In conversation with Deepak Chauhan, Director & Head- Legal, Welspun Group

Mr Deepak Chauhan holds a bachelor’s degree in Commerce followed by a master’s degree in Law, from Government Law College, Mumbai, specialising in Corporate and International Business Laws. He is currently working as Director and Head- Legal at Welspun Group since 2010. Having over 24 years of first-hand experience in variegated areas such as corporate and securities laws, mercantile and banking transactions, infrastructure and real estate, disputes, and intellectual property laws, he remarkably contributes towards strategising and structuring transactions, risk mitigation advice and policy advocacy. Chambers Asia-Pacific, 2019 has recognised him amongst the most influential General Counsels in India.

He has been interviewed by EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador Shambhavi Anand who is currently pursuing law from Amity University, Lucknow. 

1. To begin with, if I may request you to please share with our readers something about yourself, your journey in the profession and your early years.

I am a 1996 law graduate from Government Law College, Mumbai. Subsequently, I also pursued my master’s degree from the same college. In the course of my academics, I worked with a law firm and later moved to a corporate role in 1997. Since then I have been with various corporates and what has really kept me excited is the practical application of law to ever changing business scenarios. Being involved in the process of decision making has served to be a great motivation for me all this while. Over the years, I have witnessed the role of an in-house legal counsel evolve from a support function to more strategic in nature now.

2. Can you please share with our readers any personal thing or trait or something which you enjoy about yourself?

I would say more from an in-house counsel’s perspective and obviously it applies to me as well. There are a few personal traits that one would really want to have more in his/her day-to-day functioning, which is indubitably one’s diverse range of legal knowledge, because unlike law firms in-house counsels need to be extremely diverse in their areas of law. For instance, one could be doing corporate M&A transactions on one day and could be doing something on Intellectual Property or could be working on litigation or arbitration, etc. on another day. Hence, it is extremely diverse and calls for a very wide range of legal knowledge. This is one personal trait that I enjoy. The other surely is the need to be more strategic in one’s decision making. You got to be very objective in applying the law to practical scenarios. Thenceforth it is very important to keep these two things in mind as they would go a long way in one’s corporate legal profession.

3. What would be your message to the law students as to what set of skills they must possess and what shall be their key focus areas during their time at a law school?

This is a very important question, especially in today’s times. As you go through your journey and most of the law students are doing a five-year course which is an intense course on its own. However, there are still certain aspects which although very relevant remain to be covered in the curriculum. Firstly, coming to the academics part I would advise students to explore and delve deeper into new areas of law including Capital Market Laws, Infrastructure Laws, etc. Secondly, explore yourself to the fullest during these five years. Try to do as much variety of work as you can, especially court litigations. Critically, we have seen that the tendency is to ignore the trial courts, but in my opinion a law student must visit all sorts of courts including the trial courts because they are the back bone to any litigation. So I would say this is the best time to make use and be better prepared to decide as to what you wish to do. Therefore, these are the two aspects which I would specifically want to highlight that one must look at doing in terms of progressing in your career and completing your academics.

4. How much weightage would you give to proper legal research and the tools used for doing it, when it comes to your juniors?

Legal research is extremely critical, both whether it is legislative or case law based research. So if I have to count for how much weightage one would give to legal research, I would say that it is extremely high in any sort of decision making. Currently, Welspun has a legal team of close to about 20 legal professionals. What we have been doing and certainly we have observed that legal research enables us to apply the law effectively and in a very objective manner. Legal research is also important to be aware of the interpretation of the courts, one exactly knows what is the state of legislation and how is it being interpreted through proper legal research. So it is a vital tool and technology has been very helpful. Legal team at Welspun has been using technology all across for conducting their research and it provides that cutting edge to reach any business decision.

5. How important in your view is commercial acumen for Corporate Lawyers?

I think commercial acumen is a vital aspect for any in-house counsel. This is where you stand out if you can add it to your repertoire. Commercial acumen is a habit which one needs to inculcate and not something which you can acquire suddenly. You will have to work upon it, you will have to be aware and there are a lot of factors which will go into it. Therefore what is very important to understand is that it is something which you need to develop and inculcate into yourself. So I would say that it is a very vital requirement and at the same time it is not something which will suddenly come if you decide to gain it. You need to build on it and you need to think in a way that you are a problem solver. Overtime one needs to build on it and think as a problem solver. The moment you put yourself in the shoes of a business leader you will automatically start seeking solutions. Therefore commercial acumen in relation to cross functional learning is very important and at the same time you need to develop it.

6. I understand, your responsibilities include looking after the legal operations of a conglomerate which has global presence including three large listed entities in India. Can you describe the challenges you face and what constitutes your day-to-day activities?

Welspun Group’s business operations are spread across the globe and our work certainly is very diverse. The challenges for legal functions varies from corporate to litigation to regulatory issues, etc. All these things keep happening in the course of our business operations. Typically, I would spend a substantial amount of time on critical contracts and structuring. Litigation strategy is also vital to my role and every attempt is made to keep litigations away from the business route. I also contribute towards policy advocacy and the representations on various legal issues concerning our businesses. About a year back Welspun had started a social initiative for its employees (about 20,000), whereby we provide free legal aid and in this way we are able to contribute to the Welspun community.

7. What are the key attributes in a law graduate which you would look for, when it comes to distinguishing her/him from the rest?

This is a question where there could be a difference of view and I will let you know my perspective on this. I will start with looking at a decent academic background with a mix of practical experience as it displays sincerity towards the profession. As a matter of fact we are in a profession where we need to be academically oriented therefore the first thing which I will always look for is that how focused or how committed an individual has been to his or her academics. The second aspect I would seek is general awareness as it is one of the important aspects for me to understand whether the individual is somebody who is keen to look at things more from a commercial perspective and who is going to apply the law and would seek solutions. The third aspect is more of a soft skill issue. There needs to be a persistent drive to learn more and grow. These would be the three key aspects which I would personally look for in an individual.

8. What according to you are the key areas a law student must cover while she/he is interning?

I may have partly answered this question already. So there are two ways of approaching internships. One must try and do diverse work and shall experiment on work as much as possible. The other thing related to internship is to take up some sort of course which involves tactical training, for example you could take an arbitration course which enables you to learn more on the tactical side of it. Lastly, you need to keep yourself abreast with the current happenings and case law based research. Furthermore, using trustworthy platforms for your research is a must.

9. I understand that you worked for a MNC (Thyssen Krupp) with Indian presence and now you head the legal operations of an Indian company with multinational presence. How would you describe the difference and what did you enjoy more?

I will try to be honest on this one. The learnings of systems and processes are multi-fold and at an extremely high level when you are working with a company which is a subsidiary of an overseas conglomerate. Initially they appear to be very rigid but with time you see the implications and understand the relevance. In an Indian company the systems and processes may not be perhaps of the highest level, however the businesses are extremely diverse and complex. For a legal professional working with an Indian company provides more challenges and thereby a greater opportunity to learn. Although I enjoyed working with a German company but I gained more skills and became a more competent lawyer after working with Indian companies including Welspun Group.

10. Any final piece of advice which you would like to give to the law students and graduates?

As we know the pandemic situation would continue a little longer which would pose challenges for the students graduating in the coming year. All of us go through a phase in our lives and unfortunately this may seem one such period for the current batch. Please do focus on work from wherever it comes and in whatever way it comes. It is important to devote yourself to any learning which comes your way. Please gather as much skill as possible, keep looking forward and chase good quality work as it will always stay with you.

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