Whether it is about ensuring business compliance, structuring complex agreements or providing strategic advisory, corporate law is a line of defense for the organization against every transaction.
Apurva Shetye, our next pathbreaker, Senior Manager – Group Legal for Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd, handles business advisory, risk mitigation, & contracts .
Apurva talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about the diversity of challenges in corporate law which require dealing with a lot of complex transactions that need a deeper understanding of the business and its technicalities.
For students, in order to be a successful corporate lawyer, knowing law alone is not enough. You need to collaborate with business teams effectively for valuable inputs and commercial reasoning.
Apurva, can you take us through your background?
I was born and brought up in Mumbai. I come from a family of doctors and engineers and no one in my family has worked as a corporate lawyer. My parents, now retired, were both hardworking individuals and were employed. My father worked as a CS (Company Secretary) in various companies and my mother was in government service. Hard work and a zeal to be ambitious was thus instilled in me from a very young age, since I grew up watching my working parents. I have completed my B.com and LLB from the Mumbai University along with a couple of additional diplomas and certifications. I was initially interested in being a Company Secretary which is a professional course, however my inclination towards being a corporate lawyer grew strengthened once I started studying law.
What did you do for graduation/post graduation?
I am a Bachelor of Commerce (B.com) & Bachelor of Law (LLB) from the Mumbai University. I studied at R.A.Podar College of Commerce and Economics which is one of the best colleges for commerce in Mumbai. At Podar, it is a common practice that students either go for CA or CS. Finance did not interest me much, so I decided to take up CS as my line of study since my father was a CS too. CS+LLB is a very good combination in the long run, if one aims for a corporate job. That’s how I got into studying law from G.J.Advani Law College, Mumbai, as an addition to my CS course. I got so involved with the subject that I ended up doing 2 additional diplomas to support my LLB – Diploma in Cyber Law from the Asian School of Cyber Laws & Post Graduation Diploma in Intellectual Property Law from National Law School of India University, Bangalore.
What were some of the influences that made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?
It was only after studying law alongside CS, I realized that it is of my interest and I would want to pursue it as my career. Law can be complex and challenging due to its interpretation at times and I enjoyed decoding its interpretation and studying its applications. I cannot really point to a specific reason for choosing law – I just had a sense that in future the legal profession would gain importance & distinction, and it did.
How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path.
It’s always about making the right move at the right time. Once I was sure about taking up law as my main stream of study, I started looking for internships. It’s advisable to do internships at law firms simultaneously with studying as it gives you an experience on the application of law subjects in the practical world. I was fortunate enough to bag a full time internship at Oasis Counsel & Advisory, a law firm headed by Senior Counsel, Mr. Haresh Jagtiani, during my last year in law. This internship helped me understand the basics and gave me a good practical experience in drafting, court appearances, interpretation etc. I was absorbed as an Associate with them post my law graduation in 2014. One thing led to another and based on my law firm experience; I was hired by PPG Asian Paints Pvt. Ltd. which was my very first corporate stint.
The transition from a law firm to a corporate set-up was challenging since there is vast difference in the working culture and the system in general. For eg. In a law firm you deal with one client at a time, at a corporate you deal with multiple stakeholders. One needs to align their goals with the vision and values the organization holds. Being in corporate law excites me as I get to make a valuable contribution to the business initiatives of the company. The team at PPG Asian Paints was very lean back then with just 2 lawyers. The learning experience was therefore immense with multiple opportunities – during my tenure there, I got the opportunity to handle Contracts, Litigation, IPR and Compliance. As a fresher, I took up all the work that came my way.
Post PPG Asian Paints, I worked with Bajaj Consumer Care Limited. BCCL is the FMCG wing of the Bajaj Group. It was a different industry than PPGAP and that’s what made it interesting. I got a chance to work extensively with the marketing and R&D teams on product claims and product packages, distributor contracts and IPR.
After my short stint with BCCL, I joined Blue Star Limited for Corporate Legal & Compliance. Compliance is a niche field and since there is no specific course to study the same, one only gets better with experience. It is an extremely interesting function since it involves studying the applicability of laws with regard to the organization and checking the on-ground compliance of the same. There are many roles available with large organizations which solely focus on compliance.
I am currently working for Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd. in the Group Legal team. My role here involves business advisory, business partnering, risk mitigation, identification of issues & implementing a monitoring mechanism and contract management.
How did you get your first break?
My first break was my full time internship with Oasis Counsel & Advisory which was through networking. It is essential to take up internships with law firms simultaneously with studying law. These internships give you an exposure to the practical world and they also help you build contacts with fellow students and associates at law firms. Many times, law firms absorb their interns rather than hiring someone from outside.
While working with the law firm, I was curious to know how the other side would be. We used to deal with clients who represented these organizations and there was a certain rationale they worked with, which at times, I struggled to understand. I wanted to find out how the transactions impact the business on a daily basis and how these organizations function. Commercial decisions, business perspective, management’s decision making, and reasoning can only be learnt when you are in the system as an in-house counsel. It was this curiosity that pulled me into corporate and after a few years into it, there’s no going back now. I got my opportunity with PPGAP through networking too. It was through an acquaintance I learnt about the role, interviewed with them and started working as an Associate – Legal.
What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
My major challenge was the transitional shift from a law firm to a corporate set up. As I said earlier, the culture, practices and systems function differently in a corporate set up and adapting to the same can be challenging. I was blessed to have the best mentors to help me adapt to this transition. I took their help and made my way through the same.
Another thing that has helped me a lot is asking questions. As corporate lawyers, we deal with a lot of complex transactions which need a deeper understanding of the business and its technicalities. Asking questions helps you in collaborating well and helps in turn to perform better.
Where do you work now? Can you tell us about your current role?
I currently work as a Senior Manager – Group Legal for Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd. I have joined them just recently and am very excited to see what this chapter holds for me. The major skills that are required for my current role are contract management, risk mitigation and business/strategic advisory. A typical day starts with receiving requests from various businesses for an opinion on complex transactions or drafting/negotiating a contract. What I have truly loved about this and my past roles is working on multiple projects and streamlining processes. I feel, making a change is what results in value addition.
How does your work benefit society?
Being a corporate lawyer is extremely fun and interesting. I get to work on things which matter to the organization, be it in terms of compliance, complex agreements or strategic advisory. To structure a business transaction legally, a corporate lawyer needs to research aspects of contract law, tax law, accounting, securities law, bankruptcy, intellectual property rights, licensing, zoning laws, and other regulations relating to a specific area of business and provide inputs. Gone are the days where in-house legal teams were perceived as cost centers to the company. They are more of profit drivers now, standing as a line of defense for every transaction the company enters into. It is a very fulfilling career and the growth has no bounds if one has the zeal to learn and do more. For students/aspiring lawyers reading this, do not hesitate to take the leap of faith in trying something different.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
There are so many that it is tough to select one. I cherish every assignment/project that I have worked on till date. However, if I have to point out a specific one, it would be implementation of compliance tools at two of the organizations I worked with. While I was working with PPG Asian Paints and Blue Star, I got the opportunity to digitize compliance reporting and monitoring. This helped the companies to a great extent since we transitioned from manual work to robust software. It involved a lot of effort and time since we had to coordinate with multiple functions and stakeholders before finalizing the compliances. I was recognized and rewarded for this effort at both the organizations and hence it’s one of my close memorable experiences.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
A few takeaways for aspiring corporate lawyers can be summarized as below:
Unless you ask, the answer is always no: we as humans, have the fear of being rejected. And this fear holds us back from taking the first step. I would say take the step anyway. You’ll either succeed or fail. Same goes with asking people for help at organizations. For being a successful corporate lawyer, knowing law alone is not enough. You need to collaborate with business teams effectively for valuable inputs and commercial reasoning. Therefore, be curious, ask multiple questions and most importantly, ask for help whenever required.
While at work, do anything and everything that comes your way: In the initial years, do not be picky with the kind of work that is handed over to you. Every assignment comes with learning which will help you in some way or the other in the long run. Experiment with whatever comes your way and be a lifelong student!
Do not take up a profile which matches 100% with your previous role: Taking up a profile exactly similar to the previous one limits your growth. There should always be room for learning and doing more. Growth starts when you move out of your comfort zone.
I plan & aspire to gain competence in my current role along with cross functional expertise going forth.
I also plan on studying for SCCE’s Certified Compliance & Ethics Professional (CCEP) which will help upgrade my skills further.