"The foundation laid by the Puttaswamy judgement is going to define the way the new data privacy regime is going to be structured." Kalpana Agarwal, Joint President & Co-head, Legal Kotak Mahindra Bank Ltd.

Kalpana talks about her illustrious journey in law, array of work as General Counsel, company law departments of the future and much more in this exclusive interview with Ashima Ohri, Managing Editor, BW Legal World.

Many Congratulations on featuring in BW Legal World’s General Counsel 100 list for the year 2020. We’d love to know about your journey so far, most memorable experiences, and your thoughts on receiving this Award. 

My career spans over 3 decades in the legal space in corporate starting with Patel Roadways Ltd., then moving on to Tata Finance Ltd.  and then ICICI Bank Ltd. I have been with Kotak Mahindra Bank Ltd. since 2004 and was elevated as Co-Head effective 1st Jan, 2021. I have acquired a vast range of d invaluable knowledge in the course of my stint with each of the organisations which has helped me in achieving the position I am in today. The award from BW was a recognition of my achievements and all the hard work I have put in,  the experience I have gained and my contribution to my role as a legal professional.  

What do you attribute your success to? What would you say has helped you emerge as a top General Counsel in your industry?

I have always looked upon each challenge as an opportunity. A  legal professional of a corporate function is always expected to strike the right balance between business requirements and commercial exigencies which I have always strived to achieve whilst remaining within the legal framework. My contribution has thus been duly recognised by my organisation.    

What advice would you have for others who want to set off in a similar direction? 

Whilst the necessity to work hard is a given, it is also necessary to work smartly and also be aware of the ever changing and rapid developments and adapt oneself to the same quickly.

Would you please share with our readers the array of work you handle at your organization. What is your in-house team size, and would you please allow us a little peek into your routine at work?

I am the Co-Head of the legal team consisting of about 150 legal professionals which caters to most of the Kotak Group’s requirements. The legal team is a one-stop shop for all legal requirements of a financial services conglomerate ranging from branch banking to structured transactions, litigations  in addition to other areas such as employment law, information technology etc.    

In what ways has your business sector/industry been impacted by the pandemic and the subsequent second wave? How long would it take for the industry to revive?

The economic activity has just begun to make a slow and uneven recovery from the unprecedented steep decline in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the second wave. The Indian banks reported lower impaired loans and improved profitability for the FY’21 due to various judicial and fiscal forbearance measures like complete bar on initiating any new insolvency proceedings against defaulting corporate debtors by banks or loan moratoriums coupled with continued large write-offs. While the banks remained fairly  risk-averse in previous year, which was also reflected in their weak credit growth, the real impact of the pandemic on the asset- quality and profitability of the Indian banking system may only be visible in FY’22  as judicial intervention /forbearance measures unwind.

What have been your key learnings as the legal gatekeepers of your company from the year past and what are your predictions for the future?

The role of the in-house legal team  is rapidly evolving  to keep pace with the changing environment. The future ways of function promises to be  a hybrid version of the old working  style and the new normal. For instance virtual courts may be here to stay as the benefits are being perceived. Increased adoption of legal technology solutions is a must.

Any significant legislation or decision of the top court that has been a welcome change or has been rather mistimed in your opinion. (Labour Code/Amendments to IBC/ Data Privacy/ Foreign seated arbitration for Indian Companies

Amendments to IBC:

In a recent decision of the Hon'ble Supreme Court, the provisions of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (IBC) concerning the liability of the personal guarantors to the corporate debtors were upheld. With the decision in place, the creditors can now initiate insolvency proceedings against individuals such as promoters, managing directors and chairpersons who stand as personal guarantors. The instant judgment would bring a sigh of relief to many creditors of such corporate debtors, who will now have the option to proceed simultaneously against the corporate debtor and its personal guarantor. The instant judgment is yet another decision in furtherance of the spirit of the IBC, is a welcome move.

Data Privacy:

The Puttaswamy judgement has changed entire gamut of proposed comprehensive legislation which the Central Government intends to introduce to protect personal and sensitive personal data of the citizens. The foundation laid by the Puttaswamy judgement is going to define the way the new regime is going to be structured since every time any future legislation on this subject is going to be introduced it will have to pass the first test as to whether it upholds this right and that no provision unreasonably encroaches upon it. We also expect sectoral regulations will be issued to implement the new regime.

 An experience, matter or person that left a lasting impression on you.

I have always held great respect for Ms. Kalpana Morparia and Mr. S. H.  Bhojani, who were legal heads and went on to  become members of the board and   successfully straddled the legal as well as business roles. They are role models for all lawyers who want to be good commercial lawyers.

Company Law Departments of the future: LegalTech tools that are transforming the traditional methods of in-house legal work in India. (An optional question. Please list AI-tools you are using or being used in-house for legal research, case management, contract lifecycle management, contract review, document reviews etc)

We are using the following LegalTech tools:

  • Litigation Management
  • Contract Management  (at UAT stage)

What keeps you busy when you’re not working? Any favourite book or movie/series that you'd like to recommend to our readers.

I enjoy reading fiction and watching movies in my free time. My favourite movies are The Shawshank Redemption and Amistad which I would like to recommend.

Nominations for the second edition of BW Legal World's 40Under40 are now open.

Click here to nominate:

For more details, please contact Gareema Ahuja, Business Lead: +91 7827590848,  

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