In Conversation with Rucha Joshi, Director And Head Legal India, Rabobank

Since her school days, Rucha has been intrigued by the legal profession. By the time she reached class ten, she had made up her mind to study law. At a time when corporate lawyer roles were still evolving, and very few organizations had in-house legal counsel, she was determined to study law and envisioned leading a legal department one day. In an exclusive interview with Krishnendra Joshi, Editorial Lead, BW Legal World, she talks about her fascinating career in law, evolving regulatory regime in the banking and NBFC space and much more.

Rucha, would you please take us down memory lane and tell our readers what motivated you to study law?

I am the first and only lawyer in my family. My family members come from engineering and science backgrounds, so it was expected of me to pursue engineering or scientific research. 

However, since my school days, I have been intrigued by the legal profession. By the time I reached class ten, I had made up my mind to study law. During that time, corporate lawyer roles were still evolving, and very few organizations had in-house legal counsels. Nevertheless, I was determined to study law and envisioned leading a legal department one day. 

My interest in law has always been piqued by how it functions, and I have been fascinated by legal cases, court procedures, and the principles of justice and fairness. Additionally, I have always had a strong desire to assist others with my legal knowledge and skills. Over time, I have been able to help numerous friends, family members, and non-profit organizations with their legal issues, and the satisfaction I derive from doing so is immeasurable.

Another factor that made me choose the profession was that Law as a profession that offers a wide range of career opportunities. Lawyers can work in private practice, in-house for a company or organization, in government, or in the non-profit sector.

Studying law is intellectually challenging and requires critical thinking, analytical skills, and attention to detail and that being my significant requirements and motivating factor, I found that pursuing a career in law was the best way to fulfill this need and motivation.

Tell us about your student life at GLC, Mumbai.  Did you face any decision paralysis as a student in terms of planning your career?

GLC, Mumbai is a prestigious and historic law school in India, boasting of a rich alumni network consisting of some of the most prominent legal figures in the country and legal luminaries including top judges and counsels. Being a student at GLC instills a sense of pride and honor in oneself.

My time as a student at GLC was a truly enriching experience, as it provided me with an ideal balance of academic and extracurricular pursuits. The faculty at GLC is renowned for their expertise and dedication to teaching, and the institution offers a plethora of activities such as moot court competitions, debates, sports, cultural events, and social service initiatives. These opportunities helped me develop my legal knowledge, leadership skills, teamwork, and personal and professional qualities.

When considering career options, it is not uncommon to experience decision paralysis as a student. While I always knew I wanted to become a lawyer, choosing between becoming an in-house counsel or starting a career with a law firm was a difficult decision for me. I made the decision to become an in-house counsel, ultimately driven by my heart's desire. The decisive factor was my heart and instinct, which led me to choose the in-house path.

The pressure to make the right choice, coupled with the fear of making a wrong decision, can lead to stress and anxiety. However, it is crucial to remember that career planning is a process, and taking the time to explore different options and gain a better understanding of one's interests, strengths, and values is perfectly acceptable. Seeking guidance from mentors and networking with professionals can help gain valuable insights and help with decision making.

However, despite the ample support available, in an environment of indecision, it is ultimately one's heart, instinct, and inner voice that will serve as the decisive factor.

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

Typically, in-house legal teams in the BFSI sector are lean; barring a few exceptions of large-size banks.

My work entails providing legal advice and representation on matters related to the company's business. The primary responsibilities include:

Advising the company on various legal matters on issues such as contracts, compliance with laws and regulations, corporate governance, employment law, and litigation.

Drafting and reviewing contracts and legal documents and review contracts, employment agreements, vendor agreements, and other legal documents related to the company's business.

Managing litigation including representing the company in court and managing extrenal counsels.

Conducting legal research to stay up-to-date on changes in laws and regulations that may affect the company, and conduct legal research to support the company's legal position.

Advising the company on managing legal risks and implementing strategies to avoid legal disputes help set up company policies, processes etc. 

I also sit on various decision-making committees as I am part of the senior management.

Jack of all trades’ or a ‘legal business strategist’, how would you describe the evolving role of an in-house counsel today?  

In my personal view, the way I see it, after spending close to 2 decades of being an in-house counsel, the role of an in-house counsel has evolved significantly over the years, and today, in addition to being legal experts, we are often expected to be strategic business partners who can help drive the success of organizations.

The term "Jack of all trades" might suggest that in-house counsels are expected to be generalists who can handle a wide range of legal issues. While it is true that in-house counsels are often called upon to provide legal advice and prepare drafts of documents, on a variety of matters, be involved in dispute resolution, we are also expected to have deep expertise in certain areas, such as corporate law, intellectual property, employment law, and the regulatory environment.

However, the evolving role of in-house counsel also demands that we act as strategic business partners, working closely with other leaders in the organization to develop and execute business strategies. In-house counsel needs to understand not just the legal implications of decisions but also the business implications. Hence it is extremely helpful to be able to think creatively and come up with solutions that align with the organization's goals while mitigating legal risks.

So, in short, the evolving role of an in-house counsel today is that of a "legal business strategist" who combines legal expertise with strategic thinking to drive the success of the organization and not just a cost centre.

As someone who has extensively worked in the Banking and NBFC sector, how has the regulatory regime evolved in this domain in your opinion?

The regulatory regime in the banking and NBFC sector has evolved significantly over the years, with the introduction of prudential norms, liberalization of the sector, and the introduction of new regulations and frameworks aimed at improving the financial stability and governance of banks and NBFCs.

In recent times we have seen the introduction of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 aimed to provide a unified framework for resolving insolvency and bankruptcy cases in a time-bound manner, thereby strengthening the banking sector and improving the ease of doing business.

In 2019, the RBI introduced a revised regulatory framework for NBFCs, which aimed at ensuring the financial stability of the sector and improving their governance and risk management practices.

Undoubtedly, one sector that has witnessed a drastic transformation is the banking sector, and technology has been the key catalyst in this process. Digital transformation has propelled the banking sector to a whole new level, enabling it to offer more advanced and efficient services to customers.

The regulatory regime in the banking and NBFC sector has evolved in response to the increasing use of advanced technologies, with guidelines and regulations introduced to ensure the security and safety of digital transactions, protect against cyber threats, and ensure that banks and NBFCs use technology in an ethical and transparent manner.

As the use of technology has increased in the banking and NBFC sector, so has the risk of cyber threats. To mitigate this risk, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has introduced Cyber Security Guidelines that mandate banks and NBFCs to implement adequate security measures to protect against cyber-attacks and ensure data privacy.

With the growth of digital transactions, the RBI has introduced Guidelines for Digital Transactions to ensure the security of digital transactions and protect consumers from fraud and cyber threats. These guidelines cover areas such as customer authentication, transaction limits, and dispute resolution.

Introduction of Guidelines for Peer-to-Peer Lending: Peer-to-peer (P2P) lending platforms, which use technology to connect lenders with borrowers, have emerged as an alternative source of credit. The RBI has introduced guidelines for P2P lending platforms to ensure that they operate in a transparent and safe manner and protect the interests of both lenders and borrowers.

Cloud computing has emerged as an important technology for the banking and NBFC sector, enabling them to store and process data more efficiently. The RBI has introduced Guidelines for Cloud Computing which mandate banks and NBFCs to ensure that their cloud service providers meet certain security standards and ensure data privacy.

As banks and NBFCs increasingly use artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve their operations, the RBI has introduced Guidelines for Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. These guidelines cover areas such as transparency, accountability, and the need to ensure that artificial intelligence and machine learning systems do not perpetuate bias or discrimination

As a woman leader in the profession, how easy or difficult it has been for you to maintain work life balance?

Maintaining work-life balance can be challenging for anyone, but it can be particularly difficult for women in leadership positions. Women often face additional pressures and expectations both at work and at home, and some may have to make difficult choices about how to allocate their time and energy.

In my life, I have adopted a few simple strategies to maintain work life balance and its has helped me immensely. 

One of the most essential things is setting boundaries around work time and personal time. This can involve setting limits on when I check email or take work calls and prioritizing my personal time for activities that recharge and refresh me. Meditation, spirituality, exercise, pursuing my hobbies such as painting & traveling, helps me relax and recharge. 

Taking care of one's mental, physical, and emotional health is paramount to enhancing productivity at work. Therefore, it is essential to make time for self-care and prioritize activities that promote overall wellbeing. By doing so, one can achieve a better work-life balance and improve overall productivity and job satisfaction.

Prioritizing workload and delegating tasks to others, whenever and wherever possible, can help to focus on the most important tasks. Seeking support from colleagues, family, and friends can also be extremely helpful. It could be as simple as asking for help with specific tasks, delegating responsibilities at home, or seeking emotional support during challenging times. By delegating tasks and seeking support from others, one can reduce stress levels and maintain a healthy work-life balance. This can ultimately lead to better productivity and job satisfaction.

Overall, maintaining a work-life balance requires a conscious effort and ongoing attention, but with the right strategies and support, it is possible.

Any favourite book or movie that you would like to recommend to our readers.

One book that has been an inspiration in my life is the timeless wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita. It presents a comprehensive set of universal and holistic principles that transcend religious boundaries and offer practical solutions to the various issues of everyday life across all spheres.  

The book offers profound insights into leadership, stress management, decision-making, self-awareness, self-improvement, teamwork, physical fitness, mental health, work-life balance, positive thinking, compassion, perseverance, resilience, mindfulness, relationships, friendships and other relevant topics that are applicable not only to business leaders but to individuals and organizations from all sectors and jurisdictions, regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity. Through its teachings, the book helps business leaders develop a sense of purpose and meaning in their work. Rooted in spiritual wisdom and practical guidance, the Bhagavad Gita is a valuable resource for anyone seeking to lead with integrity and effectiveness in today's complex business environment.

 I would say it’s a one stop solutions shop for as may problems as are there from birth to the death and everything in between.

You have led several legal teams and groomed several team members. What are the must-have traits to become a successful in-house Counsel?

In my view, there are various essential qualities that an in-house counsel should possess. An in-house counsel is not solely a legal advisor but is also considered a business collaborator and partner. They should possess certain traits to be successful, which include:

  • Strong legal expertise: It goes without saying that an in-house counsel must possess a deep understanding and knowledge of the law in their area of specialization as their core strength.
  • Adaptability and up-to-date knowledge: An in-house counsel must be adaptable and able to navigate changes in business operations, legal regulations, and industry trends. They should also stay updated and well-informed about the latest developments in the field of law.
  • Business acumen: An in-house counsel should have a clear understanding of the company's objectives, goals, and risks. This is necessary for delivering the most effective legal solutions that align with the company's business operations.
  • Strategic thinking and problem-solving: An in-house counsel should be able to think strategically and identify legal risks and provide practical solutions and legal guidance to mitigate those risks that align with the company's objectives and goals.
  • Communication skills: Effective communication is key for an in-house counsel to convey complex legal issues to non-legal stakeholders.
  • Teamwork and collaboration: An in-house counsel's role requires collaboration and interactions with various departments in an organization. It is necessary to work collaboratively with other teams within the company to provide legal guidance that supports the company's goals and objectives.
  • Ethical and professional behaviour: High ethical standards and professional conduct are essential for an in-house counsel while representing the company.

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