LexTalk World Interviews Abhishekh Kanoi. Abhishekh is a Fellow Member of the Institute of Company Secretaries of India. He is also an Associate Member of the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investments, United Kingdom and also holds a Bachelor Degree in Law and Bachelor Degree in Commerce with (Hons.) in Accounts. He has rich and diverse in-house corporate experience of over 16 years in Corporate Legal and Commercial Space across various industries such as law firm, hospitality, manufacturing, automotive, media & entertainment and non-banking financial institutions with special reference to emerging technology and convergence. His wide array of specialization includes Legal Affairs, Corporate Secretarial, IPO & Listing, Regulatory Compliances, RBI & FEMA Matters, Merger & Acquisition, Listing Compliances (India & Overseas Entities), Venture Capital Investments, Cross Border and Domestic Transactions, Intellectual Property Rights, Copyrights, Media and Entertainment Laws. He has earned the respect of the industry in conducting and adjudged as Chief Compliance Innovator of the Year by UBS Forum in the year 2019 and Young Achiever of the Year by Legal Era in the year 2021. He has helped to develop a new global legal and governance framework for the company while ensuring its overseas expansion is brought into line with this centralized approach. As Senior Member of Leadership Platform at PDS, Mr. Kanoi regularly works with senior management and is a well-respected strategic voice.
Host: Tell us about a complex legal issue you worked on. Describe the complexity and tell us how you approached it.
Abhishekh: I joined PDS in December 2020 and after I had joined the Company, I was given few assignments to deal with.
Implemented ESOP and Phantom Scheme for the listed company, PDS Limited and its subsidiaries across 22 countries including Bangladesh, China, Hong Kong, Pakistan, UK, USA for almost 600 employees. The entire exercise included drafting & finalization of scheme, analysis of tax implication for the companies and employees across various jurisdiction and solutions thereof, solution based approach in relation to the restrictions imposed by RBI for the grant of stock options to the employees of Bangladesh, China, Pakistan and Hong Kong.
Successfully settled in mutual consensus the long disputes with the supplier in London, UK for the disputed amount of USD 3 Million independently including drafting and finalization of settlement agreement and the documents. This settlement helped the company to secure the amount of USD 3 Million, which was already been treated as bad debt due to business disruptions caused by pandemic.
Successfully Implemented Board Governance Framework for the listed Company, PDS Multinational Fashions Limited and 90 subsidiaries across the Globe, while ensuring its overseas expansion is brought into line with this centralized approach and also POEM compliances. The entire exercise involved huge __ to include the roles and responsibilities of the directors including the accountability of Business Heads and CFO’s of respective business verticals. Also Outline=ing risk mitigation framework post restructuring of board (through presence of Group CFO, COO, CS, Internal Audit Head and other Key CFOs who are outside India as non-residents on the board of key entities, conduct of formal board meetings, recording and approval of minutes of the meeting etc.)
Host:The pandemic saw some courts begin moving towards more remote proceedings and availability. Is this sustainable, and a possible way to increase access to justice, in your opinion?
Abhishekh: In my opinion yes, remote proceedings are sustainable and smooth, it makes the court proceeding system more structured and convenient. The pandemic saw a wave of work from home, which turned out to be extremely productive for different professionals, the same should also be followed in the long run. Lawyers sitting at one place may attend the hearings and argue the matter at multiple courts across various cities and countries without any physical movement. It saves costs and time of the lawyer as well as client. This often materialises in a more relaxed dress-code, domestic backdrops, and some background noises or interruptions.
During the Pandemic, at an unparalleled speed, many courts around the world have started transitioning into online hearings and many of them for the first time like in India. The immediate challenge faced by justice system during pandemic was availability of justice adjudication for those cases that are urgent and cannot be suspended. To tackle this need, technological means have been made so crucial to sustain legal work, in particular through the creation of “online courts”.
In parallel to the move towards virtual courtrooms and make it more sustainable, the judicial systems across various countries have taken steps to adopt effective electronic storage systems to file information about cases, in order to reduce paper dependence and waste (hence, good for the environment), but also to ensure timely presentation of and access to documents related to a case. Also, nowadays, with various website, the lawyer can access easily to find out the listing of matters (including mentioning of court rooms, name of judge, timings, listing etc) and this really have made the life easy for lawyer as compared to the conventional method followed earlier. Earlier, the lawyers used to send their employees to the court to figure as when the matter is listed for hearing and locating the court room. Now everything become so easy for everyone and it saves lot of time and money.
Host: How would you rate the current legal system's drive towards encouraging access to justice? Is there tangible movement in closing the justice gap?
Abhishekh: Virtual/ hybrid hearing is another concept which has already been adopted and it’s a by-product of the COVID-19 pandemic which served its purpose and made it possible and facilitated citizens to have access to justice during the pandemic.
However, there is a view among lawyers that the virtual/hybrid mode of court proceedings cannot be made as a permanent feature which would sound the death knell to physical courts. The removal of a co-presence element to court hearings might have a negative impact in the outcome of the trial for some groups due to several reasons. The effects of introducing videoconferencing trials suggests that conducting hearings through such tools can generate disengagement of participants and that they are less likely to seek legal advice.
Long-distance proceedings may also make difficult effective relationships and preparation meetings between a participant in trial and his or her lawyers. The clients share less information with their attorneys during online meetings. Carrying out trials through solely electronic means may also hinder the ability to present some means of proof, and hence, solutions for this shortcoming should be devised whenever possible.
Also technical glitches may affect the fluidity and quality of defense of even the most talented oral advocates, due to image-audio time lags, losses of connection by some of the participants and overall audio or sound conditions that are worse than they would be in a physical trial. The absence of body language may also downplay the strength of one’s case. All of these may affect procedural outcomes since the individual will not feel as well prepared and / or as fairly treated by the legal system and may also affect the substantial outcomes of trials.
Infrastructure initiative, knowledge awareness, more effective use of gadgets and training to judge, lawyer, staff, client and manner of attending hearing, awareness and knowledge of applications, software, hardware and its integration and implementation.
The pandemic has brought to the forefront the importance of legal empowerment approaches, which are essential to enable ordinary people to use the law to have the voice in the system as a whole and find concrete solutions to their pressing justice problems.
Some of the most vulnerable groups in terms of effective access to justice are those who, by reason of their age, are either not allowed or find it difficult to reach justice services and understand the rights or procedures applicable to them. The elderly, whose health has been the most impacted by the COVID-19 virus, often face specific barriers to access justice such as lack of knowledge about obligations, rights and procedures, concern of costs and long-standing ill health. For those living in care homes that are being mistreated by the staff, their abuser(s) may be their only link to outside world, or they might have limited means to be transported outside of the homes to access legal services. In the context of COVID-19 and post pandemic, increased digitalisation may risk leaving the elderly behind, since they might not have the user skills necessary to access justice through digital means. To tackle this issue, traditional and conventional platform to be used through media outlets such as television and newspapers to share the availability of new and existing services and make them aware of use of such digital platform.
Host: In the era of legal technology, what are the most commonly used tools for you?
Abhishekh: In this era of legal technology, a lot of Artificial Intelligence software and search engines are extremely helpful. For example the tools for checking the percentage of Plagiarism, databases like Manupatra, SCC online, Lexis Nexus, Westlaw, support with the concrete good quality legal research. In a post-pandemic world, we will rely more heavily on technology, which is where the next generation of legal professionals will excel. They will also need to overcome potential challenges for firms in particular areas such as maintaining their brand profile and finding new ways to attract clients and build fruitful relationships without using traditional networking events/sponsorship/hospitality, as social distancing becomes more conventional. This will present early opportunities for junior lawyers to distinguish themselves technologically and entrepreneurially, through finding creative (and effective) solutions to this.
Host: Time is money in any profession and in legal it's most of all. How do you ensure to make the best of your time as a lawyer?
Abhishekh: As a lawyer to ensure how to make the best use of your time is to make a balance between your personal and professional life. We as lawyers get so caught up in our work that we don’t get any time to follow our hobbies, therefore, to ensure a healthy relationship with your profession, it becomes important having time for hobbies.
The pandemic forcing attorneys to work remotely actually exposed an opportunity to have a better work-life balance. Attorneys are known for having high-stress, high-demand careers that come with long hours in the office. But cutting out the commute time to work and having the ease of working out of a home office made it clear that attorneys can better balance their careers with their personal lives. Now that the legal community has recognized that working remotely can be done effectively and lawyers are seeing the personal benefits of a better work-life balance, many want to continue working from home, at least part of the time.
While many lawyers are eager to return to the office, others want to at least have a hybrid work schedule. I know I have seen a noticeable increase of lawyers coming to my company in response to job placements that offer either remote work or a hybrid work schedule. This flux in the job market, coupled with a strong economic recovery, has resulted in a high demand for attorneys across the country.
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