Former Lupin General Counsel Amit Thukral Says Digitization Is Transforming Legal Services Market

In this quick fireside chat with Ashima Ohri, Amit talks about his illustrious journey and predictions for the next 5 years. He also sheds light on the top 3 skills required to be a new age General Counsel.

We'd love to know about your journey, your experiences, your predictions for the future and the trends you have in mind, considering you are from the pharma and healthcare industry that everyone is talking about. You're in the middle of everything, the spotlight is on you, so please take us through your experiences.

So, I'll start with how I carved out, my role, my journey and my path over the last maybe 21 years. As a first- generation lawyer with no legal background, I nobody in my family who ever practiced law. I come from a small business family. 

My father has been a serial entrepreneur. He started with nothing but he created enough to give us a comfortable and aware childhood, that is how I will put it. Once, my parents actually seated the thought that I should get a professional education that is when I chose to start on this on this path. I've been here for 21 odd years now. I started working in the second year, third year of law school. I was interning with a tax lawyer. Then I worked with a corporate commercial lawyer in Punjab High Court on just liquidation issues, shareholder issues that would come. I learned greatly from both my seniors; I call them my Gurus. This is all before I actually graduated as a lawyer. 

Upon graduation I was working in the chambers of Mr. Rajiv Atmaram, actually I should mention Mr Shri Anand too. Both of them are senior counsels, very celebrated lawyers in Punjab High Court. I had my foundation as a litigation and a constitutional and administrative lawyer from my learnings there.

I was a first- generation lawyer so I chose to get a foreign degree, I qualified. I did a master's in international economic law from University of Warwick. I went ahead and qualified as a solicitor in England and Wales. So, I am on the roles of Solicitor, but I don't have a practicing certificate as yet because I'm not practicing English law. 

When I came back and I worked with an IT firm, I was always curious, I always wanted to do new things and was always driven by change. I always felt I thrive in complexity. So, I've always wanted more complex and complex issues and strategies to work on. This has been a common unifying theme which drove the choices that I made in my career.

I worked with Lall and Sethi, which was an IP firm. I headed their Bombay office, We worked on fortune 500 brands and we were representing Motion Picture Association of America and their entire copyright search strategy at that time. I would train the social service branch, crime branch officers back then on copyright law and customs officials or copyright law and manage bunch load of anti- counterfeiting and the associated matters. I then moved into the other side of the fence when I got my first in- house role with Reliance when they were launching the largest FM radio network. They wanted somebody within copyright background and because of the time I spent with Lall and Sethi, they became interested in me. I helped them close the entire music licensing for their 45 stations that they had to launch within 12 months of the grant of license. 

From there, I moved to Tata Sky. By then I thought of myself as a media entertainment expert because I've worked in that domain. I had worked on the radio side of things, on a copyright law perspective, worked on copyright enforcement issues to licensing issues. At Tata Sky, it became a broadcasting law and policy so we did some phenomenal work on those five years for Tata Sky when it was an entirely new market segment. Tata Sky was entering the market, because pretty much 100% of the country at those days consumed its news, content and broadcast through cable operators and the satellite B2B space really was trying to change the entire consumer habit by creating an entire new segment. So, I spent five years there, worked on some phenomenal challenges relating to technology, on interoperability standards and whatnot. We even came out victorious in the first competition investigation.

The matter pertained to contentious content acquisition issues against very resourceful opponents because the industry was vertically integrated you have broadcasters who are also distributors, both analog and digital. So, Z would not want to give its content to, for example, to the Tata Sky platform and we have to then fight for it. Similarly, with ESPN with its innovation coming into HD and various other broadcasting themes, we had to make sure that we have the most efficient licensing and the pricing that we can get. So, really leveraging the regulatory framework to negotiate with our broadcasting rights for. So that was really some interesting work. 

In the next three years, on the in- house side I was working as an individual contributor, so pretty much every complex, draft agreement to responding to consultation papers on technical issues, I would do the thinking. I would do the writing on it and those almost became acceptable standards for the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. The attempt was always to bring in thought leadership and I think that kind of resonated with my leaders that I was working with regulators that we're working with and I think they were gracious enough in offering me opportunities to really at least work efficiently in that space. 

Around five years up in TATA Sky, I went and work with Monsanto. Monsanto again was a completely different space, I took that as a challenge because I did have an offer at the time from one of the largest global media companies but I wanted to reinvent myself as a lawyer. I'd spent already 7-9 years in the media and entertainment space and I was curious about the Agri biotech and more remote and more vulnerable consumer segment which are the farmers. Monsanto at the time was the world's leading genetically modified crops technology organization and I found the story really inspiring. I called those four years as trial by fire because it was an extremely politically charged environment. You were servicing the most vulnerable sector in the Indian economy. But, at the same time we were creating value for the Indian farmers and that value creation could be demonstrated in 2002 when Monsanto launched the GM technology in cotton. 

India was a net importer of cotton. 10 years later when I joined them in 2012, India was one of the largest exporters of cotton in the world so on the back of Monsanto’s technology the entire industry, the cotton farming community and their fortunes had changed and I found that story really inspiring. I found the technology really inspiring because it was stuff of science fiction where you are really talking about genetic modification, integration into plants and really technical seed law aspects and Gene flow while working with scientists and really understanding their thought process. I thought it was really a creative environment for me as a lawyer and as a professional. Life throws you curveballs. I've had my ups and downs in career. 

I found that Monsanto got bought over by Bayer Crop Science. at the time and I was one of the few people that were let go. Monsanto doesn’t exist today but looking back in hindsight Monsanto was the space where I learned, I got to play a role in life sciences sector as well and that is how my career got defined as a life- sciences and a TMT lawyer and that is how I recognized myself as well. I participate in both sectors, and I'm familiar with the issues that happen within the two sectors. I think I'm able to creatively add value there as well. From there on, again moved into another state with your families, which is similar to Tata Sky but really servicing the cinema industry. 

Then, over the last 3 years was associated with Lupin. I am the Global General Counsel per se. I look after everything that happens in the India business.

I lead a team of about 15 lawyers and three compliance and ethics professionals, and it has been a fantastic experience 

The time has come where I'm saying goodbye to my thing as well. I'm reinventing time, reinvent myself into what to do next for the next 20 years of my life and that is the space I am in. I spoke about the perfect storm. I am very aware of that. I think what Lupin gave me was a global worldview, on how business is getting done, the challenges that businesses have, the issues that the healthcare system, the jurisdictions, are focusing on so, not just India, different markets have their own dynamics. India is different as a pharmaceutical market as compared to Japan, I'm eternally grateful to Lupin for the opportunity that I got to work on there. I could see huge amount of health tech, digitization effort that I oversaw and I assisted the organization with it, the emerging technologies on, telemedicine is coming up, the pharmacy side of things. 

The smart devices, or the investments that we will look into at various cutting- edge startups, all of that I think, the next phase of how work will be done. I think ever every business is trying to pivot into being more relevant into in the new world, the new normal. I think Lupin is doing wonderfully and I'm sure every organization out there is thinking about it and all the leaders that will be here on this platform would be dealing with that and then the day-to-day jobs as well. So, I think as leaders we need to pivot and we need to help our organizations because it's a question of sustainability. I think to be to be aiding organizations in that change is absolutely critical. So, I would say kudos to every general counsel out there. 

Thank you so much, Amit for sharing your views with us and if I can ask you to give us in three points, the risks that you're looking out. Also, three things that you find are a must in a GC. 

Sure, I will start with the second question first. I think as a general counsel we work under several pressures in an organization and when you're servicing a $3 billion business from a legal and compliance perspective, let's say your play role in that scheme of things become extremely critical and how you operate from your most authentic self. I think that becomes extremely important so your most authentic self. If that is towards operating from a higher ground and ensuring that you act as the ethical voice if you judge ethical judgment and the within the organization and writings you contribute to that thinking within your organization because, obviously there are several leaders in an organization you're not the only voice, but at least if you can contribute to that discussion, to that dialogue I think that's extremely critical. So, that's the top skill I would say a general counsel needs to have at the same time keeping an eye on the risks and that ties in with the first question. 

I think the risks around non- compliance are significant as we do business in this new paradigm, ethically, morally, and first legally. We have to be correct in our decision making and we cannot afford to be wrong there and that ties in with every innovation step that you will take the kind of people that you will hire for the organization  and this kind of depends on the technology or legal tech that you will deploy in your organization that will tie in with just about every decision that you take or you contribute to an organization. So, I think those are the top skills that as a general counsel you must have.  Another would be of course as a general counsel, I was leading a team about, of about 15-18 people, leaders as my direct ports and they were levels within the organization and when you are a manager of managers, I think the expectation from you would be that you need to really be the compass, because you are working with really bright minds who in their own right are extremely talented professionals, and as a leader, it is your responsibility to help them grow to level up, and make sure that they are ready for the next opportunities that within the organization or the outside world may offer them so you leave a mark as a leader of your team. 

I think every thought that, and every aspect that you share I think that it has to demonstrate very significantly the leadership, or the right model position because you are leaving your imprint on that team, on those humans, and they are going to make have an effect on the world, and you can go wrong there so that's extremely important as well. On the processes side of course we all in my journey of 10 years whatever I've known in my various organizations, I try and impart I try and make sure that the best practices or whatever I've known in seeing the human behavior that I've seen observed, I think that it continues to carry you along with me and make sure that at least I walk the talk. If nothing else, no matter where I am.

So, what are the kind of risk that you're looking at in the year forward, that you can foresee that companies should gear up for.

I think digitization. I think the legal services market is also transforming so they will be a lot more I think the relevance of the big names, and I don't want to take away anything from anyone in terms of their talent and sheer knowledge, and the just visionaries, that they are, at least in the Indian space as well. But, and I'm going to take a little more macro view on this, because India is actually I'm going to take a little more India centric view because globally, things are a bit different. India centric view would be that, the reliance that we had on big claims, it's that is going to change. I think it is going to be more important on the value that the other thought leadership your service providers to offer you, the song and dance that that probably was tolerated earlier may be much more difficult for organizations to really take into account, I mean, then, and because your entire efforts on tech side only the tech side, that is just going to bring a lot more governance, principles that is going to make sure that the decision making even on hiring and engagement is kind of always by predefined sort of, defined sort of parameters, and at the same time, I think more attuned to the advancements in technology. I think from a General counsel perspective, you would have to have keep an eye on what is the next move on the technological front. 

An example that I can quote from today's time, we have social media which has been gone through an evolution over the last 15 odd years, we've had, Facebook and Instagram and whatnot, and that also from my space or could we move to Facebook and Instagram now but there is the social media now, which is coming. It is going to be revolutionary in its in its way that people collaborate, work, share information, and clubhouse is an example of that, I don't know if some of you are familiar with clubhouse that's the newest by invitation only social media, audio based social media platform which is out there and it is mind boggling on the metaphysical and quantum space where the energies are flowing there. 

But, it does also create concerns on insider information aspects, people collaborating they're working in organizations that they abiding by those kinds of the rules that an organization we have on information sharing. So, I think those are the kind of the next, where the next threat is going to come from, that is what the responsibility of General Counsel meant to be and that means you need to be more adept with everything that is happening around the world. 

That's a good point there and then also if we can indulge you in another question about your views on the startup sector of the country and looking at the government's push for the startups.

Throughout my career I've been involved, mentored  and I've spoken to various founders, I have been a founder myself. So, I think the ecosystem in India has improved greatly. So, definitely over the last five years to seven years,  I think the ecosystem has gradually shifted to become an innovation encouraging environment. There is funding available, there are people out there who would appreciate the promoters or the founders with certain great social backed ideas or startups that add value or give back to the community. I think that is where a lot of investments are coming in from government regulation perspective I think all for it so make it an India campaign. 

But I think from a government policy perspective, their focus is to really encourage innovation and really support, by way of incentives, sectors that are critical for the economy. So, for example the healthcare sector, you have your API's your active pharmaceutical ingredients that pretty much the entire Indian engineers in generic industry 74% of that API, is procured from China. So, you have a dependence for the raw material that really goes into making the finished products. So, to cater to that threat in this from the learning from the pandemic that every nation has had including India, the government of India has been great in terms of coming out with a 10,000 crores incentive scheme for to encourage domestic manufacturing. So if you're a startup, I mean I think those are the kind of opportunities that you need to look at and how you can collaborate and kind of fill that void under the make in India campaign. it is going to bring humongous change in the way the global supply chain is working. 

Nations have realized how over dependence in other jurisdictions in terms of manufacturing can be problematic and I think that is why the Indian Government also is encouraging domestic manufacturing and from Infotech to technology products to founders of smart appliances that are completely India approved. So, I think that is the next space, where a lot of startup focus is going to be and that is where the opportunity lies as well. 

So, if you're able to pivot, I think the next five years are going to be extremely beneficial. That's my belief. I'm very optimistic about the next five years. If you're able to pivot, you will be able to create tremendous value and a word of caution would be, if you pivot, make sure that you are not simply chasing the paper but doing something with a purpose that really gives back to the community and make your startup more socially relevant. 

Thank you so much, Amit. That's a good point of advice.

This is an automated transcription from BW Legal World GC Conference 2021 lightly edited for better readability. 

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