In a conversation with BW Legal World, Mr. Lalit Khanna, speaks about his journey in law and much more

Jun 01, 2021
author logo
Link copied!

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, your most memorable experiences, and your thoughts on receiving this Award.


I would like to begin by extending my heartfelt gratitude to the BW Legal Awards' jury and team. Being featured in the BW Legal World's General Counsel 100 list, among such a diverse group of talented legal professionals, is truly an honour. I am immensely grateful for this recognition.


My journey has been full of varied experiences, wherein I have had to unlearn and learn many new things while I worked and moved across businesses and industry segments. It ranged from established businesses, new/start-up businesses to manufacturing and wholesale cash & carry and retail to healthcare and IT/ITes Services. My responsibilities have ranged from having to start without any team, infrastructure, tools, to driving a team and keeping it inspired with optimism and positivity. I have worked through tough times and shouldered responsibilities based on my sheer optimism, at a time when I had no team, infrastructure or tools. Later as my team grew, we debated and discussed every minute detail to make sure that the final solution was always in the best interest of the company and therefore reflected collective wisdom.


I learnt to appreciate the true value of debate. It encourages diversity of thought and makes us all better at decision-making. Being a legal professional with over two decades of experience, one gets used to the idea of being the "expert". In such instances, we usually forget to hone our soft skills, such as leadership, people skills, empathy, etc.. In my case, I have learnt to value and have adopted lateral thinking along with a solution-oriented approach. Till date I work on strengthening my research skills by reading regularly and assimilating large amounts of information. However, what helped me stand in good stead of always learning and absorbing was my habit of asking the right questions. I honour my work by constantly building on my organizational skills and building teams, besides, of course, understanding the importance of relationships, and listening.


Finally, as a leader, I have come to understand the importance of rationalising, listening to the experts, keeping calm under pressure, and making the most within a limited budget. One of my greatest assets that I have built is a significant network, inside and outside of the legal industry, which includes friends, former colleagues, seniors, and mentors, who have all been incredibly generous and a vital part of my overall  development and growth.


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


A good and sharp sense of decisiveness coupled with some essential interpersonal skills have helped me emerge as a top General Counsel in the industry. It not only involves proper evaluation of risks but also knowing the art of weighing multiple inputs and impacts of a particular decision and choosing the best course of action to mitigate the risks involved. This analytical thinking has helped me in communicating and convincing others of my views and thus, gaining insights to win the confidence of my seniors, CEO and other leaders.


My focus is to ensure that my team is considered a trusted 'business enabling' partner that adopts a proactive and systematic approach, in order to arrive at bespoke solutions for the organization. Legal has been also a part of a specialised cross-functional team that has identified and executed mid-to-long term measures to enable STT GDC India's transition from a pre-to-post Covid-19 world.This includes being ready to withstand any future disruptions and seizing opportunities on the go.


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


Some tips for new in-house counsel would be: 


  • Build a detailed understanding of your company's business - beyond purely legal and regulatory requirements 

  • Get to know your Company - who's who, how they work, the values and culture 

  • Take control and reach out to other in-house lawyers, even beyond your sector 

  • Be prepared to shoulder some risk, in order to give advice that is commercial and to solve problems, even if they're outside your comfort zone 

  • Take time out to listen to the different stakeholders in the organization, and understand their drivers 

  • Build a strong connect and inter-personal relationship with all stakeholders. 


Some Attributes necessary to becoming an in-house counsel:  


  • Ability to work quickly and creatively  

  • Strong research and writing skills  

  • Solid communication skills  

  • Ambitious and "value-adding" attitude  

  • Sound business judgment  

  • Analytical skills  


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?


As a General Counsel of STT GDC India, I cater to all areas of the Company, handling legal, regulatory, and compliance issues for every department, including support for expansion and strategic projects. I also deal with legal and contractual matters, compliance and governance matters, regulatory and advocacy, and many more, and at all times keep on top of the laws that might affect the Company, and the industry. This range of responsibilities underscores the 'general' in General Counsel. 


Accordingly, my days often start with meeting with colleagues and discussing priorities, responding to emails from business units, and advising on various legal issues. And in my spare time, I research to stay up-to-date on Industry news, policies, and legislature which could affect the Company.  


My current in-house legal team consists of 5 SMEs (subject matter experts) handling separate functions and also adequately supporting each other whenever required. Our camaraderie further underlies the key role and importance of each team member in times like these. The Legal Department at STT GDC India has specialised skill sets which are aligned to suit the business needs/requirements of the Company.   


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? 


As times and industries evolve through the pandemic (including its current second wave), more businesses and consumers turn to digital tools and services. However, while the data centre industry stands to work efficiently during the Covid-19 pandemic, it is not entirely immune. STT GDC India has experienced the same restrictions as other businesses, our staff on-site face the same risks, and our supply chains have been impacted across regions. The lockdowns and restrictions, while important, have also affected the ongoing construction of new facilities. The fundamental challenge of COVID-19 has been balancing health and safety with a sustained level of economic activity. However, our data centres have done a stellar job by maintaining up to 100% uptime and operating 24X7, despite all the challenges and odds

I feel proud to be a part of the data centre industry, which is an essential service and is playing an indispensable role by operating 'mission-critical services during the crisis. It is thus no surprise that data centres  have been granted government support and exemption to keep their services up and their staff employed during these trying times. 


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?  


My last six years of association with the companies engaged in providing 'essential services' (i.e., healthcare and mission-critical data centre services) has been quite challenging, yet rewarding. This experience has provided me with a lot of learnings, including dealing with uncertainties, imbibing resilience, holding my composure while operating under extreme work pressures and providing innovative solutions for complex problems.  


Being the first General Counsel of STT GDC India, promptly after joining in December 2018, I have managed to transform and digitise the entire legal department of the Company by implementing an online compliance tool (i-Comply). We have also been able to manage online licenses and a contract repository tool and have standardised the templates of the contracts for run-rate deals.  Standardization and automation have ensured efficiency, the team had geared up well in advance to ensure seamless remote working based on centralization, digitization, and technology.  


It is a blessing that a great variety of transactions can be conducted online today, both at the personal and official front. Statutory filings (viz. ROC, RBI, GST, income tax, etc.), internet banking, mobile wallets, e-commerce and online interface for requisition of a multitude of essential or utility goods or services, etc. have been the agents of change. 


Amidst the disruption and uncertainty that had marked the year 2020, it's hard to define any long-term effects of the changes taking place. The role of the in-house legal teams is changing rapidly. The businesses they support and the regulatory environment they work under are becoming more complex.  


However, one can safely say that the use of automated solutions and other forms of productised legal services will increase, and these will support in-house teams to a great extent in the future. Digitisation and implementation of AI tools will enhance the company's ability to reduce cost, manage risk and improve performance by implementing the following:- 


  • Management, Centralisation, and Digitisation of contracts covering negotiation, execution of contracts, and monitoring of post-contractual compliances and post termination effects; 

  • Management of compliances and regulatory matters covering, not only the monitoring and reporting of the compliance status, but also highlighting of probable risks and risk mitigations through AI, conducting online audits, training, and certifications 

  • Management of litigations in a paperless environment with automated reporting, drafting, and online court hearings.  


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.) 


The applications and impact of AI is growing, and AI tools will immensely help the legal professionals as a facilitator, over the next decade. AI will help legal departments streamline and automate tasks and processes and reduce costs and increase productivity. It is critical that the right strategy is adopted and appropriate systems are implemented in collaboration with business teams to build cross-functional and inter-connected systems. 


We are evaluating AI-based contract lifecycle management tools that could enable our team to standardize the process for contract design, ease in execution, and handling of post-contractual issues.  Further, we also intend to deploy an AI-based compliance audit and training tool that could help us in further strengthening our internal processes and practices.  


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


Before the pandemic hit us, my most favourite activity in my leisure time was reading books, especially modern fiction. However, the last year of lockdown had provided me with the opportunity to spend quality time with my family. This helped me cultivate a deeper bond with my children and be updated with their day-to-day activities. We now have time for board games, walks on the terrace, family dinner and above all, a higher emotional connection that binds us closer than ever before. We are emerging stronger as a family by each day.   


Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house


Source :