Legal Officers Are No Longer Considered Support Staff

Leaders Talk

Legal Officers Are No Longer Considered Support Staff

In an interview with women entrepreneur magazine, Divya Kumat talks about her professional journey in the legal industry, the role legal professionals play in the corporate world and the challenges they encounter. Take a peek at the interview for more insight into the industry.

"Legal officers are no longer considered support or side staff; they are both a business enabler and a business partner," says Divya Kumat in an interview with Women Entrepreneur magazine. Divya Kumat is a Chief Legal Officer, Group General Counsel, and Company Secretary, with a total of 23+ years of enriching experience in the legal field.

Initiatives spearheaded by her have benefited the organization greatly. When there was a conflict between risk exposure and legal norms, she always strives to find effective solutions for the business.

She worked with Datamatics Global Services Limited for over 15 years. She leads all legal and secretarial projects for more than 41 Group companies worldwide in her present post as EVP, Chief Legal Officer & Company Secretary.

See what Divya has to say about her work-"I love and enjoy my work … and the fulfilling journey is on…. The maxim I live by is “Learning should never stop.” Continue reading to learn more about the industry in which Divya Kumat works.

Tell us about your educational background, prior industry experience, and the current responsibilities you shoulder as an Executive Vice President, Chief Legal Officer & Company Secretary.

After completing my three-year B.Com Hons. course, I pursued a three-year law degree. Alongwith LL.B, I also pursued the course of Company Secretaries. Following law school and CS, I began working while also pursuing my master's degree in law. I received two gold medals for achieving the highest scores and topping the university. After my master's, I also cleared the Company Secretaryship Exam of UK with merits. Recently, I completed a corporate governance course, which was offered by the Ministry of Corporate Laws in India, Government of India. I believe that keeping up to date on all of the latest initiatives and new developments in the academic world, and to keep learning and unlearning is important in your career.

My work experience began in Indore when I worked as a company secretary at Registrar share transfer agency company followed by working as Manager Legal & Company Secretary with Sanghi Brothers Limited and then with Sayaji Hotels Limitedin Indore. This was a great period [from 1993 till 2000]of learning and exposure in legal and secretarial fields.

In 2001, I landed a job with Computer Sciences Corporation [CSC], an IT company in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, where I worked as the legal manager. This was my entry in IT sector as Legal Manager. After more than 3 years of working with CSC, I joined Datamatics Global Services Limited in 2004. I am currently the Executive Vice President, Chief Legal Officer, and Company Secretary of Datamatics Global Services Limited.

As a Chief Legal Officer, what issues do you confront and how do you deal with them? What suggestions would you provide to your fellow officers for dealing with the challenges?

Datamatics is an Indian multinational company, headquartered in India, and majority of our revenue comes from outside India.  As a result, we have offices in a number of countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Mauritius, Germany, the Netherlands, Dubai, and the Philippines. As a legal and secretarial head, we oversee all the work starting from incorporation of the company in any geography. A corporate secretary's responsibilities include overseeing numerous policies such as insider trading, the Code of Conduct, whistleblowers, related party transactions, material subsidiaries, POSH and so on.

As the corporate secretary and legal counsel, I am responsible for the real estate requirements, whether on rental and/or ownership basis. I also take care of all intellectual property compliance and mergers and acquisitions.

The legal profession has a wide range of responsibilities. Because we work for international clients, our working hours get stretched significantly. Here the passion and the accountability attitude matters a lot in the journey towards success and satisfaction. We should know how to balance our lives and keep ourselves motivated, but we should never compromise on our responsibility and accountability.

In the last two decades, the legal professional’s job has evolved from that of a back-office worker to that of a business partner and enabler. So the first piece of advice I provide to my fellow colleagues is to realize that your function is almost as important to the business as that of a revenue-generating employees. In an MNC culture, the requirements comes from different geographies and hence, it is critical to keep shift timings is the legal services are being managed from India.

What role do legal professionals play in the corporate world?

As I already stated, the role is dynamic. It's the equivalent of being a partner in the company's growth. Legal officers are no longer considered support or side staff. We are there at all C-level meetings as it is important to learn about the business requirements. So, if we don't have a good understanding of business and we don't participate in critical business discussions, we won't be able to negotiate a fair deal with the customer.

How is technology transforming the legal industry? Tell us about the law sector's digital transformation.

Technology has played a significant role, and I was fortunate to have been exposed to it as early as 2003 when I worked for Computer Sciences Corporation. At that time, I attended a significant conference in Kualalampur, Malaysia, focusing on how technology is changing the legal role and how the legal profession could make the best use of technology in their work areas. I learned about the use of technology in managing contracts through a software, which included a contract repository, search engine and regular alarms upon expiration of contract. When I joined Datamatics, the first thing I did was to get a contract management software developed in-house That was our first step into technology, and that software had won several awards. The Software was created using File-Net licenses.

We've come a long way with our software so far. All the review and other requests are logged in through the software, all versions and final executed version is also deposited therein, and MIS is generated at a click of mouse.  Technology has played a significant role not only in contract management, but also in litigation and non-litigation sectors. Judgements, as well as their summaries, are available. As a result, we can rely on any judgments we could find in that particular sector or area. 

Legal professionals, whether in practise or in-house, should keep up to date on technology and how it might assist them in doing their jobs more efficiently and effectively. And if they know how to use technology, their knowledge as well as its application would be niche.

How do you ensure strong corporate governance as Group General Counsel and Company Secretary?

I also work as a Companies Secretary of a listed entity and other group companies. The secretarial team ensures that the company's basic corporate governance policy is followed to the letter and spirit. So, we're not only implementing the mandatory compliances of the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, but are also following most of the voluntary corporate governance guidelines. We are holding our meetings in compliance of timelines, share the agenda with directors in advance and have a very strong and robust board with both independent and non-independent directors.

For example, we spend more than the CSR budget towards our social responsibility. Our secretarial team is vigilant in ensuring that the company's corporate governance is strictly adhered to.

Tell us about the initiatives you spearheaded that benefited the businesses.

The organization has profited immensely from a strong contract management policy. Due to technology automation, strong robust contract review team, different shift timings, templates availability etc., our contract review turnaround time has been slashed in half, from 48 hours to 24 hours. Internal customers are happy and satisfied with the quality and speed of deliverables. We have been rated as the best performing department in the peer review poll for three consecutive terms.

We have made process sheets with timelines for all key critical areas like Board meetings, AGMs, Annual Report, Dividends, etc. which helps the Company in managing the compliances seamlessly.

Apart from corporate governance and other initiatives that have benefited businesses, I feel that a positive attitude toward work, as well as ethics and honesty toward the organisation, are equally crucial.

The industry is thriving, and things are evolving. Now that the COVID era has passed us by, we must remain optimistic and constructive. We should always be up to date on what is going on in our orbit.