LexTalk World interviews Josephine Bhavani Rajendra. Josephine is currently the Head of Legal & Compliance in her current organization, Ambani Consultancy & Trading. She has approximately 19+ years of experience in the field of law ranging from being a legal practitioner in varied areas of law practice such as civil, criminal, family law disputes, commercial, maritime law, winding up and bankruptcy, restructuring, and mergers & acquisitions matters. She has taken on varied designations from being a litigator and then as a senior consultant to her present role as the Head of Legal & Compliance.
Host: Please relate your journey as a legal professional?
Josephine: My journey as a legal professional has indeed been both interesting and challenging. It started off after the completion of my pupillage requirements. My early experience as a litigator was primarily in the field of civil and banking disputes. Moving on, I transitioned to varied areas of practice over the years before taking on a position as a Senior Consultant and then Head of Legal in my current organization, Ambani Consultancy & Trading. Presently, I am responsible for the key leadership legal advice in the organization and my role extends to advising other departments and relevant stakeholders on matters pertaining to legal and risks compliance. My portfolio includes clients globally from various continents, ranging from USA, Brazil, Singapore and the Middle East.
Host: What has been the most memorable experience in your years of practice as a lawyer and what are your key takeaways from that case/experience?
Josephine: Interesting question, well there are numerous memorable experiences I believe over my years of practice as a lawyer and consultant. However I would like to draw back on a specific experience of my 1st legal suit for an injunction application in the High Court of Malaya. I was a young lawyer quite conscious and naturally wanted to make a good impression that I am able to handle the matter confidently. The experience as I recall was both daunting and equally memorable as it solidified and validated my perceptions and beliefs that this is what I am here to do. That law is indeed my passion. It was a significant experience and I am thankful to my then employer for trusting me with the task and throwing me into the deep blue sea. And yes I was successful in the hearing application.
The key takeaways from that experience would be firstly to always believe in yourself. Secondly, be overprepared as this would give you a sense of what to expect and provide an opportunity for you to develop thoughtful questions.
Host: How do you look at legal risk management in 2021 and how is it going to change 5 years down the line?
Josephine: Legal risk management has evolved overall as there is a greater need to recognise unprecedented challenges such as climate change and digital innovation. The regulatory landscape has progressed and there is more importance placed on compliance departments to assist organizations to adapt. Similarly, it is becoming more challenging for legal compliance departments. In the EU, for example, measures such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Market Abuse Regulation (MAR), MiFID II and the 4th and 5th Anti-Money Laundering Directives have changed the paradigm, requiring companies to constantly evaluate their structures and approach to compliance, particularly in light of the fines available to punish non-compliant organisations. There is a broader acknowledgement of what constitutes legal risk which includes financial crime and legal risks emerging from the organization’s operations.
Legal requirements are most likely to be addressed by a hybrid of risk management-specific technology and the integration of legal risk factors into other technologies. Contract management technology, for example, might evaluate contracts for higher-risk terms or contain prohibitory controls that reflect the organization's legal risk appetite to preclude the execution of contracts that fall beyond the appetite. Certain types of assets may be available for an organisation to accept or commit as collateral for a contract. The system would reject a contract if the operations department sought to complete it using unacceptable collateral. Similarly, monitoring and reporting can be aided by technology by enabling an auditable environment, facilitating access to data, and increasing response times for both strategically mitigating legal risks and effectively managing those that have solidified. Legal departments can employ resource allocation technologies to profile its workload and ensure that it is focused on the correct things.
With regards to how it is going to change in the next 5 years, here considering how society is further advancing into a digital market, it is imperative to acknowledge how technology would improve and enable more efficient legal risk management. Technology would therefore play a greater role in legal risk management in years to come. Some of the benefits of technology here would be in trend spotting, transparency in reference to reporting of legal activity and risk profile, standardisation and consistency, improved reporting and management information. For example to illustrate the use of chatbot for web crawling alert or in Intellectual property matters where technology is used for brand protection and anti-counterfeit. Therefore five years down the line I foresee greater integration of technology in legal risk management.
Host: What is your advice for young legal professionals today?
Josephine: From my humble experience, firstly, I believe the current legal market today is very different or radical in comparison to say 20 years ago. The practice of law is no longer purely about the blacks letters of the law. But rather the model practitioner of the 21st century and beyond is one that is well versed in all areas including finance, business and technology. Being equipped with such skills are considered imperative as law is multi-disciplinary in the digital market that we live in today.
More so, the market today is very client centric and clients are quite sophisticated and savvy, and essentially demand more for less. Thus to remain relevant and competitive, young lawyers would need to be equipped with varied skills. To emphasise, to ensure sustainability in the legal industry lawyers would need to expand their knowledge and skills in multi disciplines. In addition, being equipped in such skills are considered advantageous in terms of employment.
To add, taking into consideration the impact of Covid-19 globally on many industries not just the law specifically has somewhat accelerated the importance of having such skills, especially technological skills. More so in the legal industry, technology was seen as the only viable option to ensure the continuous navigation and implementation of justice.
Secondly, it is advisable for fresh law graduates to not limit or compartmentalised themselves into specific areas of law practice when they have just begun venturing into the field. This is because it is advantageous to absorb knowledge from varied areas of legal practice before deciding on specific preferences. Reason being, having varied experience also enhances one’s lawyering skills and it is advisable to do so at the beginning of one’s career. Hence, do not start off with a limited mindset that you are purely going to practice civil or family law instead take on the sea of experience on varied areas before finalizing your specific preferences. This would clearly make you stand out in the legal arena amongst your counterparts.
Thirdly, be committed and disciplined in any tasks assigned. This is important as it would be a determining factor on how one climbs the career ladder. Hence, no tasks should be considered too small or minute in value, instead complete each task with utmost dedication as this would speak well of one’s maturity and confidence.
Lastly but not least, ethics. As a lawyer, having such values are imperative. Professional ethics are key to ensuring an accountable legal profession. Hence, it is vital as pillars of justice, lawyers conduct themselves with integrity in the performance and delivery of legal services. Firmly entrenching yourself with such principles at the onset of one’s career and holding on to them would assist one as a lawyer towards their journey in this very challenging yet rewarding, and diverse profession.
It would also be advantageous for young lawyers to continuously learn and upskill themselves, never to stop learning. Do not be too steadfast in your ways, if there are alternative methods which improve the efficiency on how a legal task can be completed then it should ideally be leveraged.
Host: What is your advice for young lawyers who are considering options on whether to select the path towards being an in house counsel or a private law firm?
Josephine: Working in-house versus working at a private practice law firm might be very different. To begin with, in-house lawyers have only one client: the organisation for which they work. That means there's no need to bring in new clients or be a rainmaker. Hence, you do not have to worry about billable hours because your lone client covers your compensation.
In-house lawyers are also required to anticipate possible issues and prevent them from occurring. While law firm practitioners quickly learn to notice legal difficulties in a commercial deal, an in-house lawyer will collaborate more closely with business personnel to define business terms, identify legal issues, and determine what type and level of risk is acceptable. Those in the position of general counsel are more likely to act as trusted business consultants and frequently report directly to the CEO. In-house lawyers may benefit from having a broad understanding of business or a thorough understanding of a single industry. Litigation is something in-house lawyers may not do much of as when companies need help preparing for a trial, they frequently turn to external counsel assistance.
In comparison private law firm practice, subject to whether they are small tier, middle tier or large tier, as a junior associate it is imperative to recognize that your customers are the lifeblood of your business. Likewise, have a deep understanding of the client's requirements and be willing to go above and beyond to achieve those requirements. Ideally, find a more senior partner or associate who is ready to mentor you. The law firm serves as a training ground for you. Take advantage of any accessible professional development opportunities.
Additionally, recognize that you may not be working on the most intriguing projects as a new associate. If you do good work, things will improve. You'll be trapped spinning your wheels if you do bad job. Develop a friendly, extroverted personality. It will help you keep your current customers happy while also attracting new ones. Also be aware that working for a large legal firm is not a conventional 9-to-5 job.
Taking into considerations the differences as highlighted above, as a junior associate just starting out, it would be advisable to evaluate how these practices may be more appealing and then decide on preferences. Nevertheless, one could always seek experience in both before finally deciding on the path preferred.
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