Corporate counsel associations portray themselves as friend, adviser and management guide for in-house counsel. But are they delivering the goods? Gautam Kagalwala reports
In-house counsel are well aware of the services of corporate counsel associations (CCAs) that vie for their memberships. The associations strive to provide a support system for in-house counsel where they can network with peers and update themselves via professional development courses, publications and insights on best practice given by experts at the many forums that are available.
A range of associations currently serve India-focused in-house counsel, foremost among them are the Indian Corporate Counsel Association (ICCA), the Indian National Bar Association (INBA), the Corporate Counsel Association of India (CCAI) and the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), a US-based association that is expanding aggressively in Asia.
But in their haste to boost numbers and promote the next forum or course, are some associations missing the point of giving in-house counsel the profession-based issues and programmes they actually want to participate in?
Such may be the case, at least for some in-house lawyers, who have told India Business Law Journal that Indian and international CCAs need to be more proactive and represent the interests of the profession in a manner similar to the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) or the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), bodies that strongly represent their business communities.
“Whether it is the ACC or the Indian associations, I think they can work more to understand the problems and challenges we face in different sectors and different industries,” says Debolina Partap, the general counsel at Wockhardt.
Lack of clout
Saugata Chakravarty, the general counsel for South Asia at Siemens, believes CCAs should take a leaf or two from the books of substantial representative bodies from other professions. “What I personally would like to see in these kinds of forums is for them to have a more strategic impact,” he says.
“If we take a clue from the independent bodies for chartered accountants or company secretaries, these have become very influential bodies. We do not have any such bodies for in-house counsel. We need to utilize these forums for more policy advocacy rather than let the industry forums do that.”
K Srinivas, the head of legal at Amara Raja Batteries, travels to Singapore often and is a member of the Singapore Corporate Counsel Association (SCCA). But he has not joined any CCAs in India. “The reason I have not joined is because they are not as vibrant,” he says.
Srinivas credits the SCCA for being very active in terms of discussions and events, with regular participation from the judiciary and the press. Not so much the SCCA’s Indian counterparts, which he says “are a relatively new phenomenon in India”.
So what are the true colours of India’s CCAs? Are they really performing so poorly that GCs would prefer to be members of groups in other countries? Of course this is not the case and in-house counsel also find much of value in the local associations.
“They have, over the past few years, become an important platform for networking and building connections,” says Shukla Wassan, the executive director for legal and corporate affairs (South Asia) at Hindustan Coca-Cola. She adds: “It is also a meeting point for exchanging views and ensures that we are updated with the latest changes.”
Himavat Chaudhuri, the chief legal and regulatory affairs officer at Tata Sky, says of all the bodies, only the Indian Corporate Counsel Association has reached out to him on a regular basis. “They have a nice selection of issues. If they do 10 talks and four are interesting for me, then it’s good enough,” he says. “Some talks are interesting to me, others are interesting to someone else. It’s great for in-house counsel because from our perspective we are not up-to-date on everything.”
Chaudhuri asks CCAs to get better organized, pointing out that in-house counsel are constrained on account of time and their physical location and need advance notice to attend events across the country. “Everything is last minute and haphazard, like everything else in the country,” he says. “It would be really great if they could have a scheduled calendar of events for one year, then people can plan and travel. We are bad at planning, the business itself is ad hoc, so our habits become ad hoc.”
What membership offers?
The Indian Corporate Counsel Association (ICCA) holds seminars and roundtables, with some events being supported by the Department of Commerce or the Department of Legal Affairs. The association has six events planned for this year in Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi, in addition to its General Counsel Conclave in Goa. On an advocacy level, the ICCA says it provides feedback to regulatory authorities on reforms in legal, administrative and corporate governance matters. The association offers global connectivity through its associations with In-house Counsel Worldwide and the Asia Pacific Corporate Counsel Alliance. The ICCA reports that it has focused more on attracting event delegates than members, and says that over 600 in-house counsel attend its programmes. It is currently overhauling its membership structure.
The Indian National Bar Association (INBA) says it offers a platform for in-house counsel to network with peers, lawyers and government officials, and considers its function to be similar to that of a think-tank. It states some idealistic goals in its mission statement, including to “reform the Indian legal system” and provide “quick justice to its citizens, which leads to the nation’s economic and business growth”. The association holds around two events per month for its members. Women’s empowerment and the prevention of sexual harassment are stated as important themes for INBA this year, with events, surveys and book launches planned on the topic. The association will also hold courses on investment law, negotiation and drafting this year. INBA’s membership base extends beyond in-house counsel, with private practice lawyers and other professionals among its stated 10,000 members. Kaviraj Singh, the secretary general, says it has the largest number of in-house counsel in India.
Established in 2013, the Corporate Counsel Association of India (CCAI) says it promotes the common professional and business interests of in-house counsel through information, knowledge and experience sharing and continuing legal education, as well as providing a platform for networking and advocacy initiatives. It currently has around 100 members and claims its uniqueness to be the fact that it’s the “only association for in-house counsel, of in-house counsel and by in-house counsel in India”.
The US-based Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) is a global behemoth with 43,000 members, 200 of whom are in India. It is seeking to expand its presence in India and plans to offer more region-specific content, such as continuing legal education and professional development events, research and publications. In what could be attributed to the “Weinstein effect”, named after the once-powerful Hollywood film producer, the ACC will hold an event on sexual harassment prevention in the workplace in India in March.