Libertatem Magazine

Interview with Rajkumar Varier, Legal Counsel at ABP News & ABP Creations

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Mr. Rajkumar Varier is a law graduate from Delhi university. He is a corporate lawyer & he is currently working as a legal counsel in ABP News & ABP Creations. He has previously worked with Star India as a Group General Counsel, Samsung India Ltd & Bharti Airtel Ltd. He led the Litigation, IPR & Customer Services in Samsung India Ltd.

Here is an interview with Mr. Varier where we talk about a lot of things starting from his Law School days to his corporate days.

Akanksha: Legal studies were not recognized as a good career option as they are today. What motivated you to choose law as your career? Please share your experience in law school.

Rajkumar Varier: I pursued law in the year 1995 – 1998. The same was opted as a default choice or should I say by way of the rule of elimination after my graduation Degree in Science. It would be unusual and a rarity for a Science Graduate to pursue a career in law and as rightly highlighted in the question as in those days legal studies was not recognized as a good career option. On the contrary MBA and MCA were trending. The only influence and motivating factor in those days were the Bollywood and Hollywood characters in some movies which depicted lawyers as creative, imaginative, intellectual and witty beings. I was a very average student however had been fortunate to have qualified the threshold required to qualify to sit for an entrance exam of law at Delhi University.

I remember having walked down from Gol Dak Khana Residence to Jain Book Depot in Connaught Place and having purchased a Universal Guide to Entrance Examination. The well-kept and shelved books on various subjects of Law acted as a real stimulant and inspiration for germinating the desire to make it as a successful lawyer. Parents were supportive and favoured pursuing higher education which bolstered and gave a fillip to the decision. Thankfully I was able to crack the entrance and got admission in the Evening Law College of Delhi University popularly called as “Law Center 2” at Dhaula Kuan. I felt privileged and fortunate to be in an Evening Law College since that armed me with an unfair advantage to not only gain in terms of legal education but also to be brought up in the company of seasoned and well to do professionals which included Senior Government Officials, Custom and Excise officers, Technical members of Tribunals, Civil servants, well-to-do Charted Accountants and other Senior Corporate Officials. It was a bit surprising and encouraging to see that even such successful people have opted to pursue law despite having achieved a well to do position and a respectable milestone in their respective professional lives.

At least one thought was fortified in mind that what I was chasing is definitely a worthy exercise and reinforced a belief that what I have chosen is a right career path. The benefit of pursuing academics with such people also comes up with the additional learning’s of interpersonal skills, leadership qualities, the art of entrepreneurship and also creates fertile ground to cultivate your aspirations and ambitions. It also comes up with the opportunity to enhance your skills in organizing events and institutionalize certain important rituals of any academic life of legal education. These included organizing and conducting Moot Courts, getting Sponsorships, conducting Legal Projects with a process of certification from recognized institutions, organizing Cultural and Sports activities and so on. I must fairly disclose and concede that I had no occasion to visit any courts or to get any training with any corporates or law firm, which have now been formally institutionalized in today’s legal education system.

However, thanks to the eventful tenure of Law College days and the colleagues and friends who acted as an inspirational booster dose or to fuel into the fire of ambitions and motivations. Though in today’s legal education system we have a more structured and planned approach towards the legal profession by means of training and internships, which helps them in having an anticipatory bird’s eye view about the legal profession both ‘corporate’ and ‘law firm’. I further completely agree to the statement that legal studies were not recognized and in fact was not a good career option as they are today which I myself experienced in the first three to four years of my struggle post completion of my law which is to find a self-earned small, minuscule place in the galaxy of the unending legal world. As they rightly say and was universally told in our struggle days that even sky is not the limit in this legal profession.

Akanksha: You are the General Counsel at ABP Networks and ABP Creations and have been working as a corporate lawyer for over 20 years. What part of being a lawyer interest you the most?

Rajkumar Varier: I had been extremely lucky and very fortunate that in close to 2 and half decades of my journey I got the best of all opportunities and was blessed to work closely with the topmost legal brains of the country and to gain from there wisdom, advocacy skills, court craft, entrepreneurship and most importantly the importance of relentless hard work, dedication and austerity towards the profession. My personal growth was severely enhanced and catapulted in gradually developing the qualities to effectively communicate, logic and rationale and the ability to negotiate & bargain in various situations and circumstances.

The other skills which come by way of the premium are being imaginative and creative, having clarity of purpose, objective and thought, respecting equality and diversity, the role of empowerment and putting people first, entrepreneurial skills and most importantly to learn to conduct oneself with dignity and self-respect. The advantage that one gain as a result of being continuously exposed to such sharp brains and legal luminaries and legends is the advantage of being positively infected with an unfulfilled desire to match their thought process and a constant state of hunger and thirst to learn, gain and execute them in our daily professional lives. Needless to say, that it’s a lifelong process and has to be practised with persistence to achieve, master and conquer the peaks of these qualities and achieve success. Just like an athlete needs to work on his muscles, stamina, speed, endurance and the highest level of physical fitness to achieve his milestones and records, in the same manner, a lawyer need to work upon his thought process, command over the language, developing a sense of reason, rationale and logic, leadership qualities and entrepreneur skills, Effective communication and to keep developing a strong sense of humour and wit which comes in a state of self-acceptance and self-realization & upon embracing life the way it comes.

Akanksha: You have been in the legal field for a long time.  What kind of a relationship do you believe a lawyer must maintain with his or her client to secure a long and stable association?

Rajkumar Varier: The first and foremost is to uphold the interest of the client fearlessly and by using all fair and honourable means. Clients interests have to be preserved selflessly and without being influenced or affected or fearing any unpleasant consequences to oneself or any other. Another important quality is to inculcate a state of pleasantness, confidence and belief in oneself and in one’s opinions and thought process. It is the desire to go out of the way and to walk several extra miles in the interest of the cause and in the interest of clients which caters in achieving the client’s confidence and trust. It is also important that such qualities are preserved and possessed at all points of the professional journey.

Confidentiality of Client information and data is equally important. Some of the good practices include a pro-active communication with clients with respect to updates, discussions on strategies, next steps and being transparent about the possibilities, consequences, delays and costs. I have commonly observed that upon attaining success these qualities get bartered, sidestepped by elements of greed, arrogance and an overall emotional and mental disconnect with the client, brief and the issue which leads to creating an environment of distrust and an overall state of displeasure, dissatisfaction and unhappiness with the entire legal system of the country. A significant role also gets played by various stakeholders of the value chain, which creates an ecosystem where such practices end up getting encouraged and are allowed to persist and survive. One of the possible reasons for such development of such behavioural patterns could be the consequence of a long gestation period consumed by legal professionals to attain success in some sense. Resultantly, it becomes a habit, norm and accepted practice to capitalize and cover-up on the lost ground by subjecting oneself to resort to unethical and unprofessional practices. The building of such trends within one’s personality should be strictly avoided and one should deflect and distract from heading towards such temptations, habits, means and ways.

Akanksha: Being a corporate lawyer what do you think is the significance of networking and contacts for fresher or a law student in the legal field?

Rajkumar Varier: In my view, it is most critical to establish long-lasting relationships, partnerships and to learn the art of collaborating and alliance building and thus to be well connected and to have a good network of people is an absolute necessity and compulsion. The network and contact that one creates while progressing through the professional journey can really help in procuring the right set of information and data required for the purpose of decision making. Any industry that you represent is the conglomerate of a set of people who closely watch and monitor the various developments which create influence and impact to the business and it is always a symbiotic association for the purpose to update, gain and collate not only the facts, data, information but also the viewpoints, opinions, possibilities, analysis, consequences and to have the edge and the ability to arrive at a shared understanding on various diverse and dynamic issues.

In today’s world, the job is made a lot easier with the help of technology where information and data get disseminated amongst common groups in huge volumes and at lightning speed. Further the same percolates downwards / upwards and thus it is very critical to not only be aware but also to process/analyze and have the ability to have one‘s own opinion and also to have a clear foresight to the future and a plan in place to deal with next steps. It is also extremely important to be well-read and well educated on subjects while building upon the network and to be well connected to important contacts since these relationships also last purely on the basis of your worthiness and merit as a professional which is judged based on your intellect, approachability and the overall pleasantness & professionalism in the way we conduct ourselves. In fact, there are no fixed or codified rules for human interaction and it is the quality of situational leadership which can help the cause. Thus, both task behaviour and relationship behaviour play an equal and important role. It commands a huge sense of maturity which as a subject is a lifelong learning process and thus each of these qualities needs to be handpicked to meet and conquer the situation in hand and to be a successful professional.

Akanksha: Government appointed high-level panel proposed to decriminalize more than half of the existing compoundable offences under the Companies Act as well as lower the monetary penalties for violations by startups amid efforts to further improve the ease of doing business in the county. What is your take on that?

Rajkumar Varier: Over my last close to two and half decades of experience I have witnessed that many of the policy and regulatory decisions of the government were given the colour and texture of criminality and which has impacted and impaired the various blooming industries like Telecom, Media and Entertainment, Allocation of Natural resources etc. In a zeal to enforce a strict and literal interpretation or understanding of the law it has happened in the justice delivery system that judgments have been rendered counterproductive to the economy and businesses. Many of the flourishing businesses and prospective and promising startups had to wind up operations or their growth prospects were severely impacted and curtailed. Such decisions have only acted like a spanner in the wheel and in most instances turned to be counterproductive to the economic cause.

A lot of this has also been contributed on account of government stubbornness by taking unreasonable, unfair stands before a Court of law and on most occasions the damage was belatedly felt making the industries to be put to a ventilator or to reach down a point of no return to their glories. Further many of the legislations have been implemented in a manner to solely attain the motive of revenue maximization by the government completely turning a blind eye to the actual intent and objectives of the statute. The same is the story of any industry be it Telecom, Manufacturing, Media and Entertainment, Aviation etc.

In fact, some of the judicial precedents have completely eliminated the scope of discretion which can be exercised by a government officer as he would always be in a state of dilemma to choose between a decision making which furthers the practical and economic cause as against the cause of revenue maximization by the government. There is a strong potential that any smallest concession extended in the interest of the economy or the industry by a government officer may be construed as a state largesse to the private sectors or which can potentially smell of a ‘scam’ or ‘corruption’. Thus, it strongly discourages, demotivates and has an overall chilling effect on the government to take such positive steps. Such decision making also creates panic, scare and threat to the foreign investors. While the trend now we see is the pendulum swinging between making a choice between Ease of Doing Business, Make in India etc. on the one hand and an Aatmanirbhar Bharat on the other.

In these circumstances and keeping in mind the unprecedented pandemic times faced by the industry the steps were taken by the government to decriminalize the procedural lapses or some trivial or petty offence is definitely a step towards the right direction. While the above is said it must also be kept in mind by the decision-maker that they do not end up throwing the baby out with the bathwater (to be applicable in reverse) which is to say that the government should not end up brushing all offences with the same brush of decriminalizing or to be specifically decriminalizing serious economic offences like copyright infringement or other similar important statutes safeguarding Intellectual Property or otherwise.

A safety valve should definitely, however, be provided for instances as in the case of News Broadcasters for fair use by way of expressly carving out an exception under the head of offences itself. Such a liberated approach would go a long way in helping the cause of ease of doing business as also would encourage and boost economic recovery.

Akanksha: You have had a hand in the litigation field as well in Samsung India Electronic Ltd and Bharti Airtel Ltd. Which area do you feel would boom in the future? Which area do you feel has promising financial prospects and why?

Rajkumar Varier: At the outset, I must concede that it is not only a hand but both my hands i.e. 70% of my experience has been fortunately enriched with biggest litigations in the country in the field of Telecom and M&E Industry. It is a matter of great honour and privilege that I could in most instances be part of leading and decision making in the critical aspects of these high stake litigations including strategy building, grounds of challenge, counsel selection, the timing of various actions, planning and preparation, choice of forums, remedies and various other multiple facets while handling the complexities involved with them. Most of them had an impact of changing the very course and landscape of the industry and also leading to a tectonic shift of policies and guidelines and the overall way the Industry functioned.

Many of them also had a detrimental impact on these industries which were avoidable, however, some also turned out to be extremely beneficial. The silver lining in the dark cloud is the immense and enormous learning, acquired not only by legal professionals but also to the entire industry being seen as a whole. In my long stint of litigation starting from the year 2000 till about 2015 and which again restarted in 2016 till 2019, I have seen and witnessed the golden years of litigating lawyers and the party I believe still continues. The immense and relentless hard work of these legal luminaries coupled with exceptional passion and skills gets rewarded with a glorious and luxurious lifestyle, towering stature and opens the flood gates of clients willing to honour the fee which is commanded and demanded.

I have always envied the practising side and the inability at my end to attain and achieve such pinnacle and glory of success. I am happy with the fact that I end up approving and signing their cheques. Needless to mention the said glory comes for a price of sacrificing the so-called work-life balance, burning of midnight oil all throughout your life and to be in a constant state of unease and hunger to grow and preserve the accomplished stardom. Such achievements are highly addictive and very difficult to be consistently sustained.  On the other hand for a corporate lawyer while being in the state of discontentment of not front-ending things from counsel practice side (which is always kept like cold storage and as a dormant volcano) the life helps you to become a better business counsel and much closer to the practical, commercially viable and the business perspective to the issues. Working in a corporate environment comes with handy learning of various qualities of being a team player, inclusiveness, collaboration, proactiveness, preparedness, strategizing, the habit of preplanning, shared understanding, exposed to diverse and multifaceted aspects of business, inclusiveness, learning the art of working in a cross-cultural, multinational, diverse and dynamic environment.

The corporate jobs come up with a steady, stable and assured growth with a comparatively better work-life balance and an overall sense of immense satisfaction. The millennials and the Gen-Z as we see today have a more balanced approach towards life rather than exposing itself to the extreme sides of it. Most of them are also blessed with economically better family background and already had the privilege of being gratified and experienced most of the pleasures of life. At the same time, they also believe in taking up and facing and being subjected to ingenuity, novelty, challenge and something which can really create an adrenaline rush. It is therefore difficult to state about the choice one is likely to make in the near future. Also, the ongoing pandemic has also substantially altered the entire dynamics and aspects of various professions and businesses in which the legal profession is no exception. Recently we have seen demand and plea seeking a change of rules whereby lawyers can be allowed to advertise as also to pursue alternate career options. A lot of creative work has also been overtaken by artificial intelligence, blockchain etc. and thus I don’t want to be a soothsayer or to be prophetic about the future. Only time will tell as to which side of the profession would be more rewarding. The future of the legal profession would no longer remain the same and it will bring up a new set of opportunities and challenges. At this stage, it will be highly risky to put your bets on either side but yes developing, inculcating or preserving the human and professional qualities described hereinabove is inescapable.

Akanksha: Lastly, what advice would you like to give students who would like to be corporate lawyers after their law school? How should they go about it? What advice do you have for practising lawyers who want to join the corporate industries?

Rajkumar Varier: The pith and substance or the prerequisite of a corporate lawyer is the in-depth understanding and a 360-degree level view of the business, risks, challenges and opportunities faced by the business in which the corporate entity is engaged in. Mere understanding of the law without having the ability to practically implement in a business situation would be of no help and would not enable one to succeed in a corporate world. It is also important to understand the extremely dynamic state of affairs and a short lifespan of various business models.

The speed of technology and ideas leads to making most of them obsolete, irrelevant, and unviable and with a short shelf life. It is therefore very critical to build up business models which can convert, transform and adapt to the changing business situations and scenarios. What is paramount and foremost is to develop such characters and abilities, which can help an individual to attain and sustain growth as a legal counsel in the rapidly changing corporate world. I personally have found it very difficult to shift from a corporate world to the professional or litigation side. However, I feel that by acquiring the necessary skill sets and embracing and adopting to such business situations and the learning’s and possessing a sense of adaptability to the situations one should be easily able to migrate from the practising side to the corporate side. I would conclude by saying that the future would belong to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. Do one thing every day that scares you.” “Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized any which ways.

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