Legal Department: From Navigating Corporate Law Matters, to Steering the Ship Wheel of the Business

Legal Department: From Navigating Corporate Law Matters, to Steering the Ship Wheel of the Business

Abhijit Mukhopadhyay, President (Legal) & General Counsel, Hinduja Group, London, 0

Below are key insights from the interview revolving around the changing role of the legal department and general counsel by Abhijit Mukhopadhyay, President (Legal) & General Counsel, Hinduja Group, London with CEO Insights Magazine. A qualified Company Secretary from India and Chartered Secretary from the UK, Abhijit is a seasoned corporate legal professional possessing expertise from spearheading and executing various roles associated with corporate law. As he journeys through the corporate world, Abhijit shares some of the most interesting transformations that has been happening in the legal departments of companies today.

In conversation with Abhijit Mukhopadhyay, President (Legal) & General Counsel, Hinduja Group, London

Tell us about the aspects that businesses expect from general counsels and legal departments today
The role of GCs and legal departments has undergone a complete transformation in the last two decades not only in India but across the globe. This is because the expectations of businesses have seen a complete change. Today’s GCs are expected to be knowledgeable in legal disciplines and business savvy. They are expected to contribute positively towards the development and expansion of the business. Additionally, they are expected to develop professional skills and knowledge in the newer areas of law and to act as mentors to young professionals, retention of whom has become a challenge. Expectations from today’s GC and legal departments are that of a business manager who understands the business and the problems/issues surrounding as also to assist the business to resolve challenges. Gone are the days when the legal department held no accountability to resolve complexities and challenges in a business especially from the legal point of view.

According to you, what are the potential risk management skills the legal department should develop considering the changes in law or political situations that may pose future legal uncertainty?
Today’s GCs need to be constant learners, with an objective to apply their knowledge to the benefit of their organizations. Understanding geopolitics and its implications have become crucial. GCs need to take a keen interest in this area and advise organizations on the possible risks of doing business in sanctioned countries and with sanctioned Specially Designated Nationals (SDN). In this turbulent yet interconnected globalized world, geopolitics plays a major role in doing business in many countries. There are more than 50 odd countries on whom sanctions are being imposed by the US, UK and the European Union. Understanding them and taking business decisions in light of the regulations pose challenges.

What would you suggest to companies facing corporate litigation, on the same? How should legal teams work to avoid negative impacts on an organization’s financial results?
I suggest the avoidance of litigation because it is expensive, time-consuming, and bad for the image. I always recommend taking preventive action to avoid litigation. This can be achieved by preparing proper and
legally enforceable legal documents at the beginning and looking for Early Warning Signals to avoid litigation. I support the preparation of a dispute resolution policy not only for conducting litigation but also how to avoid it. Getting adverse publicity in case of litigation is a major risk. Resorting to arbitration is a viable alternative that should be promoted. Such arbitration has its own challenges, but in today’s world arbitration is being heavily favored. However, before arbitration companies should seriously and sincerely think of formal or informal mediation so that even lengthy and costly arbitration can be avoided.

Specify the significance of educating business colleagues on aspects regarding compliance issues raised within a business?
We are in a globalized inter-connected village and business is a part of it. With more businesses becoming global, educating self and business colleagues on compliance matters is crucial. Proper planning is required to spread knowledge inside an organization on a regular basis. Law is changing rapidly. From the concept of strict compliance, we are moving into the domain of self-compliance. Today’s concept is either comply or explain. There is a need to acquire up-to-date knowledge all the time. This can be achieved in many ways. Apart from self-learning, attending seminars etc., proves to be beneficial. There is a need to set aside specific time for the purpose of knowledge.

GCs should strive to be a brand by acquiring brand-like qualities

How do you perceive the role of technology tools in the legal team of an organization?
AI is the buzzword today. However, its use in the legal department would depend on the cost and expected benefits arising out of its deployment. With manpower becoming increasingly costly, we need to depend on technology tools considering their costs and benefits. We have to use AI judiciously. However, there is an apprehension that junior solicitors can be replaced by machines. Which, in my view, does not make sense. There is no substitute for human touch and interpretation of the law. This cannot be done by a machine. To start with, AI can help us for doing routine work efficiently and with speed at a lesser cost.

Going forward, what will be the kind of role that General Counsels should play while hacking new opportunities?
I see a bright future for the GCs. However, their involvement and progress in the organizational hierarchy would depend on their value addition. They must become a business manager with their GC hats on. The attitude should be to resolve problems and not create them within the four corners of law. Getting along with people and coordinating within the organization is critical. We should adhere to the principle that respect cannot be demanded but needs to be earned. To earn respect, GCs should exhibit professional honesty and integrity the first time and every time. Finally, there is no typical GC or legal department. One has to work hard to be an efficient GC in the legal department. To remain relevant, use of knowledge for the benefit of the organization without compromising professional ethics and integrity is the key. GCs should strive to be a brand by acquiring brand-like qualities. They have to be a part of the business and the organization and apply their knowledge and wisdom for their benefit. Having a positive attitude is key. They have to remember that today’s role of GCs is not similar to what it used to be a decade or two earlier. They must realize that change is the only constant thing in life and they have to adapt accordingly.