In Conversation With Debosmita Nandy, Head – Legal, Cinepolis India

In this quick fireside chat with Krishnendra Joshi, Editorial Lead, BW Legal World, Debosmita talks about her glorious journey in law. She also talks about the array of work she handles in her current organization and much more.

Debosmita, would you please tell our readers what motivated you to study law? What were the formative years of your exceptional professional career like?

I can tell you the exact moment I decided to become a lawyer - when I read To Kill a Mocking Bird".

Harper Lee's timeless classic about the idealistic lawyer Atticus Finch had such an impact on me that I knew immediately that this was the path I wanted to take in my life.

Of course, this meant that I had to throw my parents' plan to study medicine out the window and start preparing for the entrance exam for law school very late in the day. Eventually, everything worked out and I secured admission in the National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata while my XII Board Examinations were still going on.

The next five years were extremely enlightening, enriching, and fruitful. I was fortunate to study under brilliant academics, learn alongside an excellent peer group and at the same time enjoy life at the law school.

When I graduated in 2009, at the height of the global recession, I had an offer to join the dispute resolution team at Khaitan & Co in Kolkata. This turned out to be serendipitous in retrospect, and I began a lifelong love affair with litigation. The three years I spent at Khaitan & Co laid the foundation for the practical side of law and helped me immensely in my career as an in-house counsel, when I joined ITC Limited in 2012. After 10 years with ITC, both in Kolkata and Gurugram, I embarked on my next adventure in 2022 as Head- Legal at Cinepolis India, a global multiplex theatre chain. 

Who are the mentors you have looked up to and admired? How have they helped you in shaping your career?

I believe mentorship is available wherever you seek it. In my early career, I spent my maximum working hours with the court clerks and stenographers. The practical lessons in law that they taught me over shared samosa were equally invaluable as the ones I learnt in classroom. 

Along the way, I have been fortunate to have wonderful leaders, each of whom have taught me different aspects of being a lawyer. 

I have also been blessed to have been surrounded by passionate people, both colleagues and external counsels from whom I have learnt many tricks of the trade. 

Lastly, I have to mention Mr Shatanshu Panda, my supervisor in ITC, Kolkata and the one person who has remained a life-long mentor for me. He has shaped me both as a lawyer and an individual and I hope one day, I can be half the lawyer and leader that he has been.  

What is your team size and what is the array of work you handle in your organisation?

I lead a team of four. We have three lawyers, who handle contracting, litigation, compliance, and advisory-related work and one member solely for statutory compliance. 

You must be dealing with documentation and contracts on a daily basis, what would be your suggestions to simplify contracts that nowadays run into hundreds of pages?

How to simplify a contract is my favourite topic. Here are few guidelines my team and I try to follow: 

  1. Active Voice over Passive-  You will notice how a long-winding sentence gets straightened up the moment you make this simple shift. 
  2. Follow the Story – In any draft, I try to keep the clauses in the sequence of a story. By that logic, the scope of work, price, and obligations come right upfront, and termination, and dispute resolution at the end. You won’t believe the number of contracts that don’t follow this. 
  3. Say it once and in one clause – Contracts with many cross-referencing of clauses mean it’s a complicated one. I try to keep all relevant terms in one clause. 
  4. Control + F and Delete – Many times, irrelevant definitions creep into a document which haven’t been used. I always look for them and hit delete. 

The world economic forum’s report on reskilling revolution emphasizes on the critical and widespread need to reskill and upskill. In this context, what are the biggest challenges for in-house lawyers in the coming 5 years?  

I would say in-house lawyers got to have an open mind about the need to equip themselves with new-age skills, however senior they may be. Further, I am not sure whether there are appropriate institutes/courses/opportunities which can provide these skills to the in-house lawyers. However, I believe things will improve over time and many opportunities will arise for us to take advantage of.  

Having seen the best of both worlds, what is your take on creating work-life balance, especially for women lawyers?

First, you got to define work-life balance for yourself, keeping in mind what works for you. It is not a one-size fit all. 

I am fiercely protective of my time. My calendar is time-blocked and planned, so that all my professional tasks are taken care of. Weekdays mornings and late evenings are reserved for my child since I drop her to school and put her to bed. Weekends are for self, family and my passion projects. But I am also open to this routine getting overhauled due to sudden urgent task at office or an unexpected sickness in the family. I also keep buffer while planning my calendar and block chunks of time across weeks to do deep work on tasks like drafting or reviewing documents or legal reading and research.   

I also believe in quick phone calls instead of VCs and walking across to chat on a topic instead of dropping a message, so that things get done quicker. I also believe in not creating artificial urgencies for others (external counsels) and also not allowing them to be imposed on my team or myself. 

Lastly, I delegate to the extent possible, both at home and work. 

You are one of the most active in-house Indian lawyers on LinkedIn. What would be your top three tips to use LinkedIn effectively so that lawyers can boost their personal brand and elevate their career?

My top three tips would be – 

  1. Find a topic that you are passionate about and write posts on it. Teach others what you know. Add value to someone else. I remember seeing a lawyer writing bite-sized explanatory posts on recent judgments as a way to keep everyone updated and found it useful. Another person used to post on MS Word tools which can be used by lawyers and they were real eye-openers. There is no need to talk on AI & ML or Cryptocurrency if that’s not your area of interest. The more visible you are, better your ‘personal brand’ is.  
  2. Engage meaningfully on other’s posts. I have come across comments more insightful than the posts. The beauty of this platform is how a network of individual come together to discuss a topic and more individuals come together to read and learn. 
  3. Keep your profile professional. Have a photo, nice header and complete profile info. I accept requests from almost everyone, but only if there is a profile photo. 

From planning the right internships to creating an overall strategy, what will be your piece of advice for aspiring and young lawyers looking to make a career as an In-house Counsel?

I'd say that there is no strategy for a career as an in-house counsel. I advise law students to do all kinds of internships during their studies. Without these varied experiences, you might not know where your interests lie.

I also believe that early in one's career, one should gain experience in court or in a law firm before deciding on a career in a company. This way, you can build a solid foundation in a specialised area of law before moving into a generalist position. Once you start an in-house role, the focus shifts to business-appropriate advice and risk mitigation across a broad spectrum of laws, and you may not have the opportunity to deep dive into law as a subject on a day-to-day basis. 

Finally, there is no straightforward path to any kind of career. I did all my internships in big commercial law firms, but I worked in a litigation firm. During law school, I was sure I'd work in Mumbai, but I haven't done that yet. After working at ITC in industries like FMCG, retail and hospitality, I jumped at the chance to work in a new and exciting industry like cinema exhibition. Too much planning sometimes doesn't bring the desired result, but having a goal and believing in it does. As long as you're sincere in your profession, you'll end up in a rewarding career of your choice.

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