A former Supreme Court justice has shone a light on the vital contributions of general counsel to the legal landscape in India at the 7th Annual Meet & International Summit of the Alliance for Corporate Counsel and Company Secretaries (ACoS) on 16 October.
In his inaugural address, former Supreme Court justice Krishna Murari’s comments added fuel to the call by ACoS for authorities and the legal community to recognise and regulate the GC profession.
Murari highlighted the multiple roles GCs often had within an organisation. “In the olden days, the torch of justice was borne by practising lawyers and judges only, but general counsel, too, now share this responsibility,” he said.
“When the Advocates Act was incorporated, the role of the general counsel was not really carved out. The reality is that today they play multiple roles in the organisations they work with – risk managers, legal strategists, business enablers, compliance experts and even board members. How, then, is a GC any less of a practising lawyer than his counterpart across the table?”
In response to these remarks, Parvesh Kheterpal, ACoS founder and general counsel at AMPYR Energy, shared his insights on the changing dynamics within the legal industry.
“The increasing value and recognition for the role of in-house counsel/general counsel profession is one of the best developments seen in the legal industry. Their role is not only to deal with litigation and legal issues, but they are dealing with risks, compliance, governance, M&A, working as business advisers, board members, and truly playing the role of business enablers for their organisations,” Kheterpal said.
He also noted that Indian companies have started recognising the role of general counsel as the “best friend of the business”. These legal professionals are no longer confined to the role of mere legal advisers; they have emerged as critical business partners, he added.
Manoj Singh, of S&A Law Offices, added: “GCs are the most important advisers to the board of the company on compliance and regulations as well as public policy, ethics and risk management.”
However, despite their substantial contributions to the corporate world, in-house counsel in India do not possess statutory recognition. As Kheterpal pointed out, they meet the criteria of an “advocate” as defined in the Advocates Act of 1961, but are not allowed to be registered with the bar and there is no separate bar or statutory body for in-house counsel in India.
The Advocates Act did not anticipate the emergence of the in-house counsel role. Therefore, this crucial legal profession remains outside the purview of the act.
“We request the Bar Council of India, State Bar councils, and the Ministry of Law and Justice to consider our request for recognition of in-house counsel as an advocate,” Kheterpal said.