“Understanding a law and implementation of law are two different things. Have patience, good things take time.” – Journey from Legal Luminary to Corporate Leader, Amit K Das, Head of Legal, Thermax Limited

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

Could you please walk us through your journey from your early days in law college to becoming a Head of Legal at Thermax Limited? What were some of the challenges you faced when you first started your career in law, and how did you overcome them?

I am a first-generation lawyer and the decision to pursue law was a completely personal call. From an early age, I developed a special interest in legal subjects. After completing my 12th, without any second thought, I was admitted for a 5 (five) year BA(Law)LLB course with North Bengal University, Department of Law. I was an active student during my law college days and used to take initiative and participated in all events including moot courts, sports, and cultural events. During the 3rd year, I developed a special interest in the law of Jurisprudence. As we had limited resources during our college days, digital education was far from reality during the late 90’s, we used to spend long hours in our law department library reading and preparing notes on various subjects.

To begin a career in legal, the first challenge is to get into a decent chamber of a senior advocate. Those days legal had very limited career opportunities and being from a small town in Darjeeling District, West Bengal, there was no other option but to start practicing in District Court immediately post completing of LLB. I started my career as a practising advocate under the guidance of the late Shri. Sunil Sarkar, in Siliguri Sub-Divisional Court and Darjeeling District Court handling civil disputes related to properties, etc. In his chamber, I learnt the art of drafting pleadings, cross-examination and trial. To gain exposure on the professional front, in 2003, I moved to Delhi and started working with a Corporate Law Firm, Law Combine Advocates. During my Law combine days, I handled legal work for major MNCs and focused on litigation, commercial contracts, part of the M & A team, IPR and real estate. To have experience in the corporate side, In 2008, I decided to switch and joined a real estate company in Bangalore and gained experience in commercial built-to-suit arrangements. Thereafter, I worked with a FMCG giant heading legal for their export division, managing international contracts and disputes.

In 2014, I moved to Pune and worked with an engine manufacturing company and in 2022 joined Thermax Limited as Head of Legal which is my current designation.

For a fresh law graduate, the biggest challenge is where to start and how to start. I was fortunate enough that the Senior’s Chamber I joined at the beginning of my career, gave me a decent amount of work to handle. He used to guide me as a mentor. The more I worked, the faster I was able to get adjusted in this profession. During my court practice days, even when my matters were not listed before the Court, I used to spend hours sitting in open courts watching different proceedings, arguments made by the counsels, court observations, and verdicts. I also used to read a lot. I used to read the entire judgement, doing my research on different laws dealing with different subjects, going through old, executed contracts to understand the transaction and the issues to be addressed in those kinds of transactions. More I focused on work and learning; I realized all the challenges are dealt with over time.

Transitioning from practicing as an advocate to assuming leadership roles within legal departments of corporations like Thermax Limited involves a significant shift. What inspired you to make this transition, and how has this journey influenced your approach to legal practice and leadership within organizations?

This was not an overnight shift or transition. If you go through my career path the entire transition was step by step and with constant efforts. It was planned and executed accordingly. I believe if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then at least crawl but keep moving forward. All the changes I made in my career are only with a view of learning new things which is very important for a lawyer. Shifting from a small sub-divisional court practice to a Delhi Corporate law firm practice is only for getting more exposure and learning. Similarly, switching from one industry to another during my corporate journey is also to gain experience and knowledge of different laws and practices applicable to such industries. This journey of continuous learning, curiosity, eagerness, and developing new skill sets brought me where I am today.  Therefore, I will say eagerness to learn new things, getting exposure to different legal areas, and curiosity to learn about different industries and applicable laws and practices, inspired me to make this transition. Another factor that inspired me to move from legal practice to a leadership role in corporate is to make an impact at a larger level. During practice days, I used to give my opinion and advice on a specific legal matter. I never learned how my opinions and advice impact or influence an organization’s culture and policies. With an intent to make an impact, bring a difference and influence all the stakeholders, I decided to move to a corporate leadership role to use my experience and knowledge to make a positive impact on the business and organization practices. Over the period, while working in different formats, and handling different kinds of legal issues, I realized that legal practice is too wide and large. The more I learned about one area, there are several other new areas came up for further learning. My exposure to different formats and working in different industries contributed a lot to my development as a lawyer and made me adequately competent to handle any kind of legal issues or at least know how to find a solution for an issue not dealt with in the past.

Your profile highlights your expertise in areas like Mergers & Acquisitions, Contract Management, and Litigation & Arbitration. Among these, which aspect of legal affairs do you find most engaging or challenging, and why?

It all depends upon the complexity of a matter which makes it challenging. I have come across several complex M&A transaction structures, high-stake commercial contracts and complex litigation and arbitration which were too challenging and engaging. Hence, it will be unfair to claim any specific area as engaging or challenging as all the areas are complex, vast, and challenging. Even if you insist on naming one area then considering the nature and complexity of the dispute, sometimes I find managing Litigation and Arbitration is most engaging and challenging. For handling and managing litigation, one must consider all applicable laws, specific sections, various court precedents, and all facts and documentation involved in the dispute. Though the general perception is that litigation & arbitration are handled by external counsels, however, to enable the external counsel to effectively handle any litigation and arbitration, it’s an in-house counsel who provides all the briefing and documentation related to the case. A minor miss can have a major impact on the outcome. Managing legal expenses, while expediting the proceeding is another challenge in litigation and arbitration.

You’ve been recognized with multiple awards and accolades throughout your career. Can you share a particularly memorable achievement or recognition that holds a special place in your heart?

All achievements and awards are special for me as they came at different times in my career. The recognition that I receive in-house has a special place in my heart as it shows that my work is making some impact on the business and it’s a direct recognition from my internal stakeholders. Also, the team awards that I have received till date are also very special for me. In the past, I have received team awards as “Best Support to Business Initiatives”, “Most Innovative Legal Team of the Year” and “Best Enabling Function”. All these team awards represent that we as a team are able to provide effective support to our businesses and in return we have been acknowledged and appreciated. But to answer your question, The “Best Enabling Function” award received during the first year of my job with Thermax holds a special place in my heart as I was new in the Organisation and was building an impactful relationship between the Legal Department and Business.

In addition to your professional achievements, we’d love to know more about your personal interests and hobbies outside of the legal realm. How do you unwind and rejuvenate after a busy day at work?

I like to participate voluntarily in teaching activities, especially teaching underprivileged kids. I have been associated with a few non-profit organizations and I like spending my weekends helping these NGOs with different activities from teaching to helping the students in getting prepared for their next level of academics and career.

Listening to music and playing guitar have been my favourite pastimes to unwind myself after a busy day at work. In the past, I had our band with a few of my friends and we spent our free weekends and holidays performing at open clubs. I love to attend music concerts and shows.

When I feel tired after months of work, I like to unwind by long cross-country drives with my family to places I have never visited, exploring everything about that place from their culture to their staple diet. Talking to unknown people is an immense pleasure and a beautiful experience.

Given your extensive experience, what advice would you give to the current generation aspiring to pursue a career in law? What skills or attributes do you think are crucial for success in this field today?

For the current generation, my advice is that there are a lot of opportunities in the legal domain. Over the years, different forms of practices have developed. There are different legal areas to excel and specialize in and a lot of learning opportunities around. Students who are still pursuing law, please take your moot courts and court visits sincerely and develop a habit of reading. Law is not as easy as it seems to be and for every lawyer, it is important to learn something every day. A lawyer should always have a room for learning. Understanding a law and implementation of law are two different things so take advantage of every real-life internship you can, so you can figure out what kind of lawyer you wish to be.

It’s my request to young guns, please develop a habit of reading and keep learning new things. There are no shortcuts in the legal profession. Online updates and snapshots are okay to get the update but please don’t miss to read those new laws, latest landmark judgements, articles, etc. Have patience, good things take time. Nobody achieves success, knowledge, and experience overnight. All these things take time and constant effort, and hard work will take you to the right places. Don’t expect immediate results in our profession and always remember that your today’s action will have a reaction after a few years. Be humble, meticulous, and good in your research and analytics.

Given your experience in handling litigations and arbitrations, what do you believe are the critical factors for successful dispute resolution, especially in today’s dynamic business environment?

The knowledge of Business and Law is very important for a Lawyer in today’s dynamic business environment. Unless we have exposure to both we can’t take the best foot forward and guide our Organisation. Dispute resolution requires you to have a win-win approach for the Organisation. You can’t be too stringent on your approach and have a balanced view of the dispute that is in hand. Be meticulous and have the eye of an eagle regarding attention to detail. An active and effective collaboration between legal and business is of utmost importance for successful dispute resolution. Any dispute can be handled based on evidence on record; therefore, strong documentation and record keeping are of utmost importance to resolve any dispute successfully. There should be a problem-solving approach to resolve any dispute, it will save lots of cost and time for both sides. Timely resolution of disputes is another factor to be considered. In most of the disputes, the purpose of getting into dispute resolution frustrates if it is not concluded in a time bound manner.

You pursued management development programs from IIEM in 2017 and IIM in 2019. What motivated you to undertake these courses, and how do you believe they have contributed to your growth as a legal professional? Additionally, what are your thoughts on the importance of continuous learning and further education, such as pursuing masters or other specialized courses, in the legal field?

Opting for courses from IIEM and IIM is part of my continuous learning process.  Through these courses, I have improved my knowledge and exposure to international trade laws as well as improved my leadership skills. Continuous learning and further education are very important parts of any professional, especially lawyers. Law is a dynamic subject and legal professionals need to be up to mark in all day-to-day changes and evolution in the subject. Continuous learning is the ongoing expansion of a person’s knowledge and skill sets. It is not only for the development of new skills and knowledge but also for reinforcing what has been previously learned. A lawyer or legal professional needs to pursue higher education and specialized courses to adapt to changing legal trends, stay competitive and deliver exceptional services. By actively pursuing higher education and specialized courses, legal professionals can refine their skills and position themselves as leaders in their respective practice areas.

Throughout your career, you’ve undoubtedly encountered a wide array of legal challenges and victories. If you could go back in time and give one piece of advice to your younger self as you embarked on this journey, what would it be and why?

Most of us desire to be accepted and liked, but the reality is that you can’t please everyone. It took years and years to get here, but knowing what others think doesn’t matter, disengaging from those who are not humble, practicing self-development and learning new areas of law are some of the best things I have ever done for myself. Do not seek validation in the form of other people’s opinions. Lead with kindness and treat people well. To be honest – don’t be afraid to speak your mind.

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