In Conversation with Mr. Manoj Satpathy, Legal and Compliance Head at Vedanta Ltd, on his experiences in litigation and the legal-corporate world

Mr. Manoj Satpathy is currently working as Legal and Compliance Head at Vedanta Ltd. In this interview, he talks about his experiences in litigation and the legal-corporate world. He has been interviewed by EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador who is currently pursuing law from NLUD.

  1. How did you develop your interest in the domain of law?

Since my school days, I was good in debates and quizzes, for which I used to read and follow news by reading various newspapers, Doordarshan News and Radio BBC. Hence came to know about giants like Nani Palkhivala, Soli Sorabjee, Fali Nariman, Arun Jaitley, Kapil Sibal and others. Their intellect and personality fascinated me a lot and probably that was the primary reason for my inclination towards law since my school days.

  1. Before starting to work with corporate houses, you have practised before Odisha High Court as an advocate for six years. Could you please tell us a few lessons that you have learned in your formative years?  

I would say experience and knowledge acquired during those days helped me a lot in later stages of my life as an inhouse counsel. I still believe few years of courtroom practice and process will definitely help any budding lawyer as he becomes conversant with etiquettes and processes of courtroom. Further, day to day interaction with lawyers, senior counsels and clients helps any budding lawyer to learn the nuances of negotiation, arguments and hone his/her interpersonal/behavioural skills.

  1. What would be your tips/suggestions to law students who want to pursue a career in litigation after law school?

My suggestions would be simple, put in your hard work and do not give up too early and easily. Litigation after law school especially for first generation lawyers is definitely an arduous task but the rewards are enormous. Keep yourself abreast and updated about the happenings of the courtroom and have patience, rewards and success will follow.

  1. You are and have worked, as a legal head for several reputed companies. For students looking to work with corporates in the future, can you elaborate on the job description of a legal head of a company?

Legal head of any company has to perform the role of key decision-maker on business matters, much broader than just steering its legal team. Any corporate which hires a legal head wants to ensure smooth business continuity without any legal hinderance. Legal head has to also act like a watchdog of the company who drives the statutory legal and compliance policies within the company. Hence, legal head has to wear a dual hat that of a lawyer and a manager, not only he has to give sound legal advice, but also has to “balance the needs and requirements of the stakeholders and has to structure his/her opinion according to the basic business needs of the company.

  1. What, according to you, are key skills which a law student must have to work for such huge companies and have a successful career like yours in the legal-corporate world?

As mentioned earlier, a law student has to broaden his horizon and not only think purely as a lawyer but also think like a business manager. He has to ensure that company complies with all the statutory laws of the land and provide opinion which helps in risk mitigation and business continuity of the company. Integration of legal and business is of utmost importance and sometimes the trickiest role of an in-house counsel.

  1. According to you, how important is doing proper legal research and how should law students equip themselves with legal research skills?

Legal research is of paramount importance especially when you are asked to give your opinions on complex legal issues, a thorough research helps in inferring a sound advice/opinion which maximises risk mitigation and provides possible solution to complex legal issues. Technology and digitisation have become tools which are very handy for any law students and they need to exploit the same for their research skills.

  1. You have been a legal head for telecommunication companies like Vodafone, as well as power companies like Essar and Vedanta. Does the nature of the job change with the change in sectors in house companies? If yes, can you elaborate on the same?

Since my law college days, I believe that law is nothing but common sense. Hence, one need not be apprehensive of working in different industry/sector. Further, working in different sectors makes your life challenging and interesting as a student of law. Basic concept of law remains the same, you just need to adapt across the sectors with specificities of that particular industry but fundamentals remains the same.

  1. What are your thoughts on the regulatory changes introduced in the power sector through the Electricity Amendment Bill, 2020?

Prima facie, the intent of the proposed Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2020 is to reduce subsidies and push for privatisation, especially in the distribution segment of the power sector. As India is a signatory to the Paris Climate Change, it needs to strengthen its renewable energy policy also which is evident in this proposed bill. There are several interesting changes proposed which includes Direct Benefit Transfer, setting of National Selection Committee (for Chairpersons and members of SERC’s), National Renewable Energy Policy and establishment of Electricity Contract Enforcement Authority (ECEA). Critics of this bill are terming this as anti-poor and too centralised because of reduction in cross subsidies and formation of ECEA, they are also apprehensive that recognition of franchisees and sub-licensees also may open the sector to private players.

  1. You did your Bachelor’s in Accountancy and have a commerce background. However, a lot of law students may not have this same experience. Do you think having a commerce background does value addition to one’s profile? 

I don’t think having B Com degree has an advantage over other subjects per se. Personally, I feel Law is more of a common sense and hence any student having sincerity, hard work and common problem-solving aptitude can excel in law.

  1. Not many people are familiar with the concept of “exhaustion of a search”. What are your views on it?

A good research for me includes a process of collecting, analysing and interpreting information to answer questions or solve a problem. It should provide contrary facets of a problem and should be based on some logical rationale. A systematic research based on empirical and comparative analysis helps to develop new principles and theories. Such principles and theories can be useful to manage and deal with people and problems in a better way.

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