience. My consolidation of knowledge primarily came from legal-advisory exposures on various corporate and legal activities that governed various businesses, industry, and geography, for the sake of brevity coined as “LexAdvisory”. Today, individually gaining core expertise in all aspects of LexAdvisory is practically not possible for an individual, so it is important to have a team of experts to stand behind an individual under the umbrella of an international advisory firm, like mine RSAA GLocalLexAdvisory Group….remember this is just a beginning.
You are a B.Com graduate from the University of Mumbai. How did you decide to pursue LL.B.?
To be frank, in those days of my initial career, my intention was to be part of management hence had immediately done Diploma in Business Management from Indian Merchant Chambers. I had no path to have a career in law. My work, assignments, and some personal and organizational challenge compelled me to do law, further to add, my attitude to have control over the assignment. I found, major snag was legal issues and challenges surrounding the assignment, so completed my law with my employment…
How well did your experience in Mumbai prepare you for a life of academic prestige and professional success?
Now, at this stage, after meeting law aspirants from various parts of globe, including the rural, remote and less fluent English speaking areas, I believe being in Mumbai or any similar city will always be to your advantage as the exposure to real-life incidents, ready infra, and occasions of deliberations always going to be a rich experience. Major change in me happened when I started working for global MNCs, because the perspective of life, changes when you enter into a multi-cultural environment. It grooms you differently, by influencing your thoughts, communication, stature, and appearance. It gives a different outlook to yourself and imbibes things to see the world through glass of multi-cultural professional approach, knowledge composition, and personal attitude towards clients (including internal clients) and also “Altitude”, I coined a new personal feature because I felt a point of difference in opinion of astute lawyers of different country not due to legal knowledge but the point of reference from where they see the applicability and feasibility, due to our respective knowledge-peak heights achieved in our respective legal jurisdiction or cultural and environmental sphere each of us belong to; or society that we belong that either regarded smaller issues in one country as high while another country discarded it low, e.g., Data protection laws are different from different countries and seriousness varies accordingly.
What were the influences on your decision to pursue MBA in Human Resources? Why didn’t you opt for MBA after graduation?
I was holding all portfolios jointly in a corporate support function and to pursue highest qualification in Human Resource would help me count as qualified all round. During those days, I was dealing with massive industrial and personnel issues which were unnecessarily chewing away my time. I felt I lacked in understanding issues of management and personnel and at many times could not authoritatively provide solutions to blue-coloured and white-coloured differences. My intention was to stand as an adviser to the management board to tackle all corporate and legal issues; personnel issues were bothering me. I could not stand differentiator in my personal view while convincing management with a workaround was not making me happy.
What are your views on career choices other than mainstream corporate or litigation streams such as teaching, etc.?
Today, the corporates have started eying on lawyers to move in the business stream and contribute to business growth and expansion due to their legal analysis, meticulous practice, and advisory skills, taking risk stands minimized at the decision level itself far away to reach this stage but the world is progressing towards the same. Alternately, every individual should get involved in other streams of a career like teaching, etc., may be after gathering some work experience at corporate, law firms and independent practice because that will help relating knowledge with reality and make teaching more attractive and attentive for law students. The legal field itself is so broad that there is no need to move outside the legal stream.
You have been a corporate lawyer for most of your career. What prompted you to take up corporate law? Share with us any experience which helped you to shape your career choices.
In my view, corporate lawyer enjoys the power to advise business heads and largely is in a position to influence a decision of management wherever legal and compliance issues are a concern. Surprisingly, amateur corporate counsel also gets an opportunity to advise business heads in most of the corporate structure due to our ability to understand the law better than them and also professional independence is given in our day to day activity. It is your personal inquests and quests that helps you to choose the legal area that you would like to specialize in. The majority of corporate work largely deals with contract drafting and managing litigation in most of the organizations. Few organizations do have an opportunity to go into IPR, M&A, IPO, Financial Arrangements, etc. I have been fortunate to get all of these opportunities at strategic and compliance level, making my knowledge-base versatile, penetrative and probing.
What falls within the scope of your responsibility? Tell us about a typical work day.
In addition to above, as managing partner of international law firm, typical work day goes on strategic and management decision to structure the organization, improve the quality of service, monitor the vision and mission, inculcate good practices, motivate the team to support clients and give spontaneous advice to management or CEOs or Managing Directors of the organizations identified as a core clients. In personal observation supervise crucial and critical litigation to get appropriate knowledge and experience to tackle proceedings legally and administratively.
What is the most challenging or stressful part of being a Partner at one of the most successful law firms in the country? Is it easy to have a work-life balance?
Obviously, stress is part of your life be as an associate or as a partner because success of a law firm depends on how your conduct is with your client?; what knowledge and experience that you can bring to the pleadings, drafting and arguments? Besides, the challenge of face value in the court, unheard urgencies, few seconds to decide your interim success or failure may discourage your client to count on you even if you have the best army to succeed in a long run. All set and done, if you love your work, you can enjoy the challenges and heal your frustration through your internal mingling and by a sip of tea/coffee or by breathing out the failure and breath in the next moment to move towards your next achievement. Many times, time does not permit you to enjoy your success or cry on your failure as the clock of cyclic success and failure is so much inconsistent that you cannot carry one emotion for long. Work-life balance is not a myth; you can achieve if you can start your day early and follow a disciplined method to retrieve your information and knowledge.
What kind of effort should a young associate put into work to get it appreciated? What distinguishes an associate from a partner when it comes to work?
There is no limit or difference in the effort; your contribution decides your fate and success as an associate. More the partner relies on your work and effort; the less the partner will supervise the associate work. Almost everything is expected to be done by the Associate under guidance and supervision of Sr. Associates, Partner or Sr. Partner. Largely, the scope is drafting, analyzing facts, and research the relevance to withstand weakness and strengthen merits of your matter.
How important would you say are business development skills at such higher roles in a corporate law firm?
Knowing the business is very advantageous at any stage of your career, because as a corporate lawyer, the more you know your business higher is the chance of bringing an appropriate solutions or advice. The business heads or management appreciates such corporate lawyer who can bridge law and business on a platter in such a way that both corporate lawyers and business can understand their perceptions and perspective. Besides business skills, the corporate lawyer should also work towards improving its Interpersonal skills, simplified and crisp communication skills. Team Spirit plays a vital role in large. And complex assignments as a collaboration of work is crucial to complete the larger picture as expected by the management within an expected timelines and quality.
When you hire lawyers under you, what specific skills and profile do you look for?
Already covered above, to broadly mention, drafting, knowledge seeker, independent in thoughts, out of box thinker, ready to work with right attitude, have excellent and simplified method of communications, ability to demonstrate and express his thoughts in clean and clear way, negotiation skills, etc
If I want to be a legal advisor how would I go?
Every aspirant should identify and understand legal and statutory compliance of the industry that you are focussing on. Gather relevant knowledge, team of business and legal experts working on challenges of the Industry, and form part of a forum that can either influence industry legislation or influence legislators by your thoughts, suggestions, recommendation, and actions. Once you have initiated in the above manner, invest your time to peruse legislation affecting such industry and observe live court proceedings in this regard. Peruse case laws and FAQs available on the websites of court and authority (you can refer various other means to get case research materials), to understand regular challenges faced and dealt by that Industry. This kind of development will help you to mature your understanding in respect of business nuances, court’s perspective (Ratio decidendi of the decision taken by various courts or counter arguments placed by other pleaders to understand the strength of your pleadings) and market dynamics. Focus one industry at a time. Target another similar industry, which is logically a business extension of the industry you focused on e.g. ITeS to IT, BPO to LPO, IT to Software Technology then Mobile Technology. Similarly, the logical expansion, in the process of knowledge gathering, is to experience litigation through Business Contracts by way of handling disputes under Alternate Dispute Resolution (eg Arbitration or mediation forming part of Contract; you can further deep dive in this area covering domestic and international arena of every country your organization operates its business); further to add, Contracts, generally, branches out to various legislation or points out to foreign legislation by way of its terms and conditions, hence, review of such clauses should be analysed in the light of such legislation to assess the risk and recommend mitigation plan or compliances there under.
What would be your advice to students who wish to go for higher studies?
Industry or legal area focussed diplomas or courses will help recruiter acknowledge your intent to practice in particular industry and legal areas. In India, degree in law, master degree in business administration (if you intend to practice as an in-house corporate lawyer) or master degree in law for practice in court; and any other diploma or courses will always be an added advantage. The student should work during their studies to ensure that business and practical sense is developed while studying and most of the reading will settle in your mind as your wisdom or knowledge.
What would be your message to our readers who are budding lawyers and law students?
Budding Lawyers and Law Students should be sincere, hardworking, knowledge seeker, opportunist, aggressive in work and humble in approach and communication; ethical and professional in conduct and approach, good listener, preach what you practice, and finally should have ability to convey your thoughts. Never believe that what you lost after your sincere attempts are the last opportunity for your life.