The Changing Role of In-House Legal Teams

LAWThe In House Circle ArticleThe In House Circle Article
July 1, 2024
The Changing Role of In-House Legal Teams

In Conversation with Pawan Singhal, Legal & Strategy Advisor

Previously viewed as a department solely focused on expenses, legal teams have undergone a significant shift. What are the key factors that have propelled legal teams from a cost centre to a strategic partner within organisations?

Over the last few decades, the role of in-house legal function in the corporate world has been undergoing transformational change i.e. from a typical cost centre to one which can contribute as
(a) value creator, strategic thinker and trusted advisor; and
(b) enabler in achieving business and company goals.
There are myriad factors driving this transformation like growing focus on good corporate governance due to regulatory developments, globalisation of businesses which include foreign companies setting up businesses in India, foreign investments in to India, Indian corporates going international, large scale mergers and acquisitions, enforcement actions against non-compliances, realisation by corporates of importance of and value that legal professionals can bring to the business etc. The switch in approach of legal professionals from risk-averse back office to a business enabler, and strategic partner has contributed significantly in recognition of legal professionals across corporates. All these have led the legal function to be perceived as “go to function” for governance, legal, regulatory, and biz, corporate, & strategic risk management related matters.

Can you share the impact mentorship had on your professional journey? In your current role, what are the opportunities you get to mentor young talent?

My career journey has provided me exposure to a diverse range of sectors like insurance, telecom, IT, technology, banking, financial services, pharma, automotive (EVs), industrial and consumer products etc. And the role and impact of mentorship in building your career cannot be underestimated. I had been fortunate to be a beneficiary of mentorship in my journey. However, with time and evolution, the approach and dynamics of mentorship have also undergone change. Today’s young talent has access to loads of information and guidance from numerous sources using new technologies. They are more aware of developments at the global level, do confront more on issues with different perspectives, challenge status quo, have their own opinions on various issues, have their own career outlook, and need their own space. They do expect mentors to understand them better and be highly convincing and rationale while mentoring. I have been seeing it for a while now and have really enjoyed this new dynamic shift in mentorship where the conversations are more direct, candid, challenging and highly interactive.

With the recent surge in data privacy regulations (e.g., Digital Personal Data Protection Act, 2023), many companies are struggling to comply. Do you think in-house legal teams in the technology industry might benefit from adding specialists in data privacy to effectively address these challenges?

Data Privacy has been a critical subject across the globe with developed world (like EU, US and UK) being more focussed and stringent about data privacy and protection thereby causing need for compliance by all corporates handling or dealing with personal data across jurisdictions. While many Indian corporates with global operations have been focussed on compliance with data privacy related matters, the recent surge in data privacy regulations like Digital Personal Data Protection Act of 2023 has accelerated the need for compliance, thereby posing significant challenges for all companies dealing with personal data of customers, vendors, clients, suppliers, employees etc., and particularly in the technology sector where data handling is core to their business operations.
Data Privacy being a niche and evolving area calls for expertise to be developed and specialists to be engaged to deal with matters related to implementation of data privacy and protection programs across the organizations. In my view, close collaboration between such specialists and In-house legal teams would indeed benefit corporates to effectively address these challenges and create awareness across the organisation about critical aspects of data privacy and protection. Further, in-house legal professionals, across industries, will need to upskill themselves and keep pace with new laws and challenges. In-house legal teams can take cues from the developed world and build programs accordingly to ensure compliance with enhanced data governance requirements.

How do you think technology is helping you excel and drive more efficiency in your team? Beyond existing tools, are there any specific legal tasks you find most time-consuming or frustrating that you think future technology could solve to make in-house legal teams more efficient?

The obvious benefits of technology for legal and the business include better risk management, increased efficiency through lower cost and time saved, reduction in human error, and avoidance of fines and penalties by meeting filing deadlines and license obligations. In case of regulatory obligations, compliance is traceable, trackable and auditable to demonstrate a robust compliance framework. Technology also frees up resources that can be applied to identify and manage key legal risks, which is ultimately the core function of Legal. The in-house legal function need to optimize its strategy, processes, workflow and tools which involves increased efficiency, standardization, alternative resourcing models including shared services and outsourcing, and technology-enabled tooling. At the same time, it is pertinent to focus on disruptive tooling that increases efficiency and adds value by changing the way legal services are rendered and by delivering insights across the organization.
The extent of technology enablement we expect within the legal function and, increasingly, digital transformation, will vary according to the level of regulation, size of organization and its industry. Large, highly regulated organizations or those in technology field are likely to use more technology than less regulated, smaller organizations in traditional industries.
Over the next few years we can expect to see a more extensive use of Cloud/SaaS solutions as concerns over privacy and security are allayed and because of the economics of buying technology in this way.

What do you think are the three most important skill sets that both recent law graduates and seasoned professionals need to develop in order to excel in these dynamic in-house legal environments?

From my perspective,
1. Right blend of business acumen and functional expertise coupled with strong analytical skills and solution-oriented approach,
2. Be a trusted advisor and strategic thinker to the leadership and the Board, and
3. Mindset to think differently, manage risks and make timely decisions are the key attributes that both fresh law grads and seasoned professionals need to develop in order to excel in the current dynamic in-house legal environment where the expectations of business and corporate from in-house legal professionals have completely transformed and in-house legal professionals, especially at leadership level, are perceived and rightly so required to be
(a) value creator, strategic thinker and trusted advisor;
(b) enabler in achieving business and company goals; and
(c) critical and relevant to the company and leaders.


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