General counsel should be professionally recognised via a review of The Advocates Act, and be supported by a regulatory body, write General Counsels’ Association of India founders Akhil Prasad and Sanjeev Gemawat

The legal profession has traditionally been associated with litigation. When we think of a legal professional, the first image that comes to mind may be that of a lawyer in his robes arguing in court. Seldom do we think about a person sitting with the management of a company tailoring business within the parameters of law, or advising on the risks involved. Unfortunately, this facet of the legal profession i.e., the role of a general counsel, has gone unnoticed and been given very less importance.

Simply speaking, the role of a general counsel can be defined as the first legal adviser available to an organisation who provides support to litigious services, and performs non-litigious duties including rendering legal assistance in the areas of documentation, compliance, regulatory issues and policies, legal structuring and day-to-day advisory. Striking a balance between law and business is the most important aspect of this role.

In the recent past, the role of a general counsel has seen a shift, and with it there is a growing realisation of their importance. Yet the due recognition and acknowledgement has not yet been given. There has been a transformation in the role of a general counsel from a support function to a pivotal role in strategising business, facilitating its performance
in consonance with law, and hedging business risk.

Akhil Prasad
Akhil Prasad

The general counsel has become a strategist, enabler and protector of business. They provide all services that are expected of a legal person including advisory, documentation, compliance, training other departments, communicating with authorities, and providing litigation support.

The difference between a practising lawyer and a general counsel needs to be understood, and the gap between the two needs to be bridged. The gap arises due to a lack of recognition of the in-house counsel’s profession, as there is no regulatory framework governing them, while practising lawyers are governed by the Advocates Act.

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Akhil Prasad and Sanjeev Gemawat are founding members of GCAI. Prasad is director, country counsel and company secretary at Boeing India and Gemawat is the executive director – legal, and group company secretary at Dalmia Bharat Group