The Indian Corporate Counsel Association pays tribute to the leading lights of India’s in-house legal community in its new book, Trailblazers, writes Vandana Chatlani

Not long ago, India’s in-house lawyers were the legal community’s forgotten children; invisible paper pushers with limited power, often blamed for erecting barriers to commercial ideas in a bid to mitigate risk. Unpopular and underestimated, company lawyers were rarely seen at management meetings and negotiation tables with much of their work ending up in the offices of law firms across the country.

Over time, these corporate counsel have quietly found their calling. The change has been gradual, but palpable, fuelled by an increase in cross-border deals, education and experience in international markets, as well as pressure on legal budgets among other factors. They held onto work they had once farmed out to law firms and deepened their understanding of business operations and the nuances of doing business across industries, thus gaining credibility and status.

In-house roles are still evolving as company lawyers emerge from the back office into the limelight. Many aspire to seize a more active role in strategic decision making and fulfil commercial objectives while ensuring their companies adhere to high ethical and compliance standards. Many are keen to share their experiences and learn from peers in other sectors to build an active corporate counsel community.

The Indian Corporate Counsel Association (ICCA) has brought in-house counsel together to discuss and debate legal and business developments through conferences and connections with international in-house organizations. ICCA has also encouraged corporate counsel to swap their suits for shorts and sandals during weekends away to destinations such as Goa and Langkawi in Malaysia.

A TRIBUTE TO CORPORATE COUNSEL

ICCA’s latest project is Trailblazers, a book that pays tribute to India’s leading in-house lawyers across a number of industries (see In-house stars, page 47). Trailblazers was conceived as a way to celebrate the achievements of India’s corporate counsel, recognizing their contribution to the legal community and their excellence in their roles.

“In short, it was a celebration that was long overdue,” says Ashok Sharma, ICCA’s founder president. “This initiative is our way of honouring in-house lawyers in India since they have never been recognized in the same way that private practice lawyers have.”

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