In Conversation with Pujarini Guha Maulik, Vice President - Legal of InMobi Group

In this conversation, we speak with Pujarini Guha Maulik on her experience as a law student, formative years as a lawyer, her work at InMobi, and areas of practice.

Pujarini Guha Maulik, Vice President - Legal of InMobi Group, points to the volatility of the advertising technology market and a constantly evolving legal framework when discussing the general challenges in her sector. She was involved in a recent settlement made by InMobi with the US Federal Trade Commission over a privacy issue. 

This response has manifested itself via the implementation of a new company-wide privacy program to comply with ‘the letter and the spirit’ of privacy laws. Further initiatives that Maulik has been involved in include the transformation of the legal team from what she describes as a ‘reactive’ to an ‘intuitive’ department, well organised into sub-sections based around specific expertise and business needs. Maulik’s impressive career leading up to InMobi has put her in a good place to handle these challenges. 

In this conversation, we speak with Pujarini Guha Maulik on her experience as a law student, formative years as a lawyer, her work at InMobi, and areas of practice.  

How was your experience at Symbiosis Law School as a law student?

When I graduated from Symbiosis Law School, it was still affiliated under Pune University. Symbiosis was and continues to be one of the premier institutions of the country and my experience was nothing short of enriching and uplifting. Rich in culture and opportunities, Symbiosis enabled and prepared me to embrace challenges with grit and grace. We had an amazing faculty and I was lucky enough to enjoy the mentorship of the then vice-principal who encouraged me to participate in nationwide moots. Researching on moot court topics and exploring how corporates operate piqued my interest towards in-house role. As I am from a family of practicing lawyers, being analytical was organic to me, but it was my varied experiences in law school which propelled me to lean towards the corporate in-house role and our alumni paved the way for good placement.

Which was the conviction which inclined you to pursue a legal career in a startup environment? And what useful advice would you give to a young aspiring lawyer? 

My initial experience was as an in-house counsel for big MNCs like Infosys and DRL. I was lucky to have the exposure of working in a large organised set up which focuses on honing the skill sets of a particular practice area as well as the opportunity to work in a small team where one needs to be a generalist. During my stint with Infosys BPO (which was a smaller team by itself), I quickly learnt that a smaller set up provides for broader experience and exposure towards various legal practice areas, unlike a streamlined organisation. At Infosys, I had the advantage of experiencing both the environments. That's when I decided to move into a startup. My exposure in InMobi has been diverse starting from setting up a team to establishing robust processes towards corporate governance, contracting, employment practice, acquisitions, and privacy. I have seen exponential growth in my career as InMobi has grown by leaps and bounds and is now a well-known name in the advertising and content discovery industry across the world.  As a gift of hindsight, my advice to younger lawyers would be to undertake internships with corporates, firms, and litigating lawyers to determine their own driving factor. Embracing challenges with a never say never attitude clubbed with hard work and ability to think out of the box really helped me in my journey.

How would you like to describe the initial years as an in-house counsel and Head of Contracts and Disputes at mobile advertising startup, InMobi?

Initial years as an in-house counsel are always daunting but it was positively challenging at InMobi. When I joined initially, the legal team was being set up and we were more reactive than proactive. We slowly and steadily set up a multi-jurisdictional team and established a robust legal framework creating an environment of dependable processes, business partnerships with disciplined checks and balances. I still remember my first cubicle which was in a tiny attic of a small set up in Indiranagar where we'd spend hours brainstorming on how to streamline the legal processes and get folks to take us seriously. Today the InMobi legal team has won many accolades including being listed as a Powerlist in-house team (India) hosted by Legal 500 in 2017. 

How was your experience with the Infosys legal team? What is that one case that has left a lasting impact on you?

I owe my strong foundation to my mentors in the Infosys legal team. I was very lucky to have the opportunity to work with individuals with great legal acumen which taught me many key lessons, particularly as a commercial lawyer. During my long stint with Infosys, I worked on some very large deals, many of which remain engraved in my memory due to the learnings, however, the one that left a long lasting impact was a complex transaction which I was involved in at a very early stage of my career. We had to negotiate with a large electronics partner and the deal involved the transfer of resources and build operation transfer model. The deal was a strategic one and the client was very demanding. There were multifold issues, innumerable long nights and an immense amount of learning regarding nuances of employment laws of different countries and complex cross-border deal structuring. Above all, it taught me how to stay undeterred and focused and not yield under pressure. 

Having a diverse experience as an in-house counsel at various organizations, what is the role of an in-house counsel? 

In-house legal plays a key role in maintaining the corporate governance, ethics, and compliance of any organisation, basically we the Night's Watch watching over the Wall. In-house legal is responsible for administering an organisation’s policies and guidelines without which the foundation of an organisation would be unsteady. It operates as a shield against disputes and threats. The role of an in-house lawyer has significantly evolved over time and, so too have the required skill sets and behaviours. Besides being analytical thinkers and having qualifications, in-house lawyers must now be an enabler and strategic partner to the management. We need to inform the management where the risks lie. We need to be technologically savvy with a deep understanding of the business requirements, always mindful of the organisation's risk appetite and act as guardians of its reputation. 

Where do you see InMobi in the next few years?

InMobi is the first unicorn of India and has seen unprecedented growth as an organisation over the years. It has evolved from an Ad network to what comprises three units—Marketing Cloud (Advertising platform for Marketers), TruFactor (Intelligence as a Service platform) and Glance (lock-screen content discovery platform). Mobile is the backbone of online advertising and smartphones have ensured that users are now consuming content on phones like never before, therefore, I believe InMobi will see tremendous heights in the next few years to come with its expanding innovations.

With 15 years of in-house global legal experience with the leading corporates in India, what is your current industry focus?

Consumer content and Privacy. My role as a leader is an expansive one which does not allow me to alienate any practice area but I consciously dedicate a lot of time to these aspects. These are the current industry focal points for any technology company with consumer focus given the changes and evolution in the privacy laws/landscape and surge in content consumption. The privacy environment around the world has changed drastically necessitating privacy by design approach by all relevant organisations which is largely spearheaded by in-house legal and compliance teams. 

What are your thoughts about having an intelligent legal management system? 

It is important to have an intelligent legal management system which aids lawyers to streamline and implement processes for effective review and monitoring of documents and assists with tracking of compliance requirements and disputes. I believe machine intelligence is useful for repetitive processes that consume a lot of time without involving analytical thinking. This can ensure that human acumen is focused on the real issues at hand which involve complex interpretation and application of mind.

COVID-19 is an unfolding event bringing uncertainty to every business. What are the 2 major points that would leave a massive impact on all startups like InMobi globally? 

COVID-19 unleashed the true potential for testing how productive remote working can be. In fact, it shook up the operating model of many traditional set ups including startups which did not encourage remote working. InMobi has always been a flexible organisation allowing for working from home; currently we are managing four "channels" on a collaboration platform through which we are sharing information about what's happening in different parts of the company and this has helped us in adapting to the change with more ease than difficulty. Certain start ups such as those in the travel or sports space have evidently suffered due to the pandemic and it is needless to say that these are testing times for the world economy at large. COVID -19 also propelled digitalisation of many industries and if one were to focus on the positives, I'd say it paved the way for many new startup ideas to cater to the new normal. 

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